How to Buy Skis: The Ultimate Guide

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Like many, you have found a love for the mountain air and the feeling of fresh snow beneath your feet on the ski hill. Getting your own pair of skis is an expensive purchase with many factors to consider. So, how do you choose which skis to buy?

Below we break down the details of the ski buying process and what you should look for to ensure you pick the best pair of skis for you.

In This Post

Renting vs. Buying Skis

First, you should really consider whether you are at the point in your ski journey where buying skis is necessary or not. Read below to learn more about when it makes sense to rent, buy or reinvest in ski equipment.

When should you rent?

Renting skis isn’t too expensive and most likely will be a better option if you ski less than 5 days per year. This will also give you the luxury of trying multiple kinds of skis and seeing which ones you like the best. When you are a complete novice, renting is the best option in case you don’t pick the sport up as much as you had planned. Most ski shops offer short-term and full season rentals.

When should you buy?

If you plan to hit the slopes as much as you can, it might be time to invest in gear that you love and can be comfortable in. This typically makes sense if you ski 5 days or more per season. If you’re on a tight budget, start with buying a pair of ski boots. Getting a pair of boots fitted can make a world of difference in how comfortable your feet are and can help improve your technique.

When should you move on from old skis?

If you already have a pair of skis, but they are starting to age, you may start to wonder when it’s time to reinvest in something new. There is no set rule on this since skis that are well maintained and stored properly can last for a long time. The most important indication is how much use has been put on the skis. 

Wear and tear from use is what ultimately breaks a ski down. In general, 100 to 125 days of use is when replacements should be considered. Although, this is dependent on how aggressive of a skier you are and how much damage the ski has absorbed. Significantly deep scrapes, sidewall cracking, and “core shots” are not only ugly to look at, but can affect the performance of the ski as well. These things can shorten the life of a pair of skis even further.

Three pairs of skis and boots in snow

Shopping For Skis

Buying skis can feel like a daunting task with the variety of options available. Doing a little bit of research before heading to the store will make the buying process much easier. 

How much do skis cost?

The cost of skis can vary dramatically depending on the model and condition. You must also factor in the price of ski bindings and ski boots. For beginners, a brand new full ski setup will likely cost $500 – $800 and can easily be more if you opt for the latest and greatest gear. You can reduce cost by buying ski/binding “packages”.

In general, narrower skis are cheaper, as are the previous years’ models. You can also buy used skis that were used as rentals the prior season. These are called demo skis. You may sacrifice that brand new shininess, but oftentimes they are well cared for and you will get a price significantly better than buying the skis brand new.

What are demo skis?

As briefly mentioned above, demo skis are the popular retail skis from various ski manufacturers that rental shops make available at a slightly higher cost. These skis are high performance rentals as compared to the generic, low cost, mass produced skis that make up the bulk of a shop’s ski fleet. 

Renting demo skis is a great way to “try out” different types of skis before buying a pair of your own. The best part is that in most cases, if you buy the demo skis after renting them, the rental price can be applied toward your purchase. Buying demos can be a good opportunity to get a retail caliber ski, with bindings attached, for substantial discounts. Be sure to check out demo skis in person to make sure wear and tear is not significant.

Additionally, many major resorts host a few demo days throughout the ski season. This is where retailers set up a tent and let you try out their skis for FREE. Obviously you will still need a lift ticket, but these are some of the best opportunities to try out new skis and get a feel for what you like. Make sure to look at the event calendar for resorts near you so you don’t miss these demo days.

Outdoor ski rack lined with skis

When is the best time to buy skis?

The end of ski season is usually the best time to buy ski gear. Rental shops and retailers want to clear their inventory to make way for summer items. Start looking at the end of February through April for good deals. President’s Day is particularly known for good ski sales. Another holiday weekend to look for deals is Labor Day. Many retailers have large sales just as people start thinking about ski season again and want to make room for the new, shiny models of the year.

Just like with cars, ski manufacturers come out with a new model for their ski lines every single year. That means every year is a new year for ski shopping. It also means that last year’s models get put on sale, sometimes at significant discounts. Most of the time, the previous year’s model isn’t much different from the current year’s model, other than changes to the graphics. So, shopping for last year’s models can be a good way to save money while still getting a high quality pair of skis.

Choosing The Right Skis

Your skis should be the right size for your height, weight, ability and terrain preference. We discuss these factors in more detail below to help guide you through the selection process.

How does ski ability factor in?

When buying skis, recommendations are often based upon the skier’s skill level. This is because certain construction characteristics will be better suited for beginners than for expert skiers.

What are the different types of skis?

