Do You Know What Underfoot Measurement Is Best For Your Kind Of Skiing?

Pat’s ski collection from narrow to wide underfoot dimensions. Credit: Pat McCloskey

One of the hardest questions a seasoned skier has to answer is when someone new to skiing or maybe even a friend says, “So what kind of ski should I be on this year?”  Really a tough question to answer without delving into particulars like, athleticism, age, what kind of snow, what trails do you like, front side, back side?  There are so many choices today based on so many factors.  So let me try to make this as simple as possible for the new skier as well as the veteran.

Most of us veterans are using skis that are significantly shorter than the ones we used to use.  In the old days, skis anywhere from a 185 cm to 210 cm in length were used with little or no side cut resulting in significant vertical and rotational movement to execute a turn.  Today, the skis are much shorter, generally ranging from 152 to 185 cm.  The shape of the skis make it easier to turn—wider at the tip and tail and narrower under foot— which, when placed on edge and pressure is applied, results in an effortless turn.   We don’t have to work those 200 plus cm skis like the old days.  But what about the nuances of width under foot?  Where you want to ski and what kind of snow conditions will determine what width underfoot measurement is good. And that’s measured in millimeters and not centimeters like ski length.

Typically a front side ski to be used on groomers or hard pack will range under 85 mm width under foot, in most cases. Race skis have a slimmer profile but for the most part, anything under 85 mm is considered a “front side” ski and encourages a carved turn on groomed or hard pack snow.  There is a lot of interest these days in these profiles because of the lack of early and late snow due to global warming.  Snowmaking is essential, and when these man-made, groomed, hard pack conditions exist, a frontside ski is optimal.

Conversely, anything over 88 mm under foot  is moving into the all mountain range and can be used for most terrain.  Also, 95 mm and above are a must to include in your quiver if you ski out west and have varying conditions.  When you get over 100 mm, you are getting into the powder or loose snow area. Typically, 107mm and up is considered “big mountain” or powder skis.  These skis can perform on groomed snow but the float is optimal for loose snow or powder in the wider under foot measurements.

But what about rocker, early rise, etc?  We all have seen the guy who has rockered skis (tips and tails with an upturn) making turns on hard pack with minimal contact with the snow underfoot.  We don’t want to be that guy.  Wrong tool for the wrong conditions.  Rockers are used to facilitate the float needed to ski powder or loose snow.  You need surface area to ride the groomers, and rockers are not optimal.  However, the early rise tips can facilitate a turn in powder as well as make entry into a groomed turn better.  Personally, I see the advantage of an early rise ski for most skiing conditions.  Early rise referring to a slight upturn to the tip of the ski.

So, it probably makes sense for most skiers to have a quiver of skis for different conditions.  A new skier should really think about what conditions he or she will ski and get one pair based on those conditions.  A good ski shop can help in the selection. Veterans should have that front side ski, an all-mountain ski, and a loose snow or powder ski.  I have a pair of 107 under foot for loose or powder, but my 88 mm skis under foot are ideal in a lot of conditions. I personally think that measurement (88mm) is the optimal one for most conditions.

Be honest with yourself when you are selecting skis.  Think about your physical condition, where you like to ski, and the snow conditions that are optimal for you.  Skiing should be fun and not be like  work. The new equipment makes that happen if you are careful to select the right tools for the quiver.


  1. Great post. As a ski renter, this information will be very helpful in evaluating my options in the rental shop.

  2. Chris Hasley says:

    Good article, as a 49 year old, I am not an official senior skier, but I agree with your 88mm rule especially for the east coast and for the majority of the west coast. The one exception is for skiers in the Pacific Northwest. Last year, I found my self skiing in 28inches of fresh NW snow and my 94mm Stormriders sunk and search the deepest powder for a carving edge. That day I wished I was skiing a fatter pair of skis.

  3. Dave Hoffman says:

    I work in a ski shop and we make suggestions based on the author’s views. Many of my co-workers and I have several skis. I have an 82 and an 100 width skis. The 100 has a little more early rises than the 82. I ski here in the East Coast and spend several weeks in Colorado in March timeframe. Different conditions although many times I am on groomers in Colorado so the 82 works fine. Many of our intermediate ski customers will go toward the 82 – 85 mm ski. Some of the more aggressive folks want a narrower ski such as the Head Titan or Volkl Deacon.

  4. Nordica Navigator 85s 172 cm work great for me. Eastern cruiser who loves to carve the mountain in most conditions. 170lbs 5 8.

  5. Margaret Smith says:

    Great analysis and advice. Thanks.

  6. My Rossi Experience 88,s at 172 keeps this 68 year old confident in nearly all conditions. Love em!!

  7. I skied one quiver in the past; an E 88 Rossi in a 172 length…
    Last yr, mostly due to lack of snow, I went with an Atomic Vantage 83 cti….great ski, very easy to maneuver the edge, a solid edge at that…..
    I’m going with a 2nd quiver this year (in adition to); something 95-100mm underfoot…thinking the Vantge 97 TI or the Nordica Enforcer 100…
    by the way, I went with a 168 after reading bumps for boomers….great info…
    I’m 65 with a new and a bad knee….

  8. John christiano says:

    Ski selection
    There is a secret about ski selection that I would like to know. This is for senior men and ladies (which is a given) .
    Guys I have been living in Sugarbush for 32 years all year round. These days I am Skiing about 70 days a year. I no longer ski in white outs or when I can see through the ice. What took me so long?
    Ever wonder why some athletic lady skiers ski like angels? Easy carved turns , fast edge to edge turns, and the ones I ski with are Never out of breath at the bottom of the hill. Guys you might not like the answer .
    Lady skis. After you stop laughing listen up. Generally man skis have a strip of metal placed in the foot area. Guess why? To make the ski stiff. Why to function properly when you Cary a lot of speed. Ever feel like you are carrying a refrigerator on your back when you are in the belly of a turn carrying serious speed? That is when you need the stiffness.
    I ski on Head Superjoy skis. OK before you get bent out of shape , they are all black and do no have flowers or pink hearts on them. Actually there is nothing on them that indicates that they are lady skis except the name , which can be blacked out if you can’t handle it. Finally I can carve without working so hard. Finally I can carve without working at all. Last year was the first year I did not have to take a nap after getting home.
    It did not take long for Brook Weston at Mountainside ski shop here, to convince me to demo a pair. I bought these before I brought them back. Lastly the price is great considering that they come with bindings. And one more last, they are lighter than my wife’s Kenna’s. When you are the guy schleping 2 pair through airports all the time, you will feel like taking them instead of renting them is ok.
    Yo do what I just told you, and your fun factor will go through the roof. We boot up at 8:30 every day here so feel free to say hello. Just ask for John .happy trails

    • Totally agree!
      There is a tendency in every sport for the most involved, aggressive practitioners to be the writers of various road tests. This naturally causes a skew towards the experience and preferences of aggressive experts. I had witnessed this in motorcycle, bicycle and windsurfing tests, so when I got into skiing about 9 years ago at age 68, and especially because I am at the lighter end of the weight scale at 150#, I purchased the non-titanium version of Elan Amphibios, 78 mm wide, 168cm.
      These relatively soft skis have been nearly perfect for my needs here in Northern NY.

  9. Henry Schwarzberg says:

    I ski the east. Don’t bother with a ski over 100 underfoot. Not enough powder days to justify the cost. Just rent.

  10. Pat! I recognize that picture! lol Great quiver!

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