As in most sports, but particularly in Skiing, the equipment is a key aspect, and it directly influences our performance as skiers. It is well known that skiing is an equipment-dependent sport. Each day there are more and more variety and options to choose from, and that complicates the decision of what we should get. Like all tools, the different types of skis and boots are designed for (or perform better in) certain types of snow or disciplines. ski buyer’s guide
The choice basically depends on what type of snow or discipline we are going to ski most of the time we go to the mountain. Like we said earlier, each type of equipment performs better in certain types of snow or skiing, but in reality, we can ski the entire mountain with any equipment. Each piece of equipment has advantages and disadvantages, depending on what we’re going to use it for… the key is to choose the equipment that is designed for the type of skiing that we like to do the most and, ultimately, is the one that we are going to practice most of the times in the mountains. ski buyer’s guide
This post is a simplified approach with the key aspects on how to decide what skis and boots to purchase. There are many more features to consider, but they are not as relevant and are beyond the purpose of this article.
Skis are basically classified according to the type of snow in which they perform best. And in order to sort them, we must mainly look at a single clue: the minimum width in the middle part of the ski, also known as the waist. The width of the ski underfoot determines the type of terrain and snow conditions the ski is best suited for. The skis are shaped like an “hourglass” (A.K.A. sidecut) and have three dimensions or measurements printed on their top sheet. The lower the underfoot width, the more for the “groomers” that ski is. The higher it is, the more buoyancy and therefore the more suitable for deep or non-groomed snow it will be.
a) Skis with a narrow waist (< 75mm): “pure groomers skis“, they are faster in changing edges (a very pleasant sensation by the way) and have great grip. They perform better on groomed snow, and not so well on deep snow, as they tend to go very deep within the snowpack, making it difficult to make turns on such type of terrain. At the same time, they are stiffer and heavier, for greater stability at high speeds and powerful turns. ski buyer’s guide
b) Skis with a wide waist (> 90mm): they are slower when changing edges, but they float a lot in deep snow. The ideal width for our off-piste snow conditions in the Andes Mountains is a waist of around 100mm. Skis with more than 110mm at the waist are pure deep powder skis, bets suited for places like Utah in the U.S. or Japan, where you need maximum buoyancy because of the great amount of powder snow they get frequently. But they don’t ski very well. It’s difficult to put (and keep) them on edge, and they don’t like high edge angles. Also, they are slower in changing edges.
c) Skis with an intermediate waist (75 to 90mm): these are the famous all-mountain skis. To me, they perform equally poorly under a variety of conditions and over many different types of terrain. The classic “neither fish nor fowl”. They are just “not the best” for any type of terrain… Although they are a good option to start in this wonderful sport, they do not allow you to enjoy the important advantages of having the right tool for the task.
By this, I don’t mean that we must own many different pairs of skis, not at all. I think it is convenient to have only two pairs. I recommend first, a good on-piste carving ski, quite responsive and with a short radius (10-13 meters) since it is often on the groomers where we will spend most of our time. And then a second pair only for deep snow / off-piste conditions, where greater buoyancy is key and makes a lot of difference.
What length of the ski to choose? For most all-mountain skiers, the ideal height is within a range that goes from the chin to the eyebrows. In freeride/off-piste skis, a range from the eyebrows to the height. As these are longer, there is a greater distribution of our weight on the surface of the ski and, therefore, greater buoyancy.
As a general rule, the shorter a ski is, the easier it is to move or pivot, and the more agile it will be, but the more unstable at high speeds. On the contrary, the longer a ski is, the harder it is to move or rotate, but the more stable at high speed, and the better it performs in deep snow.
Although with less “marketing glamour” than skis, the ski boots are (by far) the most important part of our gear. Nothing closer to the truth than the saying “a good skier skis well with any ski, but not with any boot“.
What boot we use, and especially of what size, is what determines the amount of “control” that we will feel when we ski.
The boot must be a direct connection between the skier’s leg/foot and the ski. There should be no space in between because, if so, we lose control and it is more difficult to transmit the movements of our feet and lower limbs to the skis. It is very hard to ski with a boot that is too big for us, way too hard.
We must look for a tight and snug fit, but the fingers should never be “wrinkled”. The general concept is to buy the smallest boot that we can fit and tolerate. (Usually, it is the boot of one number less than what our foot measures, in centimeters). And the narrowest… (if it hurts on the sides, that’s perfect! A good Bootfitter punches it in those exact places, and then the boot fits us like a “glove”… Excellent!) The narrower it is, the more control and responsiveness we will also get.
It is key to always wear ski socks as thin as possible, to be able to use the smallest boot we can.
Ski boots are stiff, particularly on their sides, to transmit the foot/leg movements directly to the ski (e.g. edging movements). Stiffness is a good thing in a ski boot…
The most common mistake is to buy a boot that is too big… skiers are only looking for great comfort, and they do not know that they are sacrificing almost all control… People tend to mistake looseness for comfort.
After a boot is purchased, it can only (and will) get bigger with use. When the boots are right out of the box, they are the smallest they will ever be. Boot liners compress over time and should be replaced at least every 2 years.
Size: it is measured with an international system called Mondopoint, which is the length of the foot in centimeters. The ski boot sizes go by 0.5 cm each. (e.g.: 24.0 – 24.5 – 25.0) The boot’s shell size goes by 1 cm each. For example shell size 24.5 – 25.5 – 26.5 etc. What varies between two contiguous boot sizes, for example, between a size 25.0 and a 25.5, is that in the 25.0 boot the liner is slightly thicker, and therefore fits a bit smaller foot. But the shell is the same for both sizes. The boot size is generally shown on the sole of the boot (below). The shell size (Boot Sole Length) is shown at the sides of the heel.
The best way to determine the correct size is by doing the “shell fit” test: remove the liner, and using only the shell, step in and slide your foot forward so your toes just barely touch the front of the shell. Flex forward and see the space at the back. For performance, there should be an internal space of no more than one finger (12-15 millimeters) between your heel and the back of the shell. That’s the “perfect fit“.
Flex: the FLEX is a measurement that shows how hard a boot is to be flexed forward. That is the flexion of the cuff over the lower shell of the boot. The range goes from 50 (very soft boot) to 170 (extremely stiff boot). The higher the flex number, the more reactive the boot is. Also, there is a greater and faster transmission of the movements of the skier’s leg, to the ski. And more leverage is generated on the ski’s shovel. Therefore, there is much more control and speed of reaction. In return, all the irregularities of the terrain are very much transmitted to the skier’s legs. Racing ski boots have a flex of 130+. I must say that there is nothing like the level of control that Worldcup racing (A.K.A. Race plug) boots provide to the skiers, and they are the tool we need to look for high-performance skiing…
“A boot makes 10 times more difference than a ski. You can be 1 second faster with a boot, and a ski will maybe get you a tenth or two tenths. You need to have your boot set up dialed in way before you try to figure out what ski is going to be the best for you.” Paul Epstein Head Coach of Global Racing Ski Team
To finish, I highly recommend visiting a Bootfitter before and after buying a boot. Rarely do boots fit or are aligned correctly for our foot/leg straight out of the box. The vast majority of times we need it to be modified/adapted to our anatomy or morphology, by one of these professionals.
The first runs with the right (and well-adapted) boot for us will produce one of the most pleasant sensations that you will ever experience during your life as a skier … Don’t miss out on this opportunity!
See you on the slopes!
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