The Skinny on Skis: What You Need to Know to Pick the Perfect Pair
Okay, lame title, but important subject!
Like boot selection, the correct ski selection can have a profound effect on an athlete’s overall success and enjoyment each season. Now more than ever, skis come in broad range of lengths, widths, flex patterns, shapes, tip designs, tail design, vibration dampening, energy release systems, etc.
It’s a lot to keep track of, so let’s narrow it down a bit and discuss the skis we’ll be using in the Gould Alpine Program this winter during training and race days.
How do they feel?
What really matters is the way a ski feels and responds to the inputs from the athlete who’s driving it. While it’s true that a great skier will ski well on anything, it’s also true that a great ski will give any athlete feedback, and can encourage good movements. The ski can be the teacher. So it’s worth putting some effort into making good choices, stiff enough to be stable, flexible enough to give feedback to the athlete. A developing athlete on the right equipment can make big improvements!
What do you need?
An athlete’s height, weight, strength and skill all play a role. The type of ski matters too. The best advice often comes from a coach or shop professional.
The next section will get you started.
Breakdown by Age:
6, 7 & 8 Year Olds
For our future stars one pair of good, all mountain skis is enough. Chin to nose height, a multi event, ski or “Race” ski that is not event specific will come short enough and provide good snow feel and edge engagement on hard surfaces for the grommets.
This group of 9 year olds will need two pairs of skis, one pair should be a high quality Multi or “Race” ski and the other a pair of woods or beater skis.
This is where it is really helpful to have a three pair quiver. In addition to your crappy skis, we’d really like to see each athlete have a designated pair of Slalom (SL) skis and Giant Slalom (GS) skis. Typically a slalom ski should be chin to nose height, no longer! GS skis should be at least forehead, no shorter!
At this age you should have at least 3 pairs in the quiver; Crappers, Slalom, Giant Slalom and possibly Super-G? Same rules as U12 but go a bit longer on GS, at least a few inches over their head. In general, if you’re not sure about length, go shorter for Slalom Skis go longer for GS skis.
It can be really beneficial to own a pair of Super-G skis, or borrow from time to time if you have access to a pair. Bringing GS skis to a Super G race is like bringing a knife to a gun fight.
Everyone is making great race skis these days, but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. Rossignol, Head, Atomic, Dynastar, Fisher, Volkl, Nordica, Blizzard, Elan and others, make great skis. Sidecuts and lengths may be similar but flex patterns and other subtle differences can really change how a ski feels. The key is understanding the differences and how they apply to your athlete. A conversation with your coach or favorite shop person is key to making a good call here. As athletes get older, on snow testing is an invaluable tool.
Rock skis, crappers, woods skis, beater boards, driveway sliders.
Everyone needs a pair, when the woods are skiable, we’ll be in there!
Bumps and park playtime can yield great benefits to developing athletes, plus it can be a blast! There are only few considerations about this part of your quiver. Size and shape does not matter too much, but a ski with some reasonable performance characteristics is a plus. Twin tips are fine, but a true park ski can be a bit too soft. All Mountain Twin Tips are ideal, please be sure the bindings are toe mounted, NOT center mounted. Skiing on a center mounted ski can encourage bad habits (remember the ski as the teacher from above?) If you have a budding park skier, perhaps a center mounted pair is justifiable, but primarily for park skiing, not really for free skiing. Most importantly, these skis will take a beating. One of my favorite ski people always said “You can have good skis or good memories.” Creating great memories sometimes involves some damage to your skis.
All of this information may leave you with as many questions as answers…ask them! Coaches, shop professionals, and friends with similar age athletes will all have a perspective.
If you have the opportunity, actually skiing on different brands and lengths can be very enlightening. Our GACP equipment test at the end of March each season is a rare opportunity to truly test junior race equipment.