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Picking skis can be intimidating if you don’t know what to look for. The problem is that all the elements of ski design (length, width, shape, weight and so on) are interdependent – when you change one element, some other factors have to change too. The goal is to come up with a combination of factors that works for you in the snow and terrain you want to ski. In this series of articles, we take a closer look at how to approach the ski buying process. In this article, we help you answer the common question of, how long should my skis be.
A good place to start is ski length. Your weight and strength are important, but so is the history of skis you’ve used and are accustomed to. Consider what kind of terrain and snow you plan to ski. The width of the ski will affect the length you choose because the total bearing surface (length times width) determines how the ski will float in deep snow.
Generally speaking, short skis turn quickly and so are nimble in tight terrain, like bumps and trees. Short skis don’t float very well in powder conditions and they aren’t optimized for high-speed stability or steadiness in choppy snow. Longer skis have good floatation due to their larger surface area and feature better stability, especially at higher speeds and in variable snow. However, longer skis are more difficult to maneuver in tight terrain features and can put more torque on your knees and hips. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to be on the shortest ski that still gives you good stability and floatation, especially in less than ideal snow conditions. Bearing surface is the amount of surface area that makes contact with the snow. Long and skinny skis can have the same bearing surface as a short and fat ski. The takeaway here is that you can go shorter on wider skis and they will still feel stable and float. If you go with a skinnier ski, you might want to consider more length so the ski has the right amount of stability for you. You should also take into consideration where you will be skiing and the associated terrain. As an example, for steep or tight terrain (bumps, chutes, trees) you will want a turnier ski than is optimum for cruising in powder bowls. The steep or tight terrain skier will likely enjoy a shorter ski, while the bowl skier will want something longer (and therefore more stable in mashed potatoes or crust). If floatation and speed are high priorities, go longer. If you are skiing above treeline in powder, go bigger. Skiing in more technical terrain? Consider a slightly shorter ski.
When you find the right ski length for you, skiing will be easier and more comfortable in all conditions. Ready to learn more about getting the best skis for you and your skiing preferences? Check out these articles from our Ski Buyer’s Guide: