The good news is that there are a lot of really great skis available right now. That’s also the bad news. Too many choices — even if they’re good ones — can make it hard to decide on which pair to buy. I'm here to help. While there are a ton of variables you could consider, most aren’t important. Instead, focus on a few key points: intended use, waist width, turn radius and rocker profile.
Figuring out your wants in respect to those key factors will leave you a smaller selection to from which to choose. From there, check out these picks for the best skis of winter 2021-2022. From my base in British Columbia, I've tested dozens upon dozens of pairs — that's me in the lead photo, you know, working — so I have a pretty good idea. But I haven't tested everything.
So talk to some shops. Read other reviews. Refine your list some more and then go demo a few pairs. The only way to know for sure if you’ll like any one of these skis is to try them for yourself. Watch for demo days at your resort or ask in your local shop. Most will deduct the cost of any demos when you buy a ski.
If that’s not possible, narrow your list to the top three and pick the one with the coolest graphics. Seriously, you should love your skis, inside and out.
Best Overall Ski
Usually I wince when someone asks me “What ski should I buy?” There’s so much variety in how and where people turn on snow, it’s really hard to pick one ski that will please everyone. This version of the Ripstick is one of the rare exceptions. No matter who I handed these skis to — from a 14 year old ripper, to his groomer-loving weekend warrior dad, a 55-year-old ski instructor to accomplished experts — everyone raved.
Elan borrowed the shape from the original Ripstick 96, a ski I already really liked. There’s early rise in the tip, which makes it easy to get on edge at the start of a turn and helps with float in fresh snow. More rocker in the tail again helps with planing and keeps the skis agile, for ditching speed in the steeps or sliding them out just for fun. Plenty of camber underfoot gives the ski a lively feel and helps with edge bite in firmer snow.
And like most Elan skis, the Ripsticks are asymmetric — there’s a right and left ski, which puts more ski over the edge, helpful for gripping on groomers and ice. Finally, the 96 mm width under the foot is a versatile size for doing a little bit of everything. The only knock on the original was at high speeds and chopped-up conditions, where it got a little unpredictable.
The Black Edition smooths out the performance by adding a bunch of carbon to the construction: twin rods down the edges of each ski, a sheet focused over the inside edge and under the binding, and more in the tip and tail. The result is a slightly stiffer ski, which translates to better edge hold on hard snow and less shakiness in tracked-up powder.
Usually adding stiffness to a ski makes it heavier and harder to ski, but because Elan used carbon (instead of metal) the Black Edition Ripsticks remain relatively light and easy to ski. It’s definitely happier in softer conditions than east coast ice and for intermediate skiers I’d suggest sticking with the regular version over the Black. But otherwise this is one of the most versatile and user-friendly skis I’ve tried.
There are lighter skis, stiffer skis, better carving skis — but there are few that can do as much, so intuitively, as these skis do. It defines the all-mountain category and it looks badass, too.
Best Upgrade Ski
Utah-based DPS is best known for its powder-focused skis, but I love the brand’s less-publicized resort-oriented options. Flying around on firm runs, you quickly appreciate the luxurious feel of domestic manufacturing and top-shelf materials, and the extra cost suddenly makes sense.
To understand this ski, it’s instructive to break down its name. Pagoda Piste signifies the construction. DPS uses aspen and ash wood layers stacked on top of each other and sandwiched by its signature sheets of carbon laminates. They wrap it all in a polyamide topsheet for durability, and the base is the same kind used on World Cup race skis. Next, 90 signifies the width of the waist, in millimeters. And RP is the shape: plenty of tip and tail rocker, camber underfoot and a versatile 15-meter turn radius.
On snow this all adds up to a forgiving but high-performance ride. Lots of early rise in the tip and tail means when you stand on the skis, only about 55 percent of the length will touch snow. This short “effective edge length” makes it easy to pivot them in tight trees or moguls, throw them sideways in a pinch and initiate a carve. It also helps them float better than I expected for that 90-millimeter width in fresh snow. The early rise is also responsible for my only knock on these skis: at higher speeds on firm snow, the tips tend to flutter and chatter.
