If you’re new to reading ski reviews, you’ll notice that the most in-depth reviews feature a ton of stats and measurements. From personal experience, I know it can be a little overwhelming, so I’ve put together a cheat sheet of the basics. For likely the first time ever, I’m keeping word count tight, but I’m happy add additional resources for the areas where you want to dig deeper.
–Length and width: There are two general rules of thumb: For length, longer skis are harder to steer, but more stable than short skis. For width, narrower skis perform better on piste and wider skis are meant for powder. But these two rules are not absolute. Based on some of the other traits below, a 90mm ski might outperform a 100mm ski off-piste. Likewise, two different models of skis in the same length may not feel equally long while skiing.
–Mount point: All else equal, a ski with a forward mount (closer to the true center of the ski) is going to be easier to steer and more nimble and tolerate a more centered stance. A further back mount point will need to really be pressuring the front of your boot, driving the tips, and in a forward stance. It’ll generally help skis perform better with speed.
The Line Honey Bee has a “progressive” mount point near center that makes it easy to pivot and steer, and also make it better suited for park skiing, while the Secret 92 has a more traditional mount point. The difference looks small on paper, but goes a long way in changing how the ski handles.
–Rocker profile: The flip up at the front (and sometimes back) of the ski. Measured in both tip splay (if you had the skis on the ground, how tall are the tips off the ground) and the rocker depth (if you put your bases together like you’re about to carry your skis, how far down the tips do the skis touch).
Both splay and rocker depth help with floatation in powder. Rocker depth also changes how long the ski feels, since there’s less ski in contact with the snow. Below are the Line Pandora 84, 94, and 104, from left to right, all in a 165. The 84 is built more for firmer conditions, and has shallower rocker lines than the powder-biased 104. And for these, it makes sense that I like the 165 length for the 84, but size up to the 172 in the 104, and feel a little between sizes with the Pandora 94.
Most all mountain skis also feature at least a little bit of tail rocker. Like tip rocker, deeper tail rocker shortens the effective edge of the ski, and it also gives the skis a surfy feeling to them that makes it easier to transition from turn to turn.
–Tip Taper: Refers to how far the widest part of the shovels are from the tip of the ski.
Taper helps you ski in soft snow without catching an edge and makes the ski feel easier to steer since it reduces weight at the extremities of the ski. However, mass begets stability, so you’ll be more likely to get tip chatter in a light, highly tapered tip. And likewise, taper shortens your effective edge and isn’t in contact with the snow in carved turns on groomers.
–Turn Radius: How long it would take the ski to make a circle if you tilted it on edge. A little misleading sometimes, since the radius shortens as the ski flexes. So for a softer ski, a 20m turn radius might be easier to turn than a 16m turn radius on a stiff ski.
–Flex pattern: Generally how stiff or soft a ski is, but skis also variate their flex pattern, with softer tips that plane in soft snow and are easy to initiate turns, but stiff underfoot to keep you from getting bucked around in crud. Conventional wisdom assigns stiff skis to experts and soft skis to progressing skiers, but altering the other construction variables can make stiff skis fairly accessible. And preference also plays role – plenty of expert skiers like the “bend-and-snap” feeling on flexier skis.
–Laminates: Laminates are non-wood materials that influence the weight, flex, and feel of a ski. They’re attached to the cores using heat, pressure, and/or adhesives. When a ski “delaminates,” those layers are coming apart. Fiberglass laminates are moderately stiff, very bendy, and affordable. But they can also get heavy when they’re thickest and strongest, so most brands use fiberglass in smaller amounts in skis that are supposed to be easy (like the Pandora 84, but not its wider siblings) or skis that are supposed to be very poppy (like the Faction Prodigy line or Black Crows Atris Birdie). Carbon laminates are stiff, light, and less springy. Carbon is also more expensive. Brands really vary in the amount of carbon they’re adding to skis. Some give their skis a little more capacity with a few stringers, others use a lot more. Skis with lots of carbon tend to struggle in crud because there’s neither flex nor weight to absorb vibrations. But they work well for touring skis or strong skis that are also easy to whip around or jump turn with due to the low weight. Titanal laminates generally make for the stiffest and heaviest skis with the highest capacity for force. It’s an aluminum alloy that bends and releases better than most metals. The lamination process for titanal more expensive than other composites, so these skis tend to be the most expensive.
–Camber: When you put you skis together base-to-base like you’re going to carry them, camber is that little thigh gap in the middle. Camber helps you engage your edges in icy conditions and in carved turns. In touring skis, it also helps you engage your edges on icy traverses, and helps you engage your skins on the uphill. The downsides are that you need a relatively firm surface to flex and decamber the ski, especially if the ski is stiff. Therefore, stiff cambered skis can be hard to turn in soft conditions. Some skis have no gap and are either called “full rocker” or “reverse camber.” That design is more common on fatter, more powder-oriented skis that are willing to make sacrifices in hardpack conditions.
Not sure what design types and construction work best? Leave a comment or slide into my DMs on Instagram, and we can walk through what you like and what you don’t and help you build that vocabulary.