Choose the Right Skis Before Hitting the Slopes: A Look at Six Types of Alpine Skis

The type of alpine skis you choose depends, in large part, on the type of skiing you want to do. Do you want to have a relaxing day gliding down the mountain, explore the powder, or catch some air in the terrain park?

New technologies, materials and designs mean that every skier can find just the right skis. It’s just a matter of determining what kind of skier you are.

Recreational Skis
If you’re a beginning skier, you might want to look at basic recreational skis. Generally built for stability and easy maneuvering, these are perfect for people who want to step up from those awkward rental skis, but aren’t ready for the major financial commitment that many skis can be. Recreational skis aren’t the fastest skis out there, but they’ll get the job done.

As article on–“How has recreational downhill skiing changed since the 1980s?”–explains, the relative slowness of these skis “doesn’t matter much to the recreational skier, who can simply go down a slightly steeper slope to regain the lost speed.” Just because they’re good for beginners, however, doesn’t mean that recreational skis don’t have their fair share of enticing features. Increasingly, recreational skis have some of the same features as higher-end skis, such as reverse camber, twin-tips, and other 21st century designs.

All-Mountain Skis
If you’re a more advanced skier and want to adventure onto some of those groomed black diamonds or even off into the powder, you’ll want to look at all-mountain skis. There are various kinds of all-mountain skis. If you intend to stay on groomed trails, you might want to pick ones that have a narrow middle and definite side-cut. If you’re ready to begin to explore the powder, look for ones that are longer and made out of softer material. All-mountain skis can handle a variety of conditions, and in many ways they’re good all-purpose skis for intermediate skiers. As the article “How to Pick a Ski” on explains, these are skis that are “designed to handle any terrain/condition moderately well.”

Powder Skis
If you’re really into the powder, you might want to invest in skis specially designed for the task. These are generally wider skis, and they borrow from surfboard designs. The idea with these skis is to keep you on top of deep powder, so you don’t sink in. Instead, you ski right over it. Those who discover the pleasures of skiing powder remain devoted fans, and the right skis can make all the difference. As Lito Tejada-Flores says in “A Powder Skier’s Apprenticeship” article, “powder is a dream come true. A child’s dream of flying: weightless, free from the nagging tug of gravity, floating through space.”

Racing Skis
If you’re serious about downhill racing, you’ll want to look into skis built specifically for you. Racing skis tend to be made of harder material and are designed for high speeds and vibration as you speed down the slope. Look for skis like Salomon’s racing skis, which it says have “explosive power, fierce edge grip and precision.”

Freeride, Freestyle or Freeski Skis
These are skis that are most at home in terrain parks and helping you do tricks. Usually twin-tips, meaning the ski is curved up on both ends, allow you to ski forwards and backwards. According to REI’s guide, “How to Choose Downhill Skis,” these are “skis designed for ambitious fun-seekers who ski fast, do tricks and enjoy pushing the limits.”

Skiboards & Snowblades
These are short skis usually used without a pole. They’re a versatile choice if you want to explore terrain parks, catch some air or do tricks. They’re also great on moguls. And if you decide to do some regular old downhill, you’ll find these little skis are also excellent carvers. Skiboards and snowblades can help you do things you never thought you could do on the snow. Doc Roberts, president of, puts it this way: “Imagine turning when you want! Just think about stopping and you are stopped! Have places on the mountain you that elicit fear? Not any more.” That’s the power of these little skis.

If you visit ski shops or search online, you’ll soon find that these categories have many subcategories, and as technologies and designs change, there are likely to be many more types of skis in the future. That’s the fun of it. There are hundreds of variations on these basic types of skis, but this gives you a place to start.

Now it’s up to you. Using these guidelines, pick out some skis you like, take ‘em for a spin, and get to know them, the mountains, and yourself.

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