9 Different Types Of Downhill Skis

9 Different Types Of Downhill Skis

The next time you stand in a lift queue, take a look around at what the other skiers have on their feet. You will notice that there are many different types of skis.

The reason they are so different is that ski brands make skis to suit different snow conditions and skiers abilities.

Therefore, there is a pair of skis for every kind of skier and situation. Whether you are a complete beginner, a seasoned pro cruising the groomers, or hitting the park, the perfect pair of skis is out there for you.

With such a selection of skis on offer, it is crucial that you choose the right ones for you. So in this article, we will highlight the different types of skis so you can narrow down your choices.

Types Of Downhill Skis

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Characteristics That Differ Between Skis

Characteristics That Differ Between Skis

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There are quite a few variables when it comes to the design of a pair of skis. However, there are five key elements that you need to be aware of to understand how a pair of skis performs.

1. Stiffness Rating

Stiffness Rating

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The stiffness of a ski makes a considerable impact and how it performs. Generally, skis with stiffer construction perform best at high speeds and allow you to carve hard and ski aggressively.

The issue with stiff skis is that they are less forgiving than more flexible ones, and you need a high skill level to cope with their sensitivity. Advanced skiers mainly use stiffer skis as they have the experience and skill set to get the most out of them.

If you are a less experienced skier, you may want to look at using more flexible skis. This is because they are more forgiving, which means you will be able to progress your skills more quickly and have more fun on the slopes.

2. Camber

The camber of the ski is the shape along its profile. When you look into the profile of skis in more detail, you will notice that most of them arch with the tip and tails curving down. This means the highest point of the camber is underneath the ski’s binding.

How much a ski is cambered will affect how it performs and holds an edge. Different manufacturers and models utilize different camber designs. Some will have lots of camber, but on the other hand, you will come across skis with negative camber, which means that the skis curve upwards at the tip and tail, leaving the area under the bindings at the lowest point.

3. The Ski’s Width

The Ski's Width

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Depending on what the ski is designed for, it will have a different width. For example, a wider ski is best for riding in powder as the ski floats on top of the snow and helps you to maintain your balance.

Wide skis are very popular as many skiers are beginning to see their advantages. However, you need the skills to use them, and riding with extra fat skis can be bad for your knees if you use them all the time.

Narrower skis make it easier to go from one edge to the other, giving them more agile handling characteristics.

4. The Ski’s Length

The Ski's Length

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How long your skis are is very important as it is one of the most significant factors in how they perform. You should also ensure that the skis you use are the correct length for you.

Depending on how well you ski and the type of skiing you do, you may benefit from different-length skis. Longer skis give you more control if you have the skills, especially at high speeds as there is more of the ski’s edge in contact with the snow.

A side-effect of using long skis is that they are harder to turn. Therefore, you have to decide whether you want to focus on speed or maneuverability. But it is best to choose a pair of skis that strike a balance giving you the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, there is always a compromise when it comes to the length of your skis.

5. The Ski’s Weight

You can buy skis that are incredibly light and made with exotic materials such as carbon fiber. These are more technical and easier to turn in most situations. Cheaper skis tend to be heavier as the materials in their construction are not as high-end.

But some quality skis are made to be slightly heavier on purpose. These heavier skis perform well when the snow could be better. The extra weight is great in uneven or heavy powder, and they grip the snow better while allowing you to bash through moguls and deep pockets of snow.

The disadvantage of a heavy pair of skis is that they are less maneuverable. So if you choose a heavier pair of skis, you need to ski more aggressively to enjoy the advantages they bring.

The Different Types Of Skis Available

1. Carving Skis

Carving Skis

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Carving skis are also known as piste skis or parabolic skis. They are designed for skiers who like to charge around groomed slopes, especially when the slopes are nice and smooth early in the morning. They hold an edge exceptionally well when skiing at high speeds, even on hard, packed snow and ice.

Carving skis do not work very well in powder. Therefore anyone who wants to explore the backcountry should stay away from them. You can enjoy carving skis at any skill level just as long as you take notice of the characteristics we mentioned earlier.

These are among the most popular types of skis, as you can have lots of fun pretty much anywhere in the resort as long as you don’t want to do anything too extreme. People use these skis to build on their skills before experimenting with more niche types.

Most carving skis have a regular cambered profile, and the width is usually under 86 mm. If you prefer skis that allow you to go from edge to edge more quickly, you should choose narrower skis, as they will enable you to make tighter turns.

2. All Mountain Skis

All Mountain Skis

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All mountain skis often hit the sweet spot for most skiers. This is because they allow you to experience pretty much everything the mountain has to offer.

So if you enjoy blasting the groomed slopes, hunting for powder in the backcountry, or maybe even hitting the park from time to time, a pair of all-mountain skis have the versatility to do it all.

All mountain skis are generally biased a little toward freeriding. This means they will have a slightly subdued performance on the piste, so you won’t be blown away by their carving prowess. But they will allow you to access all the different parts of the mountain, which makes them one of the most appealing types of skis you can buy.

All mountain skis generally have a width between 85 and 19 mm. It is pretty easy to find all mountain skis to suit all abilities.

You may come across wider all-mountain skis. Their larger width increases how much float you have in powder. These wider versions can measure between 90 and 105 mm wide. Another characteristic of all mountain wide skis is that they often have a negative camber profile.

3. Freestyle Skis

Freestyle Skis

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If you like the idea of performing lots of tricks in the snow park, hitting kickers features, boxes, and rails, you may prefer to choose some freestyle skis. These skis are designed to have a playful personality while being very forgiving.

To achieve these playful characteristics, manufacturers make freestyle skis with a lower stiffness rating, and they are usually shorter. Freestyle skis are also symmetrical and are often called twin tips.

This design allows the skier to take off and land backward, increasing the trick’s difficulty. The shorter length makes it easier for the skier to spin in the air, while the double rocker profile and twin tips make landing more manageable.

Freestyle skis have to be incredibly durable to cope with the significant impacts associated with freestyle skiing.

4. Freeride Skis

Freeride Skis

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Freeride skis are designed for skiers who want to get away from the groomed slopes and into the backcountry. Freeride skiing consists of looking for deep powder, steep lines, and challenging terrain.

Due to the nature of freeride skiing, you need skis designed explicitly for the purpose.

You can use freeride skis on groomed slopes, but they don’t perform as well as carving skis when it comes to edge grip and smoothness on hard, packed snow. This is because freeride skis are designed for high performance in deep snow.

The first thing you notice about a pair of freeride skis is how wide they are. At a minimum, these skis measure 100 mm wide at their narrowest point. This extra width distributes the skier’s weight over a large surface area, preventing them from sinking in deep snow.

To enhance the float further, freeride skis have a long raised tip and a pronounced rocker profile. However, there are many differences between the different models of freeride skis, as some are designed to provide smooth ride quality and lots of speed. In contrast, others are more agile so that you can perform tricks in extreme terrain.

Some freeride skis are designed to be lightweight, which allows you to climb more efficiently when you fit them with touring findings. You will also find heavier freeride skis that provide lots of edge grip, which is reassuring if you have to traverse an icy slope.

5. Alpine Touring Skis

Alpine Touring Skis

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Alpine touring skis allow you to hunt for powder and explore the backcountry under your own steam. These became increasingly popular throughout the pandemic as many ski resorts around the world closed their lifts, and skiers still wanted to head up the mountain to get their snow fix.

An Alpine touring ski setup allows you to hike up a mountain with the skis on your feet rather than strapped to your backpack. The first aspect of one of the setups is the bindings, which hinge at the toe and allow your heel to lift. This is so you can stride forwards efficiently as you ascend the mountain.

The next piece of equipment is the skins. These are textured pieces of material that stick to the base of your skis, allowing them to slide forwards but not backward, making it possible to climb slippery slopes.

When you get to the top of the mountain, you remove the skins and lock your heel down on the bindings. This creates a more traditional ski setup that allows you to enjoy the descent and the deep powder.

Alpine touring skis usually measure 84 mm to 102 mm wide. But they are also exceptionally lightweight to make the climbs more efficient so you have plenty of energy left for your epic descent.

Before you buy some Alpine touring skis, you need to consider the types of tours you’d like to do. This is because the world of ski touring is actually quite varied.

Some people just use Alpine touring skis for fitness, as some ski resorts have designated uphill routes that allow you to climb to the top and then ski down the groomed runs. If this sounds like something you would like to do, it is best to choose the lightest setup.

If you plan on heading into the backcountry, super light touring skis may not be the best choice. This is because lightweight skis don’t perform as well when skiing down challenging slopes when the conditions are not great.

Of course, there is a compromise with a touring setup. So it would be best if you considered which is more important to you, the ascent or the descent.

6. Telemark Skis

Telemark Skis

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Telemark skiing is one of the original disciplines of skiing. The most significant difference between telemark skis and regular downhill skis is that the bindings have a free-heel style.

This means they are pretty similar to ski-touring bindings. However, the heel remains free all the time and cannot be locked down. Therefore this style of skiing requires its own specialist technique, which consists of a lunging motion when turning.

The technique of telemark skiing requires a high fitness level. This is especially physically challenging when you have to make lots of tight turns through forests.

Telemark skis are generally lighter than regular downhill skis. This is because telemarkers need to work extremely hard, and using more lightweight skis makes them fatigue less, allowing them to ski longer. These skis are also sized shorter than regular skis for the individual, as shorter skis are more agile, making the transition from edge to edge more manageable.

7. Racing Skis

Racing Skis

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As you would expect, racing skis are designed for speed and aggressive skiing. They are extremely stiff, so the skier can put lots of pressure on the edges so they can carve hard on hard-packed snow and ice, but this makes them less forgiving.

Racing skis are also generally longer, making them much faster when you put them on a flat base while further increasing the edge hold during turns. They are also quite narrow around the waist, allowing you to go from one edge to the other much more quickly, making them more agile.

Racing skis are also fitted with heavier and stiffer bindings. These bindings provide more support and translate your input into the skis much more efficiently.

There are a few different types of racing skis to suit the various disciplines. For example, you can buy slalom skis; these are constructed in a way that allows you to make tight and short turns through the gates of the slalom course.

To enhance the agility of slalom skis, they are usually shorter than other racing skis. They are also quite heavy and stiff, so the slalom racer can hold an edge and make fast turns.

As the skis are heavy and stiff, you must commit to every turn and ski aggressively. If you don’t, you will find that these skis are incredibly challenging to control.

Another type of racing ski is the giant slalom ski. These are pretty similar to slalom skis but are longer. This extra length helps the racer make large sweeping turns on wide-open race courses or slopes.

Giant slalom skis are best suited to experienced and aggressive skiers who like to go as fast as possible on the slopes. But they perform best on slopes with lots of room, so if you ski in a resort with lots of short and narrow slopes, there are better choices than giant slalom skis for you.

8. Powder Skis

Powder Skis

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Powder skis are extremely wide, so they keep you floating on top of deep snow. This extra float makes the experience of skiing powder much easier, but it also adds to the wonderful sensation that makes you feel like you are flying.

When you get to a level that allows you to enjoy different types of terrain, you will want to ski as much powder as possible. It is a defining moment in your skiing career, and skiing powder becomes addictive.

The more you ski powder, the more you want to use the appropriate equipment to enhance the experience. The extra width of powder skis also increases your stability, giving you more control, so you can react and adapt to the terrain.

Powder skis are usually over 111 mm wide, and they are also longer, and more flexible than other types of skis. They can also be shaped to give them specific handling characteristics. These characteristics make your backcountry adventures more fun and more manageable.

The current trend for powder skis is for them to have a rocker/camber profile. This shape enhances their ability to float in powder. You can choose skis with various amounts of rocker/camber in their profile to suit your ability, personal preference, and the type of terrain you regularly ski.

Some people like to fit their powder skis with touring bindings. This allows them to have the best skis for descending steep mountains covered in deep snow. However, their uphill performance is compromised.

9. Mogul Skis

Mogul Skis

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Moguls are the large bumps that form on the slopes throughout the day. They are created by many skiers turning in the same places, which carves them out of the snow, but some ski resorts build mogul fields on purpose to satisfy those who like a challenge.

Mogul skiing is its own discipline and an Olympic sport where skiers are judged by their technique, skills, and speed. Therefore, some ski brands produce mogul skis to provide specialist equipment for people who love to tackle these challenging courses.

These skis are highly robust to cope with the stresses of bashing moguls. But they are also lightweight and have snappy characteristics to help with the dynamic and fast nature of mogul skiing.

The snappiness comes from a softer flex in the tail, but they also have a very shallow side cut. This means the mogul skier has to put in lots of effort to turn, but the mogul skiing technique involves smashing into the mogul and jumping to the next one.

Mogul skis are pretty basic, as ski manufacturers don’t invest much research and development into them. This is because only a few people want to focus on just skiing moguls, making it a very niche discipline of the sport.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

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So now you know about the nine main different types of skis. Hopefully, this will help you decide what kind of skis you should use and create a shortlist for your next trip.

It is essential to know that there are quite a few skis that blur the lines between these different types. So, it would be best to speak to a knowledgeable ski person in a specialist shop before you buy your skis.

An experienced and qualified expert will be able to recommend the perfect pair of skis for your ability and style, so you will perform at your best and enjoy your time on the slopes more.

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Peter Salisbury

Peter Salisbury

Pete is the Owner of KayakHelp.com. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him skiing in the mountains, reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.

Welcome! I’m so glad you are here :-) I’m Pete. I am the owner of KayakHelp.com. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When I am not out on the water, you can find me skiing in the mountains, reading my favorite books, and spending time with my family.