If you have an interest in learning to ski or are thinking that it is time to purchase ski equipment of your own, the length of the ski you select is a critical consideration in your final decision.
Ski length is chosen based on several important factors –
- The skier’s level of experience.
- The expected skiing terrain and conditions.
- The type of skiing (conditions, level of experience, and terrain) you are looking to do, to name a few.
Considering the significance of these ski length-related factors, it’s not possible to find a one-size-fits-all category for skis. In fact, this is the very reason why advanced skiers own several skis that vary in length – to be ready for varying conditions!
Varying Ski Lengths Provide Different Strengths & Benefits
The Advantages of Shorter Skis
Shorter skis offer great benefits, especially for novice skiers. This is because the reduced length of these skis makes them lightweight and the easiest to manage and control. Shorter skis, because of their size, have less contact with the snow’s surface, so when pushing through a ski turn, there is less friction to manage and control.
Shorter skis, with their small turning radius, allow for short sharp movements and turns. They are perfect for playful skiing characterized by hops, flips, and jumps.
Finally, shorter skis are quite helpful when learning to ski. The ease of control at slower speeds makes them a great choice for beginners and children at the novice level. Learning to control your skis (and therefore your body) and how to get after a spill are the first two lessons for a novice skier.
Short skis are better for sharp turns, tricks, maneuverability, and beginner skiers.
What Are the Downsides of Shorter Skis?
Shorter skis are not always ideal. In fact, they –
- Provide less stability when skiing at higher speeds because the surface area of the ski is significantly smaller, and the skier’s weight is distributed across a smaller area. At high speeds, shorter skis may become wobbly (you can literally feel the wobble as you ski) and unstable.
- Have less float when skiing in powder conditions. Essentially, when skiing deep snow, shorter skis tend to sink into the snow – and a skier can get stuck. When skiing off groomed areas, this becomes extremely important.
The Advantages of Longer Skis
Longer skis provide more overall stability – especially at higher speeds but have a larger turning radius (which provides more stability at higher speeds) than smaller skis. This is because longer skis provide better grip (especially in variable conditions) due to the additional edge surface when carving a turn.
When skiing chopped-up powder, longer skis will assist you in managing the snow’s variability. Longer skis can be used on groomed or tracked runs or for the more adventurous, backcountry skiing, which offers unpredictable snow conditions, terrain, and often, a mystical undertaking.
As noted above, you will find that longer skis provide more surface area. This larger surface allows you to float in powder rather than sink. Tall or heavier skiers would likely find longer skis more suitable as well.
What Are the Downsides of Longer Skis?
Longer skis are, as one would expect, heavier. They also require a larger radius to turn.
As a skier with a height of just over five feet and a preference to ski on terrain that requires maneuverability skill (rather than daredevil speed), I have found longer skis are not always ideal – for me. Ski runs that are defined by moguls or trees require short, quick turns, which is not possible with the large and slower turning radius of longer skis.
On steeper terrain, longer skis become more difficult to turn. So, depending on your ability, a shorter ski may be the better choice – mainly because your limited experience will make it more challenging and potentially dangerous – depending on the run you have chosen.
As a result, longer skis are probably not a great choice for those new to the art of skiing.
Longer skis provide superior contact with the surface of the snow, enhanced stability at higher speeds, and more capacity to float in when skiing powder.
What Size Skis Are a Good Choice for Beginners?
Selecting the appropriate ski length is contingent on the skier, their skiing style as well as the ski conditions and terrain.
Depending on your weight and your height, longer skis may be heavier and, therefore, more difficult when trying to control a turn on the mountain.
Your level of ability level is also an essential component of deciding on the right ski and length. When first learning to control yourself on skis, it is important that the new skier get a ‘feel’ for the skis – how do they feel when gliding or turning?
Beginners, as a matter of safety, must learn to control their movement and speed through a series of connected turns. Because shorter skis offer more ease of use when turning, they are the best choice for those new to this great winter sport.
In addition, shorter skis are manufactured to be more narrow than longer skis. This design differential offers a skier more control of the ski’s edges. More control helps new skiers gain the confidence to challenge themselves with longer skis and harder trails.
What Happens if the Selected Skis are too Short?
The result of skis that are too short for the skier is –
- A reduced ability to gain speed.
- Reduced control when traveling at higher speeds.
- Reduced stability and control when facing variable snow conditions.
When glade or powder skiing (especially in the warmer spring months), shorter skis may sink in the snow. A longer ski is the only choice if you want to move through soft snow (float) without reducing your speed.
A Word About Ski Blades or Trick Skis
Ski Blades, a term Salomon Sports coined about two decades ago, are very short skis which are great for those learning to ski or more experienced skiers who want to perfect a trick or to try something new with more control.
Although these are no longer manufactured, many resorts still offer them in rental shops. But note, the shorter ski requires tremendous core and leg strength to manage, and some mountains do not permit their use. The best place to use Ski Blades is on those trails with trees or terrain parks. Better yet, ski blades are an excellent choice for a new skier.
Shorter skis are great for beginners or advanced skiers performing tricks and complicated jumps. While there can be no magic formula to determine the appropriate ski length because of its varying factors, the following is considered a rough estimate of the best starting point for someone researching the length of a ski to rent or buy –
- The average recreational skier should consider a ski, when standing upright, to fall somewhere between the skier’s chin and the crown of their head.
- More experienced or advanced skiers will probably prefer a longer ski due to its capacity for speed, control, and float.