Whether you’re shopping for a new pair of skis or renting skis on a vacation, it’s important to get the right length because it can make or break your ski experience. Ski shops and ski resort rental centers are a great resource to make sure you’re fitted correctly based on your height, ability level and terrain preference. Here are some tips on how to determine the correct size, including a Ski Size Chart.
Old vs. New Skis
In the not so distant past, there was one way to get fitted for skis: raise your arm over their head and flex your wrist over the tip of the ski. Ski length averaged over 200 cm. (Skis are measured in centimeters from tip to tail and millimeters for the width, from one edge to the other.) Long, straight skis were a challenge to turn. Thankfully things have changed because shorter, shaped skis are much easier to turn than long ones.
Today’s shaped ski technology has dramatically evolved into a new way of fitting skis. Once taller than an outstretched hand, now skis should go to the chin, nose or brow, depending on ability level and height. Beginning skiers benefit from skis that are easy to turn, and should reach from the floor to their chin. Intermediate skis have a little more stability at faster speeds and should aim for a ski to reach from the floor to the nose. More advanced or aggressive skiers who prefer skis that track well at high speeds, look for skis that reach from the floor to their eyebrows.
One interesting thing to note is that the amount of rocker (reverse camber) in the ski’s tip will determine how much effective edge there is (the length of the ski’s edge that makes contact with the snow). Therefore, some people size up in length with a dramatically rockered ski tip (often found in freeride or powder skis) because the ski will ski shorter due to less effective edge, while benefiting from more surface area for flotation and stability at speed.
Choose Skis by Terrain
Ski manufacturers and ski shops categorize different ski models by highlighting the places on the mountain the ski is designed to perform best. Frontside skis are the most narrow skis of the group (except for race skis), followed by the slightly wider all-mountain and freeride skis. Powder skis are the widest of the group. The length you choose can fluctuate depending on the category of ski because of performance needs in different conditions and areas on the mountain.
Frontside skis range from easy to turn beginner skis to a race-inspired construction that allows you to channel your inner ski racer without having to be one. With waist widths ranging between 72 and 85 mm, they’re carve-oriented. Some might favor short radius slalom turns, while others favor long, GS turns. With relatively narrow waists, they are designed to perform on corduroy and hard pack snow. High-performance models typically have a race-inspired construction with a full wood core, vertical sidewalls and often a sheet or two of titanium and vary between feeling damp or poppy. Most have significant camber under foot and slight tip rocker, if any, but basically, these shapely dynamic skis are built to turn.
Skis in the All-mountain category are designed for adventure and are able to move between the front and back side of the mountain. Rocker technology, deep sidecuts and sandwich sidewall or partially capped construction means these boards can multi-tasks in both hard and soft snow. Some skis are more playful and surfy, while others are like to find the fall line. The waist widths range between 86 and 100 mm, which adds versatility in different snow conditions since rocker technology adds flotation as well as maneuverability.
Powder skis are designed to surf powder snow, but they are more versatile than ever because they often combine rocker technology with a lightweight yet strong core construction. Their waists top 100 mm and can feel like surf boards under your feet, increasing maneuverability in the soft and cutup snow. Some powder skis have camber underfoot and can carve on groomers, while others have a significant rocker or full rocker and are designed primarily to stay on top of huge amounts of snow.
Freeride skis are a subcategory, between all-mountain and powder skis. They handle groomed snow as well as variable snow. These skis often have rocker added for maneuverability and flotation as well as tip dampening technology to prevent tip chatter at speed. The cores are typically made of wood with different elements added such as titanium for stiffness or dampness, or a blend of wood that makes the ski strong underfoot and softer in the tip and tail. Skis in this category can be directional and comfortable carving at top speed, while others have a more surfy, playful feel.
Kids who are ready to move from the groomers and into more advanced terrain can look at junior freeride skis. Junior skis are narrower underfoot than adult skis, but junior freeride skis will have wider waists and can help kids carve, turn quickly in trees or moguls or on approaches to jumps. Kids graduating from beginner junior skis to higher-performing skis can go up in length, without going above the eyebrows. Parents should think twice about putting their kids on a ski that’s too long so that they can get a few seasons out of a ski because it’s important to set the child up with success on the slopes. Remember, shorter skis are easier to turn.
OnTheSnow’s Ski Size Chart is a guide designed to give you an idea of suggested ski lengths according to your height. The best thing is to hold the ski in front of you before purchasing. Next, have a conversation with a ski shop employee that includes an accurate statement about your ability level and your favorite place to ski 0n the mountain. Arming yourself with the answer to those questions, as well as understanding ski categories will help identify the suggested ski length that will result in a great day on the slopes.
Ski Size Chart
height in feet-inches
height in centimeters
suggested ski lengths