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The 10 Best Skis of Winter 2022/2023

We tested countless pairs to compile this list of top options that are worth your hard-earned coin.

best skis
Chris Baikie

The good news is that there are a lot of really great skis available right now. That’s also the bad news. Too many choices — even if they’re good ones — can make it hard to decide on which pair to buy. I'm here to help. While there are a ton of variables you could consider, most aren’t important. Consider your skiing style, then focus on a few key points: waist width, turn radius, rocker profile and length.

Figuring out your wants in respect to those key factors will leave you a smaller selection from which to choose. From there, check out these picks for the best skis of winter 2021-2022. From my base in British Columbia, I've tested dozens upon dozens of pairs — that's me in the lead photo, you know, working — so I have a pretty good idea. But I haven't tested everything.

So talk to some shops. Read other reviews. Refine your list some more and then go demo a few pairs. The only way to know for sure if you’ll like any one of these skis is to try them for yourself. Watch for demo days at your resort or ask in your local shop. Most will deduct the cost of any demos when you buy a ski.

If that’s not possible, narrow your list to the top three and pick the one with the coolest graphics. Seriously, you should love your skis, inside and out.

Four Factors to Consider Before You Shop

Waist Width

The width of a ski determines how easy it is to get from edge to edge, how much it wants to float in soft snow and how easy it is to carve. Narrower widths – say 60mm to 80mm – are best for nimble and precise carving. Powder skis are on the other end of the spectrum, 110mm and wider. All-mountain and park skis land anywhere in between.

Turn Radius

Think about how you like to ski. Do you make lots of turns or prefer to open it up and ski straight and fast? Most skis list their turn radius, and it often varies slightly with ski length. 17 meters is a rough middle of the road. Anything over 20 is a missile. And 13 meters could probably carve a circle.


Rocker makes skiing easier by making the ski feel shorter because less ski is in contact with the snow. Pretty much every ski has tip rocker. The longer the tip rocker, the easier it is to start a turn and the more a ski wants to float in fresh snow. Tail rocker helps release a ski at the end of a turn. That’s especially handy for making steep terrain easier.


“I can hate a ski in one length and love it in another,” says Ben Rabinowitz, a ski advisor for Backcountry. The length of your last pair of skis is a good place to start. Otherwise, aim for about your height or a little less. And remember that rocker makes a ski feel shorter.

How We Tested

powder skiing
It’s not an easy job, but someone has to do it.
ZargonDesignGetty Images

As technical editor at Ski Canada Magazine, the Great White North’s largest circulation ski publication, I organize a ski test every spring at my local ski hill, Mount Washington Alpine Resort. I've been doing it for six years now. Most of the major ski manufacturers send me the skis they will debut the following winter and I assemble a team of testers, weekend warriors, full-time ski instructors and ski bums to try them out. Over two days we test more than 40 pairs of skis that vary from the widest powder planks to the race-ready bombers. The testers record their observations and opinions on comment cards.

During the testing, I’m pretty busy adjusting bindings and chatting sidecut, construction and performance, so I only get to ski a handful of the skis. But over the winter I make a point of getting out on every new model for at least a run. When the snow has melted I add my own observations to the tester feedback and check out what other ski reviewers are saying. Add it all up and the results are below.

      Elan Ripstick 96 Black Edition

      Best Overall Ski

      Elan Ripstick 96 Black Edition


      • Great edge hold on firm snow and ice
      • One of the most versatile and user-friendly skis we have tried

      • Intermediate skiers may prefer the regular version over the Black

      This version of the Ripstick will please everyone - a rarity in the world of skiing. No matter who I handed these skis to — from a 14-year-old ripper to his groomer-loving weekend warrior dad, a 55-year-old ski instructor to accomplished experts — everyone raved.

      Elan borrowed the shape from the original Ripstick 96, a ski I already really liked. There’s an early rise in the tip, which makes it easy to get on edge at the start of a turn and helps with float in fresh snow. More rocker in the tail again helps with planing and keeps the skis agile, for ditching speed in the steeps or sliding them out just for fun. Plenty of camber underfoot gives the ski a lively feel and helps with edge bite in firmer snow.

