How to Pick Skis

When it comes to picking the right skis, it can seem overwhelming. There are so many choices and the technical specifications can seem difficult to understand. I am going to break it down for you today to help you make an informed decision. A little bit of research can go a long way to understanding skis!

One of the first things to do when getting ready to purchase a pair of skis is to think about your dream lines. What do you aspire to ski? For me, my mind goes to a deep powder day with stable avalanche conditions. I dream of ripping down steep lines while the cameras record photos and videos that will end up in ski films and on the covers of magazines.

After indulging that fantasy for a moment, I come back to the reality. And the reality is, most days are not stable, deep powder days. Most of the time, I am skiing tracked up powder or variable snow and I do not need a giant ski. Of course, I want something that can handle a deeper powder day, but the reality for most skiers is that those days of ripping deep, untracked powder are rare, and the powder gets tracked up quickly. The good news is, there are many skis on the market today that will allow you the versatility to have floatation in powder while maintaining maneuverability and responsiveness in harder snow conditions.

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.

One of my biggest pieces of advice for picking skis is to do your own research instead of relying on the recommendations of your partner, someone at a shop or a friend. The reason is – ski preferences are highly individualized. Think of it as ordering from a menu at a restaurant. Someone may like their food spicier than someone else. Or think of it like picking shoes. Your foot shape may be completely different than your partners.

One of the ways you can learn more about skis is by reading reviews in magazines such as Backcountry, Powder, Ski, Skiing or online on, blister review or You can also read the reviews and descriptions on retailer’s websites. Skis are a relatively big investment, and it is better to take the time to do your own research to get the right ski for your style.

Ski days are precious and finding the right gear can help you maximize fun. Do your own research and insist on getting the right ski for you. Remember, a ski does not have to be heavy to be smooth. Don’t blindly trust your partner or a ski salesperson to tell you what ski to get. And if you’re more knowledgeable than your friend, listen to their goals with their skiing, help them gather information to make an informed decision. While hand-me-downs are good, it is worth it to spend a little bit more upfront to get a ski that works for you. But you can find great skis on the used market!

Thanks for reading a few of the things I have learned about picking a ski and I’ll see you on the slopes!

Caroline Gleich