There are several different types of skis to choose from depending on your ability and the type of terrain you prefer to ski. For beginners or those that prefer easy, groomed runs, we recommended getting an all mountain ski.  These skis can handle the majority of terrain as you continue to progress and learn more about the sport.

Front Side Skis

Also known as on piste or carving skis. If you’re a beginner or prefer to stay on cruisers, these are for you.

  • Width of 85 mm or less underfoot
  • Easier to turn and hold an edge better, which helps in moguls 
  • Perfect for groomed runs due to their ease of use
  • Don’t have much flotation in deep snow

All Mountain Skis

Most popular type of skis sold. If you want a pair of skis that can handle just about everything, this is it.

  • Width of 85 – 110 mm underfoot
  • Narrow enough to turn well and curve down groomers
  • Wide enough to have fun on an average powder day
  • Great for on piste and off piste terrain

Powder Skis

Wide skis that are best for skiing in powder. If you ski in an area that get heavy snow, these could be worth it.

  • Width of 110 mm+ underfoot
  • Tailored for floating through deep snow
  • Not great for carving tight turns on groomed runs
  • Usually have some form of rocker with medium to soft flex

Park (Freestyle) Skis

Skis with characteristics that make them suitable for use at the terrain park and doing tricks.

  • Little to no camber underfoot
  • Wide enough platform to land comfortably on
  • Have both tip and tail rockers to make it easier to ski and land backwards

Backcountry Skis

Designed to be used off piste in backcountry areas not serviced by ski lifts.

  • Lighter-weight construction
  • Mounted with alpine touring bindings for uphill agility
  • Other touring-specific features help to combat the variable conditions in the backcountry

Big Mountain Skis

For experts skiing the most extreme terrain at resorts or picking lines off remote backcountry peaks.

  • Width of 110 mm or more
  • Typically longer and damper than other skis
  • Can handle higher speeds, larger jumps and more variable conditions

Are skis gender-specific?

The short answer is no. Women do not have to use female-specific skis or vice versa. A good skier can ski on any terrain with any ski. So if there is a ski you like, but it’s labeled for the opposite gender, there is no harm in trying it out.

However, female skis are specifically designed to account for minor differences in biology. Women’s skis are generally lighter, softer, and shorter. This is because women tend to have a lower center of gravity and are lighter than men, and therefore create less pressure on their skis. Additionally, if the aesthetic appeal of your skis is important to you, the graphics can be notably different between men’s and women’s skis. 

How long should your skis be?

Ski length is one of the most important factors when choosing a pair of skis. Skis that are too long will be harder to control and will require more effort to ski. Too short, and they will feel slow and restrictive. Your preferred ski length will vary based upon your height, weight, ability, and skiing style

When deciding ski length, a good general place to start is to place the tail of the ski on the ground and hold it vertically. The tips of the ski should fall somewhere between your chin and the top of your head. Check out Powder7’s ski size chart and calculator to get a general idea of what ski length is right for you.

Reasons to Size Up or Down

Shorter skis are easier to turn and maneuver. Longer skis go faster and provide more stability, at the expense of being slightly less maneuverable. For these reasons, beginners may be better off with skis on the shorter end of the general range, while experts may favor longer skis.

Additionally, narrow-waisted skis can generally be shorter due to their smaller turning radius. If you plan on getting all mountain skis or powder skis, you may want to select something slightly longer than you would need with a carving ski.

Sizing Down (ski height is closer to your chin):
Sizing Up (ski height is closer to Your Forehead):

How wide should your skis be?

Ski width is one of the most commonly discussed details of a ski. Ski dimensions are usually provided in product details by a 3 number designation (in millimeters), representing the width of the ski at the tip, waist, and tail. The waist width is often also part of the ski’s name. For example, the Salomon QST 106 or the Rossignol Experience 88, would have waist widths of 106mm and 88mm, respectively.

Ski graphic


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Comparing Performance by Ski Width

Narrow waisted skis in this range should almost exclusively be used for groomed trails and “front side” skiing. This waist width is lighter and easier to control, thereby making them a good size for beginners. However, experienced skiers who love carving and going fast will love narrow waisted skis as well.

Mid-range skis are primarily best on piste, but have the ability to go off trail when the conditions are right. They are more versatile than skis under 85 mm.

Skis in this range are closer to true all mountain versatility. They will be best for skiers who spend a lot of time in variable conditions, switching effortlessly between open and ungroomed slopes, trees, and the occasional groomer. Skis in this range will also provide great flotation and fun on all but the deepest of powder days.