      And like most Elan skis, the Ripsticks are asymmetric — there’s a right and left ski, which puts more ski over the edge, helpful for gripping on groomers and ice. Finally, the 96 mm width under the foot is a versatile size for doing a little bit of everything. The only knock on the original was at high speeds and chopped-up conditions, where it got a little unpredictable.

      The Black Edition smooths out the performance by adding a bunch of carbon to the construction: twin rods down the edges of each ski, a sheet focused over the inside edge and under the binding, and more in the tip and tail. The result is a slightly stiffer ski, which translates to better edge hold on hard snow and less shakiness in tracked-up powder.

      Usually adding stiffness to a ski makes it heavier and harder to ski, but because Elan used carbon (instead of metal) the Black Edition Ripsticks remain relatively light and easy to ski. It’s definitely happier in softer conditions than east coast ice and for intermediate skiers, I’d suggest sticking with the regular version over the Black. But otherwise, this is one of the most versatile and user-friendly skis I’ve tried.

      There are lighter skis, stiffer skis, better carving skis — but there are few that can do as much, so intuitively, as these skis do. It defines the all-mountain category and it looks badass, too.

      • Sizes: 164, 172, 180, 188
      • Turn Radius: 18m (180)
      • Ski Weight: 1710 +/- 50g (180)

        Stockli Montero AX

        Best Upgrade Ski

        Stockli Montero AX


        • Easy to ski, loves to go fast

        • Expensive, strong skiers only

        I’ve never tried a Stockli ski that wasn’t luxurious and the Montero AX is no exception. It was smooth and silky with a weighty, stable feel that felt more planted and controlled the faster I pushed it. Kind of like driving a luxury car.

        Chalk that up to process. A lot of ski brands share manufacturing facilities. Not Stockli. They have a private plant in Lucerne, Switzerland where they hand-build all their skis. Each board takes an average of five days and includes up to 140 steps, whereas a major brand might spit out a finished ski in eight hours.

        Most of their skis share a similar construction of high-end materials, including a lightweight wood core and a full sheet of metal. In the Montero AX the Titanal top sheet has an S-shaped cut-out at the tip and tail. This creates more flexibility for easier turn initiation and forgiving skiing while maintaining torsional stability for carving in firm snow. With tip and tail rocker to help with swiveling, these were a surprisingly easy ski to turn, even at slower speeds. As I picked up speed they never wavered in their stability and support. They crashed through slush and chunky late-day conditions and felt more nimble than most 80 mm skis, transitioning edge to edge at the flick of a toe.

        While we had the most fun on these laying trenches in groomers, they were capable in all conditions. The softer tip and tail make them predictable and smooth in the moguls and there is enough tail rocker to throw them sideways to dump speed in the steeps.

        There’s also a Montero AR, which is a little wider and stiffer. More powerful skiers preferred these to the more easygoing AX. But unless you’re a former racer or high-end instructor we suggest sticking to the AX. It will make you feel like a better skier no matter where you take it.

        • Sizes: 163, 168, 173, 178, 183
        • Turn radius: 15 m
        • Ski weight: 3,530 grams

          Dynastar M-Menace 90 Skis ​+ XP 11 Bindings

          Best Budget Ski

          Dynastar M-Menace 90 Skis ​+ XP 11 Bindings


          • From park to pow, surprisingly versatile and playful
          • Unbeatable price

          • Wood and fiberglass build not as not as powerful or stable as a metal ski

          There’s a lot to like about this ski, and the price is just the beginning. No matter where I took it, no matter the conditions, it felt comfortable. It only falls short of its high-performing brethren in a few places and more than makes up for it in versatility and easygoing attitude. That adaptability comes from a mix of construction and design. It’s a wood and fiberglass build with a 90 mm waist, and it looks like a throwback to a decade ago when twin tips were common in freeride and all-mountain skis.

          The Menace can certainly play in the park. It has plenty of pop for getting airborne and feels stable on landings. The design is not as symmetrical as true park skis, but it is close enough to ski and land backwards.

          But where a lot of park skis feel awkward doing anything else, the Menace easily transitioned to bumps, tight trees and groomed runs. The tip and tail rocker and a progressive flex from tip to binding and on to tail were predictable and easy to handle dropping into deep carves or making quick turns. On groomers, the heavier-weight ski sunk into turns and held on. It preferred a slightly washed-out finish to a crisp launch into the next turn, but with effort, I could bring it all the way around.

