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How to Think about Ski Length

We get a lot of questions that go something like this:

“Hi, the [insert name of a particular ski] sounds exactly like what I’m looking for! I’m 5’9”, 180 lbs – should I go with the 184cm or 177cm length?”

There’s a good reason we get asked this a lot, because there is no truly reliable formula to determine what size of a given ski will clearly work best for you.

With so many different ski designs on the market, the correct ski size for you can differ quite a bit from one ski to the next. And it’s an important choice to get right, since the size of a ski plays a big part in affecting how a ski is going to perform, and whether it is going to work well for you.

(If you’re just starting out, and you’re unsure what kind of ski to look for in the first place, you might want to check out our 101 article, The Best Skis for Beginners, before continuing here.)

Skis no longer all have the same straight shape and fully cambered profile these days, so no chart will tell you your ideal ski length for every given ski based on a static measurement like your height or your weight. Those sorts of charts are barely of any help these days, but they’re out there.

One graph from a certain online retailer suggests that at my height – 6”2” –  I should consider skis between the lengths of 175cm and 195cm. That’s pretty spectacularly unhelpful.

I mean, there is some truth to it in that I do get out on certain skis that are ~175cm long and others that are over 190cm long, but it doesn’t explain why I might opt for a longer or shorter length in given case.

In this Gear 101, rather than just throwing a graph at you, we’ll present some important factors to consider when you’re in the market for a new ski and need to pick a size. This information will be especially helpful if you find yourself stuck in between two lengths of a given ski, not sure whether you should (or why you would) go with the longer or the shorter size.

The topics mentioned below mainly have to do with the design and performance of skis that we discuss in our reviews, and as will become clear, the topics are all related—there will be some overlap in thinking / principles from one to the next.

Where to Begin? Establishing a Baseline

I’ve just said there is no-hard-and-fast rule to determine what length of a particular ski you should go with, as there are now plenty of reasons a person might opt for a ski that’s longer or shorter than they may have say, 10 years ago.

If we’re talking about a traditional, fully-cambered ski, since the introduction of parabolic skis, the general rule has been that your ski should reach somewhere between your chin and the top of your head; a beginning skier was told to go with a ski length that leaves the ski tip closer to their chin, and a more experienced skier would typically go with a ski that reaches closer to the top of their head.

There is still some validity to that system today in that it ought to steer someone away from purchasing at the ski swap either a pair of snowlerblades or a 218cm world cup downhill ski. But again, the rule assumes that you’re looking at a traditional, non-rockered, fully-cambered ski from about 1995. And if you’re shopping for a ski these days, you’re probably not looking at many non-rockered, fully-cambered skis. And even if you are, there are a number of good reasons why you might go with a ski longer or shorter than this older, overly simplistic system would suggest.

Rocker / Camber Profile & Effective Edge

Generally speaking, effective edge refers to the portion of a ski’s edge that’s in contact with the snow when you’re standing on the ski. In a sense, it’s a measure of how functionally “long” the ski is (i.e., how much of the ski is actually in contact with the snow when skied bases flat).

On a ski with “rocker” or “early rise” in its tip and/or tail, the edge (along with the rest of the ski) comes off the snow sooner than it would on a traditionally cambered ski of the same length.

Gear 101, Ski Length, Blister Gear Review.

Profile of a ski with some tip rocker, tail rocker (reduced effective edge).

(See our Rocker 101: A Brief History of Rocker + A Glossary of Terms for a more in-depth discussion of roker and ski camber profiles.)

Gear 101, Ski Length, Blister Gear Review.

Profile of a ski with full, traditional camber.

Thus the total effective edge of a rockered ski is shorter than that of the ski with a traditionally cambered profile.

Caveat: technically, the effective edge of any ski is variable. For example, when you get a ski into soft conditions, some of the the edge and surface area on the rockered portion(s) of the ski will come in contact with the snow surface, lengthening the effective edge. And when laying a rockered ski over into a carve on firm snow, depending on the ski’s sidecut and the curve of the rocker in the ski, you may engage more of its edge than is in play when it’s gliding with its bases flat on the snow.

But, in general, a rockered ski will behave like a shorter ski on hard snow compared to a non-rockered ski of the same length, because you are skiing on a shorter edge as if you were on a shorter ski. So if you’re used to skiing a fully cambered ski that is, for example, 178cm long, but the new rockered ski you’re looking at comes in a 178cm length and a 187cm length, you’re probably better off going with the longer 187cm length. The 187s will feel more like your old 178s on snow, given their reduced effective edge.

Examples: I’m perfectly happy skiing the non-rockered Ski Logik Front Burner in 178cm length, in part because it is fully cambered. But I’m also comfortable skiing the 190cm Salomon Rocker2 108, which is significantly rockered, and I have no interest in skiing the shorter 183cm model of the Rocker2 for that reason.

Gear 101, Ski Length, Blister Gear Review.

Will Brown on the fully cambered, 178cm, Ski Logik Front Burner, Taos Ski Valley.

In sum, the amount of rocker / effective edge a ski has is important to consider in conjunction with the actual material length of the ski. If you’ve been skiing a fully cambered pair of skis for years, and you’re looking at a new pair that has some tip rocker, think about the effective edge length of those skis rather than their material length.

Your old skis may have reached the bridge of your nose, and these new ones may reach over your head, but if you size your new skis the same way you sized your old skis, your new skis will feel too short, twitchy, and unstable.

Speaking of which…

Stability (“Dampness”) & Instability

Another factor to consider when deciding on what length of a ski to go with is how stable and planted it feels on snow. How stable or “damp” a ski feels are things that we always cover in our reviews. If a ski is especially stable and ‘damp’—i.e., it does not get twitchy or feel ‘noodly’ at speed or in bumped-up terrain—the more appropriate it may be to opt for a shorter length than you otherwise would.

Stability, can serve to counteract the sometimes de-stabilizing effects of a rockered ski’s shorter effective edge.

Conversely, if a ski isn’t especially stable at speed (maybe it’s quite light or has a lot of sidecut), but you’d like to get as much high-speed stability out of the design as possible, you might consider going for a longer length.

  • A Note on the Insufficiency of the English Language – “Damping” vs. “Damp”

For the grammar police out there, we are aware that “damp” means that something is “not dry,” while an object (like a ski, for example) might have good damping properties—i.e., the ski is not twitchy or reactive, but stable, smooth, and … damp.

Language is a tool to be used, not a system of unbendable rules. That’s why dictionaries have second, third, and fourth definitions of words. So we use the word ‘damp’ to mean stable / planted / not twitchy / not reactive. We do not mean that the ski is kinda wet.

24 Comments

  1. Blister Member
    Steve January 11, 2015 Reply

    Hi guys, OUTSTANDING article here! Succinct and very well organized. I think you did a great job isolating key parameters of ski design (e.g. rocker vs full camber, sidecut shape, stiffness etc) and discussing how the variable of length plays against each of those parameters. Well done!

    Just one minor correction, about the last paragraph on page 1. It’s “damping” not “dampening”. It’s true that “damp” can mean both ‘wet’ and ‘stable’, but “dampening” always implies moisture, and “damping” always refers to stabilizing factors. (I have a degree in mechanical engineering, FWIW. :-)

    • Thanks for the feedback, Steve, and for the good catch. We originally discussed “dampening” vs. “damping” vs. “damp” in that section, then decided to just pare down the ‘damping’ vs. ‘dampening’ part, and nixed the wrong term. Good eye.

      • George Hayduke October 1, 2015 Reply

        The English language isn’t insufficient, the word you’re looking for is damped to described the ski, not damp.

  2. Alan January 12, 2015 Reply

    Great article,
    You would think it would be a good idea for manufacturers to actually give the effective edge length in their ski dimensions with the overall length, tip width, waist and tail width numbers. Would give a more accurate on paper indication of what the ski really is rather than just saying tip/tail rocker and help purchasers gauge skis against each other, even the different lengths in the same ski.

    • Nemo January 12, 2015 Reply

      In addition, some ski manufactures model lengths are not the actual measured length of the product. Case in point would be K2. K2 only labels skis as 189, 179, 169, etc… (similar to the $9.99 marketing ploy) when the skis typically measure significantly longer. Not a big deal to an experienced ski purchaser, but worth mentioning….

      • Ru January 16, 2015 Reply

        Is that still the case? I had heard that K2 has changed their measuring strategy to bring it into line with everyone else, but I’ve only ever used their older stuff so I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of that.

        Certainly, this is a point in the favour of smaller manufacturers who often have a lot of detail about their skis on their websites.

  3. Chris January 16, 2015 Reply

    Great article guys and a good read for anyone before they go pull the trigger on a new ski especially if its something different than what their used to.
    I agree effective edge would be great as would surface area. I see a few reviewers adding that to their data but about the only ski company I know and excuse my ltd knowledge to do something close is Kastle. They state the % increase in surface area over a traditional carver/ski. It’s a bit qualitative but it sure helps you compare their skis anyway. I have more than once grabbed a tape measure or tried to calculate surface area.
    Agree smaller companies often have more info on the product perhaps it show a greater design over marketing emphasis?

  4. Faripour January 16, 2015 Reply

    GREAT ARTICLE, THANK YOU. Ultimately, you got to ski on a pair of ski to know how it function for you under the tested conditions then speculate on how it would under conditions that are not available. And, if different sized are available for demo, you will get it right. Otherwise, it would be a good deal of gamble.

  5. fritzski January 16, 2015 Reply

    Great article. You hit all the angles. Very nice job!

  6. Chuck January 17, 2015 Reply

    Great article. I got a pair of Nordica Hell and Backs last year and opted for the longer size based on the reviews and feedback here despite the local shops saying I was crazy. I couldn’t be happier with my choice. Thanks for the great info and reviews! Keep it up!

    • Author
      Will Brown March 9, 2015 Reply

      Awesome. Glad we could help, Chuck!

      WB

  7. Peter T January 17, 2015 Reply

    Really helpful thanks. I’m weighing up length of a new lightweight touring ski purchase, from a known baseline of existing and past skis and was struggling to decide. Put all your factors into a spreadsheet, added a couple of my specific requirements, and it was overwhelmingly clear that going longer than my current ski would be best. None of this info was new to me, but just so helpful to have it all listed and the interrelationship of the factors discussed. Nice job!

    • Author
      Will Brown March 9, 2015 Reply

      Thanks, Peter! So glad we could help. Out of curiosity, have you been able to put some time on the ski you purchased. Do you feel you ended up with the right length?

      Cheers,

      Will

      • Peter T November 3, 2015 Reply

        Hey Will, Got some time on that ski (Movement Response) over the southern hemisphere winter. Happy with the length. Not an issue I even thought about again until I saw a notification on this thread. So yeah, that worked out nicely. Cheers.

  8. Vlad January 22, 2015 Reply

    Will, thanks for another insightful piece… You Blister guys are doing an amazing job.

    Just one more point to make, based on personal experience: a fat ski which is too long for one’s weight/height or ability/style can give you a shin/calf bang of your life (this applies in particular to all-mountain species which you would take to bumped-up groomers in the afternoon).

    Which once again brings us back to the perrenial DEMO BEFORE YOU BUY advice.

  9. Ian January 28, 2015 Reply

    Hi

    Great article and most informative. It got me thinking about edge grip. What attributes in a ski’s design result in strong edge grip ? Is it effective edge (seems logical), torsional rigidity, flex, damping (does less chatter result in better edge grip ?), width (force being exerted on the edge for a given edge angle, skier weight etc), edge bevel angle ? I suspect all of the above but do some attributes dominate ?

    • Author
      Will Brown March 9, 2015 Reply

      Hi Ian,

      Very sorry for the delayed reply. I think you’re right – all the factors you mentioned contribute to how locked in a ski is, and certain factors to dominate. Effective edge is generally the most influential, but flex, weight/dampening, and width of a ski certainly play a role as well in how planted and stable it feels.

      Best,

      Will

  10. Blister Member
    Johnny W February 6, 2015 Reply

    I found this article immensely informative. Most of the shop Folks, even in Ski Towns, are still stuck in the head high, full camber age and are pretty much leading Folks astray with regard to All Mtn & Off Piste Equipment sizing.
    Had I found this article earlier, I wouldn’t have missed my opportunity sitting on the sizing fence whilst Moment sold out of the Blister Pros 190’s.Now, ARGHH, I have to wait till next year and miss out on that ultra cool Black & Green Graphic- probably the most bad ass no nonsense looking ski ever IMO.
    Thanks Again for one of the most germain ski articles that I have ever read.

  11. Blister Member
    Vince February 16, 2015 Reply

    I’ve been looking into this with the Cochise and Soul 7, two skis with very different characteristics. I already have 177cm but couldn’t decide what size to go with for the Soul 7, 172 or 180. The advice on Blistergear for the Soul 7 is to size up. Getting into real OCD mode I found a spreadsheet that spits out the turn radius of a ski based on effective edge and tail/waist/tip width. Rather than solve for turn radius I solved for effective edge. Given the Rossi’s specs for the 172, 180 and 188 I found that the effective edge for all three was between 130-132cm. While the effective edge increased by only 2cm the surface are increased proportionately. My takeaway is that for the Soul7 body weight is the key factor and on the Rossi website while they list the usual suspects in determining size the table for the 7 series is based on weight. I ran the 177-191 Cochise through the numbers and found that both effective edge and surface area increases proportionately. Also almost all of the added length for each size goes to increasing the effective edge. Seems like for skis like the Cochise sizing is more complicated and it would be best to just spend $40-50 to demo some for the day.

