Learn the lingo used in our ski reviews to help you find the right skis for you next season.
The amount skis bend along their length and can twist from side to side. Soft flexing skis give an easier ride; stiffer ones provide stability, good for heavy skiers.
How curvy or straight the edges of skis are. Defined by width at tip, waist and tail in millimetres (eg 122/80/110). Curvy skis with much wider tips than waists are easier to turn. Piste skis have narrower waists for better grip while skis with wider waists and a straighter sidecut give float in off-piste terrain.
Defined by sidecut, this governs the natural turn circle of skis. The radius of curvy slalom skis may be 12m; straighter big mountain skis may could be 44m. Some skis are multi-radius, meaning the turn circle changes along their length (wide at the front, tight at the rear). That’s why skis in our reviews may have two or more radius figures.
Most freeride, all-mountain and big mountain skis have rocker. At its most basic, this means that if laid flat the centre of a ski touches the slope and tip and tail curve up. This helps turning in powder but detracts from grip and stability on piste, so some skis have rocker only at tip and tail to balance on-/of-piste performance. Rocker can be used in park & pipe skis to help pivoting and buttering.
The opposite of rocker, used for piste skis. Tips and tails touch the slope when skis are laid flat, and there's a gap under the centre. This helps with grip, and a larger gap makes skis livelier. Park & pipe skis use traditional camber to maximise pop.
On-piste skis may have a little rocker at the tips, which can help with initiating turns.
Some powder skis with rocker get wider instead of narrower from the tips back towards the middle of the shovel, before narrowing again towards the waist, to help with float. The same may apply at the tail. Termed reverse sidecut, it’s intended to increase float in powder. This can mean there are four or five width measurements for sidecut in our ski reviews, instead of three.
Skis have a recommended positon for bindings. Most come mounted slightly back of centre; mountain them further forward makes skis easer to pivot and feels more playful. However tips tend to submarine in powder, and skis are less stable in long, fast turns.
Sandwiched between protective topsheet and base, the core is the part of skis you can’t see. It’s made from materials that include varying densities of wood including lightweight bamboo and paulownia, and heavier ash and beech, synthetics such as lightweight polyurethane foam and strengthening fibreglass, and reinforcing sheets of metals such as titanium or titanal (a light, strong aluminium alloy). More unusual materials might include rubbery inserts, electric fibres, honeycomb structures, varying forms of carbon or fibres derived from rock. In general, lighter materials help make skis lively and flexible. Denser ones make them heavier but stable, and dampen vibrations for a smoother ride.
If there are walls at the sides of skis, between the metal edges and the protective topsheet, it’s called sidewall construction. Sidewalls add strength to skis and help grip and stability, while also protecting the core.
Cap/partial cap/hybrid cap
In cap construction the skis’ protective topsheet stretches all the way to their edges and there are no sidewalls. Cap skis tend to be more forgiving than those with sidewalls, and easier to turn. Some skis have a partial cap construction, where the topsheet curves part way towards the edges, and then there’s a small sidewall below to add grip. Hybrid cap skis may have sidewalls under the bindings for grip, and cap construction at tip and tails.
Many skis, especially those for carving high-speed turns like piste expert skis, have some sort of structure mounted on the topsheet to absorb unwanted vibrations. This is called dampening, and increases the stability of skis at high speed. The challenge for manufacturers is to do this without making the skis so "damp" that they lose their springy rebound at the exit of each turn.