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Another consideration when purchasing skis is the overall ski shape. Ski shape, when combined with width (learn more about ski width here) and length (more on ski length here), determines the quickness, stability, and floatation of the ski. Ski shape is made up of the width of the tip, underfoot (or waist of the ski), tail of the ski, overall length, sidecut radius, and the shape of the tip and tail.
With many skis on the market, ski shape can often be an easy element to find. But, it’s critical to dial the ski shape in to your specific needs. Further, you need to consider other factors of the ski like the materials, stiffness, and flex pattern. If you have the proper length, width, and ski shape but the material makeup of the ski is too soft or too stiff, what would have been a perfect ski will now be challenging to maneuver and turn.
The overall shape of the ski is important because it will dictate 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.
The sidecut radius is the arc along the sides of the skis. This is built into the ski so that when put on edge, a natural turn shape can be created. Sidecut radius, along with the flex pattern of the ski, is what allows a skier to put different shapes to their turns. 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 for the skier. This is good for beginner skiers 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 waste (the part of the ski that lies under your ski boot).
A larger sidecut radius will allow for bigger turns (think GS and Super G type of turning). With a larger sidecut radius, the ski doesn’t turn itself, the skier will actively have to initiate the turn. A bigger sidecut radius is oftentimes a good element for powder skis as you likely don’t want the ski making turns for you in these pristine conditions. A ski that wants to turn itself will always be looking to make contact with the hard surface below it and in powder, it’s better to float above the surface. In general, longer skis tend to have bigger turning radiuses.
On the other side of the spectrum is very little to almost no sidecut radius. Skis that perform well in bumps will have very little sidecut. This is complemented with a narrow tip and tail which helps the ski to maneuver through the bumps with ease.
So, how do you determine the best sidecut radius for a new pair of skis? We recommend getting the dimensions of your current or past skis to help you with this decision. When thinking about your current or past gear, ask yourself if you liked the way your ski turned. Was it too easy or did it take too much effort? Perhaps it was just right. If the ski is / was comfortable, then you should probably mirror that sidecut range. If you are looking for a ski that is more predictable and floaty, a straighter sidecut radius might be more appropriate. And last, if the ski was too difficult to turn and you had to put too much effort into getting the ski on edge, it’s likely you should consider a smaller sidecut radius.
On a pair of skis with rocker, the early rise of the tip or tail (where the upturn of the tip or tail starts) will start closer to the bindings, creating more rocker (or early rise) on the ski. Generally, a little bit of rocker can go a long way.
The benefits of rockered skis are increased floatation, quicker turn initiation, 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. Rocker allows a skier to carry an athletic stance more efficiently. The main drawback of rocker / early rise is that the ski will be more prone to vibrating, especially at higher speeds.
There are both tip rocker and tail rocker. Most skis today will have some amount of tip rocker. The more tip rocker the ski has, the more optimized for powder the ski likely is. Tail rocker will make the tail of the skis feel softer which often allows for a more surfy feel in deep snow and powder conditions. Tail rocker has drawbacks as well, including the feeling of a less stable ski (especially at speeds and in variable snow). You may want more tail rocker if your skiing preference is in tight trees and bumps as it allows the skis to release easier in these features.
Tip shape, combined with tip rocker, will influence how your ski initiates a turn, how much float you will have in variable and deep snow, and how well the ski tracks on firm snow. As a general rule of thumb, the longer the shovel (the widest point near the tip), the better the float in soft snow. 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, will track the best on hard snow and allow you to carve the best on snow. Here’s a breakdown on what kind of tip shape you will want for various snow conditions:
High speed carving: short tip length, low rise / upturn, minimal to no rocker.
All-mountain skiing and versatility: short to medium tip length with moderate rocker.
Heli-skiing, deep powder, and ski touring: a good amount of tip rocker is a good thing.
Tail shape works similarly to tip shape. As you elongate the length of the tail and round it with upturn, 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:
On-mountain carving: shorter tail with little to no rocker that is squared off.
On-mountain bumps: want a bit more upturn in the tail.
All-mountain skis: consider a longer tail with enough upturn to reverse out of terrain (trees, bumps).
Powder skiing: look for skis with more elongated tails. This will allow the ski to be more forgiving and releases from the turn easier.
Heli-skiing: you don’t want much upturn in your skis because you will be putting the tails in the snow constantly to put on your heli-strap.
Park and freestyle skiing: You’ll want twin tips (where the tail of the ski matches the tip of the ski) as they will allow you to land backwards on jumps or features in the park.
Tip and tail shape, combined with the flex pattern and stiffness of the ski, will create the feel of the ski. This is important so you can ski with ease in the conditions you prefer.
Ready to learn more about ski design? Check out these articles from our Ski Buyer’s Guide: