First-Time Skis Shopping: Advice From Expert Kevin Palmer

Kathleen Roberts
Ski expert Kevin Palmer

If you are new to skiing, choosing the best beginners skis may seem a bit intimidating. However, with a bit of expert guidance, you can learn which skis are best for your skill level. In this expert interview, Kevin Palmer, the ski buyer for Skis.com, explains everything you need to know about ski types so you can make an informed choice.

Interview with Kevin Palmer: Selecting the Best Beginners Skis

Ski Types

How many types of skis are there? There are five basic types of skis:

  • All-Mountain skis are the most common, most versatile and are suited for most terrain and conditions.
  • Carving skis are for hard pack, icy frontside conditions and work best for those who mainly ski out East or in the Midwest.
  • Powder skis are for the days when it dumps snow, if you live or frequent the West, these are necessary in your quiver.
  • Twin-Tips are the newest type of ski most commonly seen in the terrain park, but there is a wide assortment of All-Mountain versions for those who seek adventure.
  • The last type are Race Skis which have become very specialized and should really only be used in the racecourse.

Why are there so many types?

To suit all the different types of conditions. No one ski can do it all. A powder ski doesn't have the edge grip or speed to work in a racecourse. Conversely, a race ski is too stiff and doesn't have the surface area to float in a foot of fresh powder.

How can someone narrow down the choices?

There are three traits to a ski to look at to help narrow their choices. The first would be waist width that determines what type of conditions the ski is suited. Those two characteristics break down like this:

  • All-Mountain skis: 75 to 90mm
  • Carving skis: 68 to 74mm
  • Powder skis: 90mm+
  • Twin-Tips: 80 to 90mm
  • Race skis: 63 to 68mm

Turn radius is another factor as it represents how big or small of a turn a ski naturally wants to make. Turn radii can range from 9 to 40+m, with the most common being 13 to 22m. The last factor would be the flex, how stiff or soft, of the ski. This directly correlates to your skill level. A beginner should look for a softer, more forgiving flex, where an advanced or expert will want a stiffer, more responsive flex.

Shopping for Skis

Can someone really find the right skis shopping online?

Simply, yes. If the website has the ability to filter the skis by waist width, turn radius, and skill level someone can very easily find the correct ski while shopping online.

How are men's and women's skis different?

Women's skis are no longer just short men's skis with pink or purple graphics on them. Women's skis are designed for women, by women. Because women carry their weight in their hips, it's harder for them to stay forward to initiate and control their turns. Their skis have unique flex patterns that are softer. The mounting point of the binding is moved forward at one to two inches to counterbalance this. Typically, women's skis are lighter as well. Some manufacturers even have dedicated female side cuts.

How does someone choose the correct size?

Just use your head. What that means is for the average skier, their skis should come to about your nose to forehead. If you're a beginner to intermediate, go a little shorter, say chin to mouth. For the advanced and expert skiers you generally want a ski length that is about the same height as you or a couple of centimeters longer.

Beginners Skis

What do you recommend to skiers looking for the best beginners skis? Beginners should look for a ski that is about chin height. It should be soft in flex so it turns easily and is forgiving to the mistakes that beginners will make. You want the waist width that is within 70 to 76mm. This range will provide a stable platform that is easy to turn.

What else should the beginner consider when shopping for skis?

Buying the least expensive equipment is not always the way to go. Skiing is a long-term investment. If you spend a little more money from the start, you will save money in the end. Most beginner skis will last you maybe a season or two. If you get a ski that goes up to an advanced intermediate level, they might last you three to five seasons for just a little more money. So pay attention to the skill level range of the skis you are looking at.

Should a beginner expect to get new skis frequently?

Not if they plan. If you are athletic or you have played a sport like hockey, you will probably advance quickly. Buying up a level or two will save you money and help you avoid having to get new equipment after a season or two.

Do you recommend used skis?

Buying used skis can be a great way to save some money, but there are some rules you need to follow to ensure you are getting good equipment. Skis have a life span to them. They are typically good for no more than 100 days of skiing. After that, they start to go soft and lose their edge grip and rebound.

Try to look for a pair that has no more than 50 days on them, this will insure that you get a least a couple of seasons out of them. Buy them from someone you know personally so you know that the equipment was maintained properly and how many days of skiing the skis have on them. Lastly, I strongly discourage buying rental skis, as they have been over used and abused.

How should skis be maintained?

You should have your equipment maintained by a professional shop at least once a season or every 12 to 15 skiing days, depending on how frequently you ski. Take your boots and skis in and have the bindings checked for proper function, as well as having the skis tuned up (edges sharpened, bases cleaned and waxed). Doing so will ensure that your skis perform consistently and safely when you are out on the slopes. Make sure to store them in a cool, dry place during the summer months to avoid rusting.

What else would you like people to know about buying skis?

Seek out reviews of the skis you are considering. Look for reviews done by people of a similar body type and skill level as yourself, as both of these factors can have a big influence on whether someone likes or dislikes a particular model. We feature thousands of video reviews by dozens of testers on our site, Skis.com, to provide various perspectives on different ski models.


LoveToKnow would like to thank Kevin Palmer for taking the time to educate readers about choosing the best beginners skis.

First-Time Skis Shopping: Advice From Expert Kevin Palmer