Getting to Know Your Skis
So, you've bought/begged/stolen the skis, but you've no idea how they're going to propel you down the slopes?! From Telemarks to Race Skis, from Freestyle to Twin Tips skis, choosing a new pair of skis from the plethora of those available is today a very difficult and complex task.
Over the past 60 years or so, skiing equipment has moved on leaps and bounds. In the 1930s, alpine skiing made the transition from an exotic, leisure pursuit for only the selected few, to a worldwide participant sport. At that time skis consisted of shaped, long wooden 'planks' with ‘bear trap’ bindings however today you’re more likely to see such skis as antiques that are hung as decoration pieces within ‘traditional style’ marketed chalets adding that bit of rustic charm to your holiday!
Along with the 1960s came fibreglass and it was at that point that the traditional ski began to change. The 1980s were dominated by the infamous 'pencil skis' that were accompanied by the good old rear entry boots and one-piece suits with which designers creatively brought bright colour to the ski slopes. The more fluorescent the better! Whilst you may still see the occasional fluorescent number and pair of pencil skis on the slopes (or at a baste taste themed evening in town), those who continue to persevere with them should know that today, this rather dated equipment is playing havoc with your skiing potential.
The 1990s saw the introduction of carving skis which opened up the market for ski design all based on a similar carving system. In the current market, the right pair of skis should almost feel like an extension to your boots and should suit your style, ability, weight and skiing aggressiveness. The ‘wrong’ pair of skis can result in your legs becoming wholly uncooperative machines that have the potential to cause serious injury!
Selecting the Right Pair of Skis for You
Since your skis are fundamental to the enjoyment of skiing, knowing what to look for is always half the battle. Before you take the leap make sure you understand the type of terrain you will be using them on and therefore what will suit your needs.
Try before you buy! In larger ski resorts there are often good deals available for the purchase of new skis. Since there are a number of different ski variations available, it is essential when purchasing to know the type of ski which is appropriate to your needs and skiing skill. For a nominal fee some hire shops will offer a 'testing day' for the particular ski/snowboard that you are interested in. The price of your test day will normally be taken off the final price of your ski/snowboard purchase.
At the end of the season (end of March/beginning of April), a number of local resort ski and snowboard shops will have good 'end of season sales' offering up to 20 - 30% off the price of the season’s skis and boards. There's definitely some good all encompassing bargains to be had at this time if you can wait that long. In smaller resorts you should bear in mind that choice and availability may be rather limited so if there is a local shop nearby your home town with a reputation for good advice it is always better to go there before going on holiday.
In general before purchasing you should consider the following areas:
- Ski Length
- Ski Shape and Flexibility
- Versatility in all conditions
- Edge grip
- Design and Colour
There are no steadfast rules about the size of ski to purchase. As you progress and skill level improves, generally the length of your ski will increase from short to longer skis. There are however a couple of basic guidelines to remember when selecting the appropriate ski length:
- If scared of speed, choose shorter skis. They will enable easier carving turns and be more effective at low speeds. If skiing on Carving skis these should reach between your nose and forehead. For freestyle skiers doing tricks in the boardpark, a shorter ski is definitely more nimble and advisable
- An experienced skier who skis in different skiing conditions from crud to fresh powder should choose a longer ski which will keep your weight more centrally balanced, and perform better in all mountain conditions
Ski shape and flexibility
The structure and the materials used in the inner core and outer shell of the Skis are indicators on whether Skis are soft-flexing or stiff. Previously, skis were made of wood and therefore designers were limited in their range of options. Although the core of the Skis is now generally wrapped in fiberglass, part of the ski is still often made of wood, and designers now talk about the Longitudinal and Torsional stiffness. If the technicality of ski design is a foreign language to you then follow these basic guidelines:
- If the skis are rigid, they provide more support and stability. Longer skis will generally tend to be stiffer
- Soft Skis which are user-friendly, do not always guarantee stability at speed however, they will be more versatile and flexible
- Skis which are rounder in shape facilitate easier carving turns
Versatility in all conditions
Skis are designed to perform at their peak under specific surfaces or perform well on a multitude. When purchasing, consider whether the skis are to be used largely on, or off piste.
When we say 'Edge grip' we mean the 'grip' in relation to the length of the ski. The shorter the ski, the less contact there is with the snow from tip to tail, the longer the ski the more stable and control the ski will have, thus improving the overall edge grip.
Design and colour
The design and colour of the ski is vitally important to your ‘posing potential’, sadly not much else!
Ski Makes & Models
There are many make and models of skis available today, each with their own unique features functions that are individual to the model. Although most skis are based on the carving model, there are differences in the width, length and flexibility that will compliment the type of terrain and technical skiing you are doing.
So, what’s important when selecting a pair of skis?
