If you’re a regular skier 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 specifics. A lot of skiers shop that way. And a ski shop or online store that is 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. Let’s start with some definitions:
Radius & Dimensions
Radius is the shape of the ski as determined by its tip, waist, and tail widths or dimensions. 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 creates “shape.” This is also called “sidecut.” If you were to continue that side cut 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 requires a bigger circle, and a smaller circle requires 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 not as wide, you’ve narrowed the sidecut and have made a larger circle, and therefore a longer radius, and longer turns.
Typical radius dimensions for skis are:
<16 m – short – carving and all mountain skis
17-22 m – medium – all mountain
22 m – long – powder
Camber & Rocker
Camber is an upward curve designed into the ski. Put a ski flat on the floor and you will notice that the middle of it 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, or the edge that will be in contact with the snow during a turn. This 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, moving the touch points close to the middle of the ski. The tip and tail are curved upwards to float better in soft and deep snow. Having the tip raised makes a turn easier to initiate as there is less edge on the snow.
A combination of rocker and camber is found on most skis today. The tip and tail will have rocker which brings the contact points of the ski more toward the center. This results in less camber, making initiating turns easier while keeping the tips above deep snow. The Atomic Bent Chetler 120 is one of the most extreme examples of this – featuring an extremely rockered tip and tail for float, bringing the effective edge back. In short, the ski feels like it’s a shorter length and has a highly maneuverable feel.
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. Designers try to find a balance in stiffness and radius. A big mountain ski like the Stockli Stormrider 105 has a long radius and is very stiff, because it’s intended for strong skiers in big terrain that need the stability it offers 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 to make it easier to initiate a turn.
So Which Ski is for Me?
Great question – skis today come in all different combinations of radius, rocker, camber, and stiffness. Big powder skis will have a long radius with lots of rocker and some camber right underneath the boot and binding to help you get back to the lift. Race skis will also feature a long radius depending on discipline, but will be made much stiffer and feature no rocker but extreme camber. Other skis will have no camber but have a rockered tip and tail. You’ll find this design utilized in powder, some all mountain, and freeski applications. It just depends on what the designer wants to get out of the ski. And for you – it depends on what style of skier you are.
Try Before You Buy
The ski buying process can be overwhelming. Our suggestion after reading this blog 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 are interested in. Only after you’ve actually tried a pair of skis will you know how you like them. Jans has a Test Program in which the demo price goes toward the purchase price 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
*Post updated on December 1, 2020