  12. Blister Member
    Midwest February 23, 2015 Reply

    Great article im 5’9 190 and was torn between the brahma 173 or 180. Given that i ski mostly in the midwest with 10 or so days out west feel like having the maneuverability while stil having some stability the brahma provides was more important. Demoed the exp88 in 180 and 174 and felt the braham was easier to ski while still being able to push it a bit when opening it up on longer wider terrain. Wasnt able to demo the braham in 180 so hopefully that extra 7cm wont really make a difference on the skiing and ski going forward.

  13. Pietro March 27, 2015 Reply

    I’ve found this article really clarifying but I still need some advice about which length should i pick up for the 4FRNT YLE (it comes in 177cm (138-118-138) and 187cm (140-119-140). I’m 173cm tall and i’m 62-63kg, i’m 25 yo and i ski since i was 4.
    I usually ski in the Dolomites, near Arabba, i consider myself a pretty good skier since i usually ski tracks like Fodoma, Granrisa and Sasslong which are some of the most hard ones you can find there.
    I’ve recently upgraded my skis from a 170cm model (70mm in waist) to a Blizzard Brahma 180cm (125-88-110), having no problem at all with the new ski and charging hard since the 1st track.
    I’ve also read that when looking for powder skis it’s usual to add +10cm from the ones you are currently using and another thing is that the YLE have more rocker in the tip and more in the tail (it’s symmetrical) than my actual Brahma.
    So i’m wondering if the 177 YLE would feel too short for me since it’s also shorter than 3cm than my Brahma and have also an effective edge of 93cm while my Brahma has 153cm.
    Thank you in advance for your advice :)

  14. Bekah Q July 20, 2016 Reply

    I’m looking into a pair of Atomic Cloud Seven skis for myself, debating between the 162 and 155. I am 5’8″ but only 125 lbs. on a heavy day. I am a strong beginner-intermediate skier looking to improve. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

  15. Thomas Fankhanel January 5, 2017 Reply

    Great info, thank you. I’ve made the progression (because I’m 59 yrs old) through the cambered 203cm skinny era, to the cambered 184 cm mid-fat, to a cambered ski with just a touch of tip rise- 185cm 2012 Nordica Enforcers- to a cam-roc- Salomon 183cm Q Lab. I’m looking to replace the Enforcers with a 2017pair of 180cm Blizzard Bonifides. I’m 5’11 & about 150lbs. The 2012 N. Enforcers sounded great on paper, but the rise in the tip is really small and the flex balance between that & the forebody of the ski was not very balanced IMHO. They could get “hooky” in the tip, and felt like they would “rail” when I backed off the forward pressure. The design changes the year after that- I had a chance to compare- made them more user friendly. My weight plays a big part in all this. I generally make fast open turns on open terrain- I usually ski the upper terrain of Breckenridge Co. The ’12 Enforcers can be great blasting fast GS turns, but speed is not always an option. I try to avoid bumps, but they are a fact of life sometimes. The skis are tough for me on steep, slow, turny terrain. I like the 98mm u ft & 21r. for most of what I do. I have the 104mm u ft Q Labs for deeper, slabby-er, or deep spring slush. I’ve already bought the Bonifides, but my concern is that they are stiff skis, and the tails feel especially so. I just don’t see myself buying a cam-roc design in a shorter length than 180 though. I think I will really like ’em, but I’d appreciate any input from others concerning this particular ski.

  16. Bob B March 30, 2017 Reply

    Quote: Generally speaking, effective edge refers to the portion of a ski’s edge that’s in contact with the snow when you’re standing on the ski. In a sense, it’s a measure of how functionally “long” the ski is (i.e., how much of the ski is actually in contact with the snow when skied bases flat).

    Sorry, but I disagree with your explanation of Effective Edge. What you are describing is Running Surface which is contact point to contact point when ski bases are flat. Effective edge is measured from wide point to wide point on the edge of the ski. It measures how much of the sidecut and blend curves are using to turn the ski.

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