What ski length and profile should I get? How to pick the right ski.

Last updated on November 9th, 2023 at 10:39 am

I’m sitting here thinking about the time when I first started skiing in the 1990s. At that time the average all-mountain recreational skis had to be 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) longer than your body and those nice curved carving edges didn’t exist. Luckily, those days are over. But what ski length should you get today then? I’ve done some research.

The correct ski length depends on your height and build, the type of skiing you’re planning to do as well as your ability as a skier. As a rule of thumb, an alpine recreational ski for beginners and intermediate skiers should be between chin and eye height for well-prepared slopes. An all-mountain ski (which includes off-piste) should be between eye and forehead height. As you getter better as a skier, you’ll probably want longer skis for more speed. Advanced skiers often choose skis which are full body length or more.

This blog post is directed towards recreational skiers at a beginner or intermediary level.

Looking for new skis? Take a look at my article Best skis for beginners and intermediate skiers for groomed slopes (updated for the 2023 – 2024 season)

What type of skiing do you prefer?

The best thing that’s ever happened to skiing is the invention of the carving ski. Those nicely curved edges combined with the shorter ski length (compared to earlier skis) has done wonders for recreational skiing and has made turning such a breeze.

Also, skis today are made from much better materials than 20 years ago. So picking a pair of skis should be easy right? Well, not so fast. There’s more to it.

It would be simplifying things too much, to say “get a pair of skis, that are nose height, and go skiing. There’s more to it.

Before you buy a pair of skis, you should always ask yourself “what type of skiing am I planning to do?”.

As a beginner or intermediate skier, you’ll probably spend most of your time on nicely groomed slopes like myself. So you would be doing yourself a great disservice if you go out and buy a pair of expensive freeride skis just to look cool.

So what ski length, should you choose then? Let’s dive into what this means in more detail.

What ski length do I need?

The first thing to consider, when choosing the length of your skis, is obviously your height.

As a general rule of thumb, a beginner should choose a ski height close to the chin. Shorter skis are generally easier to turn than longer skis, so choosing a pair of skis, that is too long, will make those initial turns much easier.

An intermediate skier could go with a pair of skis with a length anywhere between chin height and nose height.

Advanced skiers often prefer skis that are full body length or longer, for more speed, stability, and floating ability in off-piste terrain.

That doesn’t mean, that shorter skis are only for beginners though. Shorter skis are well suited for skiing among trees and on moguls, where you need to be able to make those quick turns.

Below, you’ll find a table with suggested ski lengths based on your height. Ski lengths are always measured in centimeters.

Your height (in feet and inches)Your height (in centimeters)Suggested ski length (in centimeters)
4’0” – 4’1” 122-126cm 109-119
4’2” – 4’3” 127-131cm 114-124
4’4″ – 4’5” 132-136cm 119-129
4’6″ – 4’7” 137-141cm 124-139
4’8″ – 4’9” 142-146cm 129-144
4’10” – 4’11” 147-151cm 134-149
5’0″ – 5’1” 152-157cm 134-154
5’2″ – 5’3” 158-162cm 144-164
5’4″ – 5’5” 163-167cm 159-169
5’6″ – 5’7” 168-172cm 154-174
5’8″ – 5’9” 173-177cm 159-179
5’10” – 5’11” 178-182cm 164-184
6’0″ – 6’1” 183-187cm 169-189
6’2″ – 6’3” 188-192cm 174-194
6’4″ – 6’5” 193-197cm 179-199
> 6’6” > 198cm 194-209

The ski size chart above should only be used as a point of departure when you pick your next pair of skis. You also have to take into account your weight, your ability (an aggressiveness) as a skier, the terrain type you prefer to ski in, and what type of ski profile, you would like.

Let’s start with the latter and take a closer look at what is ski profile?

What is a ski profile?

What does the profile of a ski refer to?

A ski profile is a description of the curvature of the ski when you look at the ski from the side. Generally speaking, there are three types of ski profiles: camber, rocker, and flat. Camber has an arch underfoot and touches the surface near the tip and tail of the ski, the rocker is the opposite (banana-shaped), and flat means flat. The ski profile determines the effective length of the edge, that carves through the snow, which in turn has an effect of the performance of the ski in various conditions.

