How to Size Skis
That new pair of skis will last a long time, with a cost to match. Get the most out of your purchase with an accurate sizing approach. Once you've found the proper length, narrow down your options based on additional features. If this is too complex for you, just go with the manufacturer's recommendation for your favorite terrain type.
Choosing Ski Length
Determine the type of skiing.Cross-country, downhill, and trick skiing all use different ski designs. Using the wrong style of skis can be very dangerous.
- Cross-country skis are long, thin, and flat, with a pointed toe.
- Downhill skis are shorter and fatter, with a round, flared toe.
Compare the skis to your height.Stand the skis vertically next to you. As a starting point, look at skis that stand between your chin and the crown of your head.There are more factors to consider, but browse this general range for initial options.
- If you prefer to stick to numbers, measure your height in centimeters and look for skis no more than 15 cm shorter than yourself.
- Young children should use skis at chin height or a little shorter. Don't be tempted to pick a size that they'll "grow into," as this will be more difficult and dangerous.
Evaluate your skiing ability.Shorter skis are more nimble, but less stable at high speeds. Longer skis are more stable at high speeds, but have a longer turning radius and tend to be sluggish at slow speeds.Use this guide to narrow your options:
- Beginner skiers should look for skis around chin or mustache height. These are great skis for practicing smooth turns and control.
- Intermediate skiers should look for skis around nose height. Most amateur skiers fall in this category.
- Advanced skiers can look for skis near eyebrow height.
- Expert skiers may try any skis from the eyebrow up, sometimes even a little beyond the head.
Add length for above average weight.Heavyset skiers may wish to use skis that are a bit longer than the recommendations above. These longer skis can help in weight distribution, which is essential for maintaining safety while skiing.
- At higher weight, two models with the same size can feel quite different. Ask ski store employees or online ski forums for advice on specific brands that suit your weight and experience level.
- Reduce ski length if you are significantly below average weight for your height.
Consider terrain and skiing style.The type of skiing you do affects your ideal ski size. Skip this step if you ski on a variety of terrain, or if you're not sure what you'll be doing. For more specialized skiers, or skiers shopping for multiple pairs of skis, here's a quick guide:
- Choose shorter skis if you enjoy quick, short turns at slow or moderate speeds.
- Choose longer skis if you do most of your skiing off-piste, or if you have a fast, aggressive skiing style.
- When skiing through crud (chopped-up powder) at speed, it's best to use long skis, at least as tall as you are.
Evaluating Ski Shape
Check waist width.Ski width measurements are usually given as a series of three numbers in millimeters, such as "130/100/125." The second number is the most important: the waist or "underfoot" width, directly under your feet. (If your ski has four or more measurements, the smallest one is the waist width.) Personal preference is a major factor, but here's a rough guide:
- 60–70mm: minimum waist width, used only on ice and groomed hard-pack
- 70–95mm: "carvers" or "all-mountain" skis, easy to turn and versatile
- 95–110mm: "big mountain" and "powder" skis, more stable on soft snow; a good option for any off-piste skier
- 110mm+: used only on powder; the wider the waist, the more you'll float and the worse your edge hold.
Examine tip and tail widths.These are less important than the waist width. Use them as a final tiebreaker when choosing sizes. Here's how the measurements work:
- The first measurement listed is the tip or "shovel" width. A tip about 120mm wide and up works best on soft snow. More narrow tips are best for hard snow and sharper turns, but are falling out of favor among amateur skiers.
- The last measurement is the tail width. Most beginner and intermediate skiers don't need to worry about this one. During fast, tight turns, a wider tail will reduce skidding and speed loss.
Find the ski's turn radius.Each pair of skis should specify a turn radius in meters, describing the natural arc the ski comfortably turns along. Generally, skis with a turning radius in the low to mid teens will be easier to control on tight turns. A turning radius in the high teens or low twenties adds stability during fast descents, but you'll sacrifice some agility while turning.
- This is also called the "sidecut radius." The sidecut is the inward arc along the side of your ski, The sidecut radius is the radius of the circle that would be formed by continuing this curve.
Examine camber and rocker designs.Lay the ski flat on the ground, unweighted. If the center is raised off the floor in a dome shape, the ski has a "camber" profile. If the center is flat, with the ends curving upward, the ski is a "rocker" or "reverse camber" design. Here are the most common variations on this basic idea:
- Full camber: the contact points with the ground are as close to the tip and tail as possible, and the center is raised. These models are more difficult to turn, so beginners should try something else. However, the springy effect from pushing the center down to the snow gives excellent speed for racing and park skiing, and the even pressure along the ski provides great edge hold.
- Full rocker: an upward curve with the center flat on the floor, as though the ski were already weighted. This design helps lift you on top of soft snow, makes turning easier, and keeps wider ski designs more stable. Because you'll have a smaller effective edge, consider increasing the length by 5–15cm to make up the difference, especially if you ski at high speeds.
- Rocker/camber/rocker: the central camber with raised tip and tail. This is a versatile, forgiving option. Consider it if you'll only have one pair of skis.
- Rocker/camber: a cambered ski with a raised tip, but a contact point near the tail. Mostly used on big mountain skis, these give you power without sinking in deep snow. The asymmetric design makes ski switching difficult.
Try men's and women's skis.Most women's models have an "L" after the name, making them easy to find. However, these are not necessarily the best option for all women. Some models may adapt for women's different balance of weight and lower center of gravity. Other manufacturers follow outdated ideas of what women's skis are, simply making them shorter and lighter weight for less intense skiing. Women may want to try quality women's skis, but don't rule out unisex or "men's" skis.
- Consider renting skis as a beginner. This helps you determine what size and style of skis are best before making a final purchase. You can rent skis at most ski hills and at some sporting goods stores.
- Ski sizes are almost always in millimeters (mm) and centimeters (cm). 10 mm = 1 cm, and 2.54 cm = 1 inch.
- Choosing the right poles is also an essential step in ensuring skiing safety. When placed with the bottom of the pole on the ground, the tip should reach the bottom of your ribcage.
- Avoid using "hand-me-down" skis unless they are appropriate for your height, weight, and skiing ability.
- Old-fashioned straight skis need to be much longer than the recommended lengths used here, extending well above your head when propped upright. Make sure you don't confuse an old sizing chart with new, curved skis or vice versa.
Video: Determining Your Ski Length
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