          It’s not as powerful or stable as a metal ski, but it’s also not as demanding; I could ski hard on it all day without feeling like I had tanks on my feet. And in powder, the generous rocker offered decent float.

          Put it all together, and the Menace impressed me before I saw the price. It feels natural and comfortable in so many different situations. People who approach skiing with a playful attitude will like it best. There are few skis that offer so much fun for so little money.

          • Sizes: 130, 140, 150, 160, 170, 180
          • Turn radius: 10m to 27m
          • Ski weight: 1400g to 1750g

            Volkl Kendo 88

            Best Eastern All Mountain Ski

            Volkl Kendo 88

            Volkl rei.com

            • Versatile, forgiving

            • Narrow for powder

            This was the most popular ski at my ski test this year. Everyone from strong intermediates to expert rippers came roaring into the test pit gushing praise for this highly versatile ski.

            The 88-mm waist was easy to swing through varying-sized arcs in hard and soft snow. It felt lively and responsive everywhere, danced through the bumps, and charged through the late-day heavy slush without deflecting or jitters. But that didn’t mean it was a demanding companion. Lighter and more finesse skiers found it easy to control at any speed.

            I attribute this to two things. One, tailored carbon and Titinal. A variable-shaped sheet of metal runs the length of the ski. It is full-width underfoot but quickly moves to a frame around the edges for the rest of the length. This creates lots of dampness and power without being overwhelming. In addition, at the tip Volkl placed strands of carbon in a fan shape. This adds additional torsional rigidity for strong tip engagement at the start of the turn, but without the weight penalty if it was all metal. Put the two technologies together and the ski locks into turns like a full metal ski but remains light and maneuverable.

            The second key to its performance is a variable sidecut. The front and back of the ski are in the mid to high 20-meter range (depending on length) which is fairly long. Underfoot is tighter, ranging from 13 to 17 meters. This helps the Kendo feel like a long-radius ski at high speeds and in big turns while it retains the quick turning ability of a GS ski.

            It was so popular with so many skiers we contemplated naming the Kendo 88 Best Overall Ski. I think the Elan Ripstick Black Edition’s wider platform gives it a little more all-around versatility. But for skiers in the east, particularly those who mostly stick to packed snow, this is one of the most approachable and exciting skis you can click into.

            • Sizes: 163, 170, 177, 184
            • Turn radius: 16 m
            • Ski weight: 1898 grams

              Line Blade Optic 104

              Best Western All-Mountain Ski

              Line Blade Optic 104


              • Versatile, playful and fun

              • Heavy

              This might be the most demanding category. A one-quiver ski for the west has to be good at floating through fresh snow and gripping rock-hard groomers, weaving through tight trees and bombing wide-open bowls. It’s asking a lot, but the Blade Optic impressed me and most testers no matter the assignment or the conditions.

              The Blade Optic is a new ski from Line, a brand that leans towards the park and pipe and freestyle side of skiing. And the 104 is the second widest in the four ski families, which also include 92, 96 and 114 widths. The wider three skis share a construction of an aspen wood core, extra thick edges and base, and what Line calls Gas Pedal Metal. This is a full-length sheet of Titanal that runs down the middle of the ski with ribs that extend right to the edges underfoot. The shaping includes twin tips, lots of rocker and camber underfoot. Finally, the sidecut is variable, with five different radiuses along the ski for versatility. It averages out to a relatively long 19 meters.

              The upshot is a ski that’s hard to categorize. It’s stable and powerful like we’d expect from a metal-laminate ski, but also playful and loose, which we definitely don’t. We could lay it over on firm groomers and it would hold an edge and carve like a much narrower ski. When we pushed the speed limit it always felt smooth, even in chopped-up snow and chunder. Yet, it also seemed to beg us to pop off every roll and slide out the end of our turns. It was just as happy wiggling through the bumps and trees as it was opening it up on a powder face. At the end of the day, when our legs were tired, it didn’t feel like a lot of work. Even less aggressive skiers liked its approachability.

              Fun is probably the best description for this ski. It put a smile on my face with its rare combination of stability and power with playfulness and ease. I found the 104 skied like a much narrower ski when I wanted it to and like a wider ski when I needed girth. I can't think of a ski that I'd rather have on my feet on a big western mountain.

