The question of “ what is the correct ski length for me” is one fraught with differences in opinion. There’s no perfect answer, but knowing how to choose the right length and what factors affect that choice is an integral part of selecting the right skis this season.
When it comes to choosing the length for your skis, it can be a tricky answer to reach. While there are some general truths and rules of thumb to follow, everyone has slightly different needs and what they prefer. Shorter, longer, wider, narrower, cambered, rockered, the list goes on. Below, we’ll break down the various ways to choose your ski size and how that size will affect how you ride. So if you’ve been looking for a concise, definitive guide on how to get the right ski size this season, then you’ve found it.
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Before you begin asking what size skis you need, it’s important to know how length affects your riding. While you probably won’t notice it all that much at first, as you progress, you’ll become more attuned to how your skis feel underfoot. And when you get there, you’ll be able to make decisions that fine-tune that feeling. One of which is the length.
Shorter skis will feel more agile and controllable. In addition, they’ll be lighter, so less fatigue will set in overtime. But they’ll also feel more unstable at speed, offer less float in powder and deep snow, and will have a less effective edge, so maybe prone to sliding out.
Longer skis will feel more cumbersome and slower to respond. They may also be slightly heavier and less maneuverable too. But, they’ll feel more stable at speed and offer more float in deep powder, more support on those laid-back descents where you need to put lots of pressure on your heels. They’ll also have a longer, more effective edge, so they’ll be less likely to slide out.
As such, it’s all give and take. Naturally, you’ll develop a preference over time, but for now, let’s dig into how to size your skis generally — and then you can decide whether you want to size up or down!
When considering the length of your next pair of skis, the most common option is to use your height. Height judgments are the simplest way to choose the right ski length for your weight, providing you are of an ‘average’ build for that height.
We’ll come to fine-tuning your length choice in a second. Still, before we do, it’s important to mention that the only time you might not want to calculate the length of your skis by your height is if you’re specifically going for a ski that’s either a volume-shifted ski or maybe one that’s specifically designed for powder riding. The different shapes of skis can affect their overall area, which pretty much means that choosing ski length based on height is rendered moot. But again, we’ll come to that in a few!
Below, we’ve put together a hand quick-reference chart that’ll give you a good idea of what kind of length ski you’ll need. This chart applies to ‘alpine’ skis, which are usually defined by their single-tip construction (i.e. they have a specific nose that is wider and raised and a specific tail which is narrow and flat) and medium width.
The chart below is a good guide but can be adjusted depending on weight, too. For example, if you’re below the average weight for your height, sizing down on your skis is a good idea, while sizing up is probably best if you’re above average weight.
(ft + in)
Some companies will recommend going by weight rather than height when choosing ski length. This is because weight is arguably the more important factor when considering your skis’ surface area, which directly affects float in powder and how the skis perform on the piste, too.
Most skis have a usual width for their length, so you get an “area” when you talk about width multiplied by length, complicated right- but stick with us. Area divided by weight (or the other way around), gives you a magic number that’s either too much, too little, or just right for your ski.
Therefore, some companies may recommend choosing a ski length by weight rather than height so that you get a pair of skis that will behave as intended. In this case, we recommend always checking the manufacturer’s sizing and fit charts, just to be safe!
Using the height-size chart above, you can also factor in your ability level to help you decide what length you want. Those who are just starting and are a beginner to intermediate level can size down and go for a shorter ski. Shorter skis will be easier to control and move around, so they are perfect for learners when floating in the powder, turning radii (yes, radii is correct — the plural of ‘radius’. Technically, radiuses is also okay, but it’s not as cool as radii, pronounced ray-dee-eye), stiffness and high-speed stability isn’t an issue.
More experienced riders may wish to size up to a longer ski, which will give them better float in the powder and allow them to go for a stiffer ski which will be more stable at high speeds. Of course, the longer the ski, the more unwieldy it’ll be, but if you’re a proficient skier, that won’t matter, and the benefits outweigh the drawbacks by far.
