How to Choose Downhill Skis


alpine skiers on a mountain

Whether you’re looking to invest in your own pair or need to upgrade an old pair of downhill skis, understanding the basics of how to choose downhill skis will help you when shopping for a new pair. We’ll walk you through the types of downhill skis, sizing your downhill skis, and choosing ski bindings.

Types of Downhill Skis

Knowing your ski style and terrain will help narrow down your options when it comes to knowing the type of downhill skis to buy. Below are a few questions to help guide you:

  • Will you be skiing in deep powder snow or on hard-packed, groomed terrain? 
  • Do you prefer skiing casually at a resort or do you seek out challenging terrain where the quality of snow varies? 

Once you’ve determined your preferences and the terrain you plan on skiing, you’ll be able to select the right type of downhill skis.

All-Mountain Skis

These downhill skis are great for all age groups and experience levels. Most all-mountain skis come in a camber bend profile to give them reliable carving and turning capabilities. Skiers typically use all-mountain skis on groomed terrain.

All-Mountain Wide Skis

All-Mountain wide skis are great for both groomed runs and powder. If you’re looking for a downhill ski that will efficiently cut through deep snow while providing stability, the all-mountain wide skis are what you need. Similar to traditional all-mountain skis, the wide version also comes in mostly a camber bend profile.

Powder Skis

As the name implies, these downhill skis are best for deep powder snow. These downhill skis feature a rocker bend profile which helps improve flotation and maneuverability while keeping the ends from catching. This type of downhill ski is mostly for more experienced skiers. 

What Size Skis Do I Need?

girl holding downhill skis

After you’ve decided the type of downhill skis you want to get, it’s time to understand what size skis to buy. As a general rule of thumb, longer skis tend to be faster while shorter skis are easier to control and maneuver.

To find the right size downhill skis you’ll need to consider a few different factors: height, weight, and ability. Your height will be a good starting point when figuring out what size skis you’ll need because you’ll be able to narrow down the range of lengths. The proper ski length should be somewhere between your chin and the top of your head. So, a skier who is 6 feet tall can narrow down the length of skis to a range between 165 cm and 190 cm. Based on your height, what’s the range of ski lengths you should be considering?

Now that you know the range that works for your height, you’ll want to determine if you should be on the shorter or longer end. Remember to stay within the suggested range. We’ve highlighted some common reasons to shorten or lengthen your ski length below:

Reasons to Shorten Ski Length: 

  • Beginner or intermediate skier
  • Weight is less than average for your height
  • Using carving skis with only camber, no rocker
  • Prefer making short, quick turns and seldom ski fast

Reasons to Lengthen Ski Length:

  • Prefer skiing off the trail
  • Prefer fast and aggressive runs
  • Weight is more than average for your height
  • Using a twin-tip ski or skis that have a lot of rocker

Downhill Ski Size Chart

Below is a general downhill ski size chart to help you identify the best ski length range for you and your skiing ability.

Skier Height (ft. & in.)Skier Height (cm)Beginner/Intermediate Ski Length (cm)Advanced Ski Length (cm)
4’ 4”
132
118—125
125—133
4” 6”
137
125—132
132—137
4’ 8”
142
130—139
137—143
4’ 10”
147
137—142
142—148
5” 0”
152
137—145
145—153
5’ 2”
157
145—152
152—157
5’ 4”
162
147—153
153—162
5’ 6”
167
153—160
160—167
5’ 8”
172
157—164
164—173
5’ 10”
177
163—173
170—178
6’ 0”
182
165—175
175—183
6’ 2”
187
170—179
179—188
6’ 4”
192177—185
185—193

Choosing Ski Bindings

downhill ski bindings

Ski bindings attach your ski boots to your skis and will release when pressure is applied. It’s crucial that you have properly functioning and compatible ski bindings to keep you safe on the slopes. When shopping for a new pair of downhill skis, you’ll want to check to see if the skis include bindings or need to be purchased separately.

System Skis (Integrated Bindings): If your skis include bindings, it will be noted with the words like “system skis,” “with bindings,” or “integrated bindings.” When a pair of skis feature integrated bindings, the manufacturer has already determined them compatible and safe to use together. These types of ski and binding systems are a popular choice for beginner skiers who are looking for quality recreational skis. 

Flat Skis (Nonintegrated Bindings): If your skis do not include bindings, you’ll have to purchase the correct type of binding. It’s important to make sure that your bindings are compatible with your ski boots and provide the proper release needed when on the slopes. Purchasing separate binding for your skis should be reserved for intermediate or advanced skiers. If you have additional questions regarding choosing ski bindings, contact a ski expert at your nearest SCHEELS

With basic knowledge of the types of downhill skis, what size of skis you’ll need, and choosing ski bindings, you’re ready to find the perfect pair of downhill skis for you! If you’re looking for ski poles and need assistance in knowing which size to buy, check out our Choosing Downhill Ski Poles expert article.