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Womens Skis

Ladies, Don’t Let Shop Guys Sell You Short Skis

With new ski technologies, the old chin rule doesn't apply anymore.

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Q: In the latest SKI Gear Guide, I found very few skis that come in a length less than 150cm. There was only one ski in the All-Mountain category, a few in Frontside, and none in the other categories. Maybe next year you could include a section on Petite Women Skiers. – Ellie G. (under 5-foot skier)

Most women’s-specific skis entered into SKI’s annual test come in a variety of lengths, but the shortest does usually hover around the 150cm-mark. Here’s why: In most cases, even petite women should be on a ski that’s at least 150cm long.

Modern ski technology and construction, such as rocker profiles, have made longer skis much more accessible even to shorter skiers. And in most cases, the added length of the ski is a bonus.

To help you choose the right ski length for your height and skiing ability, let’s dive deeper into how modern technology has changed the way skis perform relative to their length.

Read more: How to buy skis

Rocker Technology and Ski Length

  • Rocker technology reduces the amount of edge that makes contact with the snow
  • Skis with rockered tips (and tails) are easier to pivot and turn
  • Skis with rockered tips and tails generally ski shorter than their length

Most modern skis—even skis designed for on-trail performance—have at least a little bit of rocker in the tip. Wider skis designed primarily for off-trail performance will generally feature more rocker in both the tip and tail of the ski. If a ski is rockered in the tip (and tail), a portion of the ski’s tip (and tail) is designed to slightly curve upward away from the snow, so that this area does not make contact with the snow.

"2021 Nordica Santa Ana Powder Rocker Technology"
Illustration of Nordica’s Powder Rocker profile, used in the women’s-specific Santa Ana Free series. In the Nordica Santa Ana 104 Free and 110 Free, both the tip and tail of the ski are rockered, reducing the effective edge to the cambered portion of the ski. 

Rocker profile varies widely between ski manufacturers and the category of the ski. But whether a ski has minimal or generous rocker, this construction makes skiing easier because it reduces the effective edge of the ski, or the amount of edge that actually makes contact with the snow. Less edge contact allows the ski to pivot more easily from side to side, making turn initiation and release more effortless. But less effective edge also makes skis less stable at speed.

Related: Understanding Rocker vs. Camber Ski Technology

Whereas skis of yore without rocker used to ski true to their length because you skied the entire edge length, skis today tend to ski shorter than their length because the amount of effective edge is reduced by the rocker profile.

Previously, women were often advised to purchase skis that reached up to their chin or nose (if you were considered a beginner, the chin-rule applied). Advanced and expert women were sold skis that reached to the middle of their forehead.

But this sweeping rule is now outdated. If a woman were to choose a ski that only comes up to her nose today, chances are, that ski would ski too short for her because the rocker profile in the tip will provide less effective edge relative to the length of the ski.

So instead of relying just on height to choose the right ski length for you, you should first and foremost consider your skiing ability and where you like to ski.

Choosing Ski Length Based on Ability

  • Intermediate women should look for skis that are roughly as long as they are tall
  • Advanced and expert women should consider skis that are slightly longer than they are tall
  • You don’t have to sacrifice length for a ski that’s easier to turn; longer skis can still be forgiving
Ski rack at Ski Magazine's ski test
Ski rack at SKI Magazine’s ski test, Taos Ski Valley, N.M. Brands are encouraged to enter the same ski in multiple lengths in each category, so that testers can test a ski in a length that’s best suited to them. Photo: Keri Bascetta

Despite rocker technology, true beginners may still want to stick with a short ski because it will be lighter and more maneuverable, making the learning process a little easier on them.

But intermediate women should feel comfortable choosing skis that are as long as they are tall. Even if you’re very petite, say 4-foot 11-inches, a 150cm ski will reach right up to the top of your head. Remember, a rockered ski that reaches to the top of your head will ski shorter than its length, so choosing a ski that’s as long as you are tall gives you a little more effective edge to work with.

If you’re an intermediate skier looking for a ski that’s easy to wield, you don’t have to sacrifice length. Instead, look for a ski that’s lightweight and reviewed as being more forgiving and playful.

The Head Kore 87 W, for example, won SKI Test Gold in the women’s frontside category because it is exceptionally playful and forgiving. It’s also made from some of the lightest materials on the market. This ski in a 153cm or 163cm length would be an ideal ski for petite ladies.

Related: How ski testers rank and review the best skis of the season

Advanced and expert women, on the other hand, may want to choose a ski that’s actually taller than they are, especially if they are particularly strong and athletic skiers.

Stronger skiers tend ski in a forward position and bend a ski a lot more than intermediates, so they could probably use more effective edge. Picking a ski that’s slightly longer than they are tall gives them more edge grip and more stability at speed, while still benefiting from rocker technology which generally makes longer skis easier to turn.

The average height of SKI’s female gear testers is around 5-foot 6-inches (or 168cm). Most of our female testers prefer a ski that is at least 170cm, and when testing all-mountain or powder skis, most size up to 172cm to 175cm.

Get to know SKI’s testers: Tracy Gibbons

Choosing Ski Length Based on Terrain and Style

  • If you mostly ski groomers, you want more effective edge
  • If you like to ski fast, or ski in deep snow, you may want a longer ski
  • Frontside skis generally have less rocker and more effective edge
  • All-mountain and powder skis usually have more rocker and a shorter effective edge relative to the length of the ski
"Lynn Kennen, SKI Test 2020 Taos"
SKI Tester Lynn Kennen tests the off-trail capabilities of a pair of Elan all-mountain skis at the 2020 SKI Test in Taos, NM. 

Besides your ability, the type of terrain you like to ski and your skiing style may dictate the length of ski you want. Intermediate women who spend most of their time on groomers should look for a frontside ski that comes up to their forehead or is about 3-5 cm shorter than they are.

Frontside skis have less rocker, more effective edge, and ski truer to their length, so a slightly shorter ski will give intermediate skiers enough edge grip and stability on hard snow without bogging them down. Again, advanced and expert skiers should look for a ski that is roughly as tall as they are.

Read more: The best women’s frontside skis of the year

All-mountain and powder skis generally feature more rocker in both the tip and tail of the ski, so intermediate women should feel comfortable sizing up slightly to a ski that is as tall as they are. Advanced and expert skiers may want to consider an all-mountain or powder ski that is slightly taller than they are provided the ski has a generous rocker profile.

Read more: The best women’s all-mountain skis of the year

Short Women’s-Specific Skis

Petite women who have done their research and still feel more comfortable on shorter skis can look to manufacturers like Stöckli, Kästle, Blizzard, Nordica, Rossignol, and Elan. These brands do make some skis that come in lengths starting at around 147cm.

If you need something even shorter than that, you may need to look at junior skis. These skis will generally be even easier to maneuver and come in multiple lengths below 150cm. It’s worth noting, however, that junior skis may not be up to the same performance standards as the women’s-specific skis tested and reviewed in SKI’s annual Gear Guide.