Section 2: Alpine Equipment
Rent. Don't consider buying your own gear until you've had a chance to
try out a few different types of equipment. Most rental shops will allow
you to rent either "basic" gear or "demo" gear. The basic rental gear
is fine for the first few times on skis but try to rent some demo gear
before purchasing equipment.
You may be tempted to borrow gear from your friends. Unless your friends
happen to be exactly your size and ability then this is probably a
bad idea. At the very least you should consider having the bindings
inspected and adjusted by a qualified technician.
Boots. The best skis in the world will be no fun at all if your feet are
killing you. Spend a *lot* of time choosing your boots. Try on as many
different types as possible and walk around the shop for 20 - 30 minutes
while wearing them in order to discover any hidden pressure points.
It's important that the boot fit snugly. If your foot flops around in
the boot you'll have that much less control of your skis.
The most sage words of advice on this topic were: "The most important
factor in selecting a boot is insuring that the president of the company
has a foot just like yours". In other words, try 'em both on. Buy the
ones that fit best. In general (and there are many exceptions to this)
the rear entry boots tend to be more convenient (i.e. easier to get on/
off) but suffer somewhat in performance. The racing community still tends
to favor an overlapping shell. If you are new to skiing you won't know
In general there is no such thing as a boot that fits perfectly when it
comes off the shelf. It is important that the boot be neither too tight
nor too loose. A boot that is too tight (typically this will be across
the arch or on the sides) will cut off circulation resulting in numb,
cold feet (miserable). A boot that is too loose will allow your foot to
flop around resulting in abrasions and, more importantly, poor control
of your skis.
Bootfitting is the process of customizing a boot to your foot. Most
reputable ski shops offer this service although the expertise of the
staff may vary. While bootfitting may involve adding shims, shaving
undersoles, or even hacking out padding in the liner the most common
act is to add a custom footbed or orthotic. People who have orthotics
swear by them. People who don't have orthotics are either lucky enough
to not need them or have sore feet. In any event you're probably best
off to ski in your new boots for a couple of days before making any
modifications. When you buy a boot make sure you ask if bootfitting
services are included in the price of the boot (they often are).
The ultimate in bootfitting is having a boot custom designed to your
foot. Yes this can be done and yes it is very expensive. The folks
to contact are the Dale Boot company.
2150 South 300 West,
Salt Lake City, UT,
The absolute best answer to this question is that you should go rent
several different types of skis and buy the ones you like best.
Many ski areas will allow you to rent demo gear and to swap gear during
the day. This gives you the chance to realistically compare one type of
ski against another. If you can't find the time/money to do this kind of
comparison then here are some very broad comments about certain types of
Definition of terms:
- stiffness: Usually used to describe how easy (or hard) it is to
bend the ski. It can also describe how easy it is to
twist the ski as in "torsional stiffness".
- sidecut: The curvature of the side of the ski as seen from above.
- shovel: The pointy end of the ski. Also known as the tip.
- tail: The non pointy end of the ski.
- GS: Giant Slalom. Giant Slalom courses are set up for smooth high speed turns.
Alpine skis come in essentially 2 styles depending on the size of
turn they most naturally make: Slalom ( shorter turns ) and Giant
Slalom ( longer turns ). Within each of these categories, you will
find skis made specifically for your ability level whether it be
recreational or expert. There is also a host of specialty
skis that are available.
These skis are usually relatively soft and have a GS sidecut. This
combination makes them gentle, forgiving, and relatively versatile. The
major drawback to this type of ski is that it behaves poorly at high
speeds or in situations that require quick turns. A good choice for
the beginner or intermediate skier.
There is little distinction between recreational slalom and
recreational GS skis other than the size of the turn that they
naturally make. One general rule of thumb is that GS skis may
be preferable for the broad open slopes found in the west while
a slalom ski may be preferable for the narrower trails in the east.
These skis are generally stiffer. Although this makes them
harder to turn compared to recreational skis, they perform much
better at higher speeds and on hard snow and ice. These are the
best choice for the advancing intermediate and expert. Many skis
labeled as "Racing Skis" by manufacturers are excellent expert
skis. Although the distinction between slalom and GS skis has gotten
fuzzier in recent years, some generalizations still apply.
Slalom skis have a strong sidecut and are lighter and narrower.
They usually have an unbalanced flex ( relatively stiff tail ).
Slalom skis are designed to make quick, short-radius turns. This
makes them fun in moguls, tight chutes and steeps, but they will
tend to complain if you try to ski them at high speeds in straight
lines. Also, the stiff tail of many slalom skis may make them somewhat
unforgiving in moguls. Many manufacturers also produce slalom skis
with a balanced flex ( softer tail ).
You want to ski fast? Get a GS ski. GS skis feature a gentler sidecut
than a slalom ski and generally have a softer shovel. This makes the
ski more suited to long-radius "cruising" type turns. They're also
lots of fun at high speed as they are much more stable than slalom skis.
