All about skiis
January 19, 2007 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Please help me understand the differences in ski/ binding/ boot technologies for downhill skiing. Kinda like... longer skiis are good for w, wider skiis should be used for x and stiff bindings are good for situations y and z.

Feel free to throw in discussions about materials and whatever else I should know before I go out and purchase a pair. (If you can't tell, I haven't been skiing for a long time). Sorry if this seems too chatty; I don't even know how to ask the right questions.
posted by |n$eCur3 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'll leave the materials theory to the engineers -- skis are so much better than they used to be a lot of that discussion is IMO just a matter of slight degrees (others will disagree.)

If you haven't been skiing in a long time, be aware that newer skis work differently (and better) than the skis of the 80s and early 90s, and also you can get away with much shorter skis than in the old days (even the pros do it.) They also tend to run wider. Skis can be very expensive and it's best to know what you want before you buy (and only you know that.) And you might go out a couple of times and not be so hot on it after all, or maybe decide you want to try snowboarding instead. So you should probably rent a few times before committing to a pair of skis. And rent different models, keeping tabs on what you like/don't like about each -- the folks at a good shop can help you out here. Most shops will let you put some or all of what you spend on rentals toward a pair of new skis, so ask about that. That may be part of a "demo" program -- slightly more expensive than the lowest-tier rentals but usually worth it unless you're at strict novice/beginner level.

You don't forget how to ski, really, but take a lesson the first time out anyway so the instructor can correct your old bad habits and maybe coach you a little on good technique with shaped skis.

The most important thing is finding boots that fit. There's an AskMe thread out there where others, including myself, blab about that; look for it. If you have unusual feet (low/high arches, super wide/super skinny feet, extra wide ankles or shins) you may want to buy boots and have them custom fitted. The best thing is probably to rent boots at the slopes the first time out -- make sure there's plenty of room in the toe box but your heel doesn't lift more than 5-10mm when you lean forward -- and make sure the shop will let you swap to another pair if you don't like the fit or they hurt after after a couple of runs.

It'd be helpful to know some more about your past experience and plans for your skiing over the next year or two (including what you plan to work on and where you plan on skiing -- types/geographic location of hills and anticipated conditions) to come up with some more specific suggestions. If you post that in the next couple of hours I might be able to answer back before I head up to hit the slopes tomorrow.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by Opposite George at 1:52 PM on January 19, 2007

Oh, and if you're planning on significant improvements over the next season or two I'd hold off on buying since skis suitable for you today might hold your progress back after a few times out. There's no shame in renting -- even though I have a pretty big quiver I'll still rent if I find myself in conditions (e.g., dry big mountain powder) that, as a northeasterner I'm not really set up for.
posted by Opposite George at 1:57 PM on January 19, 2007

Speaking as a former racer / instructor, here's what I'd recommend - based on the fact that you haven't been skiing in a while.

Get yourself a decent pair of rentals, maybe spring for a demo package or something like that, and schedule a private lesson. Its going to be expensive, but a lot of places offer a combo deal for the lift/rental/lesson.

Let him know your situation - you haven't skied in a while, but are looking to get back into it / invest in equipment. A good instructor will assess your skill set, tell you what you need to work on developing, and then be able to give you some good direction on ski length, type, etc..

Take some notes from what he says and then go out and rent / demo his recommendations to see if they feel good to you. For boots, you don't need to go too expensive, but its advisable to get a custom fit so they'll be comfortable for the long-run. For bindings, you can go pretty basic. Most bindings aren't going to make that big of a difference in how you ski so much as the ski and your actual physical performance.

For skis, if you haven't been out in a while, you're probably going to want to go with a shaped ski (don't go too shaped, as you get better you'll want to advance into slightly less of a shaped ski), probably a few inches shorter than you are. Be advised that skis are measured in CM's, btw.

All in all, consider spending a good deal less on your first set, with the general idea being that you'll use it for a couple seasons as you develop, and by the time you're ready to invest in a more expensive set, you'll have been out and around enough to know what you want to get into for your next step up. And talk to people on lifts / in line about their skis and what they do/don't like about them - you'll get straighter answers on snow then you will in most shops.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:11 PM on January 19, 2007

The main differentiating characteristic among classes of skis today probably comes from the width and sidecut shape. A wide ski will be better for powder and off-piste skiing. A narrower ski will be better for carving. A ski with a large sidecut (a narrow waste compared to the tip and tail) will turn more aggressively-- more like a slalom ski, while a ski with a less exaggerated sidecut will likely have a wider turning radius (ala GS). The wider the waist, the more the ski will float over powder.

You can get some vague idea of the considerations that each factor has by reading ski magazine gear reviews, such as:

But the best way to figure out what you want to buy is to demo new skis. The ski store, demo center, or rental shop at just about any resort will set you up with a pair of skis or a few to try. But if you don't already have boots, buy boots first to get a pair that fits snugly and comfortably. Having boots that fit well is the best way to improve your skiing.

