The Major Differences Between EVERY Ski (13 Types)

by Craig Jarvis | Posted On: May 8th, 2020
cross country ski

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There are many different skis to choose from (and such little time). There are skis for all the different conditions and varying levels of competency. There is something for everyone, from beginner to professional. Just don’t choose the wrong skis from the get-go because it makes your time on the slopes that much more challenging.

The Five Characteristics That Make Up A Ski

While there are more, these are the five most essential elements that comprise a ski.

1. Stiffness

Generally speaking, the stiffer the ski is, the better it handles, and the faster it goes. On the downside, a stiff ski is not very forgiving and is extremely sensitive. Make a mistake on stiff skis, and you could end up not being able to recover and suffering a nasty slam. Get the hang of stiff skis and finding the sweet spots to get you to places you never dreamed possible.

2. Camber

The camber is the shape of the ski along its length. Most skis are arched with the highest point of the arch under the bindings. The camber has several effects when riding, and each type of ski has a different camber, including some high arches and negative cambers.

3. Width

The width of a ski is a great advantage when riding powder, as is makes the ski float more, and gives you a balance advantage at the same time. Width has become a bit of a trend and a movement over the last ten years, with the wide skis, more socially acceptable and acknowledged by the experts.

4. Length:

The longer a ski is, the more edge it has, and therefore the more control the skier has particularly at high speeds. With more edge, a long ski is also harder to turn, so it becomes a compromise between speed and manoeuvrability, which is the cornerstone conundrum of all boardsports.

5. Weight

Some of the more technical skis are super light, carbon fibre-based performance skis, while others are purposefully weighted. The heavier skis are great when the powder is not perfect, as they stick to the snow better, and bush through little mounds, but are a little bit harder to throw around at will. Skiers need to be a bit more aggressive to get the full advantages of a heavier ski.


1. The Piste Ski

Otherwise known as the Carving Ski, these skis are designed for carving on groomed Piste and are not suitable for off-piste or back-country. There are Piste Skis for all sorts of competency levels, from beginners to experts, and they are probably the first pair of skis you ever tried.

family skiing

You can do pretty much anything on a Piste Ski, and whether you skid your turns, or if you carve them like a natural, you’ll still have the most fun on the standard Piste Ski. This type of skiing on a Piste Ski is the sort of skiing that you do with your whole family, with nothing too wild and extravagant. You can rig the whole family out with Piste Skis. These are also the skis that you learn on, and find your feet before embarking on bigger adventures and more sophisticated skis.

The actual technicalities of the Piste Ski, reveals the ski to have a regular camber and a waist size below 86mm. The thinner waist translates into quicker edge-to-edge transitions and tighter turns, so still some high-performance elements in a basic ski.

2. Alpine Skis

Alpine skiing is the process of getting down the mountain as fast as possible. Alpine skis are more extended, faster and harder to turn, but they are the best for downhill speed. They are designed primarily for speed, so they lose their turning ability in the process because turning is slowing down.

The main difference between alpine skis and others is that they have fixed heel bindings, making them that much more of a strapped-in experience. They are usually longer as well.

When you see an Alpine skier on the slopes, you notice immediately that their game is nothing more than speed. They have a different stance, they wear different ski attire, and they seem that much more earnest. The skis are fast, technical and precise and perform best on groomed slopes.

3. All Mountain Skis

powder skiing lines
Powder lines. Photo by Tucker Sherman

Also known as Free Ride Skis, the All Mountain Skis are your multi-functional ski that can go anywhere and do anything. To do this, they need to have several common elements that enable them to override minor imperfections and challenging situations on the slopes.

They are wide, and this helps them to float over powder. If you need to go off-piste and hit the powder, the skis adapt for you and provide the extra float needed to get you going. To an expert, however, they might lack a little finesse and high-performance advantages, but this is the downside of an all-round performer. They also have a rockered tip to get them to plow over obstacles if needed, and as mentioned, float better over powder.

4. All Mountain Wide Skis

The All Mountain Wide Skis are just that, a larger waist size of the All-Mountain Ski, made to have fun, float and override moguls and other such inconveniences. The wide waist is up to 90 – 105 mm, making them an anomaly in width but also the most fun to ride. They have tip rocker as well as tail rocker, and they love carving turns at high speed as well as floating powder.

Wide skis enhance your sense of control and balance in all types of terrain. What this means is that you’ll be skiing faster, harder, and having more enjoyment in all conditions. They are also more forgiving and give you more room to experiment. You can push them hard, go on a rail and dig in, and you should come out of a hard slash without losing an edge.

