Buying a pair of skis is an exciting time! But if you choose the wrong size ski, you could be struggling to initiate turns or handle speed, which leads to avoidable falls and accidents. Finding out how to choose ski length is an invaluable skill.
After skiing for almost thirty years, including seven years as an instructor, I’ve accumulated a wealth of useful information. I’m sharing it so you can find the best ski length for your needs. Instead of sinking money into skis that are too short or too long, let me guide you through the process.
Why Ski Length Matters
Ski length corresponds to numerous factors. Irritatingly, there's no hard-and-fast rule for finding the perfect size skis. It depends on your ability level, the snow surface, the shape of the ski, your style of skiing, and whether you prefer a heavier or lighter-weight ski. However, there are plenty of tools we can use to help you find your ideal size range.
Longer skis are heavier. Heavier skis are harder to turn and navigate through tight spaces. However, longer skis are much more stable at speed and can slam through complex terrain that might bounce around a lighter ski.
Shorter skis are easy to whip around, a benefit in the bumps, terrain park, and tight trees. But they don’t feel as stable at speed. Shorter skis are also lighter, and lighter-weight skis have trouble cutting through choppy snow conditions.
Longer Skis vs Shorter Skis
As you become a more advanced skier, it’s normal to gravitate towards a longer type of ski. Ultimately, longer skis provide more consistent performance across the board. However, if you prefer to ski in the bumps, tight trees, or the terrain park, shorter skis will suit you better.
In my experience, both as a skier and a ski instructor, newer skis tend to prefer shorter skis. Advanced skiers tend to gravitate to the stability and performance of longer skis. The old rule of thumb was that ski length should fall between shoulder height and the top of your head. This is still generally true for beginner skiers.
Once you figure out your preferred skiing style and terrain preferences, they'll have a bigger influence on your favorite ski size. It may seem like a small decision, but getting the right ski length is an important way to maximize your experience on the slopes.
Use our ski length chart to help get you started!
Matching Skill Level To Your Skis
When I think about optimal ski size, one of the first things to come to mind is ability level. Since skiing ability level is often up to the skier to describe, it helps to be honest.
There’s a lot going on as a beginner skier. You have to get used to skis, ski boots, and ski clothes while also developing skiing skills. At this stage, trying to make the experience as easy as possible is in your best interest. For ski length, I recommend getting shorter and lighter skis, so you can learn at slower speeds.
Using the charts above and the general height range, look for skis that are closer to your chin when standing vertically. Make sure to take a look at all-mountain skis, which can handle a wide variety of conditions.
For a deeper dive, check out our article on the best women’s skis for beginners.
Like the beginner stage, intermediate skiers have a lot they’re working on. Techniques are refined, parallel skiing becomes a dominant feature, and you’ll start exploring tougher slopes. Amidst all that, you may need to reevaluate ski length.
All-mountain intermediate skis are still very attractive here, but you may want to explore other styles, like powder skis. At this stage, you’ll likely increase the length of your skis, especially if you want to carve and keep your speed. As you ski harder terrain, it helps to check out some intermediate ski boots as well.
One important element with ability level is personal preference. Not all skiers are gunning to become expert or advanced skiers. Leisure skiers can still have a blast shredding intermediate and groomed slopes, too. In that case, I'd recommend staying on the shorter end of the spectrum and only increasing length if you want to ski really fast.
Advanced and experienced skiers have the entire spectrum of ski lengths to choose from. At this stage, ski length will correspond more to the terrain and types of skiing than your specific ability level. This is because advanced and expert skiers know what snow types they like, how they prefer to ski, and what type of terrain they gravitate toward.
Matching Ski Terrain to Length
Another great way to zero in on ski length is to figure out what terrain you like to ski.
If you’re a fan of open terrain, piste skiing, carving, and reliable performance at speed, longer skis will serve you better. If you’re a tight trees, moguls, and steep terrain kind of skier, the maneuverability of shorter skis is hard to beat.
