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How to choose skis for your winter holiday

If you’re heading to the Alps for a skiing holiday, you may be wondering how to choose your equipment, especially your skis.

Downhill skiing, ski-touring or cross-country skiing – the Alps are the perfect place to try out all of these sports. However, there are different criteria to take into account for each type of ski. For example, your skill level, your weight, the width of the skis and their size or the type of tip.

We have put together this complete guide to help you understand how to choose your skis so you can prepare for your holiday in the Alps.


Choosing your downhill skis

Downhill skiing, as the name suggests, is a sport practised on snow from the top of a slope to the bottom, by making turns, sliding or even snow-ploughing if you’re a beginner.

Here are some words for your vocabulary:

Familiarise yourself with the parts of a ski © Avant Ski

Ski types according to your level and use

For a beginner

First-time skiers or early learners

Beginners who are just learning to ski should choose shorter skis, allowing them to turn more easily and benefit from greater stability. However, those who prefer big curves might prefer slightly larger skis.

Some good examples of beginner ski models:

Four people ski down a piste in Meribel, with a village on the left and mountains and forests in the background
A family on the piste in Meribel © Les 3 Vallées / David ANDRÉ

For intermediate skiers

Those improving skills and tackling more runs

If you are starting to really enjoy skiing and improving your control, then you should choose a ski that is safe, easy to handle and comfortable, to help you improve your technique.

You can then allow yourself more speed, with good grip and control.

If you want to ski downhill, choose short skis that are adaptable to your level.

For off-piste skiing on the other hand, make sure you get skis that are versatile, and suitable for all types of snow. They will be better if you prefer pleasure to performance.

Some good examples of intermediate ski models:

For advanced skiers

Those who ski faster and/or everywhere 

If you like to ski fast and all over the ski area, on or off piste and in all types of snow, it will be a question of choosing skis that:

  • Perform well
  • Are fun to use
  • Are comfortable and easy to handle
  • Are versatile

On the piste, you’ll want skis which are stiff enough to offer stability and safety, yet flexible enough for off-piste skiing.

A young girl skis down a slope, her arms outstretched, with a smile on her face
A young girl schusses down a piste leading to Meribel © Les 3 Vallées / David ANDRÉ

You have two choices:

  • All-mountain skis: perform well, are comfortable, turn well and can be used in all types of snow and at all speeds. The widest skis will be easier to use off-piste.
  • Carving skis for on-piste: they guarantee responsiveness, lively acceleration, precise control and great comfort. They adapt easily and can go from a short to a medium to long turn, and from carving to sliding.

Some good examples of advanced ski models:

An ESF instructor with two students on a piste in the Trois Vallees. A cable car can be seen in the valley
An ESF instructor with his students in the Trois Vallées, at Val Thorens © Les 3 Vallées / Arthur BERTRAND

What is your budget?

Your budget will depend on your plans: do you ski very often or just on your annual holiday?

Hiring your skis

Prices vary depending on the resort and the rental shop. However, here are some price ranges for hiring a complete ski pack online, ie skis, poles, helmet and boots:

  • By the day: 20-40€
  • For a weekend: 40-80€
  • For a week: 95-190€

Please note: the final price will depend on the reputation of the resort, the duration of the rental period and the type of package chosen.

The higher your level, the more expensive your skis will likely be. And if you are in a family resort, the prices will tend to be better, as resorts often adapt to the expectations and budget of their customers.

Finally, hiring a complete package rather than just the skis will usually work out better value. Shops also offer discounts according to the length of the rental period: the longer you rent, the better value it will be.

Buying your skis

If you ski for more than two weeks a year and want to buy your own equipment, you will need to budget between 200-1,000€.

Ski touring

Rather than using your skis to get down the hill, when ski touring, you’ll also use them for climbing up.

Touring ski boots can be adapted to a walking position, where only the forefoot is attached to the binding, leaving the heel free. The skis also have a “downhill” position, which turns them more or less into alpine skis.

The other key feature is the removable skins (known as “sealskins”) under the skis to stop you from sliding backwards when climbing. The idea of this type of skiing allows you to explore isolated mountain regions and get closer to nature.

