When we design skis, these are the 4 elements we talk about when deciding on what to build, the rest comes later.
This could be a book in itself, but let me boil it down for you. I’m not going to use terms like “powder” or “all-mountain” etc. because everyone has a different opinion on what each of those skis should be. Never go by these marketing buzzwords to choose a ski for this exact reason.
Instead, I’ll describe different attributes of a ski and what they are good for. All skis out there are basically a 'mix and match' of these characteristics - it’ll be your job to figure out what mixture you want. At the end of the day, there is no perfect ski. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Camber is how much the ski ‘arcs upwards’ in the middle when laid on a flat surface. The more camber a ski has, the more it tends to perform well on groomers/hard snow. Camber essentially dictates how much "energy" a ski has when turned on edge. Skis with more camber tend to feel and act much "quicker" than skis with not as much camber.
Rocker is the exact opposite of camber. Think of the shape of the base of a rocking chair... Instead of the chair base being flat on the ground, the base is "rockered" enabling it able to literally "rock" back-and-forth.
Similarly, for skis – instead of the base of the ski having "full camber," the tip and tail are "rockered," or flared up. Visually, the tips ‘splay’ apart when put together (base-to-base, like when you’re carrying them).
Skis can have both camber and rocker. In fact, most modern skis have a combination of both.
The more “rocker” a ski has, the more they will float in powder. They will also feel ‘looser’ (i.e. easier to smear around when flat-footed) and have less grip on groomers (because more of the edge is suspended off the snow). A ski with rocker/early-rise tends to be more forgiving but you’ll trade off some of that snappy turning – "grip & rip" feeling you get with a full camber ski.
Sidecut is a skier’s term for how quickly a ski will turn. The lower the number, the “zippier” the ski will be. The higher the number, the more stable it will be when making larger, arcing turns.
<13m - Slalom style - super tight turns. You’ll be turning all day long with this.
14-16 - Great for carving and on-piste, even when mixed with a little rocker/early-rise.
17-19 - Usually no longer considered a ‘carving’ ski. Can still perform on groomers but generally seen in skis designed for a wide range of conditions (trees, bowls, groomers powder etc).
20-22 - Typically freeride powder skis. You’ll need higher speeds to carve well on a groomer
22< - Big mountain, large open bowls (if you’re skiing Alaskan lines, you’ll have a 28+ meter ski)
Did I miss something? Email me and I'll add it!
FACTORS TO CONSIDER: There are 5 things you need to consider when picking out a ski. Remember, these are aspects you need to decide - not your buddy who tells you stuff. Sure, take it into consideration, but remember you are buying for you, not them.
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FACTORS TO NOT CONSIDER: Just as important are the things you SHOULD NOT consider when picking a ski. In my experience, with all the things to think about, I would worry about these the least.