Choosing skis & ski clothing

It used to be you could determine your ski length by reaching the tip of the ski to the top of your head. You’d add five to 10 centimeters according to skill and weight. Using the top of your head is still a good guide, but with shaped skis, the trend is to shorter skis.

Shaped skis are wider and have more surface area touching the snow. They’re more stable. Performance combined with new construction techniques and materials mean shaped skis can be shorter than their long narrow predecessors. With such a versatile ski, manufacturers don’t have to produce as many lengths of ski and shopping becomes easier.

What Ski Length?
Here’s a good rule of thumb.

  • Juvenile Age 2-5: Ski tip below chin
  • Junior Age 6-12: Ski tip center of forehead
  • Adult Beginner to Intermediate: Head height minus 10 to 15 centimeters.
  • Adult Intermediate to Advanced: Ski tip 5 to 10 centimeters under head height.

More important than height, though, is a skier’s weight. Heavier skiers can turn a larger ski with less effort than lighter skiers can. Women, especially petite women, are light and need a ski that’s very responsive.

Do you want to make short, tightly carved turns? Go for a narrow waist and small sidecut radius. Medium length turns for skiing around the whole mountain call for a medium waist and sidecut radius. For longer turns or racing, go for a fairly straight, wide ski, that is, one with a shallow sidecut or large sidecut radius. Skiing moguls requires skis with little sidecut because the turns are made more in the air than actually on the snow. Powder skis are wide in the waist with a large tip and tail to get and stay on top of the powder.

Understanding Ski Construction
The most durable skis use fiberglass cloth wrapped around a wood or foam core. Another common construction is laminate or sandwich, which uses layers of fiberglass glued to the top and bottom of the core. Although sandwich construction often provides a smoother ride, it’s also less durable and can delaminate over time. Wood cores tend to be more responsive and durable, but more expensive. Foam cores are lighter weight and have a more consistent flex, plus they’re less expensive. The downside is that they can feel less than lively next to wood core skis.

With construction becoming more complex, the core is less of a factor in the flex or stiffness of a ski. The amount of flex in a given ski, makes a big difference in how and where you ski. Stiff-flexed skis are able to absorb the shock that is generated at high speeds and on hard-packed surfaces. They are intended for fast-skiers who stick to packed or groomed surfaces such as racecourses.

Stiff skis are more difficult to maneuver, because they require the technique of tilting onto the edges to create carved turns.

Pliable or soft-flexing skis are easiest for a beginner to learn on and are also more maneuverable in deeper snow. In between are medium-flex skis, aimed at the intermediate level skier. Intermediate skiers usually skid the tails of their skis at the end of a turn to slow themselves down or to shorten the turn. The mid-range flex allows for these skidded turns, but is stiff enough to handle more variety in terrain than softer skis.

General Ski Categories
Expert/Racing Skis built for speed are generally narrower. They’re designed for racing, competition and aggressive skiers who like to push themselves, especially on hard-packed or groomed slopes. Usually the stiffest skis, they absorb shock and vibration at high speeds. This stiff flex, along with a straighter profile, requires good technique to make these skis turn.

Giant slalom are expert racing skis that make fast, large, carved turns. They usually hold an edge well in deep, wet snow.

Slalom are advanced racing skis that make shorter, faster turns than giant slalom skis. They offer good control on steep, icy terrain.

All Mountain/Performance Skis are for intermediate to advanced skiers who carve turns on the whole mountain, but stay mostly on groomed snow. They are wider than racing skis and have a slightly softer flex, so they can handle more snow conditions and slower turning speeds. Their wider tips pull them into turns more easily so the skier doesn’t have to rely quite as much on perfect technique.

Skis are available in men’s and women’s models. Women’s skis are generally lighter weight and have a softer flex than most men’s skis. Bindings on most of the women’s models are positioned farther forward to increase stability and make turning easier. Women can, of course, go with any ski model appropriate for their ability and terrain preferences. Some women, however, especially those with smaller builds, find that lighter women’s skis are easier to control.

Ski Clothing
From T-shirts and baselayers, to ski jackets, pants, socks, gloves and hats, you’re going to have more fun on the mountain if you’re dressed properly.  Fortunately, you can also look good while staying warm.  There are a number of brands that offer great technical products with improved fit and shape to help your performance down the slopes.

Ski clothing can range from a one-piece outfit or ski bib over a shirt, to a  matching outfit consisting of ski pants and a ski jacket.  To insure a fun, comfortable day on the slopes choose apparel that is easy to move in and keeps you warm and dry .

Some tips to remember:

Keeping warm is all about layers – trapping multiple thin layers of air between layers of clothing to increase the warmth without increasing the bulk.

  1. The base layer is the layer of clothing that will lie next to your skin and wick away moisture. This means wearing a set of tight-fitting thermal underwear in a lightweight, synthetic fabric, such as polyester. Cotton thermal underwear is not recommended as it does not dry quickly or insulate when wet.
  2. Cover your base layer with an insulating top and pair of pants. This is the second layer of clothing, and it is usually made of down, pile, wool or fleece. The primary function of this layer is to keep you warm.
  3. Outerwear  is the waterproof or water-resistant outer shell. A good ski jacket offers resistance against snow, ice and wind. Breathability is also key to allow moisture from your body to escape.  Some features you might want to consider in a ski jacket are zippered pockets, pit vents or a powder skirt. A key feature that makes ski pants a necessity over just any waterproof pant is that the ankle cuffs are large enough to fit over ski boots, and ski pants typically have attached gaiters to keep snow from drifting up the pant legs.
  4. Finish with ski gloves and something warm for your head. Select a quality pair of waterproof ski gloves that can be tightened at the wrists to prevent snow from entering. A hat that covers your ears will keep you  comfortable on the slopes and protect you from the wind. Make sure the hat is not too bulky if you are going to wear a helmet, which is always recommended when skiing. During colder weather, a balaclava, which covers most of your face, will help keep you warm.

So now, what are you waiting for? Time to hit the slopes.

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