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You know you need a narrower ski in your quiver for early season cruising and dry spells between storms. But do you shop in the frontside ski category or look through the slimmer all-mountain options?
Truth is, the line can be blurry between these two ski categories since ski manufacturers started throwing everything they have at producing well-rounded and versatile skis in both. As a result, you can now find narrow all-mountain skis that also rail on groomers and frontside skis that can hold their own in crud.
That said, there are still some key differences between frontside and all-mountain skis, the biggest being that frontside skis are primarily designed for on-trail performance, while all-mountain skis (even the narrower ones) are engineered to tackle conditions and terrain off the groomers.
To help you decide if a frontside or all-mountain ski is right for you, here are the key differences across construction, intended use, and performance.
Frontside vs. All-Mountain Skis: Construction
As a general rule, frontside skis feature a waist width between 80-90mm, while all-mountain skis boast between 90-108mm underfoot. A slimmer waist width allows for quicker edge-to-edge transfer, while a wider waist width offers more float and versatility off groomed snow.
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Sidecut refers to the shape of the ski, from tip to tail. Frontside skis generally feature a more dramatic sidecut, i.e. more of an hourglass shape due to the narrower waist width. Skis with more pronounced sidecuts are designed to be skied on edge and carve down groomed runs. While some of the narrower all-mountain skis on the market also feature a pronounced sidecut, most are straighter from tip to tail, which allows the ski to skid and smear turns rather than just roll from edge to edge.
These days even frontside skis feature some rocker, primarily in the tip, though they sill have traditional camber underfoot. This rocker-camber profile means frontside skis still have enough effective edge to grip on firm snow, but enough rocker to help the ski stay above the fray in crud.
All-mountain skis tend to feature tip and tail rocker, with traditional camber underfoot. All-mountain skis therefore generally feature less effective edge than frontside skis, so they may not perform as consistently on hard-snow and groomed slopes. But with the added tail rocker, all-mountain skis are generally better at pivoting and smearing turns, and better at busting through crud.
It’s hard to generalize ski construction across categories because construction is pretty unique from manufacturer to manufacturer. However, it’s safe to say that frontside skis generally feature more metal in the construction than all-mountain skis because metal helps to make a ski damp and stable at speed. All-mountain skis typically also include metal but may include a reduced amount along the edges of the ski to reduce the ski’s swing weight and make it easier to throw around in bumps and tight tree lines.
Because all-mountain skis feature more surface area—and therefore more material—manufacturers typically try to use lightweight materials in all-mountain ski construction to retain maneuverability and quickness.
Frontside vs. All-Mountain Skis: Intended Use and Performance
Given the construction differences, frontside skis are designed to offer more stability and edge hold on hard-snow and groomed slopes than all-mountain skis. But because frontside skis offer a more generous waist width and tip rocker than true carving skis, they’re also designed to handle conditions and terrain you’re likely to find on the side of groomed runs, i.e. moguls and tree runs. They just won’t be the best tool for crud or powder.
Narrow all-mountain skis may still offer great performance on groomers and hard-snow, but they’re designed to provide more versatility in less-than-ideal snow conditions. A narrow all-mountain ski is generally better suited to tackling crud than a frontside ski because it offers a slightly wider waist and additional rocker.
Frontside vs. All-Mountain Skis: Skier Type
If you spend most of your time on groomers and hard-snow conditions, go with a frontside ski instead of a narrow all-mountain ski. A frontside ski will give you more edge to work with, and help you carve down groomers, smear in moguls, and zip through trees on the side of the trail.
If you’re primarily an off-trail skier looking for a tool that will handle firm, early season conditions but will seamlessly transition to off-trail conditions once the snow starts stacking up, an all-mountain ski is your best bet. An all-mountain ski will provide just a little more versatility than a traditional frontside ski.