Selecting the right pair of skis is a difficult and individual choice. If you ask around in shops or in the general skiing community the type of ski to purchase you’ll get a mountain of different answers. Be familiar with the various types of skis suitable to your skiing, as skis differ according to conditions. These days there is a vast range of skis suited to different conditions, weights, heights and styles. In addition, there are now skis which have been designed to meet the specific needs of women, who carry less muscle and body weight than the opposite sex. The popular makes and models of skis are:
- Freestyle Skis
- Freeride/Powder Skis
- Alpine Skis
- Telemark / Alpine Touring Skis
- Cross country Skis
- Racing Skis
The term ‘Freestyle’ also includes the Twin Tip model of ski. This new generation of ski has been around for the past 5+ years and allows skiers to ski forwards, backwards (‘fakey’) and sideways. Generally these skis are to be found on the foot of the energetic skiers in the board park performing amazing jumps, spins, tricks and rails. Popular models in this range include:
- Rossingnol Scratch’s
- Salomon 1080s
Freeride & Powder skis
For unlimited fun in ‘the white stuff’ choose a Freeride or Powder ski. Freeride skis are excellent in tough conditions but are generally more suited to advanced or expert race skiers. Designed with floatation, stability and lots of fun in mind, the suitability of a powder ski will largely depend on the body weight of the skier. A heavy skier will tend to need the use of a larger ski with a larger surface area and is approximately head height or above. A lighter skier is suited to a shorter ski that is on average at nose height. Popular models in this range include:
- Salomon Pocket Rockets
- K2 Seth Pistol and Made’N AK
- Volkl Gotama
Telemark or Alpine Touring Skis
The term telemark refers to a type of turn completed by the skier and was first developed in the ‘Telemark’ region of Norway. Instead of locking the heel into the skis, a telemark skier will drop their knee and thus lift the heel on their downhill ski to enable them to turn. In the early days, telemark skis were longer and skinny. Telemarkers’ used to use soft leather boots that were perfect for climbing and accessing backcountry instead of those commonly seen today. These days however are long gone, and telemarkers’ are now able to select between Hard pack rockets, bumpers, twin tip jibbers, all mountain skis, powder boards and freeride machines! Popular with backcountry and ski tourers, telemark and alpine touring skis look similar to regular alpine skis, differing in weight and flexibility. Choosing the perfect telemark or ski touring ski depends on the skier and snow conditions. Popular telemark skis in this range for different snow types include:
- Hardpack – (Examples : Atomic TM:9; K2 Super Stinx; Rossignol T1 & T2)
- All Mountain – (Examples : Atomic TM:22; K2 Super Stinx; Rossignol T2 & T3)
- Powder boards – (Examples : Atomic Tele Daddy; K2 work stinx & dawn patrol; Rossignol T4)
- Free ride boards – (Examples : Atomic TM:X; K2 work stinx & dawn patrol; Rossignol T4)
Cross Country Skis
Cross-country skiing is very different to downhill and it is a well known that cross-country skiing is one of the most difficult endurance winter sports as its uses many muscle groups in the body, and burns calories in their thousands on a hourly basis!! Generally, resorts will designate specific areas of the resort for cross-country skiing where tracks and trails are carved out specifically for that purpose. Prepared trails will have two parallel grooves cut into the snow to assist in the direction of the ski.
Cross country skis are very thin and lightweight. Typically, ski dimensions are 2 metres in length and about 5 centimetres in width, with a thickness of one to four centimetres, depending on the ski brand. Skis are generally fit to the skier based on height or weight. Like Telemark and Touring skis, the bindings in a cross-country ski are attached only at the toe. Boots used to attach the ski are similar to running shoes, and poles used will generally be longer to assist in the pushing motion.
There are four core techniques when cross country skiing:
- Herringbone - which used for climbing steep hills leaving tracks of a distinct pattern in the snow
- Diagonal stride - which basically mimics an exaggerated running motion used when parallel motion of the skis is in use
- Double pole with kick - what you see is what you pretty much get! Both poles are planted simultaneously to give a powerful thrust then as the poles swing forwards again a single leg kick is made
- Double pole - same as above but without the kick!
It has been said that if you have had experience with skiing downhill, you are more likely to have a good sense of balance which will help you to pick up cross-country skiing quicker, we've yet to test this theory though, we'll let you know how we get on !
Slalom, Giant Slalom (GS), Super G and Downhill are all part of the Racing Ski family. Racing skis are designed specifically for groomed runs, firm snow and high speed terrain. These skis have a sharp edge, and are faster, and more responsive, the firmer / icier the conditions. Race skis are primarily aimed at the advanced to expert skiers who are meticulous when it comes to flex, stiffness, responsiveness as well as liveliness of their skis. If trying out racing skis, caution is advised!!
Alpine Skis - All Mountain Terrain Skis
All mountain skis are best suited to those who ski on and off piste with the same regularity. These carving style skis provide easy turning and will glide through fresh powder with similar style, and will continue perform well in crud and slush. Popular models in this range include:
- Salomon X-scream and Salomon Crossmax’s
- K2 Apache
- Rossignol B2s
Whilst there are many brands of ski manufacturer, some of the more established providers offer the latest in technology and ‘funky’ designs for both piste and off-piste skiing. The following manufacturers can be found out and about on the slopes:
Skiing Tips & Techniques
We have teamed up with one of our top ski school instuctors to produce guides on ski technique. The articles featured here include learning how to carve and how to conquer moguls. To ensure you get the most out of your time on the piste, check out our Ski & Snowboard School Listings and perfect your skills!