The rest of the time the sheets of carbon helped the skis feel stable and strong on edge. When I was feeling aggressive, there’s plenty of life and pop in these skis to keep me smiling. And when my legs were burning after a day of ripping laps, I could ski them lazy without getting punished.
If straight lining and speed are your thing, look for a metal laminate ski like a Stöckli Stormrider. Otherwise, if you’ve got the money, the Pagoda Piste is a fun splurge that’s at home anywhere on the resort.
Best Budget Ski
There’s a lot to like about this ski, and the price is just the beginning. No matter where I took it, no matter the conditions, it felt comfortable. It only falls short of its high-performing brethren in a few places, and more than makes up for it in versatility and easygoing attitude. That adaptability comes from a mix of construction and design. It’s a wood and fiberglass build, with a 90 mm waist, and it looks like a throwback to a decade ago when twin tips were common in freeride and all-mountain skis.
The Menace can certainly play in the park. It has plenty of pop for getting airborne and feels stable on landings. The design is not as symmetrical as true park skis, but it is close enough to ski and land backwards.
But where a lot of park skis feel awkward doing anything else, the Menace easily transitioned to bumps, tight trees and groomed runs. The tip and tail rocker and a progressive flex from tip to binding and on to tail was predictable and easy to handle dropping into deep carves or making quick turns. On groomers, the heavier weight ski sunk into turns and held on. It preferred a slightly washed-out finish to a crisp launch into the next turn, but with effort, I could bring it all the way around.
It’s not as powerful or stable as a metal ski, but it’s also not as demanding; I could ski hard on it all day without feeling like I had tanks on my feet. And in powder the generous rocker offered decent float.
Put it all together, and the Menace impressed me before I saw the price. It feels natural and comfortable in so many different situations. People who approach skiing with a playful attitude will like it best. There are few skis that offer so much fun for so little money.
Best Eastern All-Mountain Ski
Rip it. That’s got to be the motto of this firm, snow-loving, do-it-all ski. Whether it was icy groomers or tracked-up back bowls, the E-Rally wanted to charge through it all, leaving me grinning at the end of every run.
Born of racing pedigree, the E-Rally has an Energy Management Circuit, a chip mounted on the top sheet in front of the binding. Developed with input from World Cup racers, it absorbs vibrations in a frequency window that includes most of the unwanted chatter found when skiing. In other words, it smooths out the ride. Add a wood core, Titinal sheet, graphene and a binding plate that adds leverage, and the result is a super smooth and powerful ride.
With just a hint of tip rocker, the skis eagerly grab onto an edge and ride it all the way around for an easy setup into the next turn. Most at home in firm snow, they were predictable and stable in moguls and on inconsistent surfaces. I never got bucked around or had to fight to stay centered. I found I could turn them at any speed, but they came alive the faster I went and the more energy I gave them. And while the 14-meter turn radius preferred smaller arcs, they still felt stable Mach-ing edge of run to edge of run.
These are not skis for the faint of heart or intermediates. For fit advanced skiers and up, they are a platform that will add excitement to the smallest and flattest of ski resorts. And when you get to take them somewhere bigger, they won’t shy from the challenge either.
Best Western All-Mountain Ski
When Rossignol announced it was replacing its popular 7 line of skis for last winter, including the S7, Soul 7 and Sky 7, everyone was nervous. We shouldn’t have been. The Black Ops Sender is better in just about every way, gobbling up everything from wide-open bowls to tight trees, groomers and even the park.
They look nothing like their predecessor, but they do share some construction details, particularly a distribution of weight toward the bindings and away from the tip and tail. This reduces the swing weight, making them feel wider in soft snow than 104 mm, lighter than they are and more nimble than we’d expect for a fairly big plank. That translates to a quick and agile feel in tighter and technical terrain.
When I pressed on the gas in wide-open bowls and on groomers, they felt stable and smooth. In both spots, I found all the energy I put into them came back around with a pop into the next turn.
While they feel stable in chopped-up and chunky snow, if you want to really steamroll this kind of terrain, look to their metal-reinforced big brother, the Sender Ti. I tried both and preferred the regular Sender, because it was easier to ski and more forgiving, without giving up much in tricky conditions.
