Twenty-some years ago I made my first turns at the local hill in northern Minnesota, trying to keep up with more experienced friends. Dropping into Koo Koo, an icy run with a moderate 25-degree slope, the hand-me-down Elans under my feet chattered like a Morse Code telegraph on D-Day. After linking three sequential turns, the inevitable happened.
Accelerating too quickly, I caught an edge and toppled over like a baby deer learning to walk. After recovering my poles and sheepishly standing up, I b-lined to the lodge, figuring hot chocolate would help restore some confidence. With time my technique improved and eventually I fell in love with the sport. Today I celebrate the annual fall ski waxing as if it’s a national holiday on par with Christmas.
At 65mm underfoot, my first skis were fairly average for the early 2000s. But the majority of last season I rode skis nearly twice as wide, 115mm. After countless skin track conversations about ski width, I realized this article was necessary. So here’s my four-point case for you to fatten up.
1. They Are Easier
There’s a near-universal assumption that people with bigger skis are better skiers. Let me debunk that theory immediately. In fact, the opposite might be true. Bigger skis provide more stability at higher speeds, which makes them safer — and great for beginner and intermediate skiers. Sure, Olympians use skinny skis, but they also wear bodysuits. Can you really trust someone in a skin-tight nylon onesie?
Alright, alright. Skinny skis do have some advantages, namely a smaller turn radius and being easier to lay over, making them great for moguls and smooth corduroy. But that's about it. Skinny skis sink in powder and get knocked around on ice, crud and tracked-out snow. With less surface area and weight, you need to be a more technical skier — or deep in the backseat — to rip the that kind terrain the way you can on fat skis.
2. They Are Faster
OK, quick physics lesson. Two factors are at play when it comes to increasing ski speed. First, a bigger ski spreads out the pressure on the surface of the snow, creating less friction. Second, bigger skis dampen vibration, enabling them to bounce around less and stay on the snow longer, minimizing air resistance that can slow you down. Thus, the larger the ski, the faster you go. And the quicker you get to the hot chocolate — or beer.
3. They Float Better
In deep snow, additional surface area helps you float higher. This makes skiing more fun and much safer. Floating near the top of the snowpack reduces drag, which means you are able to ski mellow terrain fast and maintain enough speed to still lay down GS turns. For backcountry skiers, fatter skis let you still have fun while avoiding steep lines on days with high instability, keeping you out of avalanche danger.
Floating higher also means you’ll torpedo your skis less and avoid wasting time searching for them under the powder. More importantly, it also helps you avoid snow sharks — hidden rocks and logs below the snow surface — that can tear ligaments and end a ski season quickly. Bottom line: fat skis offer the same volume of face shots while skirting the hassle and danger of diet skis on a pow day.
4. They Reduce Fatigue
Fat skis encourage you to stay centered over your boots, because you don’t have to lean back to keep your tips up. This creates less fatigue in your legs, so you can ski longer and conserve energy for an extra lap or two. And despite being a bit heavier, fat skis open up a wider range of terrain than their skinny counterparts, so you don't wear out skiing the same old tired lines, either.
Recommended Fat Skis
Ready to make the change? Here are a few fat faves.
For those skiing primarily inbounds (or using sleds and helis in the backcountry), our favorite heavy-metal ski is a powerhouse for charging steep lines and slashing powder. It’s the ultimate toy for anything big.
DPS Pagoda Tour
For those spending more time in the backcountry, here's our top pick. It’s considerably lighter and still fun in the deep stuff — easy on the way up and floaty on the way down.
Our favorite 50/50 ski is this one, which has a healthy balance of surface area with sidecut to both float and easily lay on its edge. Stable at any speed, it’s great for freeskiers on-piste or in the big mountains.