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How to Choose Ski Length

For the short answer, see the following table. For those of you who want a more detailed discussion, keep reading.

Quick-n-Easy – Ski Length Table

skier's weight

ski length*

lb (kg)

cm

> 200 (90)

195

181-200 (81-90)

187

161-180 (72-80)

180

141-160 (63-71)

174

120-140 (54-70)

167

< 120 (54)

155


*Five centimeters shorter or longer won’t make a difference; don’t worry if the ski you want does not come in the exact length shown here. When in doubt, go shorter.


Down-n-Dirty – Alpine, Alpine Touring & Telemark
Choosing the “right” ski size is a subjective matter. Here are some guidelines to help you decide:

1. Select width
Today’s skis come in a wide range of widths. BackcountryStore.com lists three width dimensions for every ski we sell: Forward contact point/Waist/Aft contact point, or more commonly, Tip/Waist/Tail.

A wider ski will provide more stability and flotation in deep and variable snow, while a narrower ski will generally be quicker in turn-to-turn transition. Most skiers enjoy mid-fat skis, which are generally between 69-75mm wide in the waist. Gate runners and mogul masters may want narrower skis, and powder floaters should consider wider skis.

2. Select sidecut
Sidecut refers to the hourglass profile of a ski’s edge which has become the standard ski shape in the last decade. Imagine a ski on the floor; now tip it up on its edge. The distance between the floor and the narrowest part on the ski is the sidecut. A deeper sidecut creates more propensity for the ski to turn. (To determine the sidecut from the ski’s dimensions, subtract the waist measurement from the average of the other two widths, tip and tail.)

Skis that combine a deep sidecut with a narrow waist tend to be quick and precise carvers. Extreme examples of this type of ski insist on turning, act squirrely when pointed straight, and dictate the turning arc. They don’t work well in soft snow since the waist tends to sink while the tip is being driven up. Wider skis with less sidecut are more stable and forgiving. The extreme of this style of ski carves poorly on hardpack, but works great in deep powder where the flex and rebound of a ski is more important than carving an arc with the ski’s edge. When choosing a ski shape, assess honestly the conditions you most often ski and your skiing style. If you’re just beginning, choose a short ski with a lot of sidecut so you can master your turns on hardpack before venturing into softer snow.

3. Select the right length
Using the table above as a starting point, consider these factors to decide whether you should stay at the recommended length or move a size longer or shorter.

Shorter
Lighter
More maneuverable
Easier to swing around (important if you use muscle power to rotate your turns)
Easier to carve on groomed slopes
Easier to negotiate moguls
Easier and safer when skiing through tight trees and other obstacles

Suited for:
Less experienced skiers
Slower speeds
Shorter turns
Groomed, gentle runs
Skiers who prefer wide skis

Longer
More speed
More stability
More flotation
Less chatter
More control

Suited for:
Skilled/aggressive skiers
Faster speeds
Long, swooping turns
Soft and variable snow
Skiers who prefer narrow skis