SKI BUYER'S GUIDE, PART 3: SKI SHAPE
OK, so you’ve worked with our expert ski designers (not to mention brilliant, attractive, and charming, if we do say so ourselves) to figure out what your ski’s waist-width is going to be.
Now you're ready to move onto the next step: shape.
Shape means exactly what it sounds like: the dimensions of the tip, waist, and tail, as well as the profile (camber and rocker). While the waist-width is part of the story—determining the general habitat your ski will prefer—the shape of the ski determines its personality.
Do you want a spunky firecracker that wants to always be on edge? A comfortable ride that lets you do the driving? A beefy powerhouse that inhales a steep powdery bowl in three giant arcs? Shape (along with materials, which we’ll get into next) will dictate all of this. It is the recipe for how quickly the ski will turn, how stable the ski will be at speed, and how much floatation the ski will have in soft snow conditions.
This is a fancy way of saying what kind of turn your ski prefers to make: long or short. It is represented by a number in meters, usually between TK and TK. The larger the number means the longer turn it prefers.
Because we’re geeky science-types, we’ll explain how this is determined. The sidecut radius is determined by the curve in the sides of the skis. Imagine laying your skis on the ground and tracing the curve from tip to tail with a pencil. Now continue drawing that curve into a full circle (it would be a very big circle). The sidecut radius is the length (in meters) of the radius of that circle.
This is built into the ski so that when put on edge, a natural turn shape can be created. A small sidecut radius will allow the skis to make tighter, smaller, and shorter turns (think slalom skiing). A smaller sidecut radius will also tend to initiate turns easier, which is good for beginners as it helps them learn how to initiate and execute a turn. Visually, a small sidecut radius will make the tips and tails of the skis wider in comparison to the waist.
On the other side of the spectrum is a large sidecut radius, which occurs in skis that are straighter. Skis that perform well in bumps, for example, will have very little sidecut, and will have a narrow tip and tail relative to the waist. Often wide powder skis will have a large sidecut radius, too, as it’s preferable to let these skis run fast and make longer turns.
So, how do you determine the best sidecut radius for a new pair of skis? Don’t worry—we’ll walk you through every step of the process. We will ask you for the dimensions of your current or past skis to figure out what works best for you. Did you like the way your ski turned? Was it too easy or did it take too much effort? Perhaps it was just right. If the ski was comfortable, we may want to mirror that sidecut range. If you are looking for a ski that is more predictable and floaty, we may recommend a larger sidecut radius. If you want your ski to be easier to get on edge, we’ll recommend a smaller sidecut radius.
Rocker and Camber
Rocker and camber are what comprise the profile of your ski. Set your ski, base-side down, on a table. Is it convex underfoot so the waist of the ski doesn’t touch the table? That is camber. Or is it concave, where the base underfoot is the only thing touching the table? That is rocker.
Usually all-mountain skis have a combination of both camber and rocker in the following order: rocker in the tip, camber underfoot, and perhaps rocker in the tail. The wider the skis are at the waist, generally the more rocker you see, and the more optimized the ski is to surf in powder.
The benefits of rockered tips are increased floatation, quicker turn initiation, and the ability to stay on top of the snow in powdery conditions and to plow through variable conditions without having to ski in the backseat. Rockered tips allows a skier to carry an athletic stance more efficiently. The downside to rockered tips are that it can make a ski feel less stable at speed, owing to “tip flap” and less effective edge on the snow. Rocker also makes a ski feel shorter (read our article about length for more).
Tail rocker makes the tail of the skis feel softer, which often allows for a more surfy feel in deep snow and powder conditions. It also releases out of the turn easier, which may be preferable if you ski tight trees and bumps. Tail rocker has drawbacks as well, including less stability (especially at speeds and in variable snow).
Powder skis that are heavily (and sometimes fully) rockered feel looser, softer, more playful, and slarve-y (read: less carve-y)—allowing you to pivot, smear, and surf. The downside here is less edge-grip on groomed, and less stability at speed in anything other than powder.
Camber, on the other hand, gives a ski more edge-grip and power on groomed—so skis that are optimized for harder snow tend to have more. Cambered skis feel more directional, stable, and traditional.
Tip and Tail Length
Rocker in the tip and tail determines some of your ski’s personality, but the tip and tail length are also important.
As a general rule of thumb, the longer the shovel (the widest point near the tip), the better the float in soft snow. However a longer shovel, combined with rocker, will also make the skis more prone to vibration and chatter on fast and harder snow conditions. Shorter tip lengths, with little or no rocker, are best for tracking and carving on hard snow. Here’s a breakdown on what kind of tip shape you will want for various snow conditions:
- High-speed carving: short tip length, minimal to no rocker
- All-mountain skiing and versatility: short to medium tip length, moderate rocker
- Powder skiing: longer tip length, more tip rocker
- Park and freestyle skiing: rockered twin-tips
Tail shape works similarly to tip shape. As you elongate the length of the tail, round it, taper it, and rocker it, the tail becomes progressively softer and more forgiving. Short, squared-off tails will give the ski a stronger feeling of stiffness, energy, and backbone. Here is what you should look for with tail shapes:
- High-speed carving: shorter, squared-off tail, little to no rocker
- All-mountain skiing and versatility: longer tail, moderate rocker
- Powder skiing: long tail, more rocker
- Park and freestyle skiing: rockered twin-tips
Still seems complicated? That’s because it is. Fear not—we’re here for you. Let us design your perfect ski, and you can get back to reading news, novels, The New Yorker, whatever you actually want to be reading. Call us today.
Ready to learn more about ski design? Check out these articles from our Ski Buyer’s Guide:
- SKI BUYER'S GUIDE, PART 6: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER