Updated July 2nd, 2023
If you are thinking about buying or renting downhill skis, you might be wondering what length skis you should get. Finding the correct ski length is as important as finding the right fit ski boot. The quick answer is that your skis should be between your chin and nose when they are standing next to you. The days of skis equal to your height or taller than you are long past. The long answer is that your ability level, terrain, and how you like to ski also matter in choosing ski length. Let’s take a look at why you would ski on short vs long skis.
What size skis should I use?
Ski size can depend on a lot of factors. Your ability, height, and weight can all affect your ideal ski size. Ski size is similar for the same height and weight men’s ski and women’s skis. See the below ski sizing table for a good starting point for ski length for the average size intermediate ability adult skier. If it’s your first time skiing, you will want shorter skis. If you are an upper intermediate skier or advanced skier you will want longer skis.
Short vs Long Skis
Let’s look at some of the reasons you would choose shorter skis and longer skis.
Benefits of shorter skis
- Shorter skis are easier to turn. They have a shorter natural turning radius so the ski naturally wants to make shorter turns.
- Shorter skis are lighter than longer skis and feel more playful. They are easier to do tricks or turn in trees and moguls.
Negatives of shorter skis
- Shorter skis have shorter edges so they won’t grip on ice and hardpack as well as longer skis.
- They are not as stable at high speeds as longer skis.
- They have a shorter turning radius, they can create higher forces on your knee and ankle joints. A sharp turn at higher speeds can create injury potential. The fact that they have shorter edges means they are also more likely to slide out of a turn at higher speeds.
Benefits of longer skis
- Longer skis are more stable at higher speeds.
- Longer skis will float better in powder because they have more surface area.
- Longer skis have longer edges so they can grip hardpack and ice better.
- Longer skis have a larger turning radius so they make larger faster turns.
Negatives of longer skis
- Longer skis are heavier and take more effort to turn. They are harder to ski where tight turns are important such as trees are moguls.
- Longer skis are more difficult to perform jumps and tricks if you are skiing park.
When should I downsize my skis?
- If you are a new skier who is just learning you will want to start off with shorter skis. The technician helping you in the rental shop should guide you to shorter skis.
- If you are not that athletic and you want easier to ski equipment, shorter skis will be easier to turn and stop.
- If you are lightweight for your height you will want shorter skis. You don’t need as much ski length and edge to manage your kinetic energy.
- If you like to freestyle ski moguls, trees, or park where maneuverability is key, you should pick shorter skis.
When should I upsize my skis?
- You are an experienced skier with strong turning skills who can take advantage of the performance of longer skis.
- If you are a speed demon who likes to charge down the mountain every run you will want long stiff skis.
- If you are a heavier skier, you will want to consider longer skis. The longer edges and extra stability will make skiing easier for you.
- If you like to race, you will want a longer racing ski.
- Longer skis can give you more float in powder. Ski width can plan an even bigger factor. Consider wider skis as well as slightly longer skis.
See the below video for some more tips on choosing the correct ski length for you.
Should my skis be taller than me?
Up until parabolic skis with large sidecuts came onto the scene this was true. Your starting point for alpine ski size would be skis equal to your height. This hasn’t been true since the late 1990s/early 2000s. With current skis, your starting point for ski length is between your nose and chin height. The only skiers still using skis equal or longer than their height are racers. For any other purpose, you would not use skis longer than your height.
If you are interested in cross country skiing and cross country skis your correct ski length may be taller than your height. See this article from gearwest.com to find the correct ski length for cross country skis.
What about ski turning radius?
A skis natural turning radius is determined by a few factors. The skis sidecut or hourglass shape, ski length, stiffness and rocker/camber. Ski turning radius is classified as short, medium or long.
- Short radius <16m Carving ski and all mountain or freeride ski/powder skis
- Medium radius 17m-22m All mountain skis and park skis
- Long radius >22m Big mountain charging skis
What about ski width?
A skis waist width at the middle of the ski determines how it will handle different terrain and how it will turn. A narrower ski will be easier to turn but it won’t float in powder. A wider ski will float over powder and crud and be more stable but will not turn as quickly.
- Narrow skis 60mm-80mm carving skis or front side skis that are easy to turn. Most slalom skis or racing skis will fall here too.
- Mid fat skis 80mm-110mm – These are considered all mountain skis that are okay on groomed runs and okay on powder. Most of these are a mix rocker and cambered ski design so they can still hold an edge and carve on hardpack. These are your all purpose swiss army knives of skis.
- Fat skis >110mm These are dedicated powder skis that float and turn really well in deep snow. Most are a rockered ski design which do not grip well on hardpack. Save these for days when it’s deep or you won’t be spending much time on groomed pistes.
What size skis should a beginner use?
A first time beginner skier should use skis 1-2 sizes shorter than an average adult skier. You need skis that are easy to turn to learn the skills to turn, stop and balance on your skis. You should use rental skis for your first few ski outings. The person setting you up with rentals will help you get the right ski length for your first time skiing. See our article on buying vs renting skis for more information.
What ski length is best for park?
You will want to use average to slightly shorter ski for a park ski. Shorter skis will be lighter and will spin easier. Longer skis will be more stable landing jumps. If you spend more of your time jibbing and less time jumping, go with skis slightly shorter. If you spend most of your time jumping, go with skis at the typical length for your height and weight. If you like to jib and jump stay with a normal length twin tip ski.
Are longer skis faster?
A long ski is more stable at higher speeds. You can ski faster on them. Shorter skis will start feeling jittery and unstable if you go too fast on them. There are other factors to consider as the ski profile and ski flex. Fatter width skis may start to vibrate and feel not great at high speeds. A stiffer ski will also be more stable at high speeds compared to soft skis. If you watch the downhill event at the Olympics, you will notice that the race ski used by most skiers is very long, narrow, and very stiff.
What are ski blades?
Ski blades are a short ski, generally less than 100cm. They were originally made by Salomon under the name Snowblades but are made by many brands now. They are great for doing tricks and messing around. They aren’t great for skiing really fast or skiing deep snow. They need to be kept on edge most of the time. They aren’t stable when skied straight and flat. If you want to have fun doing lots of quick carving turns, they are a great option.
You might also like:
- How Much Does it Cost to Ski or Snowboard? Complete Cost Breakdown
- What To Wear Skiing? Helpful Layering Guide For Winter
- What do Ski Slope Ratings Mean? Helpful Guide for Beginners
- How to Stop on Skis – The 4 Best Ways to Stop and Helpful Tips
Co-Founder & Chief Editor
I grew up back east in Pennsylvania and learned to ski on a family trip to Killington, Vermont when I was 6. I immediately fell in love with the mountains and outdoors and have been skiing across the US and Canada ever since. I went to school for Mechanical Engineering, and have a Master’s Degree in Material Science and Reliability.
I am a total gear nerd and love learning how things work and thinking about how they could be improved. Nothing excites me more than trying out new gear. I’d rather spend 3 hours taking my bike apart and learning how to change something than go to a bike shop. These days I reside in Michigan by the Great Lakes and go skiing, biking, and boating as much as possible.