              • Sizes: 171, 178, 185, 190
              • Turn radius: 19m
              • Ski weight: 1890 - 2100 grams

                Head Kore 85 X

                Best Ski for Intermediates

                Head Kore 85 X

                $399.82 (33% off)

                • 85 mm width is narrow enough to carve but wide enough float on softer snow
                • Ideal for intermediate skiers looking to advance

                • More experience skiers will prefer the stiffer, wider Kore freeride skis

                The Kore 85 X borrows technology from Head’s popular freeride skis but brings it within range of intermediates for an ideal platform to explore the mountain and improve on.

                Light, powerful and versatile, the Kore family of skis has been super popular among advanced and expert skiers. But stiff and wide — starting at 93 mm underfoot — they were more ski than most intermediate and even some advanced skiers could handle. To make the same performance more approachable, Head softened the flex, narrowed the skis and added a versatile turn radius for the 21/22 Kore X family.

                Among the available widths, I think the 85 hits the sweet spot. It has a wood core with a sheet of Graphene, a carbon derivative that’s extremely light and strong. It provides just enough torsional rigidity to edge the skis in firm snow but retains the soft flex that makes them easy to turn and forgiving in bumps and tight places. The 85 mm width is narrow enough to make carving and tight turns easier but wide enough not to bog down in softer snow.

                Head-matched construction with a rocker profile that’s ideal for intermediate skiers looking to advance. Moderate tip rocker hooks into a turn easily and adds float in new snow. Minimal tail rocker makes it easy to release the skis at the end of the turn to manage speed. And generous camber helps with edging and adds life.

                It all adds up to a ski that will help intermediates take their turning beyond blue runs to the rest of the resort — and from the groomed trails to the bumps and powder and beyond.

                • Sizes: 156, 163, 170, 177
                • Turn radius: 12.4m to 16m
                • Ski weight: 1890-3000 grams

                  Salomon QST Blank

                  Best Powder Ski

                  Salomon QST Blank


                  • Cork in the tips and tails absorbs vibration
                  • For a wide ski they are surprisingly nimble and precise

                  • At 112 mm underfoot, they are not as wide as their predecessor, the QST 118

                  Typically a powder ski is a joy until the hordes have tracked out the fresh snow — then it starts feeling like a liability. But the Blank is a powder ski that extends its worth beyond those first couple of epic runs, thanks to beefed-up construction and a reasonable waist width, 112 mm underfoot. The result is a shockingly versatile ski that surprised me and just about everyone else who tried it.

                  The QST Blank replaces the QST 118 and is the ski most of Salomon’s freeride skiers are riding. They have the same C/FX construction, a mix of carbon and flax fibers, that is light and stiff. What’s new: cork in the tips and tails to absorb vibration and a double sidewall for smoothness and edge bite.

                  They’re not as wide as their predecessor, but in deep snow, I didn’t notice. Plenty of tip and tail rocker gives them a lot of lift: even in wind crust, they felt floaty and easy. And whereas a lot of big skis turn like boats, the Blanks were responsive, pivoting on demand in tight trees and bumps.

                  The biggest surprise came on packed snow. Granted it was still soft, but for a wide ski, they felt surprisingly nimble and precise. Other testers agreed and common feedback included intuitive, familiar and versatile — atypical praise for a powder ski. Even people that don’t normally as big skis loved them.

                  As a deep-day ski, the Blank is an attractive prospect. It’s a powder ski that makes few compromises and delivers plenty of smiles long after the fresh snow is shredded.

                  • Sizes: 178, 186, 194
                  • Turn radius: 15m to 18m
                  • Ski weight: 2100g to 2450g

                    Blizzard Thunderbird Sport Ti Skis ​+ TPX 12 Bindings

                    Best Carving Ski

                    Blizzard Thunderbird Sport Ti Skis ​+ TPX 12 Bindings


                    • Incredible stability in chunky conditions and at high speeds
                    • Titanal sheets above and below the core add edge bite and stability

                    • Ideal for groomers but not-so-ideal for going off-piste

                    The Thunderbird is a carving ski that can lay trenches with the best of them but is forgiving enough to ride all day. That’s where it differs from a lot of its high-performance colleagues, which are loads of fun for a couple of runs but demand a tiring level of energy and attention.

