Whether you're walking into a ski shop for the first time or a seasoned skier in need of a quiver update, selecting the perfect pair of skis can be more formidable than navigating a steep, crusty mogul field on skis that are all wrong. With almost as many considerations as there are options out there, we went straight to the source—the ski manufacturers themselves, otherwise known as the most knowledgeable people in the industry who live to ski and vice versa—for tips on what to keep in mind when buying skis.
For each question, we picked a handful of our favorite answers across ski brands.
Q: In your opinion, what’s the number one most important consideration when buying skis?
A: Where do you ski MOST of the time? As in, where do you spend 80–90 percent of your time? This is where the average skier should focus their attention so that they are happy with their purchase. —Andrew Couperthwait, Senior Business Manager, HEAD/Tyrolia Wintersports
A: You should know going into a shop what your skiing personality is. Of course you should know your skill level, but the type of skier you are varies in how you ski the mountain. Do you like to charge fast and carve turns on groomers? Do you like to take a more surfy, bouncy approach to the terrain or do you simply just want to ski down and feel confident in any condition? Every model of ski has a certain personality and you need to find that ski that fits your skiing personality. —Josh Malczyk, Global Brand Director, Line Skis, Full Tilt Boots
A: Versatility. Snow conditions are unpredictable and will vary throughout the season. We encourage skiers to pick a ski that is versatile in any condition from groomer days at the resort, to moguls, tight trees, to making the most of leftover crud from a recent storm. Before the purchase, be in the mindset of where you ski the most and the conditions/terrain it provides on a regular basis. People will often buy a pair of skis for that one vacation over Christmas break, but when in reality they end up skiing at a different resort closer to home the majority of the winter. Regardless, you want a ski that your ability level can handle in any terrain and in all conditions. —Mike Gutt, Global Brand Director, K2 Skis
A: Thinking about the primary location where you’ll be skiing, speaking both geographically (east/west) and in terms of preferred terrain (park, bumps, powder, hardpack) will help guide you to the correct ski category for your style and location. —Nick Castagnoli, Brand and Communications Manager, Group Rossignol North America
Q: What 3-5 things should you know when walking into a shop/browsing the Internet to buy skis?
A: What type of terrain am I looking to ski? What type of skier am I (do I like to do tricks or make high speed carves?) What’s my budget? A basic understanding of ski anatomy: rocker/camber, waist width, sidecut, flex and how those things impact ski behavior. —Jordan Judd, VP of Marketing, Armada Skis
A: 1. Shop employees are great resources.
2. Just because a certain ski is the “hot” model of the year doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for a buyer's particular needs/abilities.
3. Almost everybody is making great skis; take the time to demo as much as possible. —Topher Plimpton, Wintersports Marketing & Product Manager, Scott Sports
A: Be prepared to answer questions like:
1. What level of skier are you?
2. How often do you ski?
3. What type of terrain do you enjoy most?
4. Do you have a budget for your new purchase? —William McSherry, Vice President Product & Marketing, Alpina Sports Elan Skis
Q: Advice on ski length? Advice on how to choose your waist width and ski model?
A: Length still equals stability, but generally speaking for most skiers ski right around your eye height is a good length. Waist width should be considered for the type of skiing you’ll be doing (groomers, powder, mixed) and where you’ll be doing the most skiing (geographically). Choosing the right model will depend on what you’re willing to spend and what performance level you’re looking for. —Jake Strassburger, Alpine Commercial Manager, Atomic USA
A: With today’s ski technology and rocker profiles, determining ski length is probably more subjective than ever. Height, weight, ability and skiing style should all be considered when determining the right ski length. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind: the longer the ski = more stability, but harder to maneuver; the shorter the ski = easier maneuverability, but less stability at speed. So if you like to ski aggressively and make fast wide open turns, you’ll probably want something a little longer. If you like to snap off shorter turns in trees and bumps, skew towards the shorter side.
Determining waist width boils down to how much floatation, versatility and hard-snow precision you’re looking for. The wider the ski the better the float (100–120 mm); the narrower the ski the quicker edge-to-edge for more hard snow precision (65–85 mm), and somewhere in the middle is where you’ll generally find the best of both worlds (85–100) for all-mountain versatility. Again figure out the terrain you’ll generally be skiing or where this particular pair of skis will fall within your quiver. —Chris McKearin, Alpine Commercial Manager, Salomon USA
Q: What’s the biggest potential pitfall to avoid in the ski-purchasing process?
