The Best Carving Skis
If you love making big, arcing turns at high speeds, you probably want a carving ski. Carving skis are for those familiar with ski racing, but who want to have fun on the mountain outside of race days. These skis are for hard pack only, not for powder, and specifically excel on groomers, through gates, and over machine-prepped snow. These are designed for skilled skiers who know how to lay down a turn and want a performance piece of equipment to use in all firm conditions on the mountain.
When selecting a ski, the dimension that will tell you the most about a ski’s preferred conditions is its waist width, or the wideness of the ski underfoot. In the case of carving skis, you want them to have a waist width between 65-80mm. This narrow dimension allows the ski to have a tight turn radius and quick edge-to-edge action when carving turns on firm snow.
The Best Frontside Skis
A frontside ski is for exactly what the name implies: skiing all over the front side of the mountain. You can start the morning on fresh corduroy, wiggle your way through a bump run, and carve your way down the firm (or if you’re lucky, freshly groomed) steeps. Skis in this category are slightly more versatile than a carving ski and will do best in well-skied conditions, but are not going to excel in powder.
Frontside skis will have a waist width from 80-95mm. This is slightly wider than a carving ski but still narrower than an all mountain or powder ski. So, if you mostly stay on hard pack and groomed runs or love moguls and tight trees, look for a nimble, frontside ski. If you are hoping to explore in fresh powder, you might prefer a slightly wider all mountain ski.
The Best All Mountain Skis
All mountain skis are designed to be the most versatile type of ski. This is the style you buy if you only want to own one pair of skis instead of an entire quiver. The perfect all mountain pair will handle a range of terrain and a variety of speeds, so you can carve turns on fresh groomers, make first tracks on a fluffy powder day, and plow through chopped up, refrozen snow (a.k.a. crud). You can take an all mountain model anywhere at a resort, both on piste and off piste. All mountain skis will perform better in powder than your standard frontside ski but not as well as a dedicated powder ski. However since an all mountain ski is a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type of equipment, there are limitations to how well they perform in different conditions.
All mountain models typically have mid-range waist widths, between 95-105mm, and will perform slightly better in powder and soft snow than on groomed snow or hard pack. If you ski most often in the west and spend a majority of your time in search of soft snow but want something that carves better than a fat powder ski, look for an all mountain ski with a slightly wider waist width than a frontside ski so you can stay on top of the fluffy stuff.
The Best Powder Skis
For powder hounds the most fun part of skiing is the floating sensation when on fresh, fluffy powder. For many, the lure of freshies is a major driver. With the right technique and conditions you can achieve this incredible sensation (and have tons of fun!) on just about any ski, but a powder ski will make skiing in deep snow easier.
A powder ski is defined as any ski with a 105mm-130+mm waist width. Waist width is the dimension of the ski that makes the most difference in terms of float, where the wider underfoot, the greater the surface area, the more easily you can stay on top of the snow. These days the trend is not to go completely super-fat, but stay somewhere between 110-120mm underfoot, when you get optimal float but can still turn and control the skis on the hard pack. Modern powder skis also incorporate rocker into the design, which is when the tip and tail curve upwards off the snow, to increase maneuverability in deep snow as well as to provide that surfy feel.
Since a powder ski is designed with a specific condition in mind, it may go without saying that it is a specialty tool meant to be brought out after a big snowfall or when heading into the backcountry. Skis in this category will not become your go-to every day pair, but rather a bonus pair to bring out when the night’s snowfall reaches above 12 inches. Powder skis will not carve particularly well, and won’t have outstanding edge hold in icy, firm conditions, but the fun feel on powder days will more than make up for this weakness. If you purchase a pair of powder skis, you will also want an all-mountain pair, and maybe even a carving pair, adding up to a closet full of fun-sticks.
The Best Women’s Skis
For each of the above categories, there are men’s or unisex versions and there are usually also women’s specific versions. If you are a female shopping for skis, first determine which type of ski you want, and then look through both the men’s versions and the women’s versions to find the exact model that will work for you.
Women’s specific skis are slightly different than the equivalent men’s versions. Typically, women’s versions come in shorter lengths, lighter weight, and with less stiffness to account for women’s shorter heights and lower body weights. They also come with different graphics to distinguish between the models. Similar to how a women’s jacket is more likely to fit a woman’s body shape better than a men’s jacket, a women’s pair of skis will most likely better fit a woman’s dimensions and be easier to turn and maneuver. However, very advanced women sometimes prefer a stiffer men’s or unisex ski.