There are a lot of really great companies out there that make really great skis. So how do you choose when there are so many good options?
If you’re new to skiing or are buying instead of renting for the first time, we’ve gathered the best skis on the market and an explanation of how to choose the right pair for you. Your next winter camping trip is about to get a lot more fun!
- 1 TERMINOLOGY
- 2 TYPES OF SKIS
- 3 HOW WE REVIEWED
- 4 THE 10 BEST SKIS
- 4.1 1. VOLKL MANTRA M 5
- 4.2 2. LINE SICK DAY 88
- 4.3 3. ARMADA ARW 86
- 4.4 4. FISHER 10 2 FR
- 4.5 5. DPS FOUNDATION CASSIAR
- 4.6 6. SALOMON S/MAX BLAST
- 4.7 7. K2 WAYBACK 106
- 4.8 8. HEAD KORE 99
- 4.9 9. ROSSIGNOL SOUL 7 HD
- 4.10 10. NORDICA NRGY 90
- 5 HIT THE SLOPES
It helps to know some basic ski terminology when deciding on the best skis for you. Knowing how to talk to a salesperson will make it much easier to let them know exactly what you’re looking for.
It seems simple, right? They’re two long pieces of wood that you strap to your feet to slide down a mountain. But there’s actually a lot that goes into ski construction.
The first thing you want to think about is the waist width. The waist is the narrowest part of the ski and is measured in millimeters.
The wider the waist, the better it moves over fresh snow. The narrower the waist, the better it cuts into packed snow.
You’ve heard this in reference to your car. The turn radius is how sharply your skis can turn, measured in meters. It’s closely related to the sidecut.
This is the profile of the ski and directly affects your turn radius. In general, the arc of the ski is consistent along its length, though some companies are experimenting with this.
The rocker is how much above the ground the tip and tail rise. The more rocker, the easier it is to turn.
Beginning skiers will likely want a shorter ski. If you’re unsure what length you should have, use your height as a starting place.
The camber is how much of an arch the ski has. If you place the ski on a flat surface, a cambered ski will rise a bit in the middle. You can also have a reverse camber, meaning the middle sits on the ground while the tip and tail curve upward.
When you’re talking about the feel of a ski, you’re talking about how it performs at various speeds. A damp ski will absorb vibrations well and is stable at high speeds.
Powerful skis are more rigid, making them slightly harder to control. These skis are best for experienced skiers because they take a bit more energy and skill to maneuver.
Playful skis, on the other hand, are the opposite of powerful skis. These skis like to skid and are less rigid and more springy.
In terms of construction, you definitely get what you pay for in skis. If you ski a lot, you’ll probably want to consider the top end of ski construction, as it will save you money in the long term.
The construction also determines how powerful, playful, and damp a ski is.
The flex of a ski is how much it can bend at various points along its length. A flexible tip will help start turns and will absorb bumps while a less flexible tip will cut into the snow and is more suitable for carving.
A soft center will also absorb much of the vibrations and will also make the ski easier to turn. With stiff centers, you have a more powerful ski that is stable at high speeds.
When the tail is flexible, you have a smoother exit out of turns. A stiff tail is particularly good for landing jumps and for going over uneven terrain.
The top sheet is the topmost protective layer on the ski. This is where the graphics are printed.
The sidewall of a ski is the part between the top sheet and the base of the ski. A vertical sidewall makes a more powerful ski that is harder to turn.
On the other end of the spectrum is a sloping sidewall, in which the upper part is slightly wider than the bottom. These make turning much easier.
The base is the bottom of the ski and is made of plastic. The base is where when your skis are in need of tuning will take place.
There are two mounting types: system skis and flat skis. A system ski has an integrated ski binding. Flat skis come without bindings, so you’ll purchase that separately and screw them together.
TYPES OF SKIS
Now that you know a bit about the parts of a ski and the feel of different skis, it’s time to talk about ski varieties.
Before you go to purchase your ski, ask yourself a few key questions: What kind of skiing do I like to do and on what kind of terrain? Am I going to purchase one set of skis or do I want multiple pairs? Do I like to skid or would I feel more comfortable carving into the snow?
And remember to test drive your options before you choose!
These are your basic, do-it-all skis. All-Mountain skis are great on various types of terrains and in various types of snow. Think of them as your jack-of-all-trades.
This means, of course, that they are masters of none. However, most experts will tell you that if you’re only going to purchase one pair of skis, these are the best skis to choose.
Powder skis are great for fresh snow, as the name suggests. These have a wider waist that makes them unsuitable for packed snow. This is also where you see a lot of experimentation with ski shape.
These skis are best for packed snow. Their slim waists make them easier to turn. If this is where you like to ski, look for a waist of 88 millimeters or less.
If you’re more into tricks and stunts, you’ll want a more durable, stiffer set of skis. The best skis for parks will be twin-tipped, making landing easier. They’ll also be softer in the tips with a firmer middle to provide stability.
HOW WE REVIEWED
In reviewing the best skis, we compiled reviews from users and professional reviewers alike. It’s important that the best skis function well in real-life situations and also that they pass the intense scrutiny of professionals.
All of the skis on our list are fantastic, so these are presented in no particular order.
THE 10 BEST SKIS
The best skis will vary by personality and ski type. Make sure you know what you’re looking for before you start demoing skis so that you make the best choice for you.
1. VOLKL MANTRA M 5
The Mantra M 5 is one of the best free-ride skis out there. Volkl has always been a reputable brand, and this latest iteration of their Mantra line is a prime example of why.
This is an all-mountain ski, with a pretty damp feel. It’s a bit stiffer underfoot than other all-mountain skis, making it very stable at speed.
The turn radius on this ski is really great at 21.4 meters. This improved radius is due to the smaller waist width of 96 millimeters, compared to the 100 millimeters of previous iterations.