The Senders are not as easygoing as the Soul 7, but they are more capable. They made challenging conditions feel easier and perfect conditions more fun. I think they’re too wide for someone who mostly skis firm snow, but in snowier regions, strong intermediates to expert skiers will find the Senders make you look and feel like a better skier.
Best Ski for Intermediates
The Kore 85X borrows technology from Head’s popular freeride skis but brings it within range of intermediates for an ideal platform to explore the mountain and improve on.
Light, powerful and versatile, the Kore family of skis has been super popular among advanced and expert skiers. But stiff and wide — starting at 93 mm underfoot — they were more ski than most intermediate and even some advanced skiers could handle. To make the same performance more approachable, Head softened the flex, narrowed the skis and added a versatile turn radius for the 21/22 Kore X family.
Among the available widths, I think the 85 hits the sweet spot. It has a wood core with a sheet of Graphene, a carbon derivative that’s extremely light and strong. It provides just enough torsional rigidity to edge the skis in firm snow but retains the soft flex that makes them easy to turn and forgiving in bumps and tight places. The 85 mm width is narrow enough to make carving and tight turns easier but wide enough not to bog down in softer snow.
Head matched construction with a rocker profile that’s ideal for intermediate skiers looking to advance. Moderate tip rocker hooks into a turn easily and adds float in new snow. Minimal tail rocker makes it easy to release the skis at the end of the turn to manage speed. And generous camber helps with edging and adds life.
It all adds up to a ski that will help intermediates take their turning beyond blue runs to the rest of the resort — and from the groomed trails to the bumps and powder and beyond.
Best Powder Ski
Typically a powder ski is a joy until the hordes have tracked out the fresh snow — then it starts feeling like a liability. But the Blank is a powder ski that extends its worth beyond those first couple epic runs, thanks to beefed-up construction and a reasonable waist width, 112 mm underfoot. The result is a shockingly versatile ski that surprised me and just about everyone else who tried it.
The QST Blank replaces the QST 118 and is the ski most of Salomon’s freeride skiers are riding. They have the same C/FX construction, a mix of carbon and flax fibers, that is light and stiff. What’s new: cork in the tips and tails to absorb vibration and a double sidewall for smoothness and edge bite.
They’re not as wide as their predecessor, but in deep snow I didn’t notice. Plenty of tip and tail rocker gives them a lot of lift: even in wind crust they felt floaty and easy. And whereas a lot of big skis turn like boats, the Blanks were responsive, pivoting on demand in tight trees and bumps.
The biggest surprise came on packed snow. Granted it was still soft, but for a wide ski they felt surprisingly nimble and precise. Other testers agreed and common feedback included intuitive, familiar and versatile — atypical praise for a powder ski. Even people that don’t normally like big skis loved them.
As a deep-day ski the Blank is an attractive prospect. It’s a powder ski that makes few compromises and delivers plenty of smiles long after the fresh snow is shredded.
Best Carving Ski
The Thunderbird is a carving ski that can lay trenches with the best of them but is forgiving enough to ride all day. That’s where it differs from a lot of its high-performance colleagues, which are loads of fun for a couple runs but demand a tiring level of energy and attention.
Blizzard found the nice compromise mostly through construction. The wood core is a laminate of beech and poplar laid out to create a flex pattern that’s stiffest under foot and gradually softens toward the ends of the ski. This makes it easy to start and end a turn while retaining plenty of power in the height of the arc.
A sheet of Titanal above the core and another below add edge bite and stability. Blizzard exposed the topsheet right to the edge of the ski to armor the sidewalls. Finally, a carbon plate under the binding separates the boot attachment from the ski, allowing the ski to flex more naturally and absorb chatter and vibration.
The result? Smooth carves, great hard snow performance and incredible stability in chunky conditions and at high speeds. Thunderbird comes in several models, varying by width and turn radius. I like the 15 for its versatility and narrow width. I found it exciting on the groomers and intuitive in bumps and firm off-piste conditions. Fast or slow, big turns or snappy slalom, it’s the rare groomer ski that’s happy any which way.
Best Backcountry Ski
Weighing a little more that two pounds per ski and designed for the backcountry, the Rise Beyond predictably feels great on the skin track and floats effortlessly in powder. What surprised me was how well it handled everything else. From soggy slush to firm groomers, bottomless powder to polished wind slab, these featherweight skis felt like powerful planks.
The construction is a complex mix of woods, handpicked for lightness: poplar for stability, paulownia for low weight and beech for strength under the binding. Volkl glues them together, then mills out channels to add liveliness and cut weight. There’s also a three-part sidecut: rather than one continuous arc, each edge has three — longer radius at the tip and tail and shorter underfoot.
It’s a winning combination. The skis are obviously light and maneuverable when skinning up the mountain. On the way down they feel effortless: holding an edge when needed, swinging from side to side in a pinch, floating well in deep snow thanks to plenty of rocker, and rolling over heavier powder like a much bigger, burlier ski. I was shocked and impressed.
Some of that variable snow performance comes from the Rise Beyond’s relatively narrow, 96 mm waist. This is less than many backcountry skiers will be looking for, but I think it’s actually an ideal size. When it comes to self-propelled skiing, foot weight adds up over a day, while gravity is always there on the way down. And so often, conditions aren’t bottomless top to bottom. That’s where a versatile ski like this one will keep you smiling, while your buddies are cursing their 110 mm pontoons. If you’re shopping for a dedicated backcountry setup, start here.
Best Quiver Killer
You can own a bunch of skis for different purposes and conditions. Or you can simplify and just own one, like the Impulse. There are better resort skis, better backcountry skis and better all-mountain weapons. But few can do it all as well as the Impulse. It’s what I’ll be packing on ski trips this winter. With a do-it-all binding (Salomon Shift, Fritschi Tecton or Marker Duke PT), they are as fun to ski deep in the backcountry as they are inside the resort a week after a storm.
Designed by Black Diamond but made in Blizzard’s Austrian factory, the Impulse marries exacting construction with modern design. It has a poplar wood core, sandwiched with carbon and Titanal underfoot and full ABS sidewalls. It’s a stiff-feeling build that lends a lot of power and stability. Less technical and more apprehensive skiers might find them hard to control, but those with good technique and stance will find skis that can rip groomers with the best of them, charge through broken-up new snow and bounce around in the powder.
The 18-meter turn radius and generous tip and tail rocker provides adaptability: I found they gave me confidence whether I was wiggling through tight trees, jump turning a steep chute, negotiating wind crust, carving mellow warmup turns or bombing a groomer back to a lift.
Like all jacks of all trades, the Impulse does make a few compromises. But when you only have room for one ski, the Impulse demands fewer concessions than most of the competition. For one ski that can do it all — from the resort to the slackcountry to the backcountry — it is damn hard to beat.
Terms to Know
Full-cap, mustache rocker, stiff tail and a damp feel. Get your mind out of the gutter, we’re talking ski features. Here are the terms you need to know, broken down by shape, construction and feel.
Camber: The arch of the ski is it’s camber. It’s most obvious when you place a ski on something flat. With a cambered ski, the tip and tail sit on the ground and the center is in the air. The higher the camber, the more power and bite a ski will have. Skis with no camber or even reverse camber (the center sits on the ground and the tip and tail are in the air) promote float and easy turning. These shapes are typically powder-specific.
Rocker: How much and how far the tip and tail rise above the snow. Also known as early rise. The more rocker, the easier a ski is to turn. Less rocker promotes better edge hold. The most common rocker profile is mustache rocker, tip and tail rocker with camber underfoot.
Turn Radius: A measure of a ski’s sidecut measured in meters. The shorter the turn radius, the tighter the turns the ski will want to make.
Sidecut: Directly related to turn radius. Sidecut is the profile of a ski from tip to waist to tail. Typically the arc is consistent across the ski’s length, but brands are playing with combining different arcs along a sidecut to add multiple turning behaviors to one ski.
Waist Width: A measure from edge to edge at the narrowest point on a ski in millimeters. Wider tends to float in fresh snow better, while narrower is easier to edge into hard snow.
