Types of Skis: Explained

From freestyle to backcountry—an introduction to the main types of skis


The wonderful world of skiing (and all the gear involved) can get confusing, especially if you’re new to the sport. Don’t let the terminology discourage you, any ski shop should have knowledgeable staff on hand to answer any questions. But before you head out, here’s an introduction to the main categories and a guide to help put you in the direction of what gear might work best for you.

All-Mountain Skis
Skis in the all-mountain category are meant to be the most versatile, all-condition, all-terrain skis. The term has become somewhat of a vague category, for example, slim down the width on powder skis and they might then be considered all-mountain. Though it’s not always clear, some important features on an all-mountain ski are the medium-width (which will handle both hard snow and powder) and the rocker (which helps with turns in all conditions).

Big-Mountain Skis
A ski for the experts looking to take on big slopes with a lot of speed. The big-mountain category joins the width of powder skis with some of the speedy qualities of the racers. Not a great choice for beginners but for those experts ready to take it to the next level, this type of ski is a great choice.

Backcountry Skis
Somewhat of a new category, the backcountry subset is a response to more skiers seeing out-of-bounds terrain. These skis are typically lighter in weight and some feature notches for attaching climbing skins, which is convenient for backcountry skiers. But they are slightly more prone to damage due to their light weight and aren’t the best choice for hard snow. Unless you frequently trek and ski backcountry you might be better off with another type of ski, as other skis can handle backcountry terrain too.

Carving Skis
Best for inbounds, groomed terrain, carving skis are all about creating refined sharp turns and gaining serious speed. This type of ski is essentially a recreational version of racing skis and is a good choice for those considering racing or those who want to take on mostly groomed trails.

Freestyle Skis
Freestyle Skis (also known as park & pipe, or twin tips) are skis made for landing tricks. They are typically short skis, with both the front and back tips pointed up to ensure smooth landings and easy transitions to backwards skiing. Though the initial purpose for these skis was rooted in completing tricks, it’s not uncommon to see these skis all over the mountain, as people love their maneuverability.

Powder Skis
These skis are for the powder days. Known for their wide body, these skies are best for days on the mountain tackling deep, light snow. Popular in the West, this might be the everyday choice for those who can depend on the fluffy stuff but you won’t likely find these skis tackling hard snow.