The softer tip and gentle sidecut make GS skis a good choice for powder
and crud. One word of warning: while a good skier can crank GS skis
through the bumps and make it look easy this is *not* recommended. Most
GS skis have a metal layer that can be permanently bent by repeatedly
thrashing in the moguls. If you want to ski bumps then try a different
- "True Racing":
Although most "racing" skis are excellent skis for free skiing,
there are some skis on the market that are made specifically for
racing. These "true racing" skis are excellent choices for people
on racing teams who will spend a great deal of time running gates.
However, they may be poor choices for general free skiing. Since
manufacturers call alot of their skis "racing" skis, ask a reputable
shop about distinguishing the racing skis made for advanced skiers and
experts and the racing skis made for racers only.
For example, there is the so-called "rapid-gate" or "J-turn" ski.
These are slalom skis made specifically for racing in courses
set with break-away poles or rapid-gates. Although these skis
excel at making the short, choppy J-turns used by today's slalom
racers, they have a reputation of being squirelly and *very*
unforgiving. On the other hand, some GS skis are made to do little
other than to make long turns at high speeds. These GS skis will
protest if you want ( or need ) to make shorter radius turns.
While the name may be somewhat daunting these skis are actually pretty
nifty. In fact, they may be the most versatile skis on the market
today. Most "extreme" skis feature a slalom sidecut combined with a
slightly softer tip and tail. This makes for a ski that is very quick
from edge to edge but performs a bit better in powder and crud than
a slalom ski. While extreme skis may become a bit annoying at high
speeds (they twitch) they are great for bumps, powder, crud, and steep
narrow chutes. They also have the reputation of being fairly durable
skis as they are often built to survive the trauma of reentry after
- Mogul Skis:
Some manufacturers have reintroduced skis made specifically for the
bumps. They are often made to be skied slightly shorter than normal
and have a radical slalom side cut and soft tips and tails. If it
ain't worth skiing if its flat and if you live for the bumps and
nothing else, these may be the ski for you. Otherwise, there are
more versatile skis to be had.
- Powder Skis ( fatties):
A recent newcomer to the scene are the new powder skis. They are
generally very short and very wide ( or even wider! ). Some devoted
powder freaks think they're the best thing since sliced bread. However,
it is generally accepted that they are good only for skiing in the
See the FAQ section on XC.
The various ski magazines generally publish a brief review of equipment in
their first issue of the season, September. Use the reviews only get
obtain a list of equipment which *might* be suitable. There''s still no
substitute for demos and real time spent trying the equipment out.
There are standard formulas relating your skill level, weight and
height to a nominal ski length. For alpine beginners length's
center around 160 CM, intermediates around 180 CM and experts
around 195 CM. Weight modifies these by about 10 CM in either
direction and some people argue about whether height matters at
all. Note that it is not a good idea to use skis longer than you
are comfortable with (don't let ego decide), but once you reach a
certain level of proficiency most people can work up to an "expert"
lengths with little difficulty. This is a good reason for renting,
rather than buying skis during the learning stages.
For classical nordic skiing some people reccommend a XC ski length
that comes up to your upraised wrist, but this can end up specifying
a ski that's way too long, especially if you're long-limbed or light
for your height. In any event, the ski should be no longer than this,
and no shorter than about 6" taller than your height. A ski that's
too long will be difficult to control and may be too stiff. For
skating the skiis will be somewhat shorter, although skating on
classical skiis is possible (slightly better technique required...)
In general get fitted by a professional, not by someone who sells
toasters and TV's.
2.07) "What's the difference between "ladies" gear and "men's" gear?"
Ski equipment is generally unisex. Gear that is labelled "ladies" is
usually a little lighter weight and softer...both boots and skis.
Ladies boots are designed to fit the "average" female foot a little
They both have their strong and weak points. The use of a foam core
allows the manufacturers to design a ski that is lighter and therfore
more responsive. Foam, however, is much less durable than wood which
means that if you ski real hard you're probably more likely to blow
up your foam core skis than your wood core skis. Wood cores tend to
be somewhat better damped than foam which results in a ski that rides
a little smoother.
There are several good books available on the subject of ski tuning.
One book that is always mentioned when this question arises is Seth
Masia's Alpine Ski Maintenance & Repair Handbook. A good resource
for finding books on tuning as well as the necessary equipment is
The Third Hand. They can be reached at 916-926-2600.
Alpine Ski Maintenance and Repair
"World Class Ski Tuning"
PO Box 1045
Portland, OR 97207
Sigh. Yes we have. Many many times. It's pretty much old news at this
point (it happened around 1988). At one point Tyrolia did indeed
recall several bindings for a defect in some of the plastic parts.
This recall and upgrade program is now over. According to Tyrolia,
every owner's manual states that your bindings should be serviced/
inspected at least once a season. Since the recall began circa 1988
there has been ample time for 'annual' binding servicing. If your
binding was under recall, the shop would/should have notified you
when you brought your equipment in for service and offered the appropriate
options. However, since this vintage (pre 1988) of bindings were sold
with the lifetime warranty, Tyrolia will cover broken bindings under this
warranty. You'll need to take your bindings to an authorized Tyrolia
dealer along with a proof of purchase and the owner's manual. The bindings
will either be sent back to Tyrolia or they'll be replaced by the shop.
Here is the "Tyrolia Safety Notification", reprinted without permission.