Ski construction may seem like a difficult subject to fully grasp—after all, how often do you get to take a look at the proverbial guts?—but the reality is similar building principles apply to each and every pair of planks on the market, regardless of the brand behind them. We’ve put together this guide to ensure you know exactly what it is you’re looking for in your next set of skis.
If you want to know how a ski will behave on snow, you have to look at the materials found within its core. The essential ingredient in any ski is wood; each type yields vastly different performance. Woods like paulownia are incredibly lightweight but don’t dampen vibrations very well. Bamboo, aspen and poplar do a great job of balancing weight, dampening and spring. Fir, ash, maple and beech are dense and thick, ensuring torsional rigidity, stability and power through a turn, but require more effort to maneuver. Manufacturers will sometimes utilize a blend of multiple types of wood, blessing the ski with the best attributes from each.
In addition to wood, manufacturers frequently bond various materials to the wood core in order to fine-tune performance. Titanal, an aluminum alloy, helps dampen vibrations and beef up rigidity. Fiberglass, a more affordable option, brings about more or less the same end. Its strength is derived from the way it’s weaved. Biaxial and triaxial are most common and denote that the fiberglass is running in two or three directions, respectively. More fibers equals more torsional rigidity.
Carbon is often built into the core due to its impressive strength-to-weight ratio, boosting stability without weighing the ski down, and its strength is also denoted by how it’s weaved. It has a high price tag, and is often utilized in thin strips to keep costs down.
Cap construction entails the topsheet folding down over edge of the ski to protect the core materials. This is an economic build that yields easy turn initiation and also provides durability, thanks to the rounded corners. Additionally, cap construction is generally associated with weight savings.
A halfcap build combines cap construction up top with sandwich on the bottom; the result is a happy blend of light weight and also excellent power transmission.
Utilizing a hybrid construction of cap in the tip and tail and sandwich underfoot is a means of decreasing weight without sacrificing performance. The extremities of the ski benefit from cap construction’s durable nature and sandwich underfoot delivers the coveted rip-roaring performance.
Sandwich construction layers core materials—wood, fiberglass, carbon fiber and Titanal, for example—between a topsheet, base and plastic sidewalls. This provides unmatched power transmission and edge hold. Specifically regarding sidewalls, ABS provides ample strength in an affordable package whereas P-Tex sidewalls are regarded as ultra-durable—and thereby come with a higher price tag.
Radius is the distance between the center and perimeter of a circle. Skiing a perfect circle around a center point with different skis would yield different sized circles depending on sidecut and ski stiffness. A combination of stiffer materials and less sidecut (fig. A) will produce large turn radii, while the opposite is true of softer materials and deeper sidecuts (fig. B). To provide a reference point, a radius of 16 meters and below yields quick, snappy turns; 17- to 22-meter radii enable skis to maneuver across varied terrain all over the mountain; and 22-meter radii and above create large, arcing turns down steep faces and bowls.
Torsional rigidity is defined as the amount of resistance a ski has to twisting. An adequately rigid ski will hang strong during full-steam, forceful carving down the mountain, ensuring edge hold throughout your turns.
Defined as: The curvature of a ski’s edge from tip to tail, affecting how the ski will turn. Deeper curves (read: sidecuts) yield quick, sharp turns while shallower sidecuts are great for long, drawn-out turns. A mid-range sidecut produces a combo of both.
Traditional sidecut boosts edge contact with the snow, ideal for those looking to carve trenches as deep as the Mariana.
This sort of build excels in deep snow conditions; less edge contact with the snow allows the ski to float and pivot like a dream.
A combination of traditional sidecut underfoot with tapered tips and tails yields strong carving capabilities and maneuverability, all at once—a very happy medium.
The reduction of width in the tip, tail or both ends of a ski. Rockered skis generally have a shortened effective edge length and are often built with tapered extremities to avoid hooking in deep snow. When you think about it, having a shorter effective edge length negates the need to have the widest point of the ski be in the very tip or tail.
Rocker & Camber Profiles
Traditional (below top), or regular, camber has a slight upward curve in its shape, providing the ski full edge contact with the snow when a turn is initiated by a skier’s weight. The result is heavenly power transmission into, throughout and out of a turn.
Reverse camber (below middle), also called “rocker” or “early rise,” is the opposite of traditional camber. It yields far less edge contact with the snow, allowing the operator to easily pivot, smear and surf the mountain. Early rise, whether pronounced or gradual, in the tips of your skis aids in turn initiation and flotation in the deep stuff, too.
A hybrid camber (below bottom) profile generally entails early rise in tip and/or tail with traditional camber underfoot. This is perhaps the most popular ski profile on the market today—it’s undeniably a “best of all worlds” type o’ construction, producing a ski that’s playful, maneuverable and floaty with top-notch edge control and turn initiation.