Get smart! Impress your friends! Finally, learn how to pronounce Titanal! Make the most of the 200-plus ski and boot reviews in the 2019 Buyer’s Guide by familiarizing yourself with the terms used to describe ski and boot construction. Bonus points if you can explain the difference between rocker and reverse camber.
Skiers place a lot of emphasis on the types of woods used in ski construction. But a wood core—be it poplar, aspen, maple, fir, balsa, paulownia, or anything else—is just part of the story. While wood provides a foundation, materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber determine a ski's overall personality.
Everything from stiffness to pop to torsional rigidity and stability at speed depends on how materials come together during construction. Titanal, an aluminum alloy, is often used to dampen vibration, increase edge hold, and help binding retention. But the benefits of metal come at a cost, namely in adding weight to the ski. To counter this, ski companies have developed Titanal alternatives, like basalt, that attempt to offer similar power but shave the grams.
Sidecut is the arcing curve of a ski's edge from tip to tail determined by how much a ski narrows from tip to waist. The deeper the arc (how much smaller the waist is from the tip), the tighter the turn.
Sidecut can affect turn radius, which impacts how slow or fast you can get a ski on edge, floatation, and overall performance. Generally speaking, powder skis have less sidecut than an all-mountain ski since you don't need to rely on turning on hard snow as much.
With the advent of rocker, a ski may have a five-point sidecut or tapered tip, where the sidecut curves outward from the tip before curving back into the waist and back out outward again before wrapping around the tail. This shape reduces hookiness in weird snow, enables superior floatation, and provides a smooth transition in and out of a turn.
Camber is the traditional upward curve in the core structure of the ski and applies pressure to the tip and tail to help engage the edges during a turn. Rocker (also called reverse-camber) is camber turned upside down (think of a surfboard) and is the shape any ski achieves when put on edge and weighted in a turn. If a ski is built with natural rocker, it requires less pressure to flex into position than a cambered ski.
This, of course, changes on-piste performance, where more traditional cambered skis function better. Rocker skis are made to float in soft snow and ease turn initiation. Wide skis designed for powder typically include rocker, especially in the tip of the ski (also known as early rise). Most skis now feature a progressive profile, rather than fully rockered, meaning camber underfoot for hard pack and reverse camber, or early rise, in the tip and tail for off-piste shredding.
In short, reverse camber augments off-piste skiing. Just be sure to size up with a reverse-camber profile since you lose the effective edge.
Expressed in meters, the turn radius is determined by measuring the ski's sidecut through its entire circle, or length of the turn. A shorter turn radius (around 16 meters) will be easier to turn but not as stable at higher speeds.
A carving ski with a skinnier waist and a smaller turn radius can be skied at a shorter length than an all-mountain ski with a larger turn radius (24 meters and up) and wider waist width. Rockered skis are easier to pivot between turns and can be skied slightly longer than comparable camber skis. Though like everything else, this often comes down to personal preference.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Skiers place a lot of emphasis on the types of woods used in ski construction. But a wood core—be it poplar, aspen, maple, fir, balsa, paulownia, or anything else—is just part of the story. While wood provides a foundation, materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber determine a ski's overall personality.
Everything from stiffness to pop to torsional rigidity and stability at speed depends on how materials come together during construction. Titanal, an aluminum alloy, is often used to dampen vibration, increase edge hold, and help binding retention. But the benefits of metal come at a cost, namely in adding weight to the ski.
To counter this, ski companies have developed Titanal alternatives, like basalt, that attempt to offer similar power but shave the grams.
A walk mode doesn't always equate to the backcountry, as it has become a valuable mechanism to make short hikes—across the parking lot, quick OB lap, to the bar—more comfortable. For this guide, we've defined Hybrid boots as stiff, generally heavier resort- centric boots equipped with a walk mode, while Touring boots are lightweight and offer generous cuff rotation for a better stride on the skin track. Resort boots—specifically designed for aggressive inbounds skiing—do not have a walk mode, as the mechanism creates inherent weakness in the boot's structural integrity.
Shell Types & Materials
In recent years, ski boot manufacturers have invested heavily in new plastics that are lightweight but powerful, and heat moldable for customization beyond just the liner. This means that you should not lock yourself into any preconceived notions about fit and performance.
Polyurethane continues to constitute the material in most resort boots due to its shock absorption, while Grilamid is a lightweight alternative for touring. Many top boots in 2019 will have a combination of both, or a blend of polyurethane.
Generally speaking, the higher the flex rating, the stiffer the boot. But despite all the engineering that goes into building a ski boot, there is no industry-wide standard for flex rating. This is why some boots listed at 130 feel more like a 120, and vice versa. Like ski stiffness, the determining factor for a boot's flex will be in its construction.
Does it use Grilamid with a carbon-reinforced spine? Is it a four-buckle overlap with a sharp hinge between the lower shell and upper cuff? Or is it a cabrio design, where the tongue offers a progressive flex? When you flex the boot, does it warp or bend in places it shouldn't, like the forefoot?
And how much forgiveness is created by the walk mode? There is a lot to consider, so keep an open mind and pepper your local boot fitter with questions.
The last indicates the widest measurement, expressed in millimeters, of the boot, often the forefoot or ball of your foot. A narrow last is anything below 98mm, and may be indicated with an LV for low volume.
Mid-volume is between 98mm and 102mm, and high-volume is wider than 102. But last is not the only indicator of fit, and a narrow last doesn't automatically equate to an expert boot. Ankle circumference is another indicator to help determine heel hold and instep. One of the best, but most overlooked, solutions to a good fit is investing in a custom footbed.
They start around $80 and provide a natural stance within the boot, which further aids in matching your foot to the boot last.