As the weather turns colder and snow begins to fall, you may be thinking of busting out some skis and hitting the slopes. However, if you’ve never purchased skis before, all of the different ski types and terms can be intimidating…rocker, camber, DIN setting…what?! No worries, we’ve got you covered with this essential guide all about how to buy skis, as well as boots and bindings. We’ll give you a quick rundown on some basic terms and what to consider when buying your first pair of skis. After reading our guide, you can hit the slopes confidently all season long.
Things to Consider When Buying Your First Pair of Skis
The two most important things to consider when buying your first pair of skis are:
- What type of skiing do you want to do?
- What is your commitment to skiing?
There are many different types of skiing and it’s important to have an idea of what you’re interested in. Most beginners will be looking for a pair of skis that will perform well on your average ski hill, but there are tons of different skis out there. Some will be better for bombing down runs as fast as you can, and some skis will be perfect for keeping you afloat in deep powder. If you know you’re going to be skiing in the backcountry or skiing in powder, that will affect which pair of skis you purchase.
However, you should also take into account your commitment to skiing. Do you need a pair of skis for just a few weekends out on the hill, or will you be going out quite a bit this season? If you’re a casual skier, you’ll want to stick with a pair of skis that is perfect for you right now. If you’re planning on going out quite a bit, you could potentially purchase a pair of skis to “grow into” throughout the season.
If you’re wondering how to buy skis, start with the shape. There is an endless combination of ski shapes you can purchase, and it can be a little overwhelming! Below are some of the most important terms when it comes to ski shapes, and how they’ll affect your first pair of skis.
- Camber: Camber is the slight upward curve in the middle of a pair of skis that you’ll see if you lay them flat. The camber determines how your weight is distributed along the skis, which affects how well your skis grip the snow. When you step onto your skis, the camber will flatten and touch the snow, giving you your effective edge. This is the part of your ski that touches the snow when you make a turn. The longer your camber is, the longer your effective edge will be. This gives you more control during turns on groomed or hard-packed snow.
- Rocker: Also known as reverse camber, rocker is the curved rise up of the tip and tail of the ski. Skis can have a tip rocker, a tail rocker, or both. This changes the point of contact with the snow, and your effective edge. Skis with a full rocker won’t be able to carve as well on groomed runs, but the shape is perfect for helping you turn and stay afloat in deep powder. For a first pair of skis, generally you’ll be looking for a traditional camber. These skis will offer the most versatility. If you get more into deep powder skiing, that’s when you’d want to look more into skis with reverse camber.
- Waist Width: Waist width is the measurement taken across the narrowest section of a ski. Generally, a narrower set of skis (with a waist width between 70-90mm) will be better for working on your groomer carving skills. A wider set of skis (with a waist width of 90+mm) will be better for skiing in deeper snow conditions.
When wondering how to buy skis, the size of the skis is another important factor to take into consideration. Your ideal ski length will depend on your height, ability, and goals. For your first set of skis, we recommend looking for a pair that come to around eye-level when barefoot. Shorter skis are easier to control, so 10-15cm less than your height can be great for beginners. Shorter skis are also great if you’re wanting to ski through more glades and around trees. Longer skis will give you more surface area, resulting in better stability and improved flotation in deeper snow. For your first pair of skis you’ll want a happy medium, but you can move to shorter or longer skis as you figure out what style of skiing you enjoy.
The flex of a pair of skis is another key element to help determine if they’re the right fit for you. For beginners, a more flexible pair of skis will be easier to control and learn essential skills on. A stiffer pair of skis will require more effort and input to turn and control. As well, your weight will have an impact on what skis are best for you. Lighter skiers should look for more flexible and forgiving skis, while heavier skiers will want stiffer skis that support their weight.
If you’re in the market for a pair of skis, you’ll also need bindings. Bindings keep your boots securely attached to your skis, but they will also release your boots if you happen to fall. This release can mean the difference between falling and getting right back up, or an injury that can take you off the slopes for an entire season. Bindings also have twin prongs called brakes that lay flat when you are on the skis. If you happen to fall and lose your skis, the brakes will flip down to slow down your skis. (Meaning you won’t have to chase your skis down the hill. Phew!) There are two main types of bindings:
- Track-mounted: These are mounted onto a track on your skis, so they can be adjusted depending on the size of your boots. For beginners, track-mounted bindings should be sufficient.
