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Skis: What You Need to Know

Skis: What You Need to Know

It may seem like rocket science. But if you learn how to decode some basic information about gear, it goes a long way in helping you find your perfect setup. Here’s your key.
By Kimberly Beekman
posted: 09/26/2011

Understanding Dimensions › We know how intimidating numbers can be. But nothing tells you more about a ski than its tip, waist and tail measurements. They illustrate what terrain a ski is best suited for, as well as how forgiving it may be, so pay attention.

Waist Width:

Narrow waists (under 85 mm) are quick and grippy, built for groomed.

Wide waists (100-plus mm) surf the deep. Anything in between should be versatile for all. Skis: What You Need to Know

Taper: Subtract the tail width from the tip width, and you have the taper. The greater the taper, the easier the ski will be to skid. (Big rockered skis, for example, often have a very narrow tail for easy steering and smearing.) A low taper number means the tail sticks to the turn, making the ski better for carving on hardpack.

Tuning matters › Some of the product managers who tune our test skis are World Cup caliber; others, well, aren’t. It makes an astonishing difference in how the skis behave. Have a shop tune your skis—or learn how to do it yourself— every seven or so days on snow. Most shops file a standard two-degree side-edge bevel and a one-degree base bevel. Eastern experts may want a more aggressive three-and-one; Westerners, a looser one-and-one. You’ll ski better, guaranteed. 

Sidecut radius › There’s a fancy formula that translates a ski’s dimensions into its sidecut radius, but all you need to know is this: The number tells you how turny the ski is. The higher the number, the longer its preferred turns are. It’s like an instant snapshot of a ski’s personality. Example: Head’s Supershape Titan, in Men’s Hard Snow, has a radius of 13.5 m at a 170-cm length, which means it’s more of a slalom ski than the longer-turning 18.3 m Rossi Avenger 82 Ti. Longer skis usually prefer to make longer turns. This number, in meters, refers to the radius of the circle the sidecut arc would make if you were to fully extrapolate it. Most models have the same tip, waist and tail dimensions regardless of length, which means the radius gets wider as the skis get longer. In other words, longer skis usually make longer turns. But brands like Salomon and Atomic adjust their dimensions in order to maintain an equal radius across all sizes.

Price › We provide the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for each ski, but chances are your actual price will be lower. Shop around. Ski-town shops may be more expensive, but the employees are much more likely to know their stuff, and the convenience is often worth it. Look for shops that do it all—bootfitting, tuning, mounting. The staffs are better trained, and if your gear isn’t quite right they’ll be the most likely to work with you until it is.

Sizing a ski › It depends on the type of ski—hard-snow carvers should generally be shorter than big-mountain powder plunderers—but in general, experts’ skis should stand at or above the eyebrow, intermediates’ at the chin. If the tips are rockered, the ski has a lower contact point with the snow, so you may want to go up five cm or so.

reviews of Skis: What You Need to Know Write a comment
Nice write up. Always a common question season after season, people ask about these aspects of skis. Very useful and informative. Thanks,
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