Alpine Skiing Guide Rossignol Black Diamond Fischer Technica Spyder

The Alpine Skiing Guide

Looking for some advice on how to choose skis? When the time comes to buy new equipment, whether it's your first pair of skis or your fourth, it's easy to be a little intimidated. After all, new skis are a big investment, not to mention the boots, poles, outerwear and other gear you'll need if you're just starting out. Plus, there are a ton of different options to choose from out there, and the last thing you want is to end up with something that doesn't work well. In this guide, we'll do our best to cover all the information so you can select the gear that will help you have fun and progress as a skier.

Determining Your Skiing Ability

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Before you're able to decide what kind of ski will work best for you, you'll need to consider your experience. Ability levels are generally divided into three categories: beginner, intermediate and expert (advanced). Some ski companies recommend certain models based on ability. The following list is a good starting point:

  • Recreational skis are ideal for beginners and skiers who enjoy slower speeds on easy terrain (mostly greens and some blues). Control is an important factor when selecting recreational skis.
  • Intermediate skis are ideal for more experienced skiers who feel comfortable at higher speeds and taking on most in-bounds terrain, including greens, blues and the occasional black diamond. These skis are responsive yet still a little more forgiving than expert level skis.
  • Expert (advanced) skis are for highly capable, confident skiers who are at home on steep, challenging terrain, including black diamond runs, moguls and backcountry terrain. Expert skis offer more performance, but aren't as forgiving.

Types of Ski Terrain

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  • In-bounds terrain, also called piste, is a series of well-maintained ski runs that are part of a resort. Ski slopes and trails that fall within resort boundaries are typically groomed and monitored by ski patrol.
  • Sidecountry is a term used to describe lift-accessible backcountry terrain that is part of a resort, but may or may not fall within resort boundaries. For example, some ski areas allow skiers to hike to nearby bowls or side areas, which may then be connected back to groomed runs.
  • Backcountry is unmaintained, unmonitored terrain that is not associated with a resort and may contain avalanche conditions. Backcountry skiing is the best way to ski untouched powder and avoid crowds. However, it's the responsibility of skiers to be aware of the dangers and plan accordingly. For more information on backcountry skiing safety, check out the tutorial.

Skis by Category

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The type of skiing you plan to do most is the biggest factor in determining the style of skis you need. Although just about any set of skis will get you from the top of the mountain to the bottom, some are much better suited for a certain niche. For example, if you're planning to ski only on groomed runs at a ski resort, a pair of recreational skis will probably get the job done. However, if you want to split your time between the slopes and sidecountry, all-mountain skis are most likely your best choice.


Many of the well-known ski companies, including Rossignol, Blizzard and Roxy, make recreational skis designed specifically for beginners. These skis are forgiving, easy to turn and designed for people who stay within resort boundaries. Recreational skis aren't ideal for carving at very high speeds or for more aggressive backcountry terrain.


As the name implies, these skis adapt well to many different types of terrain, from icy, in-bounds conditions to fresh backcountry powder. Generally, these skis have a wider waist than recreational skis, but are still narrower than a full-blown powder ski. Skiers looking for the versatility to carve in bounds and sidecountry should go with an all-mountain ski.


This style of ski is easy to recognize by its narrow waist and aggressive, directional shape. Designed to carve at high speeds on hard snow, racing skis are more rigid than all-mountain skis and not recommended for recreational use or beginners.


Twin tip skis are designed to be lightweight and highly maneuverable, which makes them excel in the terrain park. They have a more symmetrical shape than other skis and also have an upturned tip and tail (called twin tips) to make skiing backwards and landing tricks easier.


Designed to maximize flotation in deep snow, powder skis have very little sidecut and are the widest skis available. Some modern powder skis may also have an "early rise" or rocker shape to add additional floatation in thick powder.


In the past, skis and bindings were usually sold separately and mounted by a ski technician. Over the past decade or so, integrated skis have become much more commonplace. Integrated skis are sold with bindings that are specially designed and pre-mounted to allow uninhibited flex throughout the entire length of the ski. More and more companies are offering integrated skis, including brands like Fischer, Atomic and Kastle.

A Note on Women's Skis

Skis specific to women are usually lighter in weight and have a softer flex than men's skis. Also, the bindings on most women's models are positioned farther forward to increase stability and make turning easier.

