Choosing the Right Ski
Walk into any ski shop and you will be confronted by a wide array of different skis. They come in different shapes, lengths and colors, and each brand sells several different models of ski. If you haven't bought skis in a while, the process can be intimidating.
No doubt, a friendly salesperson will come up to you and ask what kind of ski you want. There's a lot of lingo and jargon in the ski world, and that can be overwhelming. They may use words in a different way than you understand how your old skis worked, and you may not know the answer to their questions.
Probably the first thing a ski salesman will ask you is what level skier you are: Are you a beginner? An intermediate skier? And advanced skier ready to improve your skills to expert level? Right after the salesman asks what level of skier you are, he will ask you if you prefer a stiff ski or a soft ski.
Ski shops are an easy place to feel uninformed, but the jargon doesn't have to be hard to understand. If you know what they are really asking when they ask if you want a stiff ski or a flexible ski, you will be able to give them an answer that will land you with a ski that is suited to your style and ability, and that will make skiing even more fun.
What Does a Stiff Ski Do?
The stiffness of a ski depends on what it is made of. You can gauge a ski's stiffness by standing it on the end and flexing the tip toward you, paying attention to how much the ski bends or gives. If it bends pretty easily, then the ski is considered soft or flexible. If it is very hard to get the ski to bend at all, then you are looking at a stiff ski.
Generally speaking, stiff skis are best for more advanced skiers who want to ski fast and have a lot of control when they carve their turns, especially in hard pack snow or icy conditions. When you are skiing along at a decent speed, you will run over many bumps in the snow. A stiff ski won't bend with each bump, so the edge will stay in contact with the snow, keeping the turns controlled and maintaining speed. A stiff ski also won't allow you to make as many mistakes. They require more skill to turn, though the advent of parabolic shaping for skis means skis in general are easier to turn than they were 10 years ago.
Stiff skis do not work well in powder. Getting stiff skis to float above the snow is made harder by their rigidity, and turning them in soft snow requires more energy than flexible skis.
Who Uses a Soft Ski?
Beginner skiers generally ski on soft skis. That is because you do not need to have a high technical skill level to be able to turn a soft ski. Flexible skis can cover up sloppy form, helping the skier along.
Because flexible skis are easier to turn, they also work better on mogul runs and backcountry off-piste skiing than stiff skis. Soft skis don't go as fast as stiff skis, but being easier to turn makes flexible skis more versatile than stiff skis.
While the softest skis are popular only with beginner skiers, most recreational skiers — non-racers — choose a ski somewhere in between stiff and soft. If you are an all-mountain skier who likes to mix it up with bumps, powder and off-piste skiing, you will want a ski on the more flexible side. If you are a skier who likes to blast down groomers, then you probably want a ski that is on the stiffer side.
Other Things To Consider When Buying New Skis
These days, most skis are parabolic skis. That parabolic shape, with the tip and end of the skis wider than the middle, makes it easier to carve turns. The wider the tips and ends, the more you will be able to carve from one turn into the next, even if you are not an expert skier. The parabolic ski does a lot of the work for you.
The section of the ski under the boot is called the camber. The higher the camber, the more lively the skis will be, the more pop you will have in your turns. If you are an intermediate or beginner skier, you probably don't want too much pop in your skis or you could lose control. But being able to pop from turn to turn is certainly one of the most fun sensations in skiing.
The width of the ski determines how much the ski will float on top of the now. Wide skis have a wider base surface area, so they are best on powder days when you need to really stay above the snow. Powder skis are getting wider and wider, practically resembling two snowboards! Wide skis are not good for icy conditions, however, as it is hard to keep an edge on wide skis.
Before parabolic skis became the norm about a decade ago, better skiers tended to use longer skis. Longer skis are harder to turn than shorter skis, but they also could go faster. Racers still tend to use longer skis than recreational skiers use, though speed freaks will usually prefer to wear a slightly longer ski.
Heavy skis stick to the snow better, so they are better for carving and in icy conditions. Lighter skis are better for freestyle or bump skiing, and also for beginners.