Ski length and general advice for a beginner buying at a swap
October 25, 2011 1:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm a beginner buying used downhill skis at a swap soon. How long should they be? General advice also welcome.

I am 5'4" and 230 (big girl!). I am probably looking for all mountain. I am a total beginner, green slopes only, but I plan on getting to intermediate this winter. I will be skiing about one day a week. I used rather short skis last year and I think I want to buy longer. If I had to guess on my own, I would say 160 but I haven't got a clue what I am looking for. I think that I should be looking for adjustable bindings but, again, no idea what to look for other than make sure it doesn't look like it's been chewed by a dog. I'll be taking them, along with my new boots, to a shop to get them adjusted for me.
posted by Foam Pants to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
At your stage of learning (beginner to low intermediate), almost any downhill alpine ski will work for you along as it isn't absurdly long or absurdly wide in the waist (i.e. the width of the ski under your boot). If I had to guess, a waist of around 75-80mm give or take a few mm is probably the sweet spot for you. Its hard to find skis that are a lot more narrow than that. It is however possible to find very wide skis and those would be completely inappropriate for you. The extremely wide skis are designed to help you in deep fresh snow which is something that you aren't going to be ready for in awhile. Plus, the extra width of the skis sacrifices performance on the groomed trails so you'd find it difficult to properly learn how to ski on the bunny hill.

Speaking of learning, consider taking a lesson. Some smaller ski hills offer cheap or free lessons to beginners. You should avail yourself of such opportunities.

As to ski length, there is no way to say for a given person's height and weight, the proper ski length is x. Ski models vary greatly depending on the manufacturer much like you might wear a size 6 shoe from one company and a size 5.5 from a different. Plus, at your ability level, dialing this in exactly isn't something that will be that important. The key is to find something that will help you learn and you can use this experience to help you buy your next pair of skis.

With that said, most ski length calculators will have 160mm as a long ski for someone of your height and size? What is your rationale for wanting longer skis? Generally skis that are longer will be faster and harder to turn while shorter skis offer the opposite. Generally beginners want slower speeds and easier turns.
posted by mmascolino at 1:49 PM on October 25, 2011

Yay skiing!

1. Before you do ANYTHING else, make sure your boots are awesome. It is MUCH MUCH better to own your boots, and rent skis if you are still learning. Skiing is only as awesome as how comfortable your feet are. Boots should be professionally fitted to you- canting adjusted, no extra wiggle room, new liners heated to fit the shape of your foot. Decent boots are pretty cheap right now ($250-400- yes that's cheap, 5 years ago boots were $700-800), so get what fits RIGHT. Spend however long you need to get boots that fit tightly but comfortably. (oh wait, on preview you said you had new boots. awesome. but I'm not taking the above out, might be useful to someone else).

2. For a beginning/intermediate skier, your skis should be no taller than your nose. you are about 160cm tall, so you shouldn't go for anything taller than 160, and I'd probably stick to the 145-155cm range. (For reference, I'm an advanced skier, 5'9, 170ish lb, and I ski on 174-180cm length skis). Anything from chin-nose height should be about fine. Shorter skiis are easier to control. Your weight doesn't matter quite as much with the skis. Make sure that whatever skis you pick up look slightly hourglass- narrower underfoot, wider at the tip and tail. Now how much of a shape you want underfoot will matter depending on the snow you ski. icier- you want a skinnier, stiffer heavier ski. insane amounts of snow- you want them fat and bendy! (fatter skis help you float)

Also take a look at the skis themselves. Ignore the graphics. Turn them upside down and examine the base (the bit that sits on the snow). how scratched up is it? Are the scratches really deep (big enough to fit a fingernail into?). if there are a ton of little scratches- no problem. If you can see metal... not great and try to negotiate the price down. Chewed up by a dog doesn't matter too much if its a ton of little scratches, but anything really obviously messed up isn't worth fixing.

Women specific skis- (usually with the requisite pink graphics) will be much lighter than men's skis. Those are fine for you. Again, your weight won't matter, and less weight in the skis makes turning in women's skis easier for you. You should be able to find a good pair of skis that will last you 2-3 years. (or longer...)

3. bindings. you don't need adjustable bindings (and at a ski swap you won't find many skiis with such bindings) Skis can be re-drilled up to 3 times before I would consider it unsafe, so moving binding isn't too big of an issue. However, make sure that the bindings are NOT junior bindings- you'll probably want a Din of about 5.5-7 due to your weight/ability level. At your height, some of the skis might have junior bindings and that means they are not good for you- DON'T GET THEM. (they might have a little "Jr" on the side someplace). As you get better, your din setting will rise (low din setting == you will pop out more easily and therefore not break your ankle/knee/whatever, but also every time you fall, skis come off). make sure you get your boots fitted to the skis at a ski shop with certified technians. THIS IS MANDATORY. (yea you mentioned it, but for the love of god make sure that a pro adjusts things) When you get the boots fitted to the bindings, ask the tech if the skis need to be tuned up. sharp, freshly waxed skis will make the learning process much easier, it's very much worth the 20-30 bucks. (sharp edges are easier to stop in!)

