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Thinking about kitting your children out with their first pair of skis - but you just don't know where to start? Ski technology and jargon can be confusing, so Ben Moore offers some personal and practical advice to help you get it right.
In the past year we have had to kit out our two skiing boys with four pairs of skis. Short slalom skis for their dry slope training and racing, and most recently all-mountain twin tips for our latest family ski adventures.
Buying skis is a bewildering experience. We have been doing it now for four or five years, yet we are still learning. There are so many variables to consider - from ability levels to the type of terrain the skis will be used on to the manufacturers re-inventing the wheel with alarming regularity.
So if you are shopping around for a new pair of skis – for yourself or your children – here are a few pointers.
WHEN TO BUY
In resort does give you the chance to try before you buy, but this privilege does come at a price. And of course the exchange rate has hardly helped skiers pick up bargains abroad. So if you know what you are looking for or can get some expert advice from your local ski slope or friendly ski shop, then aim to buy during the summer months. You will find retailers heavily discounting last season’s stock, with some pretty attractive deals to be had.
WHAT TYPE OF SKIER
If you are kitting yourself out this is the time to come clean and be honest about just how good a skier you really are. No point saddling yourself with a pair of expert skis that are just too stiff to make your week-long family holiday enjoyable.
If you are buying for your children, be realistic about their current ability – children grow so quickly that they need something they can ski on right now. Do not go for a more advanced ski they can grow into…because actually they will have grown out of it before you know it.
Here is BASI ski coach Mark Donnelly (who has worked in the ski hardware department at Ellis Brigham in Braehead for the last five seasons) with some advice for parents investing in skis for their children:
“Speed is never a good gauge of ability. You need to think more about how they use their equipment. For example, do they use an edge and speed up across the piste by physically working their skis in order to drive power and transmission through them? Or do they rely on flattening the skis out and using more rotation of the legs to turn the ski?
“A more traditional ski is always the best first ski. Some skis like the K2 Sight are a great traditional ski with a tail on it and if they want to get into freestyle this is ideal as they can still improve their all-round skiing which is very important for future progression.
“The Line Blend is a very fun, playful park ski but it is soft so doesn’t inspire technical improvement. Improving all mountain ski technique will always be beneficial for all types of skiing including park. While a softer park-specific ski will encourage enjoyment in the park it will lack performance elsewhere on the mountain, especially in icy conditions.”
So here is an idea of the main skier ability groups – scroll down for our jargon buster:
Beginner – mastering greens and aiming to move on to blue runs. Easier terrain and slower speeds are fine but steeper runs, ice and moguls are less fun. Skis in this category have soft tips and tails to help initiate turns. Look for a ski with standard camber for grip and control that boosts confidence and aid progression.
Intermediate – confident tackling reds and willing to attempt easy blacks and some ungroomed snow without venturing too far off the piste. Skis in this category are stiffer, to grip better at faster speeds, and often have deeper sidecuts to offer a shorter radius for turns on the piste. A tip rocker in an all-mountain ski will help skiing in softer snow.
Advanced – skiers with the skills to ski most of the mountain in nearly every condition. Ski shapes and designs are more specific to where you want to ski. On piste skis in this category are stiffer to provide excellent stability and grip at speed – but as a result they will be less forgiving and you will need to work harder on them. For advanced all-mountain skis, look for a tip and tail rocker, plus a wide waist, to properly explore the off-piste.
WHAT LENGTH OF SKI
The length of the perfect ski is dependent on a combination of factors such as weight, ability and the intended use. But this is a useful guide to get you started:
Piste - Chin height to eye level for easy carving. Longer for extra stability and wider, GS turns. Shorter for snappy, slalom turns.
All Mountain - Nose level to forehead.
Freeride - Forehead to above head height to deliver maximum floatation.
Freestyle/Park - Eye level for the maximum ease of spinning and rail tricks.
WHAT TYPE OF SKI
Piste – Made with narrow waists for quick edge changes and with a shorter turn radius for tighter carving. Perfect for blasting around the pistes.
All Mountain Carve – Boasts slightly wider dimensions for a bit more float and stability. Still good on piste but able to handle a few runs down the ungroomed side of the pistes.
All Mountain - Waist, turn radius and camber profiles vary considerably. These are go-anywhere do-anything skis designed to work in every condition.
Freeride – Wide waists for maximum floatation in deep powder and off piste tree runs.
Freestyle - Twin tipped skis with a soft flex. Tips and tails are more forgiving and camber profiles can include lots of rocker.
Radius – This refers to a ski's sidecut radius and can be thought of as the natural turn-size of that ski. These figures are given in metres. As a guide, piste skis have a short radius of 10 to 15m, so they initiate a turn and carve easily. Off piste skis have a 20m+ radius. All mountain skis are somewhere in between, to function on and off piste.
Sidecut – This refers to the ski's dimensions at the widest points of the tip and tail, and at the waist. Measured in millimetres, sidecut is shown in the order tip/waist/tail. A deep sidecut creates a ski with a small radius. This generally applies to piste-orientated skis so that they carve turns easily.
Camber – Traditionally the camber refers to the arch of a ski when it is placed base down and the tip and tails are touching the snow and the centre elevated.
When weight is applied the ski flattens and the pressure is spread evenly along its length, creating continuous edge contact. When the pressure is released the ski returns to its camber shape, adding rebound energy to the end of a turn. This type of camber is often referred to as traditional or standard camber.
Design changes have led to reverse camber or rocker skis, where the ski arches upwards so the middle of the ski is lower than the tips and tail. This improves handling in soft snow and gives excellent floatation.