Parts of a Ski

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  • Shovel: The shovel is the front portion of a ski that is typically wider than the tail and middle sections of the ski. The wider, upturned design helps the ski float over lighter snow and power through crust and crud.
  • Mounting Plate: The portion of the ski where the bindings are installed. Mounting plates are common on skis that are sold with bindings as an integrated system.
  • Tail: The size and shape of a ski's tail varies depending on the intended use. Most carving skis and powder skis have a slightly wider tail to provide added turning efficiency and flotation. A freestyle ski will have an upturned tail and nose, called twin tips, which makes skiing switch (reverse) and landing tricks backwards much easier.
  • Tip Protector: Additional material may be added to the ski tip in order to protect it from damage and prevent delaminating. This is especially beneficial for backcountry and all-mountain skis that are used on more rugged terrain.
Ski Specifications

There is a lot of ski terminology out there, and it helps to have some knowledge about the various components before making a decision on a particular ski. Here are some of the more common terms you may encounter when shopping around for skis:

  • Core: The interior of a ski, usually made of foam or laminated wood.
  • Base: The material on the underside of the ski, which allows it to slide on the snow.
  • Edge: The sharpened metal trim on either side of a ski's base that bites into harder snow and ice.
  • Camber: The slight downward arch of a ski when resting on a flat surface that enhances the ski's ability to maintain an edge during a turn.
  • Rocker: Essentially the opposite of camber, rocker forms a concave arc, similar to the bottom of a rocking chair. Skis with rocker shape are excellent for deep powder because they provide enhanced flotation.
  • Flex: The amount of stiffness in a ski. A softer-flexed ski will perform better on soft, deep snow, whereas a stiff-flexed ski handles better on hard-packed snow.
  • Waist: The narrowest part of a ski between the tip and the tail, usually the same location where the binding is mounted.

Ski Specifications

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Before you invest in new gear, it's a good idea to understand the various specifications that coincide with specific ski models. Sidecut, turn radius and sidecut dimensions are three of the most common specs listed on skis.


The sidecut is the depth of the curve that runs lengthwise along a ski's edge. Sidecut directly affects turn radius.


Measured in meters, the turn radius is the size of the smallest turn a ski will make when set on its edge. The smaller the turn radius, the tighter you will be able to turn. This number is based on a large imaginary circle that coincides with the arc created by the sidecut. The radius of this imaginary circle is related to the depth of the sidecut. In other words, a ski with a deeper sidecut is generally able to turn more sharply than a ski with a shallower sidecut.

Ski Specifications


A ski's sidecut dimensions are measured at the tip, waist and tail of the ski. Knowing these three measurements makes it easy to judge the skis' ideal uses. Most all-mountain skis have a mid-fat waist and a moderately wide tip and tail. Skis meant for carving and moguls tend to have a narrower waist. Powder skis have the widest waists. Every ski Sierra Trading Post sells offers sidecut dimension measurements.

Ski Specifications

Determining Your Ski Length

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It's very important to choose the right ski length for your ability level and the type of terrain you'll ski most often. The length of your skis will not only determine how comfortable you feel on the slopes, but how well you perform. Here's a three-step guide to determining your ideal ski length:

Step 1: Find the corresponding length for your weight.


Weight Approx. Ski Length
130-155 lbs. 160 cm
150-175 lbs. 167 cm
170-195 lbs. 174 cm
190-215 lbs. 181 cm
215 lbs. or more 182 cm


Weight Approx. Ski Length
100-125 lbs. 145 cm
120-140 lbs. 152 cm
135-155 lbs. 160 cm
150 lbs. or more 162 cm


Weight Approx. Ski Length
30-40 lbs. 80 cm
40-50 lbs. 93 cm
50-60 lbs. 100 cm
60-70 lbs. 110 cm
70-85 lbs. 120 cm
90-115 lbs. 130 cm

Step 2. Add or subtract length depending on your skiing ability.

Ability Level Add or Subtract from Ski Length
Beginner -20 cm
Intermediate -5 cm
Advanced 0+ cm
Expert +5 cm

Step 3. Add length (if necessary) based on the terrain you will most often ski.

Snow Conditions Add to Ski Length
On-piste, groomed, hard runs 0+ cm
Off-piste, soft snow, powder +5 cm

Note: Please be aware that sizing varies among different ski manufacturers and these size charts are only approximations to be used as guidelines.

Ski Bindings

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The role of bindings is to keep the boot in full contact with the ski and help absorb some of the shock and vibration. Bindings consist of toe and heel pieces, ski brakes, and anti-friction devices. The toe piece is mounted to the front of the device and releases sideways. The heel piece holds the boot heel in place and releases upward. Ski brakes are prongs attached under the boot to the bindings. When the binding is released during a fall, the prongs extend downward to stop your skis from sliding away. Anti-friction devices are metal pads mounted on the ski under the forefoot that allow boots to slide easily in and out of the bindings.