The three profiles mentioned above make up the basic ski profiles. Ski manufacturers constantly try out new combinations of the profiles and also tweak them in a lot of ways. E.g. you can get a full rocker ski profile with a long early rise or a short early rise. I’ll get back to that later.

Let’s look into this in more detail, and see what it means for you, so that you can make sure, that you get the right pair of skis.

The camber ski profile

The traditional camber ski profile

What is the camber ski profile?

The traditional camber profile has a slight upward (positive) curve in the middle of the ski and contact points near the tips. Your body weight forces the arch of the ski downward, which creates contact with the snow for almost the entire length of the ski (except the tip and tail). The camper profile provides excellent stability at higher speeds, and excellent edge hold for smooth turns on groomers. But the camber profile is also a favorite among park riders.

If you place a ski with a camber profile on a flat surface, the only contact points will be near the ends of the ski.

The suspension which comes from the arch being pressed down helps the cambered ski cut through the snow and give it more snap.

That’s precisely also why the camber profile provides such good grip and stability at higher speeds on firmer snow.

It’s no wonder then, why most race skis have a camber profile.

Because the camber profile constantly tries to get a solid grip in the snow, it makes it easier to get the edge caught in churned-up conditions and requires a bit more effort to turn. That’s because cambered skis tend to “dig in” more into the snow, than rockered skis. Rockered skis kinda float on top instead.

The rockered ski profile

The full rockered ski profile

What is a rockered ski?

The rockered ski profile is also called the “reverse-camber” or “banana-shape.” It is essentially the camber profile turned upside down.  The contact points of full rockered skis are directly under the skier with the rest of the skis curving slightly upwards. Skis with a rockered profile are easy to turn even in deep snow. For that reason, full rockered skis are a popular choice for off-piste skiing.

Rockered skis are, in general, a bit more forgiving when it comes to turning than the camber profile. Because of this, you’ll also find, that the rockered profile is popular among skiers in snow parks, who like to do spinning tricks and grinding rails.

The tradeoff, however, is that skis with rocker profiles aren’t as stable at higher speeds. They absorb vibrations very well, but this in turn also can make the tip and tail almost “springy” on harder groomed surfaces.

The flat ski profile

The flat ski profile is… well, you’ve guessed it, flat!

If you put a ski with a flat profile on a flat surface, the entire length of the ski will be in contact with the surface (except for the front or both ski tips).

Completely flat skis aren’t very common. It is more common to see traits from the flat profile combined with the other profiles, e.g., the ski might have an early rise rocker front, a camber underfoot and a flat tail.

Different manufacturers have different names for different ski profiles

Ski manufacturers keep experimenting with different combinations in pursuit of the “perfect” ski for different situations. Thus, the three different ski profiles are combined and tweaked in numerous ways. 

Two pairs of skis, both with rocker in the front, camber underfoot, and rocker in the back, can look and behave very differently from each other.

One ski might have a high arch underfoot, while the other has an almost flat arch, even though both skis are described as having cambered profiles underfoot.  The skis might also have different tip/tail rise at the very end of the skis.

To make matters even more confusing, each ski manufacturer has its own name for each profile combination.

What one manufacturer might call a rocker profile at the front ski, another might call an early rise profile or a reverse-camber. Some refer to full rocker as zero camber, anti-camber or inverted camber.

You might also stumble upon naming, which combines the function of the ski with their profiles, such as “powder turn rocker”.

In order to keep it simple, I’ll try and describe the most common combinations of rocker, camber and flat, and I’ll stick to just using those terms.

Common combinations in skis of rocker, camber and flat ski profiles

So let’s have a look at some common combinations of the three basic ski profiles and the pros and cons of each when it comes to terrain type.

Ski profiles
Ski profile infographic. The tip is to the left and the tail is to the right.

The Rocker-Camber ski profile combination

The rockered tip with camber ski profile

Skis with a rockered tip and cambered profile throughout the rest of the ski are pretty standard.

