Skis: Frequently Asked Questions

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Our gear editors have compiled answers to your qustions.

What is the first piece of ski equipment I should buy?What is a "shaped" ski?

Do I need shaped skis?

Why should I get new skis now? Can I try out skis before I buy them?

How do I know what skis to buy?

How can I tell what length skis to buy?

How long should my poles be?

The top of my skis are cracked. Is this bad?

How often should I tune my skis?

How often should I wax my skis?

What's the best type of wax?

How sharp should my edges be?

Is it true that shaped skis are better in powder than conventional skis but worse in bumps?

Are powder skis only good in deep powder?

How do race skis differ from all-mountain skis?

Is a wood-core ski better than a foam-core ski?

Is it true that you should never use a ski with metal in it in moguls?

What is a dampening system?

What are skiboards? Are they just for tricks?

What is the first piece of ski equipment I should buy?
Ski boots. As you're getting into the sport, you can get by renting all the rest of your equipment, but good-fitting boots, properly adjusted for your stance, are absolutely vital. Don't skimp on these. Go to a reputable shop that will work with you to get the right boot and the perfect fit.

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What is a "shaped" ski?
Virtually all skis being manufactured today are shaped skis, though they are not nearly as radical shaped (or as limited in their performance) as the earliest super-sidecut models were. Shaped refers to the hourglass profile of a ski's sidecut.

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Do I need shaped skis?
Yes, everyone can benefit from shaped skis. The hourglass profile draws the ski into an arc, making it easy to carve a turn even at low speeds. The straight skis of the past require more skill-the ability to bend and steer a ski-and more speed to carve. Now even beginners can get the sensation of arcing a ski. Need more convincing?

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Why should I get new skis now?
During the last two years, new shaped-ski designs have revolutionized skiing. Shaped skis are no longer radical-looking learning tools, but enormously versatile machines that can put you at ease in a wide range of conditions. Even if you tried the new skis of a few years ago, you will be amazed by the sophistication of the latest models. They make beginners more comfortable, they speed intermediates up the learning curve, and they show experts that when you add new technology to dependable skills, there are still a few tricks to learn. Back to Top

Can I try out skis before I buy them?
Yes, you should definitely demo a pair of skis before buying. Demo centers are your best bet. For about $20 for a half day, you can sample as many skis as you want andeally get a feel for which pair suits you best.

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How do I know what skis to buy?
It all depends on your ability and the type of skiing you do. Try SkiNet's GearFinder, which allows you to fill out a personalized questionnaire and then matches you with a list of the best skis for you. The results page then links to reviews of this year's models by both SKI and SKIING Magazines.

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How can I tell what length skis to buy?
If you are used to skiing on conventional (nonshaped) skis, you will definitely need to go shorter when switching to the new skis. The added sidecut means added surface area where the base meets the snow. If a shaped ski is too long, all that curve gets very unwieldy. There is no hard and fast rule for length because of the wide variety of sidecuts now available. Again, the best thing to do is to ask questions and demo.

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How long should my poles be?
Here's a quick test for length: Standing in your ski boots, turn your poles upside down and put the grips on the floor. Grab just below the basket, and if the poles are the right length, your elbow will be at a 90 degree angle.

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The top of my skis are cracked. Is this bad?
Depending on the construction of the skis, a crack could be either bad or inconsequential. You should have a ski shop check them out. A cosmetic scratch on the surface of your ski should not pose a problem. Back to Top

How often should I tune my skis?
It depends on what kind of snow you're skiing on. New England skiers who frequently encounter ice and hard snow need tuning much more often than Colorado skiers who are usually on softer snow. The ski-shop experts will quiz you on the conditions you ski in to determine the right tuning for your skis.

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How often should I wax my skis?
As often as you can; it's impossible to overwax skis. It depends on how often you ski. If you're on the slopes every weekend, your skis need waxing once a week.

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What's the best type of wax?
The type of wax you should use depends on the temperature of the snow you're skiing on. The wax's packaging should specify what it's best for. Usually blue wax is for very cold snow, red is for warm, slushy snow, and yellow is good for all conditions. A good all-conditions wax is better than nothing.

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How sharp should my edges be?
The smoothness of your edges is more important than the sharpness. Your edges should always look like a smooth blade rather than a serrated knife.

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Is it true that shaped skis are better in powder than conventional skis but worse in bumps?
It depends on the ski. Shaped skis generally have more flotation in powder. Extremely shaped skis may be difficult in bumps. However, since there is such a huge range of shaped skis to choose from, finding one that's good for all types of skiing shouldn't be a problem.

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Are powder skis only good in deep powder?
No, powder skis are great for any kind of powder, and they're versatile enough for packed snow too.

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How do race skis differ from all-mountain skis?
Race skis are stiffer and have more energy. They are more demanding of good technique and not as forgiving. They're also better on ice.

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Is a wood-core ski better than a foam-core ski?
Both have their advantages. Foam cores are lighter than wood cores, while wood cores give a smoother ride and a more even flex.

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Is it true that you should never use a ski with metal in it in moguls?
No. A ski containing large amounts of metal may have a tendency to bend, but most skis don't contain enough metal to cause problems.

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What is a dampening system?
A dampening system is anything that reduces the ski's vibration. Less vibration means better edge grip, more control, and a smoother ride. There are many kinds of systems, all designed to get the same result. The beefy Derbyflex plate is used by World Cup racers. Some systems are inside the ski, like K2's high-tech piezoelectric device. And most binding companies now manufacture dampening systems integral to their top-end bindings.

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What are skiboards? Are they just for tricks?

Definitely not. Skiboards have grown increasingly popular over the last few years, and most major manufacturers now have some on the market. The folks at SKIING checked them out for a day of all-terrain playing. Their conclusion: "Small is big."

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How do race skis differ from all-mountain skis?
Race skis are stiffer and have more energy. They are more demanding of good technique and not as forgiving. They're also better on ice.

Back to Top

Is a wood-core ski better than a foam-core ski?
Both have their advantages. Foam cores are lighter than wood cores, while wood cores give a smoother ride and a more even flex.

Back to Top

Is it true that you should never use a ski with metal in it in moguls?
No. A ski containing large amounts of metal may have a tendency to bend, but most skis don't contain enough metal to cause problems.

Back to Top

What is a dampening system?
A dampening system is anything that reduces the ski's vibration. Less vibration means better edge grip, more control, and a smoother ride. There are many kinds of systems, all designed to get the same result. The beefy Derbyflex plate is used by World Cup racers. Some systems are inside the ski, like K2's high-tech piezoelectric device. And most binding companies now manufacture dampening systems integral to their top-end bindings.

Back to Top

What are skiboards? Are they just for tricks?

Definitely not. Skiboards have grown increasingly popular over the last few years, and most major manufacturers now have some on the market. The folks at SKIING checked them out for a day of all-terrain playing. Their conclusion: "Small is big."

Back to Top