Picking your next skis is not as simple as it used to be.
Picking your next skis is not as simple as it used to be.

When buying skis, choose a ski based on matching width and turn radius to the kind of snow you like.

Hard snow: select a ski with a narrow waist – 76mm or narrower.

Soft groomers (or general western front-of-mountain skiing): select a moderate waist – 75 to 85mm.

Resort powder (with firm surface underneath): select a mid-fat waist – 85 to 90mm.

Deep snow (with unpredictable base beneath): select a fat waist – more than 90mm. If you’re big and heavy or carry a heavy pack, go even bigger – 100mm+.

The remaining decisions are length and shape. Most men skiing at resorts can get along nicely on a 165cm ski; most women on 155cm. If you’re stronger than average, go a bit longer, but it won’t buy you a lot of additional stability. If you’re much lighter than average, go a bit shorter. It will pay off in improved agility.

Shape means sidecut. A deeper sidecut with a shorter radius carves a shorter turn. In general, this helps best on groomers. It won’t help in bumps, where you want the tail to release to avoid hanging up at the end of the turn. A good mid-fat has a shape close to 115-80-105, which gives a theoretical radius of about 14 meters and a bearing surface — the ski’s ability to “float” on soft snow — of 1350 cm2. Furthermore, the mid-fat’s agility — its ability to bend easily into a turn — is vastly improved because it has a short turn radius.

Each dimension can be varied in different ski types. Know your preferences. Credit: Brittanica
Each dimension can be varied in different ski types. Know your preferences.
Credit: Brittanica

What shape should you buy? Start with a “generic” 115-80-105mm shape at your length, then select a wider waist if you’re going to ski a lot of soft snow, or a narrower one if you’re going to ski a lot of hard snow. If you’re an expert who loves to carve, go for a shorter radius. If you want to be able to slide the tail a bit in bumps and tight woods (or if you have to skid a bit when you teach intermediates) opt for a slightly narrower tail.

Seth Masia, former technical editor of SKI magazine, heads the Ski Younger Now program at Vail Village. Ski Younger Now is a retraining program for older skiers, and skiers returning to the sport after recovering from an injury. It teaches low-impact, low-torque techniques to enable efficient skiing in all kinds of terrain.

The workshops are scheduled for December 15-17, 2015; January 12-14, 2016; February 16-18; and March 8-10. To schedule or learn more, email [email protected] or call Vail Village Private Lesson Desk (800) 475-4543 and ask for Seth Masia.


  1. I’m surprised Seth kept the edge angle variation out of his turn radius discussion.
    I go to GS cut skis so I can have a separation of concerns between edge grip and output turn radius. Long sidecut radius allow smaller edge angles to get grip without whacking you into the fall-line immediately. Once you get the ski vripping solidly you can whack on a lot of edge and get a tight GS turn apex.
    Skis don’t have a single turn radius. You bend a ski into wherever radius your edging skills can achieve.
    The side cut radius simply defines the maximum carve turn radius you’ll get out of a ski.
    Turns done skilfully have an ever-changing turn radius. They tighten up to a few metres and then slacken off.

  2. Seth, thank you for this post; I hope many will read, and ponder… Daily, I am amazed at the amount of (mostly “mature” men), skiers on “fat” 100mm+ skis, trying to control speed and turn radius on packed groomers…and the amount of energy they waste trying to crank these surf boards around, plus the extra strain it puts on aging knees…

  3. Good point. For the recreational skier (as opposed to the racer or instructor) it relates to the fact that a deeper sidecut means you can get the turn radius you want on with less edge angle — that is, on a straighter leg. It takes less strength (and less knee stress) to get a tight carved turn. On the other hand, as we age and adopt speed control as a goal (especially in bumps), I place more emphasis than ever on a softer tail to enable slipping the end of the turn.

  4. Agree, in the bumps, unless we are “mogul bronco busters”, a skidded turn works good, however, on a ‘groomer’, the narrower waisted ski is preferable for quicker control. Leave the “fats” to the backside.

  5. Glenn Allen says:

    Thanks for writing this very simple approach to ski selection. While I agree with all the points made in the comments above it is often lost on many end users that skiing is made up of so many different experiences. I think that those of us who have had the benefit of hindsight and years of on snow time such as yourself recognize this. However as a practicing coach and instructor trainer as well as a member of the retail industry it has always concerned me that the average consumer was being overwhelmed by the tendency of our business to hype the newest and greatest at the expense of actual performance in the conditions that the average skier may find themselves in most often. As a case in point bigger is by no means always better on every slope and in every snow as we all know but this message has often been drowned out by advertising and the promotion of the extremes in our sport. It is encouraging to see the pendulum of design in the industry swinging back to include suggesting equipment that will allow skiers who spend more time on the groomers (and even hard snow) to grow. Skiing in the vertically challenged province of Manitoba, Canada on almost purely man made snow that is usually at -20C it takes a different product to keep the newer skier involved in the sport more than 5 days a year. I hope that you’ll give me your permission to give your article to my customers who need a little more information on the subject. Thanks again.

  6. Glenn, feel free to show this stuff to anyone. You should also look at the column I wrote, titled “The Tyranny of Fat,” on the back page of SKI Magazine’s October issue. Ciao!

  7. Would suggesting some brands of skis be out of line here. I have put off buying new skis as the technical aspects of equipment is somewhat confusing.

    • Judy, demo days at ski areas are the best; you can try the same length and cut skis in the same conditions for hours, and feel how different a ski can be.
      Ask yourself how and where you ski; “back East” or “out West”, front or back side, do you like BLTs (big long turns) or quick and snappy short radius turns, are you an agressive skier or a “Sunday Cruiser”…?
      Many ski areas offer ‘high performance’ skis in their rental or ski shops to try before buying; if all else fails… get skis that match your outfit 🙂
      Hopefully you have a good boot fitter and the best fitted boots your feet can get… a vast majority of skiers have boots that are too large for their feet… You can ski a ‘lousy’ ski with good boots, but you can have the best skis in the world and if your boots do not fit right, skis will not perform right …

  8. Suwon Hwang says:

    I am 64 years old skier. I have 70MM wide an 160CM old ski.
    Do i need change ski wide one such as 80-100MM. Does this help reduce impact on my knee, I went ski 5 to 9 times a season on groomed.
    Do i need $1000 to $600 ski 2016 new ski. Or $200-400 2012 product would be OK ? I am 166 CM tall and 135 pound. Would chose right ski for me. I ski here http://www.chestnutmtn.com/live/mountaintop.cfm

    Thank you in advance

  9. Suwon Hwang: 70mm is appropriate for the hard snow you’ll get on a small hill in the Midwest. But how old are your skis? What sort of sidecut shape do they have? At your weight, with a modern shaped ski, a 150cm length might be appropriate, with up to about a 78mm waist.

    Wider than 85cm will be harder on your knees. By all means buy a cheaper ski left over from previous years.

    Best of luck —


  10. Geoff Prescott says:

    I am new to Senior Skiing. It’s great to find a site that specializes in us older skiers. I’m 66 and have been skiing for about 30 years. The article was helpful in my search for a new ski for the upcoming ski season (and many more, I hope!). After considering a number of skis, I bought the Atomic Blackeye Ti in the 2015 model. The ski is similar to Seth’s generic model in that it has an 81 mm waist and a 15 m radius. Looking forward to ripping up the groomers on my new boards!

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