If you’re a regular skier, then you may know exactly what type of skis you like. You probably have a waist width and length picked out and you may try to purchase a pair of skis that matches up or comes close enough to those specifications. A lot of skiers shop that way. And a ski shop or online store that’s eager to make a sale may help you find a ski along those lines quickly.
A big part of buying a pair of skis has to do with what kind of skier you are and the dimensions, radius, size, and stiffness that complement your style. We’ve put together a handy guide so you can approach buying your next pair of skis with a little extra knowledge.
Radius & Dimensions
Radius is the shape of the ski as determined by its length as well as tip, waist, and tail widths. This measurement is usually expressed in meters. Every ski today has a parabolic shape, meaning the ski is wider at the tip and tail than in the middle, and that creates ‘shape’. This is also called ‘sidecut’. If you were to continue the curve of the sidecut beyond the ski, then it will eventually find the other end and form a circle. In geometry, the radius is the distance from the center of a circle to any point on its circumference in a straight line. A longer radius makes a bigger circle, and a smaller circle has a shorter radius. A ski with a narrow waist and wider tip and tail will have a shorter radius and therefore make shorter turns. If you made the tip and tail narrower, then the ski will have less shape—less sidecut means it will make a larger circle with a longer radius and longer turns.
Typical radius dimensions for skis are:
<16 m: Short – carving short turns and all mountain
16-20 m: Medium – carving longer turns and all mountain
>20 m: Long – freeride and powder
Camber & Rocker
Camber is an upward curve designed into the ski. When a ski is flat on the floor, you’ll notice that the middle doesn’t touch the floor, and the contact points are toward the tip and tail. The space between the contact points is the ski’s effective edge, which is the edge in contact with the snow during a turn. Camber requires the ski to be weighted in order to initiate a turn, but provides better edge hold and energy release or ‘pop’ that can be transferred into the next turn.
Rocker is just the opposite. The camber is reduced underfoot, which moves the contact points closer to the middle of the ski. The tip and tail are splayed upwards to float better in soft and deep snow. Having the tip raised makes turn initiation easier as there is less edge on the snow.
Most skis today have a combination of rocker and camber. Rocker in the tip and tail makes for easy turn initiation and good powder performance, while camber underfoot provides good edge grip so you can still carve. The Atomic Bent Chetler 100 is a great examples of this. It features an extremely rockered tip and tail that float in powder and bring the effective edge toward the middle for easy turn initiation and maneuverability. Positive camber underfoot in the Bent design lets you hold an edge with confidence compared to fully rockered powder skis.
A Note on Stiffness
A stiff ski can make a short radius feel long. And a soft ski can make a long radius feel short. Engineers try to find a balance in stiffness and radius. A big-mountain ski like the Stockli Stormrider 102 has a medium-long turn radius of 19.8 m in the 182 length, but it feels longer because it’s very stiff. The Stormrider is intended for strong skiers in big terrain that need maximum stability at high speeds. In contrast, a ski like the Atomic Cloud 9 was designed to feel more fluid between turns; so it features a softer stiffness profile that eases turn initiation and makes it more approachable for beginner and intermediate skiers.
So Which Ski is Right for Me?
Great question! Skis today come in all different combinations of radius, rocker, camber, and stiffness. Big-mountain or freeride skis have a long radius with a combination of rocker and camber underfoot for hard-charging versatility. Carving skis may have a medium or short radius depending on their intended use, but usually they’re heavier and stiffer with positive camber and minimal rocker. Powder skis are wide with less sidecut that produces a longer turning radius, and they have a longer rocker profile in the tip and tail with less camber.
You’ll find elements of each of these design types on different skis, and versatility has become a focus for many manufactures as they respond to skier demands for an ideal ‘one-ski quiver’. Though versatile, a ‘well-rounded’ ski sacrifices being great at one thing in order to be good at lots of things. Ask yourself, “What kind of skiing do I want to do.” If you listed off a few different things, then a versatile all-mountain ski is a good choice. If carving or powder are sitting alone on your list, then you have your answer. It all depends on what style of skier you are.
Try Before You Buy
The ski buying process can be overwhelming. Our suggestion after reading this article is to stop by your local ski shop and talk to a seasoned expert about your needs. And if you’re in Park City, stop on by our Park Avenue or Deer Valley Snow Park locations to talk about skis.
The next step is to test. Get on a demo program and try out different skis you’re interested in. Only after you’ve actually tried a pair of skis will you know how you like them. Jans even has a Test Program that lets you apply the cost of demo days toward the purchase of a new pair of skis.
We’ve also put our entire Ski Wall online with all our skis, their dimensions, and intended use for easy reference.
Paul Boyle, Production Manager, jans.com
This post was updated on August 24, 2022.