Flex: How easy it is to bend a ski. Manufacturers adjust the flex with the materials and construction. We break up a ski’s flex in three parts: tip, center and tail. Tip: A soft tip makes it easy to initiate a turn and absorbs bumps. A stiffer tip provides bite, great for hard snow carving, and stability at speed. Center: A soft center provides a forgiving ride that’s easy to turn. A stiff center feels stable at speed, even if the tip and tail are soft. Tail: A soft tail feels loose and buttery. A stiff tail adds snap and pop at the exit of a turn. It also provides a good platform for landing jumps and skiing in uneven terrain.
Sidewall: The part of the ski above the edge and below the top sheet. The style of sidewall plays a roll in performance and durability. A full sidewall has vertical walls and is the toughest and most powerful. Cap construction slopes up to the top sheet and is easier to ski. Between the two are all kinds of hybrids.
Top Sheet: The top of the ski. Usually just a protective layer with graphics.
Base: The bottom of the ski is a hard plastic. There are a couple of hardnesses of base material, but in general, it all comes from one of two factories in Europe.
Dampness: A ski’s ability to absorb vibrations. A damp ski is stable at speed and holds an edge through a carve.
Playful: An ambiguous term generally associated with a loose tail and a snappy feel. The opposite of powerful, playful skis are happy to skid.
Powerful: Like an expensive car, a powerful ski feels stable at high speeds and bites into hard snow. Harder to control, they’re often stiffer and need more energy and skill to ski.
System Ski: When a ski comes with a binding for a set price. The binding often integrates with the ski, rather than mounting with screws.
Flat Ski: A ski that doesn’t come with a binding.
How To Know It’s Time For a New Pair of Skis
Skis have a life, but figuring out when it’s over can be challenging. When you ski the same pair of sticks for a season, or a couple of seasons, the changes are incremental. They don’t just stop working, so you may not notice right away. If you don’t tune your skis regularly, try an edge sharpen and wax before writing them off. A quality pair of skis should last at least 100 days of skiing.
Beyond age, there a few other signs it’s time to upgrade: a lot of cuts and scratches to the top sheet, side walls or base, especially if any penetrate into the core materials; skis that don’t feel like they have any spring or life to them; or if the skis won’t do what you want them to. The last could be because the skis are toast, or because you’re not as fit or sharp as you used to be. Either way, says Ben Rabinowitz, a ski advisor for Backcountry, an online outdoor gear store, it’s time.
“If a ski’s not fun, finding the right pair means you’re going to enjoy the experience more,” he says. “And if you haven’t bought a new pair in 10 years, then it’s definitely time. The technology has totally changed for the better.”
How to Shop For a New Pair of Skis
Every ski buying expert we talked to says the buying process should start before turning on the computer or stepping out of the house. “Ask yourself a few key questions,” says Ashton Helmstaedter, the owner of Foothills Ski Life, a specialty store in Denver. “The more honest you are, the more you’re going to like your new ski.”
Is this your only ski, or part of a quiver? Where in the country do you ski? What type of terrain do you like to ski? Do you like to carve your turns or prefer to skid and slide?
A Primer On Different Types of Skis
These questions should help narrow down the type of ski you need, and then further down to performance attributes. Let’s start with the different categories of skis.
This is your do it all ski, filling in everything between a dedicated powder ski and dedicated carving ski. Most ski sales pros will say that if you’re only going to own one pair, it should be an all-mountain ski. They’re designed to handle everything from fresh snow to moguls, groomers and steeps — which also means a certain amount of sacrifice. “Is there a true all-mountain ski that can do everything well?” asks Helmstaedter. “Absolutely not. You’re always giving something up.” Within the all-mountain category, there’s plenty of diversity; the category spans the gap between forgiving cruisers to missiles.
Once you’re into the 110mm waist and wider range, the skis only do one thing well: make skiing untracked snow easy. They’re so wide that it becomes hard to pressure the edge for carving, so they don’t do well on firm snow. But because they have so much surface area, they tend to float incredibly well, making skiing powder and even crusts much easier. This is the category where we see a lot of experimentation with things like reverse camber, upturned edges and unique shapes.