Wide skis are also excellent when the snow isn’t prime, and when there are lumps and bumps around, with some chunky, dirty bits and pieces. You don’t catch many edges with wide skis, and they tend to grind straight through the smaller bumps, giving you a smooth ride despite the challenges.

Wide skis also handle remarkably well on ice, one of the most fearful of surface forms for a skier. They offer stability and more control when things start getting slick. If you hit an icy patch, just hold steady, and you’ll be okay with your wides.

5. Telemark Skis

The sport and art of Telemark Skiing is something so unique that it would take a unique sort of person and a unique kind of ski. A lady called Sondre Norheim from a place called Telemark in Norway was the pioneer of the sport, and the most notable difference between a Telemark ski and a normal ski is that the Telemark binding only has an attachment at the toe, leaving the heel free. It also has a notable waist for easy turning.

Telemark skiing can best be described as a one-leg kneeling process on each turn or carve.

It doesn’t sound extraordinary, but when performed excellently on powder, it looks graceful and flowing. From all accounts, it is a difficult skill to learn, and it requires a high level of fitness and tenacity.

6. Cross Country Skis

Beginners Guide to Cross-Country Skiing

There are two distinct disciplines when it comes to cross country skiing, and they are Classic Skiing and Skate Skiing.

Classic skiing

This technique of cross country skiing consists of forward and backwards motions – almost a striding motion – as if you were walking or running. Despite being exhausting and gruelling, it is relatively easy to get the hang of it. First-timers to Cross Country Classic Skiing can shuffle along on paths from the get-go, even with very little or no former experience.

Skate Skiing

This technique is more like a speed skater on the ice, pushing skis out to the side and using the ski edges to propel and push forward. Another tiring form of skiing, skate skiing does take an exceptional level of fitness to execute it correctly because the technique looks very ungainly at first. Eventually, the constant pushing sees the skier picking up quite incredible speeds, and the correct form of Skate Skiing can emerge.

There is a variety of skis that fall under the Classic Skiing category.

Cross County Touring Skis:

This ski design on this particular ski is for skiing on groomed paths and trails. The skis are longer and narrower, and they are usually lighter to lessen the work done on the groomed tracks. This ski is probably the most natural ski to get started on when it comes to cross country touring skis, and they are usually the choice of beginners.

Race and Performance Classic Skis:

The Race and Performance Classic Skis are similar to Cross Country Touring Skis but suit a more aggressive approach on the groomed tracks. They are stiffer, less forgiving and faster than touring skis, and they are the choice of competent skiers, who can ride them hard, push edges and generally throw them around a bit.

Metal Edged Touring Skis:

The Metal Edged Touring Skis are shorter and wider and built for steeper terrain and off-track touring. The metal edge is for better grip in ice, and they are heavier than touring skis, but way more robust and hardy.

Cross Country Touring Skis also come in waxless and waxable models.

Waxless

Waxless skis are the most popular of these skis because they are convenient as they have a manufactured traction component on the underside. It comes in various forms, but the traction is a convoluted surface to promote traction. Despite their name, waxless skis still work well with a little bit of wax applied to tips and tails.

Waxable

Waxable classic skis get their traction from the rub-on wax, much like applying wax to a surfboard. The noticeable difference is that the wax goes on the underside to improve traction, and the waxable method works best when the wax can match the conditions. As we know, snow changes rapidly, making this method a bit of a challenge at times as the wax method has to match the type and texture of the snow.


7. Skate Skis

These skis are lightweight, narrow and super-stiff, as well as being much shorter than classic skis. They are primarily for use on groomed trails in the speed skate method mentioned earlier.

8. Racing Skis

These skis, made to go as fast as they can at all times, are designed primarily with speed in mind, so every component and every design element is geared for speed. They are generally long, narrower around the waist and the binding is also heavier and more rigid for extra support. They do not have much flex, so they are unforgiving in many instances, and they often catch edges.

There are many different types of Racing Skis manufactured to meet specific needs for Slalom racing (SL) and Downhill Giant Slalom (GS).

Slalom Skis

These skis are designed to make those very short and tight turns through slalom courses. They are shorter, stiff and heavy so that they can hold a rail and make quick turns while still staying on edge. The extra weight and stiffness suit aggressive skiing, which is what happens on a slalom course, but if you don’t match these skis with full aggression, they can be challenging to control.

Giant Slalom Skis

They are much similar to slalom skis but are much longer, designed for huge turns on big, open spaces. It is also an aggressive ski, optimised for top speed on the Piste, but with enough room to turn with ease in a more significant arc. These skis are for very serious skiers and those that are well trained.