Different types of skis for touring

There are three factors to consider when you’re choosing your skis for touring which include:

  • Weight
  • Width
  • Height

Width

Skis with a waist width of less than 75mm: for dry climbs or touring skiers interested in competition. They are intended for experienced skiers who want more weight or rigidity.

A good example: Ski Atomic Backland 62 UL Vert

Skis with a waist width of less than 85mm: suitable for both uphill and downhill, depending on the model, they are intended for all types of skiing and are therefore very versatile.

Beginners should aim for this category – especially for skis with a length between 85 and 90mm. You will then have skis that are light and easy to handle, for all types of terrain.

A good example: Ski Armada Locator 104

Four people climb a slope while ski touring in Chinaillon.
Ski touring in Chinaillon © J. Cousin – Office du Tourisme d’Annecy

Skis with a waist width of less than 95mm: good for skiing in deep snow, but less manoeuvrable on the way up and down; more suitable for experienced skiers who want to ski in powder.

A good example: Ski Dynastar MVertical 88

Skis with a waist width of more than 95mm: for downhill or “freerando” (a mixture of freeride and ski touring) enthusiasts. These skis are ideal for deep snow descents, as well as for wide turns on large slopes.

A good example: Ski Dynafit Blacklight 95

The size

When choosing the size of your touring skis, the first consideration is your own size.

For beginners: You can opt for skis that are 5-10cm shorter than your height. These will have sufficient length for skiability and offer stability, plus they’ll be easy to handle when you move from uphill to downhill and vice versa.

A blue sky over snowy mountains as three people enjoy a ski-touring excursion
A peaceful ski touring excursion near Meribel © Les 3 Vallées / Arthur BERTRAND

Freerando (a mixture of freeride and ski touring): if you are looking for specialised downhill skis, choose skis that are at least 5 centimetres shorter than your height. 

Competitions: to maximize your performance on the slopes, choose skis at least 15 centimetres shorter than you are.

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Bindings

Plate bindings: similar to alpine ski bindings, they are easy to use but quite heavy. 

Insert bindings: these are much lighter and can only be used with suitable touring boots. They are released from the back of the binding.

Hybrid bindings: combining the characteristics of the above-mentioned bindings, these bindings are particularly suitable for so-called freerando skiers or those who want more safety.

Ski-stoppers or leashes

Ski-stoppers are brakes that are integrated into the skis and embed themselves in the snow, effectively stopping the slide.

The leash is a spiral safety cord that must be attached to the skis to avoid losing them (in the event of a fall or during a manoeuvre).

Today, most products on the market offer skis with leashes, which are lighter than brakes. However, the leash is less practical for beginners when putting on the skis.

Seal skins

Seal skins will stop you from slipping backwards when you go uphill on touring skis. Self-adhesive or glued-on, these can be removed from your touring skis.

Nowadays, you can purchase three types of seal skins (and no, they are not real skins!):

  • Nylon/synthetics: often the least expensive, they are quite heavy and very resistant to abrasion.
  • Mixem: made of mohair and Nylon, they allow a good glide and are resistant to abrasion in cold snow.
  • The 100% mohairs: these are made purely of natural material and are best for heavy skis, as they allow a very good glide. However, they are less resistant to abrasion.
Three people ski touring in the Trois Vallees, surrounded by towering summits
Ski touring is a fantastic way to access untouched, backcountry terrain © Les 3 Vallées / Arthur BERTRAND

The weight of touring skis

On uphill and hilly terrain, you will need the lightest possible equipment. This is why touring skis are generally smaller and lighter than alpine skis.

How much should you pay for touring skis?

For rental

Prices vary depending on the chosen resort and rental shop. However, here are some price ranges for hiring a complete ski touring pack, ie skis, knives, skins and boots:

  • Daily rental: from 37€
  • Weekly rental (6 days): from 185€
  • Seasonal rental: from 460€

Buying your skis

If you are a frequent ski tourer and want to invest in your own equipment, you will need to budget between 400€ and 900€, and more for top-of-the-range equipment.

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Cross-country skiing

Traditional cross-country skiing

Traditional cross-country skiing is for beginners and people who want to explore the forest, enjoy a sociable sport, or maintain their cardio fitness.

