You've finally made up your mind. After ogling thousands of pairs of skis in the lift line, you've decided to take the plunge and buy your first pair of skis. Now comes the hard part - sorting through the thousands of different types, brands, models, colors, and sizes. Where do you start?
Skis only came in one type - long - when skiing first became popular in the United States.
Since then, ski manufacturers have started producing lighter weight, more attractive skis in different designs. Skis come in different lengths, widths, weights, flex patterns, and sidecuts.
Sidecut refers to the general shape of the bottom of the ski. Most contemporary skis are "shaped" into hourglass designs with the tips and tails significantly wider than the waist. The more pronounced the difference between the waist of the ski and its tips and tails, the tighter its "turning radius" or how sharp it will turn.
Regardless of which brand of skis you buy, they all fit into one of several general types - beginner's skis, all mountain skis, freeride skis, freestyle skis, racing skis, and powder skis. Which kind you buy should be based on your skiing ability and what type of skiing you enjoy.
All come in a variety of lengths - the shorter the ski, faster it will turn and the more unstable it will be at higher speeds. The longer the ski, the better it will track at high speeds but the less responsive it will be in turns.
If you've just learned how to ski, the best choice (and most affordable) is a pair of beginner's skis. Beginner's skis are made with the same materials and care as higher end skis but are generally lighter weight, softer and easier to maneuver. They're sold in shorter lengths so that they're easier to turn and stop. Women's beginner skis are available in 120 to 150 cm. Men's beginner skis are sold in 140 to 160 cm lengths.
After you've been on the mountain for a few years, you'll probably be ready to graduate to a pair of all mountain skis. All mountain skis are designed to handle almost all on-piste conditions. Skiers of all abilities can enjoy the freedom of skiing on an all mountain ski because they're easy to turn and they handle equally well on ice, groomed runs, and in light powder snow. Many people who only can afford one pair of skis go with all mountain skis because they literally can ski anything. Choose a length that is slightly longer than a beginner's ski.
If the entire mountain is your playground, then you'll enjoy freeride skis. Designed to handle all types of snow conditions, freeride skis are just as comfortable laying down smooth arcs on freshly groomed blue runs as they are cutting up the powder in the back bowls of Vail. Typically wider than all mountain skis, they are designed for those who crave adventure and enjoy exploring the mountain.
Ever since the Winter X Games put the emphasis on action skiing, freestyle skis have been flying off the shelves. Freestyle skis are specially designed skis made lighter and shorter than other types of skis and have one big difference - twin tips.
Unlike traditional skis that are turned up only in the front, freestyle skis have tips that are turned up in the front and the rear to accommodate skiing backward as well as forward. You'll often see freestyle skis alongside of snowboards, scooting across rails and up the sides of super halfpipes.
Racing skis are reserved for the highest caliber skiers on the mountain. Racing skis, designed for responsiveness and quick turning, are not made for the faint of heart. They are very difficult to ski but deliver great results when skied in their element - the race course. Racing skis are generally much more expensive and harder to find than other types of skis. They also require special expertise when it comes to maintenance and tuning.
Powder skis are the big boys of the mountain. Fatter and heavier than other types of skis, powder skis are designed for off piste skiing and floating through bottomless powder snow similar to water skis. But take note - on groomed runs, powder skis have the responsiveness of your father's 1959 Cadillac.
New technology has changed the way that people ski. The next time you're enjoying a day on the slopes, stop by one of the resort's demo shops and take a few out for a spin. The new skis have made skiing fun again.