9. Freestyle Skis

These skis are air manoeuvre skis, and to make full use of all the park features available.

The snow parks are some of the most exciting and overlooked parts of the ski resorts, and many people just ignore them for the trails and slopes. They do have more risks involved, and it seems that the snow parks are reserved for young snowboarders, but there are skiers having loads of fun and doing some wild tricks in the parks as well. The freestyle Skis also have twin tips that enable you to ski forwards and backward for those times when you land switch and need to ride it out.

There are also the Mogul Skis with their quick and responsive design features for skiing in mogul fields, with many very tight turns in a row the only way to deal with a full mogul field, but more of these skis later.

In the snow parks, Freestyle Skis are designed for the jumps, spins, rails and boxes, as well as ramping any obstacles. Freestyle Skis are designed to be manoeuvrable, and they are always super light and flexible, making them so forgivable and easy to recover from mistakes. As a result, these skis often get damaged and have a shorter life-span than many other skis.

10. Powder Skis

When you strap into a pair of Powder Skis, it generally means that you have a powder trail in front of you, and that is one of the most glorious feels a skier can ever experience. The first time you understand the nuances and have a fast run on a significant powder slope is a massive progression for a skier’s physical and emotional journey and marks a turning point when the allure of powder becomes insatiable.

The best-designed Powder Skis have lots of rockers and have more than 111mm of waist width for maximum flotation and stability in the deep powder. Powder skis are designed for off-piste adventures, and have design elements, including extra width and extra length, to enable them to float above powder that much better.

Powder skis have a large radius, even though such a radius is unnecessary in the powder, where it is more about carving. It’s nice to know that if you have enough speed on tap, that you could extend your turns over powder and still have enough energy available to maintain at full speed. These skis are also super flexible, to allow the ski to bend when necessary and make those tight turns when necessary.

deep powder skiing
Deep powder. Photo by Connor Walberg

Recently there are a lot more skis being designed with extra rocker camber to assist even more with floating even better in powder. Extra camber equates to better float capability, and even though you don’t need it if you have a dump of fresh powder, it’s nice to have. There are many different rocker camber options available, depending on who is using the skis, that person’s competency, and what sort of terrain is going to be primary.

If you’re going to be hitting the most significant, steepest back-country runs, you can find, or if you’re planning on heli-skiing, then it would be best to find the best camber options for your terrain.

11. Big Mountain Skis

This type of ski is a ski designed primarily for the experts looking to take on the most significant slopes with the maximum amount of speed. This category also has the wider skis but enjoys speed elements of the Racer Skis.

It is a ski for the expert and the person who does not fear the steepest slopes and biggest jumps. This ski is most definitely not a ski choice for beginners, but rather for those competent and efficient skiers who want to improve along the way on their skiing path. The Big Mountain Skis are a symbol that shows the rider has experience and skills.

12. Mogul Skis

A mogul is a bump or mound, sometimes made by accident and sometimes made on purpose. Riding moguls takes a particular technique, specific skills, as well as precise skis.

There are several Mogul Skis or Bump Skis, but they all do the same job and have similar characteristics. Bump Skis take a pounding. It’s the nature of riding moguls. As mentioned, riding moguls is technical and challenging, but the correct skis help the process.

The skis flex and rebound hundreds of times a day, sometimes in a single run. Skiers hit countless moguls at high speeds and land big airs on them. A Bump Ski must be sturdy and tough to withstand punishment, yet snappy, light and quick from edge to edge.

Riding moguls is fast and dynamic, and the skis need to be able to change direction accordingly.

Mogul skis have special needs and design restrictions that limit their versatility out of the bumps. They are generally softer, particularly in the tail, have foam and fiberglass cores and have almost no sidecut, which makes them harder to turn.

So many ski manufacturers have focused intently on developing new shapes and construction methods for all the different areas of skiing, but the mogul skis don’t enjoy the luxury of research and development.

The reason behind this is because they are such a small niche and they have a straight forward design incorporating maximal flex, rebound and torsional rigidity with minimal weight. As with all area of skis, there might be some breakthrough in mogul skis in the future. Right now, however, they are straightforward and cater to those people who feel challenged by these mounds of snow.

Much of skiing falls under personal choice, with many different avenues to go down. With such a wide variety of equipment, skiing is a dynamic sport that changes with the weather. While your ski choice is paramount, there is no right or wrong as long as you’re having fun.

Simon Naylor, the founder of New To Ski, started skiing in 2005. He has continued to practice his skills and wanted to share his journey and knowledge with other new skiers. He launched New To Ski in 2018 to help first-time skiers have more fun on the slopes and get out and explore the mountains safely.