Spend more than 80 percent of your time skiing firm snow? Look for a ski with an 80mm and under waist width. This is also where the high-performance carving skis live. Both of these groups of skis can go anywhere on the mountain, but their happy place is on groomed snow.
To survive the rigors of sliding rails, hucking table tops and flying out of the halfpipe, skis need to be tough. Park-focused skis tend to have full sidewalls, thicker edges and heavy-duty base material for absorbing hard landings and constant abuse. They are almost always twin tipped, for skiing and landing backwards. Their flex profile is usually soft in the tip for smearing and buttering, and stiff underfoot for stability and landing jumps. With versatile side cuts and waist widths, these skis often work well as all-mountain skis outside of the park.
A new pair of skis range in price from less than $300 to more than $1,300. More and more skis now come with a binding designed specifically to integrate with the ski. These “system skis” are often good value compared to buying a ski and binding separately. The drawback is weight; they’re often heavier.
But even factoring in bindings, the price range is huge. Which begs the question, should you splurge or save? “You get what you pay for,” says Bernie Duval, a veteran floor manager at Fanatyk Co., a ski shop in Whistler. “The difference is in materials and workmanship. The ski will last longer.”
But most of us won’t notice the difference on the snow, says Rabinowitz. “As long as you’re paying $500 and up from a reputable manufacturer, there is no bad ski,” he says, “just a bad ski for you.”
You can save money by buying last year’s model. Often the technology is the same with an old graphic. Or, if you can wait, stores start dropping prices after Christmas. The drawback to either strategy is less selection.
One thing to keep in mind: everyone we talked to for this piece told us they recommend saving on skis and splurging on the right ski boot. “It’s fun to ski any ski if you have the right boot,” says Helmstaedter. “The opposite is not true.”
Things to Watch Out For
With a style of ski picked out, and a rough price range settled on, the next step is to refine your search through four more filters.
Waist Width: The width of a ski determines how easy it is to get from edge to edge, how much it wants to float in soft snow and how easy it is to carve. Narrower widths – say 60mm to 80mm – are best for nimble and precise carving. Powder skis are on the other end of the spectrum, 110mm and wider. All-mountain and park skis land anywhere in between. Generally, what’s considered an all mountain ski increases in waist width in correlation to the average snowfall. In the east, it’s about 80mm to 90mm, while locals in deep snow destinations might say 100mm to 110mm. In between would work just about anywhere. Lighter weight skiers might go 5mm narrower. Keep in mind that the same model of ski – with similar construction, turn radius and rocker – is often available in different waist widths.
Turn Radius: Think about how you like to ski. Do you make lots of turns or prefer to open it up and ski straight and fast? Most skis list their turn radius, and it often varies slightly with ski length. 17 meters is a rough middle of the road. Anything over 20 is a missile. And 13 could probably carve a circle.
Rocker: Rocker makes skiing easier. Pretty much every ski has tip rocker. The longer the tip rocker, the easier it is to start a turn and the more a ski wants to float in fresh snow. Tail rocker helps release a ski at the end of a turn. That’s especially handy for making steep terrain easier. More tip and tail rocker makes a ski feel shorter, because less ski is in contact with the snow, without losing any floatation in powder.
Length: Backcountry’s Rabinowitz says length is a key variable. “I can hate a ski in one length and love it in another,” he says. The length of your last pair of skis is a good place to start. Otherwise, aim for about your height or a little less. And remember that rocker makes a ski feel shorter.
A Note On Construction
Skis are generally made from a sandwich of materials, bookended by a top sheet and base, and glued together with a resin. Material choice is getting more diverse, but even the same materials aligned a different way can create big differences in performance, so it’s hard to generalize. This is also where brands tend to put a lot of marketing energy. Bottom line, don’t worry too much about the construction details and concentrate more on what kind of skiing the brand is recommending the ski for. That should tell you more about how it will ski than what’s inside. That said, here are a couple things to watch out for.
Carbon: Strands, stringers or sheets of carbon add stiffness without weight.
Metal: Most commonly Titanal, a mix of titanium and aluminum. It adds some stiffness, but mostly dampening or vibration absorption.
Wood: A wood core is the gold standard; we’d hesitate to buy a ski without a wood core.