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Skiing 101: The Best Skis for Beginners

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.

Best Skis for Beginners, Blister Gear Review.

Profile of a ski with some tip and tail rocker.

(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.

Best Skis for Beginners, Blister Gear Review.

Profile of a ski with full, traditional camber.

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.

The Best Skis for Beginners, Blister Gear Review.

Jason Hutchins on the Nordica Soul Rider, a great ski for both beginners and some experts.

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.

Our Goal

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.

13 Comments

  1. JayT November 25, 2014 Reply

    Waiting for angry stuck in the past instructors in 3… 2… 1…

  2. Blister Member
    Slim November 27, 2014 Reply

    I know that K2 for example has been adding rocker to their beginner skis for quite a while now, they even called it something like easy turn rocker.
    Their kids skis have both tip and tail rocker, and use a system binding to allow them to flex with a boot covering 1/3 of the ski length, this has been great for my daughters to learn on(starting at age 3).
    For exactly the reason you say above: they don’t pressure the edge or bend the ski with weight and speed, so a soft flexing rockered ski will more naturally turn.

    Another benefit for rockered skis for beginners, you are less likely to catch an edge if you accidentally edge the ski the wrong way, in this way it’s more forgiving

  3. Kirk December 2, 2014 Reply

    Hmmmm. Making geometry changes to wider skis may have made them easier to turn. But there’s a physiological price to pay when humans interface intimately with equipment, especially in complex, physical activities like alpine skiing. Our knees may be at greater risk of strain and/or damage when we strap on wide planks and use them anywhere other than in deep snow, simply because ski manufacturers aren’t responding to the basics of skiing biomechanics.
    It may pay to read this blog* post: http://skimoves.me/2014/11/26/fat-ski-syndrome/
    A bit of rigorous analysis/research would definitely not go astray in the ski equipment manufacturing industry, since it’s apparently been lacking in key areas.

    *in fact, have a look through the entire blog – perhaps what everyone believes about ‘correct’ ski boot fit is totally wrong…

  4. andres December 27, 2014 Reply

    Love Blister for the in depth reviews!

    Question, would you say the recommendations here still apply for icier conditions like those in the Midwest? I’m particularly wondering about the width, with sort icy runs, where perhaps you’re better off with something with a shorter radius?

    I like the review of the Salomon X Drive80 FS, but wonder if it’s too much ski, if something like an Atomic Nomad Blackeye Ti would be better (or the Smoke). I’m an intermediate skier, and I’m afraid to bite more than I can chew.

    Thanks, and keep up the good work!

  5. Don January 12, 2015 Reply

    This is a great article. I recently got my girlfriend a pair of last year’s Rossignol Saffron 7s in a 170 (she is 5′ 8″ and strong and athletic). She is more of an intermediate skier…and skis at a more moderate pace. I found this article very helpful in deciding the appropriate length. Some people thought I was picking a ski that was too long, but given the rocker profile of the ski and her height, I thought they were appropriate. She loves them.

    • Author
      Will Brown January 12, 2015 Reply

      Hey Don,

      That’s great to hear – glad we could help out!

      Happy skiing,

      Will B

  6. Petter February 16, 2015 Reply

    Just want to follow up andres question. Living in Norway the snow conditions are typically very variable with more ice and hard packs than pow. Will all your recommendations above apply for these conditions as well?

    • Will Brown March 9, 2015 Reply

      Hi Petter,

      As I’ve said in the write-up “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.” So if you’re dealing with more firm than soft conditions, I would still look for skis in the ~90mm underfoot range, rather than something closer to 100mm underfoot. You could go narrower than 90, but the performance of a narrower ski in any kind of soft conditions isn’t going to be as good; ~90mm strikes a good balance in this way. And I would still suggest a ski with some tip rocker, but with very firm conditions in mind, consider something will less tail rocker than tip rocker (or even something with a traditional tail.) I hope this helps!

      Will

  7. Petter February 16, 2015 Reply

    And one more thing: How will the ski’s radius be evaluated?

    Thanks
    Petter

  8. Al September 17, 2015 Reply

    Hi, im still a beginner. Thanks for this informative article.

    may i know if anyone have any recomendations for my first pair. I dont know where to start looking. Something value for money/cheap maybe.. Any brands, recommendations?

  9. Colby November 25, 2016 Reply

    Are you kidding? A beginner on skis as tall as they are?!
    Lol it will be their first and last day skiing!
    Try some snow blades

  10. Spottyapp January 5, 2017 Reply

    Thank you for this!!!! After snowboarding for the last 10 years I figured I would be a bit easier on my aging body and go back to sking….I stopped right around the short parabolic phase…went to the ski show and came out with a nice pair of all mountain volkl skis that were as tall as I am…..which made me feel a little concerned…that said I’d gone out on a pair of twin tips in a 148 and found them way too short and jittery …..I’m only 5.2 but a I’m French Canadian girl and stocky lol. Your 2 articles what ski length should I buy and this one explained the ski design now I understand. THANKS! Can’t wait to go out and try them now. Less concerned about the length. Had to get out of old school thinking.

  11. Bob January 13, 2017 Reply

    Your articles are great. Thanks! Was talked into a pair of 2016 Rossignol Experience 100s as my first skis after renting. Haven’t taken them out yet. They are beautiful skis with fantastic reviews but many say it’s a “expert level” ski and I’m a bit worried. I’m a beginner-intermediate skier but the local ski shop said due to my size (6′-1″/250) it will act like a more intermediate ski and will be very stable for me as I progress. Thoughts? I got it in the 166 (just above my chin) but the 174 is available.

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