4. Don't spend more than 10 bucks on poles.

5. Take a lesson or two every few weeks and have fun! regular lessons will push you to be better much much faster.
posted by larthegreat at 2:15 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hey, I am your height, and I started skiing two years ago. Last year, when I was going towards intermediate, I got 150 length skis, they come to my chin if I hold them straight up. They have been exactly the right length for me, as recommended by my devoted ski teacher (mother-in-law).

By the end of the ski season, I was rocking some black slopes with the same skis, no problem. So, it's not like you can't go more advanced with shorter skis.

Yes, larthegreat is totally right, the boots are very very very important. Get awesome boots, save on the skis. And have fun!
posted by copperbleu at 2:43 PM on October 25, 2011

Wow, three answers and each one full of good advice. Here is my plan

1. Get my new boots fitted to me. I got lucky that I found a pair that fit well in the three women's boots available in town. The last buckle is a little too tight on the calf in the factory settings. I stood in them for 20 minutes without any leg fatigue of any kind. Compared to the rentals from last year, they feel like sticking my feet into a tight bear hug delivered by an actual teddy bear. I hope they hold up.

2. Look for skis about 150cm long, not too wide, especially since we tend towards icy snow here. Make sure the base isn't all scratched up.

3. No junior bindings or anything that's already been drilled twice. Have them adjusted for me and tuned up.

4. Find poles in the woods after some kid has a yard sale.

5. Join the "Reach the Peak" ski skills program for women at my local mountain.
posted by Foam Pants at 5:29 PM on October 25, 2011

All good advice so far. A couple of things to add.

I spend about 100 days a season in skis/boots, teaching skiing and skiing for fun. Skis are, well, not exactly disposable, but definitely a tool that you select to suit your purpose. I don't get attached to skis. Since you're improving, the right ski for this season might not be the right ski for next season. So, buy the right skis for this season, and feel free to unload them at a swap next season if you outgrow them.

Most swaps won't sell older equipment, but just in case, make sure the skis you buy are shaped, not straight, skis. Modern technique relies on foot rotation and edging, and shaped skis are key for that. Also, skis with a short turn radius will help you get to carving quicker -- look for a turn radius around 12m or less. Most shaped skis will have the turn radius printed somewhere on the ski. For a given model of ski, shorter length almost always means shorter turn radius.

On the length -- what makes you think you need longer skis? Let us know so we can figure out if it's really a ski length issue you're dealing with, or maybe something else. Just so you know, I'm about your weight and my teaching skis range in length from 150 to 165, and I may actually buy SHORTER skis this year for teaching -- 140s or so. Short skis are FUN, and easy to get around in. I have longer skis, too. It all depends on what you're trying to accomplish. So again, let us know why you think you need a longer ski and we'll figure it out.

Also, LevelNine Sports has a ski selector app that does a pretty good job IMO. For your height/weight combo, and a lower-intermediate skill level, they recommend 150cm. That sounds about right to me, too. Anywhere from 145 to 152 should be good. Barring special circumstances, even 155 is probably too much until you get to the advanced level. Remember, the shorter the ski, the faster you'll learn. And you can always swap next year if you outgrow them.

Boots, on the other hand, yeah, what everybody else said. I am married to my boots, and often tell people I'd be more upset if somebody stole my boots than my car. It would certainly be more trouble to replace them. So yeah, the fitting is key and if you have a choice of shops, try to find out which one does a better job fitting. Hopefully they can move that top buckle for you so you can close it. Also, be prepared to go back for more fitting after a few days in the boots; they pack out with use and also you'll have a better idea where the trouble spots are after you've used them for a while.

You don't even need poles for skiing as a novice/intermediate, really. Some days they never come out of my locker. They will help you get around on the flats/in the lift line. So yeah, cheap poles are fine. If you're raiding the dumpster, though, keep away from anything that looks bent, as they could be one yard sale away from snapping and impaling you.

I can't make any promises, but becoming a solid intermediate this year is a very realistic goal if you go once a week AND take lessons. That "Reach the Peak" program sounds great. Don't forget to practice! But most importantly, have fun.
posted by Opposite George at 8:58 PM on October 25, 2011

I was thinking shorter skis because I assumed that shorter skis were for rank beginners. I had 140cm rentals all last year that got me down the bunny hill and the greens, no poles. I am definitely dumping that presumption.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:08 PM on October 25, 2011

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