- Drill-mounted: These are drilled and glued onto your skis permanently by a professional. Because there is no track system, drill-mounted bindings result in lighter skis and give you more control.
Pro Tip: Integrated bindings are ones that come pre-installed with skis, which is more affordable and convenient. If you’re an intermediate skier, you may want to look into separate bindings that can meet your specific needs.
DIN Setting: The Deutsche Industrie Normen, or DIN setting, determines the amount of force required to release your ski boot from your binding. These numbers range between 3-16. As you increase DIN setting on a pair of bindings, the amount of force required to release the boot from the binding is increased as well. The DIN setting on your bindings will be dictated by your ability, the length of your skis and boots, and your age and weight. Heavier skiers and more advanced skiers will want a higher DIN setting. If you’re fairly light or just starting out, a lower DIN setting will be best. Talk with your local ski professional about adjusting your binding DIN setting to suit your ability.
The last part of a successful ski set-up is the boots! The most important consideration when buying ski boots is the flex index, which is usually between the numbers of 50-130. A higher number means a stiffer boot. Soft flex boots are comfortable and warm, which is great for beginners. Medium flex boots will have more responsiveness for carving turns and higher speeds. Stiff flex boots are for more advanced skiers looking for aggressive runs and maximum responsiveness. Taller and heavier beginners may be best-suited to a stiffer flex boot as well. They will have more power to leverage over a stiffer boot.
Pro Tip: Flex index numbers aren’t standardized across the industry. One company’s 110 flex rating may be different than another company’s 110 flex rating. Be mindful of this on your search for the perfect boot!
The Shopping Experience
So, you’ve done your research and you know what type of skis, bindings, and boots you’re looking for. That’s great, but now it’s time to head to the store and take a look at the equipment in real life. Here are a few tips for a smooth ski-shopping experience:
- Questions: When you’re in store, the amount of skis can be overwhelming. Don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as you can! Most ski store employees have tons of experience out on the slopes, and they’ll have a good idea of what ski equipment will suit a beginner.
- Demo: It’s best if you can find a store that will let you demo the equipment before your purchase. A pair of skis can seem like the perfect fit on paper, but you’ll never know until you test it for yourself.
- Budget: It can be tempting to purchase the most expensive pair of skis, or to skimp a little on the bindings, but you’ll want to be realistic about your budget. Just because a pair of skis is expensive doesn’t mean they’re any better than a cheaper pair. However, you don’t want to lose out on important safety features by buying the cheapest equipment either. Being realistic about your budget will help you purchase the best ski set-up for your specific circumstances.
Pro Tip: Consider investing in some ski school lessons to go along with your shiny new skis. A qualified instructor will be able to teach you how to use your skis properly, ensuring you get the best experience out of your investment!
As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider when you are wondering how to buy skis. The skis you buy will depend on the type of skiing you want to do, your ability, your height and weight, how often you’ll go out, your budget, and many other variables. We hope this guide helps answer any questions about how to buy your first pair of skis. As well, don’t hesitate to go into a physical store to get help from the experts. Armed with the proper knowledge, you’ll be able to buy the perfect pair of skis. We hope you have a great season out on the slopes with your new skis!
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below!
What Else Do You Need to Go Skiing?
- Waterproof outerwear – Possibly the most critical pieces of clothing for your ski trip packing list is durable, waterproof outerwear. Burton and Helly Hansen are famous ski brands for having best-in-class clothing that will keep you warm in the coldest, snowiest conditions. Click here to shop ski jackets and compare prices.
- Thermal layers – Thermal baselayers are absolutely critical for a smooth skiing experience, as these will keep you warm and dry underneath your outerwear. The best kinds of thermal baselayers are made of Merino wool, which is moisture-wicking and comfortable. Our favorite brand of thermal layers is SmartWool – their tops and leggings are soft, lightweight, but warm and durable for all kinds of outdoor activities, including skiing. Click here to shop thermal tops and leggings and compare prices.
- Ski goggles – No ski trip packing list would be complete without a pair of fog-resistant ski goggles, especially if you’re going somewhere that makes artificial snow. Ski slopes often have snow blowing into the air several times a day and it can be hard to keep freezing snowflakes out of your eyes, even during clear days. We use and recommend these ski goggles. However, you can shop ski goggles and compare reviews/prices here.
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of things to pack, read our guide on What to Wear Skiing & Snowboarding and our Ultimate Ski Trip Packing List to view our full packing list and gear recommendations for the slopes!
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