We ski because it’s fun.
And we believe that anyone new to the sport, or anyone returning to the sport, ought to get on skis that will allow him or her to be as comfortable and have as much fun as possible, right away.
But every time we’re on the mountain, we see newer skiers on skis that are not doing them any favors, that are making the activity of skiing more difficult and more nerve-racking than it needs to be.
So in our Blister ‘Best Of’ Awards, we listed some of the skis that we think work really well for beginners. And here, we’ll expand on why we picked the skis we did, get more specific about the characteristics of a ski that will serve those who haven’t spent a lot of days on the mountain (yet!). For more ski recommendations order a copy of our 16/17 Winter Buyer’s Guide.
Spoiler Alert: Our answer is not what we often see on the feet of less experienced skiers: short, 72mm-underfoot rental skis with a foam core and full, traditional camber.
For the Record: There is No Such Thing as a “Beginner’s Ski.”
There are well-made skis and poorly-made skis. Poorly made skis should be avoided by everyone, regardless of ability.
And of the well-made skis, there are some that work very well for beginners, and these exact same skis work great for certain advanced and expert skiers, too. We’ll say more about this as we go.
Fallacy #1: “I’m not good enough to tell the difference, so just give me anything.”
This line of thinking, while understandable, has probably driven more people away from the sport of skiing than anything else.
It is true that a newer skier will not know what type of ski he or she prefers, because you can’t know that until you’ve skied a number of skis.
But it is absolutely untrue that just because you don’t know (and couldn’t possibly yet know) what you want or don’t want out of a ski, that any old ski will do.
So here are a few general characteristics that we think will make skiing less intimidating, easier, and more fun:
Look for a ski with a considerable amount of tip rocker.
Skis with rockered tips make it easier to initiate turns and get the tips of your skis pointed across the slope.
(See our article, Rocker 101: A Brief History of Rocker + A Glossary of Terms, for more info on rocker and camber profiles.)
And not only does tip rocker make it easier to get your skis to turn left and right, it makes it easier to make turns at slower speeds. And good maneuverability at slower speeds = a nice attribute when you’re getting acclimated.
So if it’s your first time on the mountain, even if you’re working specifically on making wedged turns, fully cambered skis aren’t making things easier.
A ski with a traditional camber profile and a full effective edge can be advantageous when you’re putting considerable amount of pressure on the edges of your skis. But if you’re learning to make turns for the first time, you probably won’t be going fast enough to do so, and you’re almost certainly not trying to make high-angle, cleanly carved turns.
Instead, you are 100% focused on staying in control and not going too fast, while doing your best to maintain your balance as you slide down the mountain. Thse are big accomplishments for any newer skier, and the initial, foundational steps that every skier must take.
Look for a ski that has a bit of tail rocker, too.
A ski with rockered tips will be easier to swing across the hill, and rockered tails will make this easier still.
Skis with flat, traditional tails finish turns with a more powerful, consistent feel. That’s a good and really fun thing if you are able to pressure them through a solid turn with an athletic, forward stance.
But when you’re first getting on snow, that feeling of really driving a ski and using its whole sidecut to arc a turn across the fall line probably isn’t something you’ll be comfortable with yet.
It can be scary when a ski’s sidecut engages as you pick up speed through a turn; you’ll feel like you aren’t in control, and you very well may not be in control.
As you’re working on staying balanced over the front of your boots and engaging your edges, you’ll often find yourself with your weight on your heels. And in this case, a ski with a flat, un-rockered tail is more likely to hook up and run on you as you accelerate down the slope.
Skis with some tail rocker won’t be as “grabby” in this way. Their tails will release more easily, allowing you to make controlled turns more easily and recover if you get pitched into the back seat.
A ski with a flat tail may become more appropriate as you become more comfortable making parallel turns and as you learn to really use your ski’s edges to carve. It will take more effort to break the tails free in a skidded turn, but you’ll get more power out of the ski on edge.
Look for a ski that is ~90mm to ~100mm underfoot.
The firmer and smoother the snow is, the more appropriate a relatively narrow ski is to learn on, or to ski on at any ability level.
Narrower skis (~70 mm to ~ 85 mm underfoot), are easier to tip on edge and can be flicked from edge to edge more quickly, which is good when you’re learning to link turns together.
However, slightly wider skis, (think ~95 mm underfoot), aren’t much more difficult to get on edge, and they make things easier when you’re skiing on soft, slightly bumped up snow.
Wider skis will plane over and cruise through loose piles of snow on the trail better than narrower ones, and they won’t get knocked off track as easily. This is important because you need to be able to trust your skis as you’re learning your turns, not feel like you’re getting bounced around as you’re fighting to control them.
Skis more than ~100mm-wide underfoot are even more stable in variable conditions, but as a beginning skier, the stability you gain from a ski that wide is less important. You won’t be going fast enough to really take advantage of the extra width, and they will be a bit more difficult to tip on edge when conditions are firm.
(If you want to read more about wide, rockered skis and their performance in powder, see Skiing 101: Safer Skiing – The Case For Fatter, Rockered Skis.)
Look for a ski that has a medium or medium/soft flex.
A ski with a flex that’s too stiff can make things harder than they need to be when you’re learning to ski. In conjunction with the criteria above, a softer flex means that a ski will be more forgiving. Generally speaking, it will be easier to recover on if your weight gets shifted too far back, and will help smooth out the ride if you hit a patch of bumpy snow.
But to be clear, many expert skiers still prefer to ski on tail rockered skis with softer flex patterns, too. They are generally more forgiving (which is good for beginners), but they also allow for a more playful skiing style and can be easier to work through a greater variety of turn shapes.
Look for a ski that is relatively light weight.
If a ski meets the criteria above, it probably won’t be terribly heavy. Generally speaking, a lighter ski will be easier for a beginner to control, especially when it comes to initiating turns. As you gain experience and are more comfortable skiing at higher speeds through tricky conditions, you may come to prefer a heavier, more “damp” ski, because heavier skis provide some built-in stability, making it easier for you to stay balanced.
Then again, some expert skiers dislike heavy skis, and prefer a lighter, more playful ski, even in variable conditions. So they are willing to forego the inherent stability of a heavier / more damp ski, and work a bit more themselves at staying balanced on the ski.
Look for a ski that’s the right size
Too often beginning skiers end up on a ski that’s way too short or too long. For a full breakdown on how to choose the right length for you check out our Gear 101 piece on How to Think about Ski Length.
A quick and easy generalization is that you should choose a ski that’s about the same height as you are. If you’re looking at a ski with tip and tail rocker, its running length / the length of its effective edge (again, see our Rocker 101 article) will be much shorter than its actual material length.
So while choosing a ski that’s about as tall as you are might seem intimidating, trust us on this one and do it anyway. A tip and tail rockered ski will feel significantly shorter on snow than it looks standing next to you in a shop.
With this guide, our hope is that people new to skiing (or those who have skied a few times and are keen on going more often) will have a better sense of what sort of ski will initially work best for them.
And as you progress, you’ll learn more about the sort of skiing you enjoy most, whether it’s making big, fast GS turns; finding natural features around the mountain to jump off; or making lots of turns at slower speeds down groomers, through moguls, or in tight trees.
But the first, most important thing is for you to really enjoy your initial experience on the mountain.
Once you’ve accomplished that, you’ll have plenty of time later to think about what type of ski might suit you next.