New To Ski

Why Do Longer Skis Go Faster? (Pros & Cons of Long Skis)

by Kenny Jarvis | Updated: November 1st, 2022
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When it comes to skiing, one of the most discussed topics is the length of the ski. You have probably heard that longer skis go faster. But how does this make any sense?

There are two key reasons why longer skis go faster. Firstly, there is less pressure from the base of the ski and better weight distribution. Secondly, they have more weight, which leads to greater momentum.

Do Longer Skis Go Faster?

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As we mentioned, longer skis do go faster for two main reasons. There is less pressure per square area on the snow and they have more weight. Let’s delve a little deeper into those two reasons.

1. Less Pressure Per Square Area On The Snow

Key Takeaway: Longer skis go faster because there is less pressure exerted on the snow, which reduces the drag between the ski and the surface of the snow. The lower the drag, the lesser the ski’s resistance over the snow, meaning the ski moves faster.  

Does the mention of “pressure”, “drag,” and “resistance” make you remember your physics class? Actually, it’s the basic laws of physics that explain why longer skis go faster. 

Not to worry! We’ll break down the physics, so it is easier to understand why longer skis go faster. Let’s start with the three physics concepts – pressure, the distribution of weight, and drag.

Pressure

When you are on skis, your weight exerts pressure on them. That is, your weight is a force that pushes the skis down onto the surface of the snow.

Distribution of Weight

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However, when you are on a ski, your weight does not act on one point but it is distributed across the length of the ski. Thus, the bigger the ski, the lower the overall pressure exerted on every square inch of the ski.

For example, if you weigh 198 lbs. and stand on a board with a surface area of 480 square inches. The weight exerted per square inch is about 0.4 lbs. However, if you stand on a board with an area of 800 square inches, the weight exerted per square inch will be about 0.25 lbs.

Thus, the larger the board, the lower the pressure per square inch on the board. This means the force per square inch that pushes the board toward the ground decreases.

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Key Takeaway: Since longer skis have larger surface areas, the longer a ski is, the less pressure your weight will exert on every square inch of it. This also means that the force pushing every square inch of the ski onto the snow is reduced. 

Drag

Drag is a force that tends to slow the movement of an object. The greater the force pushing every square inch of an object onto the ground, the greater the drag, or its resistance to movement. 

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Since longer skis have less force per square inch pushing them toward the snow, the drag (resistance to motion) is lower. As such, longer skis are able to go faster.

2. More Weight

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Another reason longer skis go faster is that they have more weight and therefore have more natural force (momentum) pulling them downhill through the snow.

Without going into too much physics, let’s say that when two objects slide down a slope, the object with the greater mass (the heavier object) wins the day, as slides down faster.

Since longer skis are larger and heavier, a greater resultant force pulls them downhill, making them go faster.

Ski Length and Skiing Performance

Interestingly, speed is not the only factor that ski length affects. Stability and maneuverability are other aspects of skiing performance affected by ski length.

Stability

Longer skis have larger surface areas that come in contact with the ground, making it easier to stabilize them when you are moving at speed. That is, longer skis are more stable at faster speeds.

This is because of the concept of surface area. The greater the area of an object in contact with the ground, the more stable that object will be. 

It is for this reason a cone that sits on its wide base is much more stable than one that sits on its narrower end. It is also the same logic why you are able to maintain your balance better when you stand with both feet on the ground, as opposed to when you stand on your toes.

The larger surface area of longer skis also makes them better for powder skiing.  With their large surface area, the skis can float better on the snow instead of anchoring into the snow.

Maneuverability

Longer skis have a wider turning radius compared to shorter skis. This means that the natural arc of the skis takes longer to turn. You will have more difficulty when turning in different directions, as it takes longer for the wide radius of the skis to swing around.

It is for the same reason that it’s more difficult to drive a truck around a bend compared to a smaller car.

The relatively slower turn of longer skis turn has no significant impact when skiing on powder. Powder skiing does not require sharp turns. In fact, skiers are advised to lengthen their turns when skiing powder to keep up speed and momentum and avoid sinking into the snow.

Should You Go For Longer Skis?

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A popular notion is that skiing is about going fast and flying down slopes at break-neck speed. This is often the reason why many people recommend longer skis for going faster.

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Advice: If you hold the notion that skiing is all about speed, then you do need longer skis. You may also opt for longer skis if you desire more stability when flying through the snow. However, if you want your skis to turn very fast at speed, shorter skis will be the better option.

Who longer skis are best for:

That said, you should go for longer skills if:

  • You are an intermediate or experienced skier
  • You want to ski fast
  • You ski more aggressively
  • You want the stability that longer skis offer  
  • You ski powder
  • You don’t mind the slower turn radius of longer skis

Who longer skis are not for:

As you may already know, longer skis are not for everyone. You should not go for longer skis if:

  • You’re a beginner skier
  • You have reduced strength, fitness, and/ or reflexes (because of getting older)
  • You want to ski at a slower speed
  • You are not an aggressive skier
  • You prefer the better handling that shorter skis offer
  • You ski more of hard snow than powder snow
Colorado Ski
Photo by Christine Alder under CC BY 2.0

Ideal Ski Length

Yes, longer skis go faster. But that does not mean that if your skiing objective is to be the fastest in a race you should go for overly long skis. So, what is the ideal length for long skis?

Generally, the ideal length for long skis largely depends on your skiing experience and height. 

  • Beginners or new skiers are best served by skis as tall as their chin height. These skis are long enough to offer feel-good speed and great stability, but they are also easy to handle and turn more sharply. 
  • Intermediate skiers are best served by skis that are taller than their chin height but not taller than the top of the head. 
  • Very good skiers can go for skis that are taller than them. If you fall in this category, these skis allow you to ski aggressively and at great speed, while you can use your wealth of skiing experience to compensate for their relatively slow response when turning at speed.

As you may have guessed already, your height is as important as your experience level when it comes to the ski length that is right for you.

The following chart shows ski lengths suitable for persons of different heights:

HeightIdeal ski length 
132 cm or less115 – 130 cm
133 – 137 cm125 – 140 cm
138 – 147 cm130 – 145 cm
148 – 152 cm135 – 155 cm
153 – 157 cm145 – 165 cm
158 – 163 cm150 – 170 cm
164 – 168 cm155 – 175 cm
169 – 173 cm160 – 180 cm
174 – 178 cm165 – 185 cm
179 – 183 cm170 – 190 cm
184 – 188 cm175 – 195 cm
189 – 193 cm180 – 200 cm

Answer Recap

In the world of skiing, it is no longer a secret that longer skis go faster. Were you among the many who wondered why this is so?

Earlier we simplified the physics to show why longer skies go faster. They (longer skies) have less force per square inch pressing them against the snow, and so they have less drag (or movement-resisting force), and therefore can move faster.

Also, they are relatively heavier than shorter skis and have more momentum pulling them down a snow hill. While longer skis move faster and are more stable at speed, they turn slower at speed. Thus, while they are excellent for speedsters, they are not the best for beginners or new skiers.

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