December 2004   
looking for new skis — Help!
how long a ski do you really want? or need?

Every month I get at least two or three emails from skiers asking for help choosing a new pair of skis. Most commonly, after sketching in some personal background, the first and most important question is: what length of ski I would recommend. I am very sympathetic to the confusion underlying this question. I can't remember a time where skiers faced a greater choice of ski lengths, and greater variety of (usually not very helpful) advice about skis and ski length. And the questions don't just relate to ski length.

The following email is typical:

"I picked up a pair of K2 Escape 5500 IBC on closeout. However, they only had 160 cm length left. I am 55 years young, 135 pounds, arthritic, and uninterested in speed, just dancing with the mountain and improving my turns and keeping my speed down  on steeper blue runs using the least physical effort possible. Do you think this length will work for me? Thanks."

I think my email correspondent did okay here, and I wrote him to that effect. And I can understand wanting to get a closeout deal on new skis. But there are two important issues here: one is the length of those new skis; the other is the idea of buying skis without trying them out or demoing them first. This is never a good idea. Try before you buy is my motto. As good as today's skis are, there is still a world of differences between models, and between sizes in any given model. So even if you are looking for a great end-of-the-season bargain price, make sure that you demo the model that interests you earlier in the year. Well-tuned, high-performance demos are ubiquitous nowadays, and it's critical to try those new skis before plunking down your cash, or plastic. I'll go further: it is critical that you really fall in love with a new pair of skis before buying them. Why bother if your new skis don't really change the way you ski, if they don't deliver new and better turns. Lots of new skis do. Your task is to find them.

But how about length? I recommend trying a ski that's shorter than you have ever skied before, shorter than you think you need. I've been skiing on ridiculously short skis for the last few seasons. Honestly, I never thought I would be skiing on skis this short. And how short is that? My current favorites (pictured above) are 168 cm skis (more like 165s) and my next pair will be even shorter. And I'm not a light or slender skier.

All the professional skiers I know, all my instructor friends are moving to shorter and shorter skis. Quite a few of the top pros in my Breakthrough-on-Skis team at Aspen are now skiing on 150 and 155 cm skis. And these short skis really deliver! Historically shorter skis have always been unstable at higher speeds. No longer. World class racers are skiing faster than ever and carving cleaner turns than ever on slalom skis from 155 to 165 cm. The only serious downside to a really short ski seems to be a lack of flotation in very deep snow. But you can solve this problem, if you are lucky enough to get a lot of powder days, by going wider, not longer.

Used to be that the best skiers in the tram were the ones with really long skis, sticking up way over their heads. No longer. The best skiers today are choosing shorter and shorter skis. But don't make up your mind on any particular size ski in advance, Go out and demo some shorter high performance skis. For the moment, most women should stay in the 150 cm range; most men in the 160 cm range.

Nowadays, you know you have the right length skis, when you are embarrassed to stand next to them because they are so short. Tongue in cheek, yes, but it really is a brave new world out there. So this season, promise yourself you'll demo a pair of shorter skis, When you do, stay poised, balanced and centered (because it is easy to overpower a short ski if you twist it hard) and you'll probably find yourself riding the most beautiful carved arcs you have ever made.

Try it, you'll like it.

 December 2004 
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© Lito Tejada-Flores unless otherwise credited.