Every bit of gear from your ski goggles and helmet to your ski pants and bindings is important for downhill skiers. But no piece is as critical as the skis themselves. Whether you’re an expert or a beginner, choosing the best pair of skis can be a difficult task. These days, there are almost too many to choose from. We spent quite a bit of time looking at options from a host of manufacturers, both well-known and new to the scene, to find our favorites. Here are the best skis for all types of skiers in 2021.
Best Skis for Beginners
Atomic Vantage 75 C Skis
Atomic’s Vantage line of skis is a perennial favorite, particularly among beginners. The Vantage 75C is an excellent choice for first-timers and novices, thanks to an affordable price tag and versatile, easy-to-control design. They’re lightweight and maintain many of the Vantage line’s upmarket construction methods (including a Carbon Tank Mesh), ensuring that they’re built to last. It’s also a versatile enough ski to help beginners transition into more intermediate downhilling when the time comes. Plus, the price of this package also includes a set of M 10 GW Bindings.
K2 Press Skis
K2 rarely disappoints, which is why they’re among the world’s best ski brands. The company’s Press Skis are a solid all-around choice for beginners. Although they’re billed as a park ski, they’re remarkably light and responsive with great pop (thanks to an aspen wood core), meaning they’re easy to turn. The construction is flexible, however — maybe a little too flexible for even slightly more advanced skiers. But, the big selling point here is the price. For less than $500, novices can score a complete, brand-name ski system that’s ready for the slopes.
Best Skis for Intermediates
Blizzard Rustler 9
Slotting near the middle of Blizzard’s lineup, the Rustler is a versatile all-mountain ski. The design works for a wide range of skier abilities, from intermediate to advanced. The narrowest (94mm) design is arguably the best because it underscores everything this line is capable of. The lightweight design works great both on- and off-trail, and excellent “poppability” provides for easy turning and control. For a well-reviewed, solidly built ski, it’s also hard to beat the sub-$600 price tag.
Volkl Kendo 88
For intermediate skiers looking to up their resort game, Volkl’s Kendo 88 skis deliver. They’re mainly targeted at frontside downhillers who appreciate a stiffer, narrow design that carves groomed runs in a variety of conditions. The mostly metal construction limits the Kendo’s playfulness a bit, but the tradeoff is better stability and sharper control. Plus, they’re versatile enough for resort skiers who enjoy a little off-piste action once in a while.
Best Skis for Experts
Rossignol Black Ops Sender
As the badass name implies, Rossignol’s Black Ops Sender are a serious bit of skis. Designed as a replacement for Rossignol’s beloved but now discontinued Soul 7 skis, these offer a versatile, well-rounded design that works in almost any kind of snow. With a 104mm waist, the construction boasts smooth rocker lines and a stiff, mostly flat tail that lives up to the demands of being a “daily driver” for more advanced and expert skiers. An extended wood core and Damp Tech laminates help eliminate vibration and tip flapping for a smoother, more stable ride.
K2 Mindbender 99Ti
Expert skiers looking for uncompromising performance need look no further than K2’s Mindbender 99Ti’s. As last season’s most talked-about ski release, these no-nonsense sticks should satisfy almost any hard charger. The 99Ti is the middle-of-the-pack selection for widths that range between 90mm to 108mm. They’re a wide all-mountain ski that provides decent float on most days. The sturdy Y-shaped metal underlayer guarantees a stable, well-planted platform, even on choppier trails. Intermediates take note, however: This is definitely a ski for experts.
How to Choose the Right Skis
Choosing the right ski depends a lot on your size, level of expertise, and the conditions you most often ride. So what things should you look for? First off, make sure they fit in your ski bag or on your ski racks. Beyond that, your other two most important considerations are width and whether you prefer camber or rocker.
The type of conditions you’ll find yourself in most often play a significant role in what size ski you choose. As a general rule, East Coast skiers and those who plan to ski groomed trails should choose a ski under 90mm in width, with novice skiers staying under 80mm. This allows for quicker edge-to-edge turns and a better feeling of control.
More experienced skiers and those who might find themselves in powder from time to time will find a 90-100mm wide ski better suited to them. While these skis will take a little more to get on edge, they’ll perform better in soft snow than the slimmer skis above. A large number of skis are available in this range, so you’ll have plenty of choices.
Finally, if you plan to ski out west a lot, you’re going to find yourself in deep powder more often than not. In this case, we recommend skis of a width of 100mm or wider. Just keep in mind that you might want to bring along an extra pair of skis if you’re not skiing during the snowstorm but rather after it. In those final runs on the most traveled trails, you might find the thinner ski easier to control.
Camber or Rocker?
Unlike snowboards, most skiers will prefer a cambered profile versus a rockered one. While rockered skis will be more playful, they’re harder to control. The only place where we’d see this being useful is in the park or freestyle. If in doubt, select a cambered ski.
Many skis have a combination cambered/rockered profile, typically rockered in the tips (and especially the front). Rocker there is helpful as it will give a ski more float, but camber elsewhere will provide the edge control that carvers crave.
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