Posted on August 03 2016
Touring skis have been evolving at a breakneck speed for the past decade with science and carbon being thrown in at every step in the process. These sleek new sticks have made ski touring easier from edging on hard pack, to floating in powder and of course flying up the skin track. It's true they have made everything easier except for choosing the right one.
If you have read our article How to choose a ski touring setup you already have some insight into which quiver slot you would like to fill. Once you have chosen your ski, you just need to figure out what length ski to pick. There are many different factors that go into length of a ski such as, skier height and weight, quiver slot or intended use, ski geometry and, of course, skier preference. This is not an objective process and this article is to serve as a guide for choosing the right length ski for you. Of course if you have any questions you can email us at info@cripplecreekbc or leave us a question in the comment section.
Skier Height and Weight
There is an approximate range to size an alpine touring ski and in general it will be a bit longer than a normal alpine ski. The biggest reason not to size down too much is because your weight along with the lever arm of your tibia (a factor of your height) will overpower your ski. While not accounting for certain quiver slots the range would be from your lips to the top of your head.
Skier Height in Feet & Inches
|Suggested Ski Length Range (cm)|
|6'2" +||175-190 +|
If you weigh a little more for your height or intend on always skiing with a heavy pack size to the upper end of your range, but all the factors described below will help you determine where you should be. Where you are in the range of ski lengths will be determined by all of the following factors:
It is more and more common that new skiers are coming into the sport of ski touring. If you are new to the game definitely down size to the bottom of the range, the skis will be more playful and easier to initiate turns at a slower speeds.
Even if are on your way up to being an expert skier, the stability of modern touring skis has allowed skiers to stay a bit shorter than the norm from 5-10 years ago. A longer ski will mean better float in the powder and less chance of being overpowered at higher speeds, so depending on the intended use below you may be able to size up.
Ski Geometry: Rocker, Camber, Side Cut and Tails
Back in the day skis were skinny and straight and usually really, really long. Today there is a variety of factors in the overall shape of the ski that determine the length of ski you should be in.
Rocker and Camber.
There is no escape from acknowledging rocker as an essential part of ski shape. Although we have seen "full rocker" skis drift out of fashion, tip rocker remains across all ski types and manufacturers. Tip Rocker refers to the early rise in the tips coming off the snow far closer to the middle of the ski helping with turn initiation and floatation in soft snow. Tail rocker works on the same principle offering a boost in turn initiation and an easier release at the end of your turn.
Camber refers to the curve underneath the ski between the 2 points of contact with the snow. A ski's pop is generated by the loading and the flattening of this camber through a turn and then the energy of it returning to its shape when you begin to unweight it.
Most touring skis have a combination of tip rocker and camber underfoot. A select few are still made traditionally with only camber while the most progressive skis have massive tail rocker or reversed the shape of the camber all together. But what does this mean for skiing? In skiing it is widely accepted that rocker will cause a ski to ski much shorter, pointing to the 2 contact points and calling it the effective edge of the ski. Unquestionably rocker helps with turn initiation but if a ski measures 184 cm but only 134 cm between its contact points you can bet this is going to ski far closer to a 184 cm than 134. In fact, in the snowboard world, rocker boards allowed snowboarders to ride even shorter more nimble boards because of the floatation and turn initiation advantage. It is safe to choose the longer pair of skis if it is has more rocker, but no need to size up.
Sidecut or Turning Radius
Turning radius is is another factor in ski shape that should be taken into account without making your decision for you. The sidecut actually refers to its tip, waist, and tail width in ratio to each other. Once the sidecut is determined the arc of the ski is extrapolated out into a circle, the turning radius is actually the length in meters of this imaginary circle.
Ok knowing the "science" behind turning radius and sidecut is not crucial to your skiing, but it is important to know that it is only a suggestion. It is true skis with more sidecut will in general feel "turnier" but that doesn't mean a fat ski with little sidecut can't be whipped around when you need to be quick.
Quiver Slots and Intended Use
One of the important factors for choosing an alpine touring ski is the quiver slot you choose. This is a brief reference to how a quiver slot relates to length but I do recommend you check out our full quiver slot explanation here.
Race and Fitness
If you are looking for a pure race ski your job just got easier. Almost all race skis come in just 2 lengths, one for men and one for women. According to ISMF (International Ski Mountaineering Federation) Standards male racers must ski a ski at least 160 cm in length, while women's skis must be at least 150 cm and any ski manufacturer will have lengths that hover just a few cm above that. This is really short and I know many of the top women that are 5'8" or taller that choose a 160 cm. Ski Trab makes a version of their race ski up to 176cm if you feel that 160-164cm is just too short.
If you are on the fitness end of this spectrum, meaning you race for fun or only against your friends in the morning before work, don't be afraid to go a bit longer. You still want these short, light and maneuverable so size down, but as soon as you step up to a ski width in the mid 70 mm or bigger there will be more length choices.
Used to be weapons in the the mountains and on technical terrain; ski mountaineering skis should be sized on the short end of the range. They need to be good at sneaking through tight couloirs and carried on your pack while climbing. Also most skis in this category have relatively straight tails which means they are going to ski every bit as long as they are listed.
All Mountain Touring
From powder to light mountaineering to skinning and even skiing at the resort, all mountain touring skis walk the line between many different categories so it is good to size in the middle of the range.
Powder and Freeride Touring
In this quiver slot size does matter. If it's powder a little extra length in the tip will keep you floating on top on those deep days when your friends are sinking. If you are on the freeride end of this spectrum a longer ski lets you keep the chatter down at high speeds and gives even a light ski the mass to slam through crud.
Skier Preference and Terrain Choice.
Even within quiver slots if you have a preference of where you ski or how you ski let that be the guide. Within the powder category a skier living in Alaska is going to have wide open bowls to find the goods, while a skier in Vermont is going to have to dig deeper into tighter trees for the freshness. Ask yourself, what terrain will I find myself most likely in and let your answer be your guide.
Most of all we are here to help you sort through these factors. Don't hesitate to contact us or leave a question in the comments area below.