The front rocker will help you float through the snow, even late in the day, where the snow is churned up, while the camber profile will provide excellent edge hold in turns.

This combination makes for an excellent leisure and racing ski on firm groomed surfaces with lots of power, pop/snap and edge grip.

It doesn’t do a very good job as an all-mountain off-piste ski though, because of the grip.

The Rocker-Camber-Rocker ski profile combination

The rockered tip and tail with camber in between ski profile

The rocker-camber-rocker hybrid is a really versatile ski profile.

The rockered tip and tail sections provide excellent floatation in fresh powder and chopped-up snow, while the camber underfoot allows for a nice edge grip on firm groomers.

This type of ski is truly an all-mountain ski, which can be used on both groomers and as an off-piste ski.

The rocker-camber-rocker combination doesn’t provide the stability of the traditional camber though, so it isn’t your typical racing ski. It also doesn’t provide the same floatation as a full rocker.

The Rocker-Flat-Rocker ski profile combination

The rocker-flat-rocker ski profile

The rocker-flat (camber)-rocker hybrid is a popular choice amongst freeriders.

The early rise rocker profile in the tip and tail provide excellent float and quick turns in deep snow, while the flat underfoot provides a little more edge hold than the full rocker.

The Rocker-Camber-Flat ski profile combination

The rocker-camber-flat ski profile

The rocker-camber-flat hybrid is a popular all-mountain ski.

The rocker tip provides an excellent float through churned-up snow and fresh powder and an easy turning initiation, while the camber provides excellent edge grip throughout the turns. The flat tail helps the skier maintain speed.

Ski length and body weight

Some manufacturers include weight in their ski size charts and with good reason.

If you’re a heavy dude, you might overpower short skis and lose stability. And if you’re a skinny gal, you might find controlling two long planks in turns to be a real hassle. 

The general consensus is, that if you’re a heavy guy or gal when compared to your height, you should get a longer (and probably stiffer) ski.

Likewise, if you’re a skinny type, you should aim for a shorter ski.

Ski length and your ability level as a skier

As with everything else, when it comes to choosing the right length in skis, there are no strict rules – only guidelines – and every parameter is interdependent on the other.

So here are a few guidelines, based on your ability level and mentality as a skier.

If you’re just starting out, you should choose a ski length close to your chin.

If you’re an intermediate skier, you could go for a ski length between your nose and eyebrows.

Advanced skiers often choose skis, that are full-body lengt and above.

If you’re an easy going skier, you might want to keep your skis close to your chin, even though you might be intermediate level.

And if you’re an intermediate skier, who is more of the aggressive type, and one who isn’t afraid of steep hills, you could choose skis, which are a bit longer than average.

Remember to factor in your body weight as well.

Where do you prefer to ski?

The next thing you should ask yourself is: where am I going to ski?

Are you going to spend your week on groomed slopes, in snow parks, off-piste or maybe a little bit of everything?

If you prefer those nice, groomed slopes, you could go with a ski length ranging from chin to above your head, really.

But for beginners and intermediate skiers, a good guideline is a length somewhere between chin and eyebrows.

If you’re looking for an all mountain ski, you should choose a ski, which is a bit longer for the deep snow in order to be able to float on top.

Now, I wouldn’t recommend, that you go off-piste skiing as a complete novice. But as you’ve tried skiing a bit, it might be fun to challenge yourself in some deep snow. In that case look for skis, that are full body length.

You might also be the type, who can’t wait to get off the slopes and into the snow park. And I can understand why – those rails and jumps look so much fun. If you’re looking for skis for freestyle, you should look at skis, that are at least the same length as your body.

If you find the groomers to boring and the snow parks too crowded, you could be the type, who wants to get away from all the leisure tourists and into the backcountry.

If you enjoy off-piste, you should look for some freeride skis, at at least body length (and preferably more) to get good buoyancy in the deep snow.

Freeride skis are often also wider, than skis meant for pistes, and come with a rockered profile.

Happy skiing an be safe! 🙂

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