                    Blizzard found a nice compromise mostly through construction. The wood core is a laminate of beech and poplar laid out to create a flex pattern that’s stiffest underfoot and gradually softens toward the ends of the ski. This makes it easy to start and end a turn while retaining plenty of power in the height of the arc.

                    A sheet of Titanal above the core and another below add edge bite and stability. Blizzard exposed the topsheet right to the edge of the ski to armor the sidewalls. Finally, a carbon plate under the binding separates the boot attachment from the ski, allowing the ski to flex more naturally and absorb chatter and vibration.

                    The result? Smooth carves, great hard snow performance and incredible stability in chunky conditions and at high speeds. Thunderbird comes in several models, varying by width and turn radius. I like the 15 for its versatility and narrow width. I found it exciting on the groomers and intuitive in bumps and firm off-piste conditions. Fast or slow, big turns or snappy slalom, it’s the rare groomer ski that’s happy any which way.

                    • Sizes: 145, 155, 160, 170, 175
                    • Turn radius: 14m (170)
                    • Ski weight: 1660 grams

                      Völkl Rise Beyond 96

                      Best Backcountry Ski

                      Völkl Rise Beyond 96


                      • Light and maneuverable when skinning up the mountain
                      • Surprisingly good on slush and groomers in addition to powder

                      • 96 mm waist is less than many backcountry skiers will be looking for

                      Weighing a little more than two pounds per ski and designed for the backcountry, the Rise Beyond predictably feels great on the skin track and floats effortlessly in powder. What surprised me was how well it handled everything else. From soggy slush to firm groomers, bottomless powder to polished wind slabs, these featherweight skis felt like powerful planks.

                      The construction is a complex mix of woods, handpicked for lightness: poplar for stability, paulownia for low weight and beech for strength under the binding. Volkl glues them together, then mills out channels to add liveliness and cut weight. There’s also a three-part sidecut: rather than one continuous arc, each edge has three — a longer radius at the tip and tail and shorter underfoot.

                      It’s a winning combination. The skis are obviously light and maneuverable when skinning up the mountain. On the way down they feel effortless: holding an edge when needed, swinging from side to side in a pinch, floating well in deep snow thanks to plenty of rockers, and rolling over heavier powder like a much bigger, burlier ski. I was shocked and impressed.

                      Some of that variable snow performance comes from Rise Beyond’s relatively narrow 96 mm waist. This is less than many backcountry skiers will be looking for, but I think it’s actually an ideal size. When it comes to self-propelled skiing, foot weight adds up over a day, while gravity is always there on the way down. And so often, conditions aren’t bottomless top to bottom. That’s where a versatile ski like this one will keep you smiling while your buddies are cursing their 110 mm pontoons. If you’re shopping for a dedicated backcountry setup, start here.

                      • Sizes: 156, 163, 170, 177, 184
                      • Turn radius: 17m to 27m
                      • Ski weight: 2360 grams [163]

                        Black Diamond Impulse 104

                        Best Quiver Killer

                        Black Diamond Impulse 104


                        • Stiff-feeling build that lends a lot of power and stability
                        • As fun to ski deep in the backcountry as they are onthe resort

                        • Less technical and more apprehensive skiers might find them hard to control

                        You can own a bunch of skis for different purposes and conditions. Or you can simplify and just own one, like the Impulse. There are better resort skis, better backcountry skis and better all-mountain weapons. But few can do it all as well as the Impulse. It’s what I’ll be packing on ski trips this winter. With a do-it-all binding (Salomon Shift, Fritschi Tecton or Marker Duke PT), they are as fun to ski deep in the backcountry as they are inside the resort a week after a storm.

                        Designed by Black Diamond but made in Blizzard’s Austrian factory, the Impulse marries exacting construction with modern design. It has a poplar wood core sandwiched with carbon and Titanal underfoot and full ABS sidewalls. It’s a stiff-feeling build that lends a lot of power and stability. Less technical and more apprehensive skiers might find them hard to control, but those with good technique and stance will find skis that can rip groomers with the best of them, charge through broken-up new snow and bounce around in the powder.

                        The 18-meter turn radius and generous tip and tail rocker provide adaptability: I found they gave me confidence whether I was wiggling through tight trees, jump-turning a steep chute, negotiating wind crust, carving mellow warmup turns or bombing a groomer back to a lift.