It allows you to work your arms, the front of your thighs and the adductor muscles. Your skis remain parallel, in the rails, the thrust is forward, and your only support zone is, as for walking, your feet.

Two people on cross-country skis pass the National Monument of the Resistance, on the Plateau des Glières
Cross-country skiing on the Plateau des Glières © Lac Annecy Tourisme

Good examples of traditional cross-country skis:

The anti-slip system

When you go cross-country skiing, you need to slide without going backwards. An anti-slip system allows you to do this. Several systems exist:

  • Micropores: suitable for beginners, this system is made for snow at around 0°C. The central part of the ski ensures a good grip on the snow. 
  • Scales: a perfect balance between glide and grip, scale cross-country skis are particularly recommended for touring. However, on soft snow, this type of ski glides less well, and the same goes for frozen snow. It is therefore important to find a balance. This is the type of ski to choose for your Nordic tours. 
  • Seal skins: although they are still called seal skins, they are nowadays made of mohair and/or synthetic fibres. Ski touring skins also offer an excellent glide-to-grip ratio and are less noisy than scaled skis.
  • Grip wax: this is recommended for regular cross-country skiers. It has an excellent grip on the snow, whatever the snow conditions, plus a very good glide. 

Size

The size of your cross-country skis is key to ensuring you achieve a steady glide and enough grip to get you going.

The general advice is to choose skis that are 30 centimetres taller than you are. However, weight also has an impact on the choice of skis.

For example, if you have two skiers of equal height, a heavier skier should choose larger skis to increase the surface area of the grip.

They will then be able to propel themselves more easily on ascents when the weight swings from one leg to the other. And on descent, they will not be hindered when the weight is distributed on both legs.

Participants in a cross-country ski marathon at Glières tackle a hill
The cross-country Marathon at Glières © Xavier Rezvoy

Boots and poles

Low-cut boots are recommended for classic cross-country skiing: the soles are soft and allow you to move your ankles freely. To choose them, opt for your normal shoe size. As for poles, take them at armpit height.

Cross-country skate skiing

This type of cross-country skiing is more sporty: the pushes are made here from right to left, like the movement found in rollerblading or ice skating.

Above all, they must be constant, especially when climbing. The whole of the ski is used, not only to move forward but also for support. If you want to strengthen your muscles, skating is an excellent sport.

Good examples:

Skis, poles and boots

Skating skis have narrower tips and do not have a recoil system to enhance glide. They also do not have a system to optimise grip: only waxed models exist, which you will need to maintain carefully.

The poles should reach your earlobe for a stronger and longer forward momentum.

The boots will also be higher to support your ankles and ensure maximum rigidity. Here you will opt for your usual shoe size.

Size

The recommended size for your cross-country skating skis is 20 centimetres longer than your height, sometimes a little less.

You should also take into account your weight. But, be careful, skating skis do not go above 1.95 metres, as they would then become too difficult to handle.

Extra tips

Whether you’re doing traditional or skating cross-country skiing, the higher your technical level, the easier it is to use long skis: they maximise the glide and will help you gain speed.

A shot through the legs of two people cross-country skate-skiing in the 3 Vallees
Cross-country skate-skiing in the 3 Vallées © Les 3 Vallées / Arthur BERTRAND

What is the budget for cross-country skis

To hire

Prices vary, but to give you an example, Skiset offers three ranges:

  • An adult range (skis and boots) for beginners/intermediate at 47€ per week
  • A children’s range (skis and boots) for beginners/intermediate at 40€ per week.
  • A skating range (skis and boots) for beginners/intermediate at 62€ per week.

To buy

If you are passionate about cross-country skiing and want to invest in equipment, you should budget between 300-900€.


Choosing the right skis, whether for downhill, cross-country or touring, means considering several criteria including:

  • Your level and how often you’ll use them
  • Your itinerary and therefore the type of snow you will be skiing on
  • The size of the skis

If you need more advice, our partner Skiset will be happy to offer you personalised advice.

And if you want to stay up to date with the latest offers and news from OVO Network, don’t hesitate to subscribe to our newsletter.

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About Author

Hi, I'm Lindsay, and I work on the editorial side of the OVO Network team. I'm based in Kent, England and love this job as it combines my passions for words and travelling to beautiful places.

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