Bindings are made with specific "DIN ranges", or tension release settings, that determine the amount of force needed to release boots from the bindings.(DIN is an acronym for the Deutsche Industrie Normen, a German organization that sets standards for binding release tensions. However, the term is generally used to refer to the release settings themselves.)

A low DIN setting means bindings will release easily, while a higher DIN setting requires more force to release. Since beginning skiers fall more frequently, a lower release tension is necessary to avoid injury.

Your body weight also influences your DIN setting. A heavier skier puts more force on bindings during a fall and thus requires a higher DIN.

The general DIN settings are:

  • Beginner: 3-6
  • Intermediate: 5-9
  • Advanced: 6-12
  • Expert: Up to 24


While the type of binding you choose will most affect the performance, where the binding is mounted on the ski also makes a difference. Generally, the farther back the binding is mounted, the stiffer the ski response will be. Ski manufacturers usually recommend a specific mounting position and a qualified ski shop will mount your bindings based on those specifications. Of course, this is a non-issue for skis with pre-installed or "integrated" bindings.

Because women have a different center of gravity than men, women's bindings are sometimes mounted slightly forward of center, allowing for better control.

Note: Bindings should always be mounted by a qualified ski technician.

Ski Boots

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The most important thing when buying a pair of ski boots is to get a pair that fits well, so it is also important to be honest with yourself about your skiing ability. Ski boots designed for recreational skis will fit very differently than ski boots designed for racing. To begin with, there are three main styles of ski boots:

  • Front-entry boots are the most common on the market. They open in the front like traditional boots and shoes, and feature buckle closures.
  • Mid-entry boots open in both the front and the back for easy entry, exit and walking.
  • Rear-entry boots open in the back and are designed for comfort and ease of use.


Ski boots consist of an outer shell and a liner that work together to offer support. The hard plastic shell offers varying degrees of support and "volume" depending on its intended use. Softer plastics flex more easily and are more forgiving, while stiffer plastics are rigid, but give boots greater precision response. The liner, made of soft foam that can be removed from the plastic shell, helps regulate foot temperature and manage moisture. After a few uses, the liner will conform to the shape of your foot for a more custom fit.


Just as important as finding the right size boot is finding a proper-fitting boot. At first, your boots will feel snug. Don't worry, the liner will compress up to a half-size over time. With a new pair of boots your toes should just brush the end of the boot, but they shouldn't be crammed in or turned under. When you bend your knees, your heels should stay down in the boot.

Tips for trying on boots:

  • Wear the same socks you'll wear skiing.
  • Try your boots on in the afternoon when your feet are at their largest (feet swell over the course of the day).
  • Stand and walk around in the boots for 30 minutes to see how they feel. If they don't feel quite right, they can be adapted by a ski technician through heating the shell or flattening the foam liner.
  • If you're purchasing ski boots online, be sure to follow sizing recommendations closely.

Ski Poles

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Don't underestimate the benefits of good ski poles. They must be strong for planting turns, lightweight so your arms don't tire, and flexible enough so they won't break during a fall. If you enjoy spending time in the side country, you might consider a pair of adjustable ski poles from brands like LEKI or Black Diamond Equipment.


Note: The following size chart is based on approximations that should be used only as guidelines. You may need longer or shorter poles depending on your own preferences.

With your poles upside down, grab the pole beneath the basket so that the top of your thumb touches the basket. If your elbow is at a 90-degree angle (approximately), you've found the right size. If the angle of your elbow is less than 90 degrees, you need a shorter pole. If it's more than 90 degrees, you need a longer pole.

Match your height with the corresponding pole length.

Height Pole Length
5'1"-5'3" 110 cm
5'4"-5'6" 115 cm
5'7"-5'9" 120 cm
5'10"-6' 125 cm
6'1"-6'3" 130 cm
6'4" or more 135 cm

Ski Helmets

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You don't have to ski the trees to appreciate the added security a helmet provides. Helmets from brands like Smith, Giro and Bern can prevent injuries and may even save lives. To find your approximate helmet size, measure around your head, just above your eyebrows. Check out our Helmet Guide for more information. You can also follow the following tips:

  • Your helmet should be snug, but not tight.
  • The front and back edges of the helmet shouldn't move when pushed up; if they do, tighten the straps.
  • There should be little or no gap between the top of your goggles and your helmet.
  • The helmet should be positioned no more than one inch above your eyebrows.

Thanks for reading. For tips and information on Nordic skiing and alpine touring, be sure to check out our Nordic Ski Guide. Stay safe out there and have fun!

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