                        Like all jacks of all trades, the Impulse does make a few compromises. But when you only have room for one ski, the Impulse demands fewer concessions than most of the competition. For one ski that can do it all — from the resort to the slackcountry to the backcountry — it is damn hard to beat.

                        • Sizes: 165, 172, 179, 186
                        • Turn radius: 16m to 18m
                        • Ski weight: 3539 grams [165 cm]

                          Terms to Know

                          Full-cap, mustache rocker, stiff tail and a damp feel. Get your mind out of the gutter, we’re talking ski features. Here are the terms you need to know, broken down by shape, construction and feel.


                          The arch of the ski is its camber. It’s most obvious when you place a ski on something flat. With a cambered ski, the tip and tail sit on the ground and the center is in the air. The higher the camber, the more power and bite a ski will have. Skis with no camber or even reverse camber (the center sits on the ground and the tip and tail are in the air) promote float and easy turning. These shapes are typically powder-specific.


                          How much and how far the tip and tail rise above the snow. Also known as early rise. The more rocker, the easier a ski is to turn. Less rocker promotes better edge hold. The most common rocker profile is mustache rocker, tip and tail rocker with camber underfoot.

                          Turn Radius

                          A measure of a ski’s sidecut measured in meters. The shorter the turn radius, the tighter the turns the ski will want to make.


                          Directly related to turn radius. Sidecut is the profile of a ski from tip to waist to tail. Typically the arc is consistent across the ski’s length, but brands are playing with combining different arcs along a sidecut to add multiple turning behaviors to one ski.

                          Waist Width

                          A measure from edge to edge at the narrowest point on a ski in millimeters. Wider tends to float in fresh snow better, while narrower is easier to edge into hard snow.

                          Ski Construction


                          This refers to how easy it is to bend a ski. Manufacturers adjust the flex with the materials and construction. We break up a ski’s flex into three parts: tip, center and tail. Tip: A soft tip makes it easy to initiate a turn and absorbs bumps. A stiffer tip provides bite, great for hard snow carving, and stability at speed. Center: A soft center provides a forgiving ride that’s easy to turn. A stiff center feels stable at speed, even if the tip and tail are soft. Tail: A soft tail feels loose and buttery. A stiff tail adds snap and pop at the exit of a turn. It also provides a good platform for landing jumps and skiing on uneven terrain.


                          The part of the ski above the edge and below the top sheet. The style of the sidewall plays a role in performance and durability. A full sidewall has vertical walls and is the toughest and most powerful. Cap construction slopes up to the top sheet and is easier to ski. Between the two are all kinds of hybrids.

                          Top Sheet

                          The top of the ski. Usually just a protective layer with graphics.


                          The bottom of the ski is a hard plastic. There are a couple of hardnesses of base material, but in general, it all comes from one of two factories in Europe.


                          • Dampness: A ski’s ability to absorb vibrations. A damp ski is stable at speed and holds an edge through a carve.
                          • Playful: An ambiguous term generally associated with a loose tail and a snappy feel. The opposite of powerful, playful skis is happy to skid.
                          • Powerful: Like an expensive car, a powerful ski feels stable at high speeds and bites into hard snow. Harder to control, they’re often stiffer and need more energy and skill to ski.

                            Mounting Types

                            System Ski

                            When a ski comes with a binding for a set price. The binding often integrates with the ski rather than mounting with screws.

                            Flat Ski

                            A ski that doesn’t come with a binding.

                            How to Know It’s Time for a New Pair of Skis

                            Skis have a life, but figuring out when it’s over can be challenging. When you ski the same pair of sticks for a season or a couple of seasons, the changes are incremental. They don’t just stop working, so you may not notice right away. If you don’t tune your skis regularly, try an edge sharpen and wax before writing them off. A quality pair of skis should last at least 100 days of skiing.

                            Beyond age, there a few other signs it’s time to upgrade: a lot of cuts and scratches to the top sheet, side walls or base, especially if any penetrate into the core materials; skis that don’t feel like they have any spring or life to them; or if the skis won’t do what you want them to. The last could be because the skis are toast or because you’re not as fit or sharp as you used to be.

