Let’s take a moment to talk about ski specifications. Ski widths are measured in millimeters. The most common width we talk about is the width underfoot. Ski widths range be anywhere from around 60mm to around 130mm. Another descriptive term to talk about skis is the width in the tip of the ski. Ski lengths are measured in centimeters and adult skis start around 145 and go up to around 195.
Let’s take the example of the Elan Ripstick 94 W. In a 163 cm, the tip width is 134 mm, the waist width is 94 mm and the tail width is 109 mm. These specs give you a sense of the shape of the ski and can help you visualize what it will look like. You can also see on many manufacturer’s sites the turning radius of the ski. For the Ripstick 94 W, the turning radius is 15 m. These range from under 16m for a shorter turning radius up to 22m for bigger skis.
Today’s modern ski technology allows you to ski shorter skis than we were able to in the past. For backcountry skiing, I recommend picking a ski that is shorter than you typically go with. The reason is, you spend 90% of your time when backcountry skiing on the uphill. A shorter ski is lighter and more maneuverable for making steep kick turns on the ascent. Having a shorter, narrower waisted ski also allows you to sink into the powder more and get more face shots.
Another consideration for choosing the waist width and dimensions of your ski is if you are adding this ski to an existing ski collection to build a quiver, or if this is going to be your one-quiver wonder ski. After years of testing skis and having a variety of skis to choose from, I find a ski that is 88 to 96 mm underfoot to be the most versatile. You can still ski powder with a ski that wide, but that waist size still allows you to truly carve the ski on groomers and it reduces the strain on your knees to get the ski on edge. If you are going to have multiple sets of skis, then you might consider adding a powder ski that is 100mm or more underfoot for those truly deep days.