Many skis today come integrated with bindings, especially among the higher end skis. So depending on the skis you choose, your binding selection may already be made.

Long skis are good for going fast, but are harder to turn. Long skis with parallel edges are primarily intended for competitive racing.

Over the last few years, racing skis have also become shorter and more shaped. Any race ski that is long and straight is going to be a few years old.
posted by andrewraff at 4:08 PM on January 19, 2007

Yeah, apart from some specialized apps (e.g., serious mogul skis) any new ski out there has a pretty significant sidecut.

Racing skis might still be straighter and longer than general rec skis, but they're nowhere near the practically-parallel sticks used in decades past - this is partially because shaped skis are easier to turn and partially because new, faster base composition means terminal speed isn't as dependent on length as it used to be.

In fact, racers like fast shaped skis so much that the FIS has had to institute minimum ski length limits and increase the minimum sidecut radius limit to keep racers from killing themselves. In the past, downhillers used to run on really long boards even though they were harder to turn (another way of saying more stable) because long boards went faster. The shorter skis go fast enough now, and are easier to turn but less stable than longer skis - the minimum limits actually make the downhillers' job harder but increase stability and hopefully decrease the likelihood of serious injury.
posted by Opposite George at 7:10 PM on January 19, 2007

Given how much skis cost these days, I might suggest that you rent exclusively for the first season. Except, maybe, for boots. These days, boots come with thermo-moldable liners that conform exactly to your foot. This is huge.

OK, I just checked and at Whistler-Blackcomb, surely one of the pricier resorts in N. America, a high end rental runs about 30$ a day. This includes boots, so lets say 25$ a day for skis and bindings that easily retail for approx. 1000 dollars.

Do you really ski 40 days a year? 20 days a year (two season break evenf)? 10 days a year (4 season break even)?

posted by bumpkin at 8:19 PM on January 19, 2007

i would say unless you're going to ski locally more than 5-10 days a year. flying with skis blows.
what you really want to own is boots. spend $$ on boots first for sure. skis are all rentable and interchangeable. boots fit your feet.
one thing to look at is buying used. you can get some totally decent learning skis from 4 or 5 years ago with bindings for probably $100 or less.
posted by alkupe at 9:32 PM on January 19, 2007

sorry that should read rent unless you're going to ski locally.
posted by alkupe at 9:32 PM on January 19, 2007

Everything that's been said above is good, so I just want to throw a few more things out there:

1) Length - a general guideline (for shaped skiis) is that beginners should buy skis that come up about to the chin, intermediates about up to the nose, and advanced/expert as long as you can handle/prefer. Longer == faster, but for beginner/intermediate skiers you probably want to err on the shorter side. Longer skis just give you more opportunities to cross them and generally get them tangled in places they shouldn't be.

2) Stiffness in general - for boots, bindings and skis, generally the more advanced you are, the stiffer you want them to be. For bindings, if they're very stiff they'll translate every tiny foot movement you make directly to the skis -- i.e., no room for error. Softer bindings will tolerate imprecise foot movements without penalizing you. For boots and skis, you generally have to be strong and fast to flex a stiff boot/ski. For boots, keep in mind that it will be much harder to flex when you're outside in 20F weather then when the plastic is nice and warm in the store.

3) Ski width - Very generally, wider skis are better for more snow. If you live and ski on the east coast and stay in-bounds, there will really hardly every be enough snow to justify anything wider than ~80cm underfoot, and something in the mid-70's will probably be plenty. If you live and ski out west, you can consider something wider, but for a beginner/intermediate that's going to ski on groomed trails you really don't ever want a full-blown powder ski.

In closing, DEMO. There's nothing like trying skiis for deciding what you want to buy.
posted by rachelv at 7:44 AM on January 21, 2007

Wait until the end of the season to buy. You can find great deals then on the skis that you've chosen.
posted by Four Flavors at 11:18 AM on January 22, 2007

Hey, I know I'm chiming in super late here (I followed the skiing tag from one of today's threads) but I felt it necessary to correct some bad advice given upthread.

Don't buy any BS that your boots will wear in, they should be snug and NOT PAINFUL when you leave the store. Boots will pack in a little, but they tend to pack in evenly.

B1tr0t is flat out wrong here. New boots should feel more than snug, even painful. If the pain is severe or very localized, then the boot isn't for you, but a moderately painful and rather unpleasant, but evenly distributed pressure is to be expected for the first few days as you break in new boots.

Boots that are snug, but not uncomfortable when you leave the store will pack out after a few days and no longer fit. Boots should be snug but not painful AFTER they are broken in, otherwise, your foot will move around inside your boots and you will have much, much less control.

It is also possible that you won't be able to find a boot that perfectly fits you. This has always been the case with me. If that happens, it is just a matter of finding the closest fit, and having a bootfitter do the rest.

The best advice I can give is find a well recommended bootfitter. Ask around if you have friends who are avid skiers and I'm sure some of them will know someone to go to. Failing that, ask around on ski related message boards to see if anyone knows a good bootfitter near you.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:42 PM on April 19, 2007

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