                            “If a ski’s not fun, finding the right pair means you’re going to enjoy the experience more,” Rabinowitz says. “And if you haven’t bought a new pair in 10 years, then it’s definitely time. The technology has totally changed for the better.”

                            How to Shop for a New Pair of Skis

                            Every ski-buying expert we talked to says the buying process should start before turning on the computer or stepping out of the house. “Ask yourself a few key questions,” says Ashton Helmstaedter, the owner of Foothills Ski Life, a specialty store in Denver. “The more honest you are, the more you’re going to like your new ski.”

                            Is this your only ski or part of a quiver? Where in the country do you ski? What type of terrain do you like to ski? Do you like to carve your turns or prefer to skid and slide?

                            A Primer On Different Types of Skis

                            These questions should help narrow down the type of ski you need and then further down to performance attributes. Let’s start with the different categories of skis.


                            This is your do it all ski, filling in everything between a dedicated powder ski and dedicated carving ski. Most ski sales pros will say that if you’re only going to own one pair, it should be an all-mountain ski. They’re designed to handle everything from fresh snow to moguls, groomers and steeps — which also means a certain amount of sacrifice. “Is there a true all-mountain ski that can do everything well?” asks Helmstaedter. “Absolutely not. You’re always giving something up.” Within the all-mountain category, there’s plenty of diversity; the category spans the gap between forgiving cruisers to missiles.


                            Once you’re into the 110mm waist and wider range, the skis only do one thing well: make skiing untracked snow easy. They’re so wide that it becomes hard to pressure the edge for carving, so they don’t do well on firm snow. But because they have so much surface area, they tend to float incredibly well, making skiing powder and even crusts much easier. This is the category where we see a lot of experimentation with things like reverse camber, upturned edges and unique shapes.


                            Spend more than 80 percent of your time skiing firm snow? Look for a ski with an 80mm and under waist width. This is also where the high-performance carving skis live. Both of these groups of skis can go anywhere on the mountain, but their happy place is on groomed snow.


                            To survive the rigors of sliding rails, hucking table tops and flying out of the halfpipe, skis need to be tough. Park-focused skis tend to have full sidewalls, thicker edges and heavy-duty base material for absorbing hard landings and constant abuse. They are almost always twin-tipped for skiing and landing backwards. Their flex profile is usually soft in the tip for smearing and buttering and stiff underfoot for stability and landing jumps. With versatile side cuts and waist widths, these skis often work well as all-mountain skis outside of the park.

                            Ski Prices

                            A new pair of skis range in price from less than $300 to more than $1,300. More and more skis now come with a binding designed specifically to integrate with the ski. These “system skis” are often good value compared to buying a ski and binding separately. The drawback is weight; they’re often heavier.

                            But even factoring in bindings, the price range is huge. This begs the question, should you splurge or save? “You get what you pay for,” says Bernie Duval, a veteran floor manager at Fanatyk Co., a ski shop in Whistler. “The difference is in materials and workmanship. The ski will last longer.”

                            But most of us won’t notice the difference on the snow, says Rabinowitz. “As long as you’re paying $500 and up from a reputable manufacturer, there is no bad ski,” he says, “just a bad ski for you.”

                            You can save money by buying last year’s model. Often the technology is the same as an old graphic. Or, if you can wait, stores start dropping prices after Christmas. The drawback to either strategy is less selection.

                            One thing to keep in mind: everyone we talked to for this piece told us they recommend saving on skis and splurging on the right ski boot. “It’s fun to ski any ski if you have the right boot,” says Helmstaedter. “The opposite is not true.”

                            A Note On Construction

                            Skis are generally made from a sandwich of materials, bookended by a top sheet and base, and glued together with a resin. Material choice is getting more diverse, but even the same materials aligned a different way can create big differences in performance, so it’s hard to generalize. This is also where brands tend to put a lot of marketing energy. Bottom line, don’t worry too much about the construction details and concentrate more on what kind of skiing the brand is recommending the ski for. That should tell you more about how it will ski than what’s inside. That said, here are a couple of things to watch out for.

                            • Carbon: Strands, stringers or sheets of carbon add stiffness without weight.
                            • Metal: Most commonly Titanal, a mix of titanium and aluminum. It adds some stiffness but mostly dampening or vibration absorption.
                            • Wood: A wood core is the gold standard; we’d hesitate to buy a ski without a wood core.
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