Echoing the above sentiment, if you’re cruising the groomers, a shorter ski is usually easier to work with. Similarly, if you’re hitting the park, shorter skis will be more agile, easier to spin with, and will be a lot more precise.
If you’re looking for steep terrain and open powder fields, then a longer ski will give you some extra support, stability, and, of course, float.
Another thing to consider is the camber of your skis. Camber is the curve or shape that your ski takes on when viewed from the side or profile — hence ‘camber profile’. Again, there are many different options, and different cambers will affect how the ski handles different situations.
Cambered or full camber skis will have a full contact to contact point concave shape. When viewed from the side, this will arch upwards. As a result, cambered skis will hold an edge better, be more responsible and stable at speed, and feel more precise. However, they’ll not achieve that dreamy float in powder. As such, you can size up to get the better float and go full camber for the other benefits.
Rocker is the inverse of camber. When laid on a flat surface, the ski will ‘rock’ like a rocking chair, hence the name of this profile. On the other hand, rockered skis will be forgiving and have a loose, surfy feel. They’ll also be less stable at high speeds but will have better float in powder. As such, you can size down with a rocker ski without compromising your ability to float while getting some extra agility, thanks to the smaller size.
Hybrid camber profiles contain cambered and rockered sections, but are predominantly cambered, which means lots of response without being totally unforgiving! Sizing up is a good idea with this profile, which often suits more intermediate to advanced riders.
Hybrid rocker profiles are the inverse, with both camber and rocker sections, with the rocker being dominant for more of a surfy, float feel, with some of the response of a camber ski. Again, sizing down or staying at your recommended length is good with this profile, which often suits beginners and progressing riders.
There are many different skis styles, and different styles will mean different length recommendations. Some will be longer or shorter than others, and the same length in two different types will feel totally different. So it’s essential to look at what the ski will be used for, its shape, its camber, its length, and its effective edge — the part of the ski in contact with the snow.
Alpine skis are the most common type of ski on the mountain. With a rise in the nose and a long effective edge leading to a slightly narrower, flat tail, alpine skis are built around the size chart above.
Park or freestyle skis will have a wide nose and tail and will rise in both the nose and tail, making them reminiscent of a snowboard. They’re designed to be ridden ‘switch’ or backwards while performing tricks. A park ski that’s the same length as an alpine ski will have a shorter effective edge due to the rise at the tail. This means less grip as well as less surface area to lay back on in powder. Therefore, when looking at park or freestyle skis, it’s always important to look at the length of the rear rise and the effective edge and make adjustments to your sizing in light of this. Park skis are usually shorter anyway, so they’re more maneuverable and will be wider a lot of the time, too, for extra stability. Therefore, the above size chart may not work if you’re specifically looking for something to take into the park. It’s always best to check the manufacturer’s sizing recommendations in this case.
Cross country skis will often be shorter than alpine skis because you won’t be encountering any powder or soft snow. Instead, cross country is done on hardpack and groomed snow, which means they can be shorter and thinner, making them lighter and more maneuverable. As such, they can’t be sized in the normal way!
Choosing the right ski length for children is a tricky thing to do. Kids grow quickly, so the idea of sizing up for them to grow into it probably came to mind! This is sometimes a good idea, but be aware that their bindings will need to fit their boots and be adjusted accordingly. Sizing up, however, can add extra weight. And especially for young children, heavier skis can be too much for their smaller muscles. If possible, resist the urge to size up in anticipation of the next season, as skiing with a ski that’s too big poses lots of issues regarding handling and safety.
Using the chart above is relatively safe when it comes to sizing skis, providing you’re of an average build, and you’re going for alpine skis! However, suppose you’re going to be changing up your ski style, the terrain you’re hitting, or even your camber profile. In that case, we hope this guide has elucidated the different benefits and drawbacks that each decision comes with.
If in doubt, refer to the manufacturer’s sizing, and as always, be safe out there. And have fun!