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Does Length Matter? Choosing the right skis at sale time (or any other time).

Buying skis is a big investment, especially if you are a skier that only skis every so often and can only keep a quiver of up to a couple of pairs.

 

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And yet, if you are anything like me, you can be paralysed by indecision. Trying to find the right ski for you is only half the battle. What if you are caught been two different lengths of ski and aren't sure which size to pull the trigger on? What if you've got your heart set on a particular ski in the sales, and only one size is left?


This post will go over things to consider for different types of skis and how different lengths will impact your skiing, to help you choose the right skis for you.


There are a couple of guidelines that exist to getting to the right length ski. Stand them up, place the tips on the floor, and see where the skis come up to on your body. Piste skis should reach to between your chin and mouth; all-mountain between mouth and forehead; and freeride skis from forehead and up.


But that still leaves a lot of leeway, and can leave you picking between skis that both fit into these guidelines. Anything wildly outside these guidelines can be immediately ignored. But finding two sizes that sit at the top and bottom of these categories is not uncommon. Here's how to choose between ski lengths.


 

A valley of rocky mountains covered in pristine snow, beneath a bluebird sky
A bluebird powder day in Tignes

 

Choosing the Right Ski Length: On Piste Skis

On piste skis are all about manoeuvrability and edge hold. Therefore how length will impact these factors is going to be the key in influencing your buying choices.


In theory, edge hold is increased by extending edge length. Therefore if you are worried about edge grip, perhaps if you are a hard-core skier or you are a slightly bigger skier, choosing the longer length might seem the most appropriate option.


However, edge length is not the only thing that that dictates the quality of edge hold when you are skiing. How sharp the edges are is a really important factor; I've taken to waxing and edging my own skis over the last couple of years and I am pleased as punch, and even proud, of the quality of edge grip that I've got from my handiwork, leaving me shredding the corduroy with power.


Technique is also key. Edge grip comes from driving the skis with the right part of the ski, I.e. the toe edge of the ski. The better and more consistently you can get your bodyweight forward over this part of the skis, and balance all your weight on the outside ski in each turn, the better time you are going to have on the slopes.


Neither of these things are positively influenced by a longer ski. In fact, it can be made worse. Piste skis are not mounted in the middle of the ski - they are set back from true centre to give you more ski to drive with at the front and less ski to get in the way at the end of turns, when you want to come back the other way. The ratio of front ski to back ski will remain the same across different lengths, but a longer ski will have more ski to play with at the front. This can and will negatively impact your technique, sitting you further back and reducing the manoeuvrability of the skis.


The final factor is that good quality modern skis are designed to make edges easy and accessible for anyone. Sidecuts, titanal placement, and even bindings are all making it easier to drive an edge into the snow than it ever has been before. It therefore isn't the edge length that's influencing your skiing.


The verdict? If you are caught between two sizes of on piste ski, go shorter unless you have a specific reason like weight or performance to go longer.


 

A skier approaching the camera, wearing purple trousers and blue jacket.
My slightly-too-short Atomics handled all but the deepest Japanese pow - it took a lot of technique to handle, though

 

Choosing the Right Ski Length: Off Piste & All Mountain


This is a slightly more complex are than piste skis, as there are benefits to both going bigger and smaller. A lot will come down to the style of off piste skiing that you do or want to do, however there are some basic principles to adhere to.


Longer skis give you more stability in deeper snow. Bindings are mounted more towards the true centre of the skis, although still with a little bias towards the back, meaning the ratio of ski forward and back of the binding is much closer together. This does mean that a longer off piste ski will be more readily controllable than a longer on piste ski.


Getting the right amount of length at the back of your ski is also critical for off piste skiing. The back of the ski has an important rôle to play in stability at the end of your turn, and with powder being so unpredictable - mostly as you can't see what your skiing through - its really easy to be thrown off balance. Add into this mix the more back seat position you take when skiing powder to help the tips remain afloat, and the chances are you'll be thrown onto the back of your skis like a rodeo cowboy.


This is where that extra length comes in: it will, catch you and give you a platform to return to an upright position, ready to drive forward and into the next turn.


The worry can be that you'll end up with too much ski, and struggle to drive it. This is where consideration of your choice of off piste skiing comes in, and comes down to not necessarily the right ski length but the choice of ski to begin with.


Are you - or do you want to be - a big mountain straight line skier? Awesome. Pick up a pair of Black Crows Atris or Atomic Bents, straight, solid, wide skis that world overtime to keep you afloat in seriously deep stuff.


Much more of a controlled, tree skier who wants to keep the ability for shorter turns and piste turns? Dynastar M-Pro or Black Diamond Impulses are for you. Both the latter two skis feature clever titanal placement and an early rise tip rocker, giving you a longer shovel at the front of the ski and a shorter length as a result. This maintains your confidence in a longer ski that can also rip shorter turns in trees, powder and on piste.



 

Ski length can be one of the most agonising choices to make if you are caught between two sizes or find a size you like on sale. But remember what kind of skiing you like to do, where you like to do it, and you'll be set for a good time regardless. I've always been of the opinion that technique can overcome any minor deficiency in your set up, so don't be disheartened if you know you need to improve to make the most of your skis.

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