Remember that longer skis are made with more material, meaning they're often heavier-weight skis. However, that extra weight provides a smoother and steadier ride. Shorter skis can be a lot lighter but will get bounced around in choppy conditions and when you're skiing fast.
Skis are not flat; they have upward bends called camber and rocker. This is often referred to as the profile of the ski.
Camber is an upward bend underneath your bindings. As you extend out of a turn while skiing, the camber bend helps propel you into the following turn like a spring. A cambered pair of skis are great for turn and speed management.
A rocker is an upward bend at the tip and/or tail. A rocker allows for better flotation in deep snow and makes your skis more maneuverable. More maneuverability is a great asset in tight terrain (bumps, terrain parks, etc.). Skis with rocker at both the tip and tail are called twin tips.
In most cases, modern skis have a combination of rocker and camber. This design choice is meant to give you decent float in powder, without sacrificing firm snow performance.
Skis don’t have straight edges. Seen from above, skis are wider at the tip and tail, which creates an hourglass shape. The combination of width measurements from the tip, tail, and the skinniest part underneath your bindings, is your sidecut.
The distance it takes for a ski to make a turn when you get on your edges is the sidecut radius. If the ski is very wide at the tip and tail and very thin in the middle, the sidecut is more pronounced. A pronounced sidecut means the skis will make a turn in much less space. Skis with less dramatic sidecuts will take longer to turn, giving them a larger sidecut radius.
When you’re buying skis, the seller will often list the three sidecut measurements and a statement on the sidecut or turning radius, expressed in meters. Keep in mind that ski manufacturers sometimes call the sidecut radius a turn radius.
Running Length & Effective Edge
Running length refers to how much of the bottom of the ski is touching the ground when you're standing in your bindings. Next time you clip in, see if any part of your ski is off the ground. The lifted areas aren’t part of your running length. Skis with big rocker bends tend to have less of a running length. Less running length means the skis are likely easier to turn.
An effective edge is similar to a running length but measured along the edges, as opposed to the bottom. Since effective edges run along the whole length of the ski, effective edges are longer than the running length. A longer effective edge increases stability at speed and the ability to cut through challenging snow conditions like crud or chop.
Stability & Instability
Stability comes at the expense of maneuverability. This means there are skis with shorter edges that can turn on a dime. However, they will start to shake (known as chatter) if you go too fast. When your skis do this, it feels unstable and can impact your body position or willingness to go faster.
Stability comes from ski length and weight. The longer and heavier the type of ski, the more capable it is of providing a smooth experience, despite variable conditions. However, heavier skis are harder to turn quickly and require more energy to control.
Like ski boot flex, ski flex refers to how easy or difficult it is to bend the skis. Floppier skis are easier to bend and can usually float better in powder. Floppier skis are more playful, which makes them a lot of fun to take off jumps or features in the terrain park. Easy-to-bend skis have a softer flex.
Stiffer flex ratings are common on heavier and longer skis. They demand more of an aggressive skier and more muscle power to control effectively. Once you have got this down, you’ll feel supported in challenging terrain and at faster speeds. They are less effective in the park because the weight makes landing tricks a bit rougher on the knees.
Finding The Right Ski Length
As you can see, there are a lot of things you need to consider when thinking about the correct ski size! Don’t worry. If it all seems a bit overwhelming, remember these two guidelines to get you in the right frame of mind:
- The longer the ski, the more material (and muscle control) you’ll need to move the skis, but the ride will be smoother.
- The shorter the ski, the easier it will be to turn, but high speed won’t be your friend.
So, how do you choose the right ski length? If you’re unsure, measure yourself and establish a range between your shoulders and the top of your head. While skis can be shorter or longer than this range, it’s a great starting point for beginner skiers. Then, consider that shorter skis will be easier to turn, but longer skis are less stable than longer skis.
If you're an advanced skier, match the terrain to your ski length. Choose a shorter size for terrain parks, tree skiing, and moguls. Choose longer skis if you’re an advanced or expert skier and need a smooth and stable ride at speed.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.