This version has a full camber underfoot, giving you plenty of support on powdery snow, and the rockered tips help the ski deal with freestyle skiing better than most all-mountain skis.
Where to buy
2. LINE SICK DAY 88
The Line Sick Day 88 is another all-mountain ski with a damp feel. It’s a bit less of an investment than the Mantra M5, but that doesn’t make it a less fun ski.
The 88-millimeter waist and the five-point sidecut on this ski give it an incredible turn radius of 17 meters and make it great for carving packed snow. It’s a fairly snappy ski, which allows turning with minimal effort, but this snappy feel does slightly reduce its stability at speed.
Its full camber and rockered tip allow you to ski in most powder situations as well.
Where to buy
3. ARMADA ARW 86
This park ski is versatile enough to handle, not only freestyle skiing, but also some fresh powder and bumps. Because of its versatility, this ski deserves to be in the list of some of the best skis available.
The Armada ARW is able to withstand landings, rails, and crashes due to its stiffness, especially in the tail. It also has a rockered tip and tail to assist with getting into and out of jumps and bumps. The give of the tip with the stiffness of the tail makes moguls much more enjoyable as well.
The 86-millimeter waist means this ski has a great turn radius and can carve into packed snow quite well.
Where to buy
4. FISHER 10
The FR in this model name stands for freeride, a more playful feel to a ski and best suited to softer snow. This is a ski you’d want to take off the piste.
The Fisher 102 is an All-Mountain ski that does particularly well on powder, due to its wide 102-millimeter waist. This is a new iteration of the 98 Ti, which was a powerful All-Mountain ski that tended to be difficult to control for most users. By adding four millimeters and removing some of the metal, Fisher made this ski much lighter and easier to control.
The flexible rockered tip and stiff rockered tail allow this relatively wide ski to maintain an 18-meter turn radius and gives it better control on packed snow than other comparably wide skis.
Where to buy
5. DPS FOUNDATION CASSIAR
The Cassiar is an almost-perfect All-Mountain ski. DPS has done away with the sidecut, making the tail virtually flat. This unusual shape makes turning the Cassiar much easier.
The tip is heavily rockered and fairly flexible, making turn initiation a breeze and allowing it to float pretty well in powder. It performs well both on moguls and at speed. Its 94-inch waist gives it the versatility to perform equally well on groomed snow as on powder.
If you decide you only need one pair of skis, this is very likely the ski for you.
Where to buy
6. SALOMON S/MAX BLAST
These are high-performance carving skis and are meant for experienced, techiniquely-sound, athletic skiers. If you can handle them, they are some of the best skis available.
The S/Max Blast is a much stiffer ski, which is one of the aspects that make carving so easy for this ski. Likewise, the Edge Amplifier, a layer of top sheet material that creates a rail over the edge of the ski, allows it to turn easily and quickly, with only a 13-meter turn radius on some of the shorter lengths.
This is not a ski you’d want if you’re only planning to get one pair. Its 72-millimeter waist makes it as unsuitable for powder as it is suitable for packed snow.
Where to buy
7. K2 WAYBACK 106
The K2 Wayback 106 is one of the best skis for the backcountry. The Wayback has a 106-millimeter waist and fully rockered tip, making it float on fresh powder perfectly. However, while most wide-waisted powder skis are terrible for carving, this ski is able to carve fairly well, despite a pretty wide turn radius of 22 meters.
These skis are firmer than typical backcountry skis thanks to a spine of Titanal, but they’re still quite light because of the light wood core. The stiffness of the tail makes it easy to dig in on switchbacks despite the lightness of the ski.
Where to buy
8. HEAD KORE 99
The Kore 99 has a honeycomb core material and a top sheet of polyester fleece, making it more lightweight than many other park skis.
But the reduction in weight does not correspond to a reduction in capability. This hard-wearing ski is great on rougher terrains, jumps, and tricks, thanks to the graphene infused in the tip and the tail.
This ski is fairly rigid, providing more control in and out of jumps as well as a great turn radius of 15 meters, while the wider 99-millimeter waist allows it to function in powder as well.
Where to buy
9. ROSSIGNOL SOUL 7 HD
This wide-waisted powder ski is made for freeriding. With its 106-millimeter waist, it can handle any powder you come across, while maintaining the versatility you need in the backcountry.
The carbon-alloy in its construction reduces the vibrations underfoot and gives this ski a more stable feel. At the same time, the rockered tip flexible enough to give this ski a respectably 18-meter turn radius. A stiffer, flat tail gives you more control coming out of turns.
The Air Tip 2.0 infused into this ski decreases its weight without decreasing its stability at speed.
Where to buy
10. NORDICA NRGY 90
The Nordica NRGY 90 is another great all-purpose ski, especially for advanced skiers. Its sturdy construction gives it a solid, predictable feel, and this ski performs equally well in powder and on groomers.
The 100-millimeter waist lets this ski float above powder almost as well as a dedicated powder ski. At the same time, because of the rigid edges of the NRGY, this ski is better at carving than most skis of its width.
This same rigidity allows the ski to maintain its stability at speed as well as handle the bumps you’d expect to find in freeriding. This is another great option if you’re looking to purchase only one set of skis.
Where to buy
HIT THE SLOPES
Now that you’ve bought the best skis for you, it’s time to try them on the slopes! Happy skiing!
If you found this guide helpful, please comment below.
Jonathan O’Ryan is what you might call a seasonal digital nomad. When he is not thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or finetuning his custom UL camping gear in the middle of nowhere, he comfortably sits at his home desk – yes, he still has a physical address, we don’t know for how long though – sharing his insights on all things outdoors with Wilderness Today’s audience. We know life is an adventure, Jon, but we’d still like to have that urgent work email answered by noon.