If you subscribe to our magazine, you've already seen the Buyer's Guide in print, and if you're like us, you've folded a few corners to the mark the skis you want to be on this winter.
Still, finding and buying a new pair of skis is a big commitment that falls somewhere in-between the decision to do pizza or burrito and whom you marry. We want you to get it right, so we reached out to AJ Cargill, a 15-year ski shop veteran who grew up ski racing in Sun Valley before joining the Freeskiing World Tour in the ’90s. She went on to compete in moguls after college and has spent the last seven years working as a buyer for Teton Village Sports in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she also works part-time on ski patrol.
Whether you buy your skis direct from the manufacturer, online, through our non-profit program Moving Mountains, or at your local shop, Cargill says go slow and avoid choosing a ski based on what your friends are skiing on. "Work with someone who asks a lot of questions, is invested in you getting the right product," she says. "If it's not working out, maybe step away or go to another shop. Take your time. This is an investment."
Pro tip: If you can find a demo nearby, Cargill recommends taking a ski out for a run or two--it’s the best way to know if it's the right fit for you. These tips will help, too.
1. Where to, boss? The first thing to consider when buying a ski is where you'll be using it, meaning the location and what type of terrain you ski on, says Cargill. "This gives us a broad picture of who you are as a skier. A good shop employee will ask about your style of skiing. Most people really associate who they are as skier with where they ski."
If you're a tree skier who needs to be able to maneuver quick, tight turns, look at shorter skis that have less than a 20-meter turning radius. Want to carve GS turns down wide open slopes? Go long and lean with a plus 20-meter radius. Heading to Japan? You’ll want something girthy in the middle, with a ski that’s at least 110 millimeters underfoot.
2. Get waisted. A narrow waist underfoot will allow you to get your ski on edge sooner, which is great for firmer East Coast snow or for skiing on groomers. A wider waist gives you more surface area, which will help you float through that dreamy Alta pow.
"If you're looking for that one-ski quiver, you want something between a 99 and a 107,” says Cargill. “You can go a little wider if you're more advanced at feeling the arc of your turn."
3. Turn it up. “If you can feel that you're using the tip and tail of your ski, not just your middle, but the whole ski through the beginning, middle and end of turn, you want a camber ski," says Cargill. Think of camber as the spring in your ski--the more you have, the more energy and power you will get back when you explode out of a turn. Reverse camber, or rocker, refers to the rise in the shovel-like parts of your ski at the tip and tail.
"If you like to pivot your turns, and keep your balance right in the middle, you might want the tip and tail to rise up, which is also great for powder and more mixed terrain," Cargill adds.
4. Is that a stiff ski in your quiver or are you just happy to see me? The stiffness of the ski makes a big difference in how it will feel, says Cargill. "If you don't know, lean towards a softer ski. You have to trust your salesperson, even though you like the graphics on the Stockli, that's not going to be as friendly for someone who likes a softer ski because of all the metal."
Skis made with metal are going to be stiffer, have less flex, and require more strength to maneuver than skis made of purely wood or carbon. While a metal ski weighs more, it can also provide more stability in variable terrain, and more power for speed.
5. The long and short of it. When you've found a ski that fits your needs in all other areas and you're really narrowing it down, it's time to consider length. If you're less experienced, Cargill says your ski should hit at chin height. For more intermediate skiers, skis should be between the nose and eyes. If you're advanced, you'll want a ski that reaches the top of your head or a few centimeters over.
"If you're pretty inexperienced, you might get undersold on the length and that can prohibit growth in the sport," says Cargill. "But if you're kind of talking your game up, you can get oversold too."
Bonus: Your new skis are just one piece in a whole system. Your boots are also a big part of the equation and should be taken into consideration when buying a ski. Read more about what to look for when buying a boot here. "If comfort is the most important part of your boot, that's going to steer you into a different ski," says Cargill. "I like comfort and if a ski is heavy, I hate it because in Jackson we carry our skis a lot here.”