Between the 1960's and 1990's skis hardly changed in shape or dimensions at all. They were narrow from tip to tail (with hardly any waist at all) and very long. Competent recreational male skiers would be on skis at least 2 metres long and bragging rights could be had if you owned a set of 205's. Although stable in a straight line the lack of 'shape' in these long skis made turning difficult. 'Turns', such as they were, tended to be skidded and one turn was linked to the other by an exaggerated 'up' movement which de-weighted the ski enough to allow it to turn through the fall line.
Elan, the Slovenian manufacturer, changed the game completely when they introduced the first carving (or parabolic) ski in 1993. The Elan SCX ski heralded a new age for skiing and since then we haven't looked back. The people at Elan worked out that with a wider tip and tail a ski when put on its edge in a state of dynamic balance would bend to form an arc. Pressure put in the middle of the ski by the skier's weight, inertia and consequent centripetal and centrifugal forces would allow the edge to grip the snow so that the ski could 'carve' a turn with no skid at all.
Today we have the luxury of being able to choose between a vast variety of different shapes and sizes for all the different types of skiing the mountain has to offer. This page will help you get to grips with the different ski types and have the jargon explained so you can understand the required lingo.
Camber refers to the curve of the ski when it's viewed from the side. The tip and tail of the ski will touch a flat surface but the waist (middle) of the ski will be raised above the surface. This curve is referred to as 'positive camber'.
Full camber skis will give you the most edge contact with the snow and therefore more grip. Piste skis or carving skis are often full camber to maximise their stability and grip. They are 'poppy' and rebound very well allowing the skier to move from one turn to the next quickly. Freestyle skiers who need to sometimes make a rapid change of direction often use full camber skis for this reason.
Rocker is the opposite curve where the ski curves towards the snow rather than away. A rocker takes the form of an elongated tip or tail to the ski when viewed in profile.
A fully ‘rockered’ ski is flat underfoot and then the tip and tail rise up away from the snow. This makes the ski more manoeuvrable and also aids with floatation in deeper powder snow but they sacrifice edge grip. Full rockered skis are usually freeride or powder skis that excel away from the piste. On harder packed groomed piste they can be quite unstable and can feel sluggish.
Different ski types for different skiers
Both camber (be it positive or reverse) and the presence of a rocker tip and tail provide different characteristics and lead skis to excel in different terrain and different snow conditions.
Often with full camber these skis offer plenty of grip to the snow and on hard pack pistes offer stability and a secure confidence. Sometimes they have a metal layer to stiffen the ski and aid the grip and power. They have the classic hourglass shape with narrow waist (allowing the ski to move quickly from one edge to the other) and wider tip and tail to allow shorter radius turns and make 'carving' a breeze. However, with their lack of rocker tip to provide 'float' and narrow waist they do not perform so well off the piste in deeper snow. Waist widths: 60 - 80mm.
All mountain skis
All mountain skis are often a mix of camber and rocker giving the rider the best of both worlds. They get the grip and stability underfoot so they can shred the groomed piste but also have the rocker in the tip so they can dreamily float in the light fluffy 'pow'. The rocker will also make it easier to initiate new turns and makes skiing really easy. All mountain skis are very popular as they provide the skier with a tool to explore the whole mountain, whether on or off piste. Waist widths: 80-100mm.
These have a much higher proportion of rocker and in some cases have a ‘full rocker’ or even a reverse camber. They give maximum floatation in deeper snow and excel in the backcountry but on piste are very difficult to ski on. Waist widths: 100mm plus.
Choosing the right length of ski
The right length does vary depending on the ski type but as a general rule your ski should be up to around the bridge of your nose. Slightly longer if you have lots of rocker in your ski to maximise the effective edge length and grip on the snow.
The longer the ski the more grip and stability you get at higher speeds but the less manoeuvrable they become. Shorter skis are more manoeuvrable and are easier to initiate into a turn but being shorter they provide less grip and stability at speed.
So, if you are a speed junkie then go a ski that's a bit longer for more edge hold on the snow, and if you’re a more cautious skier and like skis that are easier to turn then go shorter. Unless you don't mind being ridiculed by every other skier on the mountain do not be tempted into taking a pair of really short or 'blade' skis.
To size up a pole turn it upside-down so that the handle is touching the floor and then grip the pole just underneath the basket. If the angle between your upper and lower arm is 90 degrees then you have the right length ski pole. If you don’t like to pole plant then you can go a bit shorter.
If you have your own skis it is vital that you maintain them properly and get them serviced regularly – please refer to our ski maintenance and servicing page for more advice.