Wide Skis vs. Skinny Skis: How Going Wide Took My Skiing to the Next Level
Wondering if it’s time to grab yourself a pair of those sweet wide skis you’ve been eyeing in the lift line? There’s a reason most advanced and expert skiers on the mountain are rocking a pair of beefy planks. But even for intermediate skiers, upgrading to a modern pair of wide all-mountain skis can help unlock your next level of skiing progress.
I’ve Been There
I’ve been downhill skiing since I was a cute four-year-old in a puffy jacket, pizza-ing like my little life depended on it. But the long drive from my home on the California coast means I don’t usually hit the slopes more than a few weekends each year. Thus I arrived at adulthood a solid, consistent advanced-level skier but lacking the aggressive confidence of a Tahoe local.
I’m still working toward that aggressive confidence, but, there is one piece of gear that has brought me closer than ever before: my wide skis.
One snowy winter a few years ago, my husband and I drove halfway around Lake Tahoe to pick up a used demo pair of K2 MissBehaved women’s skis from a small shop on the north shore.
The sassy name and pink top sheet didn’t exactly suit me, but once I got them on my feet it was love at first run. My old parabolic sidecuts went in the corner of the garage and haven’t been out to play since.
Wide Skis For Beginners and Intermediates
Are wide skis only for advanced skiers? Not at all. In fact I would argue that for intermediate skiers looking to progress faster, they are one of the best tools out there (after working on your technique of course).
If you choose the right pair for your size and ability (more on that below), you’ll probably find that wide skis increase your sense of control and stability on all types of terrain. This means you’ll be skiing faster, harder, and having more fun in all conditions.
While there is no magic pair of skis that can automatically fix technique problems, I’ve found my solid and forgiving wide skis give me more room to experiment. They also respond really well when I do get my technique right, which is helpful feedback and helps me progress faster.
And, they don’t have to break your budget. There are plenty of mid-range options out there designed for casual skiers, and with a bit of looking you can pick up a used pair for a few hundred dollars or less.
Wide Skis for All Terrain
It used to be that fat skis were only for powder days. It’s true, they do make skiing in powder much, much more fun. But the wide skis of today, constructed with careful attention to shape and materials, are a good fit for pretty much any conditions.
I was surprised to realize, when I switched to wide skis, that literally every type of terrain became easier. Every single type. Including:
Groomers: The increased control and stability make me comfortable really letting it rip on smooth groomers when conditions are right. My speed demon husband doesn’t need to wait nearly as long at the lift line these days, yet I still feel like I’m skiing safely and under control.
Crud: That heavy, chunky stuff that threatens to grab hold of your skis and steer them against your will. On my old skis I used to feel like every little bump could catch an edge and send me flying. But my wide skis, when I have the courage to let them, simply steamroll over the lumps and bumps.
Ice: Being basically the opposite of powder, I used to worry that wide skis would leave me skittering around on ice. Nope! Once again, wide skis to the rescue. Again, the stability and long edge with less sidecut (my new skis are also longer than my old ones) give me more contact with the snow and more control than my old skis when things get slick.
Bumps: It seemed intuitive that my longer, wider, heavier skis would be harder to maneuver in the bumps. Imagine my surprise when I realized they actually helped my mogul skiing, making it easier to control my speed while choosing an aggressive line. This was pretty much the final step in my conversion to singing the praises of wide skis.
Wide Skis for Women and Smaller Skiers
My wide skis are significantly heavier, longer, and wider (duh) than my old intermediate-level sidecut model. I’m a 5’5″ woman with a small build and my K2 MissBehaved skis are 159cm long with a waist of 102mm. Basically, they are burly.
This makes me feel like a badass when I heave them over my shoulder and do my ski boot hobble – I mean swagger – over to the lodge after a long day of hard runs. But, when I first got them I worried they would be controlling me instead of the other way around.
It’s true that they are a bit longer than the recommended length for me, but I was between sizes and decided to take a chance on sizing up. I’m glad I did. The extra edge is great for increased control and the skis just feel so damn solid.
Because they’re a women’s model and targeted toward mere mortals (not just experts), they are designed to flex adequately even for lighter and/or less strong skiers. If they are just a smidge too long and heavy for me, it trains me to focus even more on my technique to make sure the extra ski works for me instead of against me.
So if you’re a smaller or lighter skier, don’t be afraid of having more ski on your feet. Do consider things like how rigid the ski is and the type of skier it’s designed for, as well as your skiing ability and overall strength (whether you do strength-focused workouts and have good athletic movement skills). A more advanced and athletic skier can get away with more ski, but there is a suitable pair of wide skis out there for everyone.
How to Choose Wide Skis
The only downside to the popularity of wide skis is the difficulty of choosing between so many good options. There are plenty of detailed resources out there to help you with this, but here is my general advice:
- Choose a ski designed for your ability level. Are you an expert who can command a stiff ski, or do you want something a little more responsive? You can usually tell from manufacturer descriptions and personal reviews which direction a given model leans. That said, don’t be afraid to reach up to the next level if you plan on progressing.
- Choose a ski for your common conditions. Most casual skiers will want an all-mountain ski, which will be slightly narrower than those designed for pure powder and can be enjoyed in pretty much any conditions.
- Consider other features. Do you like halfpipes or backcountry expeditions? Then you may want twin tips or climbing skin rivets, respectively.
- Skis are a great item to buy used for a good deal. Once you know what you want, hunt for deals on Craigslist, eBay, used sporting goods stores, or ski shops. Sometimes shops will sell lightly used skis that were used as demo models the previous season. Speaking of which…
- Many ski resorts have demo programs where you can rent performance skis for a day and see how you like them. Sometimes you’ll get a discount if you then decide to buy. This is a great way to get a sense for whether a particular type of wide ski is right for you before parting with too much hard-earned cash.
Have you switched to wide skis yet? Do you love them as much as I do? Let us know in the comments below.
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