Choosing The Right Ski Length
While ability level will point you
to the right type or category of ski,
it mostly dictates what length
of ski you should use.
— Ethan Korpi, Product Manager, Field Services Director, Nordica USA
Choosing the right ski length used to be easy. You simply stood up, raised an arm above your head and if the ski tip reached the palm of your upraised hand, you were good to go.
Of course, back then skis were mostly made of wood. Fibreglass and metal constructions were novel, exotic. And ski edges were usually either screwed in or non-existent. Yes, baby, skiing certainly has come a long way.
Ski design and construction are now so advanced that choosing the right ski length can be every bit as critical as choosing the right make and model. Buy skis that are too long, and those dream Ferraris for your feet can feel like eighteen-wheelers. Conversely, skis that are too short can make you feel like you’re crushing it... on banana peels.
Today, ski length is predicated by various factors including the type of ski you want to use. Carving skis, for example, typically come in shorter lengths, while big mountain powder skis are purposely built extra wide and long. While ability, as Ethan pointed out, is a major factor in helping determine ski length, it’s by no means the only one. Your age, height, weight and, especially, your weight in relation to height are also important. To separate sizing facts from fiction, I sat down with Michael Rogan to learn what a consummate ski pro has to say.
Ski Lengths for Kids
Says Mike, “As a general rule, children should be fitted with skis that are anywhere between their chest bone (where their ribs meet) and their nose.”
Why Go Shorter?
Skis should be sized shorter (chest high) for children who:
Adds Michael, “Something many people don’t consider is their child’s general co-ordination. If your kid’s kind of clumsy a slightly shorter ski that’s easier to manoeuver will help them have more fun.”
Why Go Longer?
Skis should be sized longer for child who:
Says Michael, “If your kid is looking for some stability and likes landing jumps, where they sometimes need a tail to lean on, a slightly longer ski isn’t a bad thing.”
Today, many shops have children’s ski exchange programs. Resist buying a ski that your child can ‘grow into’. Skis longer than your child’s suggested size are NOT recommended.
Ski Lengths for Women
“There’s been a tendency to offer women skis that are short,” Michael cautions. ‘While I understand the thinking behind that, I also too many women on skis that are too short for their abilities. If you’re a good skier, you need some stability.
“As a general rule,’ Michael explains, “women should look for skis that measure anywhere between their collarbone and their nose.” Rank beginners, who aren’t skiing that fast, need skis that are easy to turn, manoeuver and steer. Says Michael, “Novice skis should run between your collarbone and chin. Carving skis, such as slalom skis, tend to be skied shorter.” Of course, big mountain powder skiers will want something longer.
Says Michael, “With the advent of rocker (an early rise in the tip and/or tail) and the use of lighter materials such as Nordica’s balsa wood core, you can get a ski that’s light but still long. There are many variables that should go into making your decision. Like anything, experiment a bit, be honest with yourself and ask questions. Don’t just take a shop’s word.”
Ski Lengths for Men
Michael recommends skis that measure between, “your collar bone or chin and the top of your head, depending on your weight, height, ability and what you’re looking for.”
“For example,” he continues, “ I’m just under six feet tall and weigh 190 pounds. If I were looking for an off-piste ski here at Heavenly Valley (California), we don’t have many tight, narrow places. Our tree skiing is pretty wide open. I would favour a longer ski because I ski more wide-open spaces at faster speeds. We also have a lot more snow.
“But if I were skiing the trees on the East Coast where the snow is not that deep, I won’t need all that floatation. Because the trees are tight hardwoods, I’ll get more help from a shorter, more manoeuvrable ski than I would from having a longer, more stable one.”
Mike cautions, “Applying that Eastern thinking out West would result in taking skis that are too short. Conversely, applying Western thinking out East would result in taking skis that are too long.
Adults: Why Go Shorter?
As a general rule, men and women should go shorter if they:
Adults: Why Go Longer?
Longer skis are recommended for men and women who:
Adds Michael, “Do a little research, figure things out and go from there. Find somebody who knows where and how you ski to help you make your decision. They can be a ski instructor or a friend. We all need to be open-minded sceptics. Above all, be honest with yourself, about what you’re actually capable of and what you’re buying your skis for. Two or three centimeters in either direction aren’t going to make that big a difference. But five or ten certainly will.”
Michael Rogan is a former US Ski Team Coach, a P.S.I.A. and A.A.S.I. Demo Team Coach, Director of Operations at Portillo, Chile, and a Ski Instructor at Heavenly Valley, California where he teaches, trains and coaches. He has also been a happy, loyal Nordican for 19 years and counting.