A: Buying a certain model just because everyone else is. —Topher Plimpton
A: Buying purely based on test results. Just because a certain group of testers at a certain resort on a given day liked a ski doesn’t by default make it the right product for you. Understand why it tested well and if those characteristics are aligned with what you need. —Jordan Judd
A: The trend today is that most people buy skis that are too wide for where they ski on a regular basis (see question #1). Results of most studies show that 80 percent of the skiing public spends 80 percent of their time on groomed terrain. Based upon this info, the majority of skiers should be on skis that are between 75–90 mm, not skis that are 105 mm.
The other pitfall is purchasing based upon what others like. Just because your friend says it’s the best ski in the world, doesn't mean it’s the best ski for you. Buy for yourself, not for your friends. A knowledgeable salesperson can become your greatest asset in the buying process. —Andrew Couperthwait
A: Don’t always be looking for the best deal. Do your homework on what’s working for other people. Ask skiing friends and come into the shop with some specific questions for the sales staff. —Jake Strassburger
A: Gimmicky marketing and graphics! Yes it’s great that the ski is white and looks really light and there’s technology callouts all over the ski saying how fast, agile and top performing it is, but what mostly has to do with how a ski performs is shape and construction. If you know your type and location of your skiing, coupled with knowledge of the functionality of a ski, you’ll make a great choice. —Josh Malczyk
A: Not taking your binding purchase as seriously as your ski purchase. Bindings are too often considered an afterthought or just an add-on sale based on color. Ski bindings are an essential component and much like your boots are responsible for driving all energy and power into your skis. They also need to keep you in when you want to stay in and release when you need to be released. Don’t buy an $800 pair of skis and then do yourself the disservice of buying the cheapest pair of bindings you can find on sale. —Nick Castagnoli
Q: If you’re new to skiing, should you buy a setup you can grow into or one that matches your ability level right now?
A: This may depend on your perceived commitment level to the sport, how many times you anticipate skiing each winter and what level you would like to see yourself in a season or two. Someone coming from a very active background could pick up a pair of intermediate skis and grow into them within a very short time period. Someone looking to get out on some groomers to cruise around a few days a year may be perfectly happy on a pair of entry-level skis for more than one season. —Mike Gutt
A: There are many products that are being developed for entry-level skiers to help them develop faster. My suggestion would be to get yourself into something at least a step up from your starting level. It will give you product that you can grow into and not leaving you wishing you had a little bit more. —Jake Strassburger
A: Depends on your commitment to the sport, your desire to improve and your natural ability. Don’t get sold on the idea of getting a ski that will eventually work best in powder if you never intend to ski powder. —Jordan Judd
A: It’s better to buy a set up that you can grow into if your just starting out. With the advancement in ski technology, a beginner can pick up the basics much faster than 20 years ago. So if you’re a beginner to lower intermediate, buy something that you can progress with. —Andrew Couperthwait
A: It can somewhat hinge on how often you’ll be skiing and your current athletic experience. If you’ll only be skiing 1-2 times a year buy something that matches your current ability level so you’re comfortable and more likely to have fun each time you’re able to go out. But if you just quit your job, moved to a ski town, and plan to ski 4–6 times a week you may want to bump up a little bit as you’ll likely advance much faster. —Chris McKearin
Q: Final considerations or points to add?
A: Buying ski equipment can be a little daunting for people. Make sure you have some questions to ask and don’t feel like somebody’s going to think you’re an idiot or not cool for wanting to learn more about what’s out there to help you have a blast out on the hill. —Jake Strassburger
A: If an on-snow demo is possible, it is definitely a good idea try before you buy. This will help give the confidence that your purchase will be right for you, your ability and the terrain you ski. —Mike Gutt
A: Spending some money on a quality learning program to help elevate you to the next level is the best investment. —William McSherry
A: If we all convinced one more person to come to the mountain just one more day, we might introduce millions of new people to the fun and freedom of sliding down a snowy slope that usually ends at a bar with a fireplace. —Josh Malczyk
A: Krista Crabtree rocks. —Nick Castagnoli