Ultra wide skis give you maximum flotation in powder and more stability in rough, chopped up snow. Turning and agility are sacrificed for skis this wide, so skiers will spend their time almost exclusively on ungroomed terrain.

Understanding Ski Characteristics

It’s helpful to understand the basic terminology about ski characteristics before starting your search. Listening to a ski shop expert go on and on about the turning radius, camber and flex is not an enjoyable shopping experience if you don’t know what these things really mean. 

What is the turning (sidecut) radius?

A ski’s turn radius is determined by the sidecut. The sidecut is the “arc” that is created by the difference in the tip, waist, and tail width. This is what gives modern skis that hourglass-like shape. The narrower the waist width when compared to the tip and tail, the deeper the sidecut. A deeper side cut means a shorter turn radius, which allows for tighter turns.

Ski graphic depicting the sidecut radius

Simply put, the smaller the turning radius, the shorter and quicker turns you can make with the ski. Although you can still make long, wider turns with a ski that has a short turn radius, it is difficult to make short, quick turns with a ski that has a long turn radius.

  • Short Radius (16m or less) - Best for Front Side / Carving Skis
  • Medium Radius (17 - 22m) - Best for All Mountain Skis
  • Large Radius (22m or more) - Best for Powder and Big Mountain Skis

What does camber, rocker and flat mean?

A ski’s profile is simply the curvature design of the ski. Camber, rocker and flat are the three main types of profiles, each of which is described below.

Ski camber graphic

Camber, the traditional ski design, refers to a long curve in the ski that causes the center of the ski to rise off the snow. This profile is common for standard alpine skis. In general, camber creates better edge hold, stability, and “pop”.

Ski rocker graphic

Rocker, or reverse camber, is the opposite. The midsection of the ski rests on the snow while the ends curve upward, off the snow. A full rocker profile is typically found on very wide skis since this design provides better float and turning capabilities in powder.

Ski flat graphic

Flat means exactly what it sounds like. If you lay the ski on the ground, there won’t be any space between the base and the snow. Flat designs are more common with snowboards than with skis.

Ski Profile Combinations

Today, most skis have elements of all three of these profiles.

This combination, also known as tip rocker, has standard camber throughout the middle and tail of the ski, but has an extended tip that rises earlier as compared to a standard alpine ski. This design provides better flotation in powder while maintaining turning control due to the camber. Several all mountain and big mountain skis have this profile.

This combination, also known as tip and tail rocker, has contact points that are closer to the middle than traditional cambered skis, but still not directly underfoot like full rockered skis. The rocker in the tip provides flotation, while the rocker in the tail releases the ski from turns easier and provides better maneuverability off trail. Camber in the center provides edge hold and stability. This is a truly versatile profile for both on piste and off piste skiing and has made its way into many all mountain skis.

This combination is another variation of rockered skis that provides more stability in hard snow while retaining ease of turning in softer snow. Performance is similar to the rocker/camber/rocker ski but is better for those who will more often be skiing on harder, groomed conditions.

What is ski flex?

Ski flex describes how soft or stiff your ski is. When choosing skis, you will want to include ski flex as a factor in accordance with how much pressure or leverage you put on your skis. Hard skiers that ski fast and aggressively will want to look for a stiffer ski, while beginners that demand very little out of their skis will work better with a soft and forgiving ski.

Best for beginner and light intermediate skiers or children. They are easy to learn on and control at slow to medium speeds, while requiring less effort to make the ski turn and react.

Best for skiers who ski in a variety of ways, as they offer stability when speed picks up while still being easy to maneuver at slower speeds. Powder skis are commonly medium flex to avoid sinking underneath the snow.

Stiff skis work better at higher speeds, and therefore require fast and/or aggressive skiers to get the most out of the performance they provide. Experts and big mountain skiers may prefer stiffer skis that allow them to maintain speed in rugged conditions.

Final Thoughts

As you have discovered, there are a lot of factors when deciding on buying a pair of skis. They are more than just a simple plank of wood strapped under your feet! 

If you determine that buying, rather than renting, is truly for you, you’ll need to do an honest assessment of your ability level and what type of skiing you enjoy. This will help you determine the type of ski, ski profile, and size that is best for you.

In general, it is best to start off with an all-mountain ski and move on to more style specific skis as you progress into those areas of skiing. The specific ski profile, construction and material details aren’t huge game changers for the majority of recreational skiers. So don’t stress about those details unless you have very specific needs. Focus on length, width, and type of ski and seek advice from associates at your local ski resort’s shops.

At the end of the day, you’re buying skis for the purpose of having fun, so you might as well have fun with the buying process too. Good luck – we hope to see you out on the slopes with an awesome pair of skis!