Skis come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are usually designed for a specific purpose and terrain. Finding the right skis can be a difficult task so we've devised a buying guide to help you narrow your selection when purchasing skis.
As well as talking you through the factors you need to consider when selecting your skis, we'll also explain the tech stuff so you know exactly what you're looking for. Similar to most board sports, the first thing that needs to be established before you start choosing kit is your ability level.
Beginner/Novice: If you're about to step onto the slopes for the first time, or have a few days' worth of skiing experience, this is the category you fall into. You will be skiing supervised slopes, just starting to get into the ski scene and have no freestyle experience as yet.
Intermediate: If you're comfortable skiing without supervision on green and blue runs, you are an intermediate skier. You will be accustomed to common skiing techniques and are likely to be starting to explore new slopes whilst controlling your speed. Intermediate skiers may also have basic freestyle skills, such as small jumps and boxes.
Advanced: Advanced skiers are proficient on all runs on the mountain and in variable conditions. You'll have experience skiing off-piste in different depths of powder and are becoming more confident on steeper terrain. Advanced skiers may also hold freestyle skills of an intermediate level. You can perform rotations on bigger jumps and can ride in control above the lip in a halfpipe. You will also be competent on narrower rails.
Expert: If you're confident on all slopes, on and off-piste and in all conditions, you are an expert skier. Most expert skiers will hold relevant teaching or guiding qualifications or are likely to have competed in racing/freestyle disciplines.
90% on piste - 10% off piste
Piste skis are so called because they are used primarily on groomed snow (on piste). Piste skis are used by all levels of skier and tend to have a narrower waist for quick edge changes. A shorter turn radius makes these skis great for carving turns at various speeds. Beginner to intermediate piste skis focus on helping you progress with turn initiation and control, whilst models for advanced skiers deliver exceptional power the faster you ski them. These skis are used for slalom and racing disciplines.
70% on piste - 30% off piste
These skis enable you to explore beyond the marked trails and into softer, deeper snow. As well as inspiring confidence off-piste, all mountain skis also excel on the groomed runs. They are great for developing technique in a variety of conditions. You may still spend the majority of your time on piste, but like to nip off the side into the powder between runs.
50% on piste - 50% off piste
These type of skis are incredibly versatile. They are great for all types of terrain and all snow conditions. Thanks to their wider waist (normally between 84mm — 100mm), freeride skis provide plenty of float in deeper snow and are great for building confidence in the powder whilst remaining manoeuvrable through trees and narrower runs.
50% on piste - 50% off piste
Freestyle skis are used primarily in the terrain park. They tend to be more durable than other skis meaning they can handle hits on rails and other park elements. These skis feature a twin tip profile and will ride backwards as easily as they ride forwards, this allows you to develop your tricks and dominate the park and pipe. They share very similar characteristics to Freeride skis making them extremely versatile all over the mountain too.
10% on piste - 90% off piste
Backcountry skis (also known as big mountain or powder skis) are designed to be used primarily off piste or in unpatrolled areas. They have a much wider waist which provides greater floatation in deeper snow and will feature some form of rocker or early rise in the tip and tail. Most will still have a reasonable amount of camber underfoot which makes them surprisingly easy to ski on piste too.
50% on piste - 50% off piste
Touring skis are essentially exploration skis. With the addition of climbing skins - removable pieces of grippy fabric stuck to the base — and touring bindings, these skis let you walk up hills and venture into the backcountry. Touring bindings allow you to release the heel for efficiency when climbing uphill, and lock the heel in place when skiing back downhill. They share similar shapes to Freeride skis but with a much lighter construction to reduce fatigue when ascending into the mountains.
As a very rough guide your skis should come up to about nose level. Shorter skis are easier to turn making them useful for beginners, and longer skis are more stable at higher speeds. It all depends on the terrain you are riding and what you're most comfortable on. Trying different lengths of skis will give you a good idea of which you prefer.
Camber refers to the side profile of a ski which features an upward curve in the middle. The contact points to the snow are towards the tip and tail and the centre is elevated. As weight is applied, the ski will flatten and pressure is spread evenly along the length creating continuous contact with the snow. As the pressure is released, the camber provides a rebound of energy for greater 'pop' and power on groomed terrain.
Rocker is the opposite of camber. The ski arches upwards so the centre of the ski makes contact with the ground and the tip and tail are raised. This profile means these kinds of skis are perfect for floating in deep snow. They also make turn initiation easier due to the reduced contact the base of the ski has on the snow.