- Dorian Campisi DPT
Snowboard and Ski Fit
As autumn fades away and we transition away from warm weather activities, our focus here at PTSC moves towards that big rock to the east of town. That’s right - we’re talking about the Grand Mesa and more specifically, the snow upon it! At present it is a bit bare up there, but once the snowfall begins ski and snowboard season follows! The topic of discussion this month is in regards to skis and snowboards, not necessarily how to ride them, but rather how to choose the ideal gear from the many variations out there. What is a rocker versus a
camber? What difference does width of the board make? How should your gear be adjusted to icy or powdery conditions? You might be surprised at just how much customization is available with respect to skis and snowboards. This guide will serve to orient to the main variables to be aware of when selecting your first or 10th set of skis or board!
Given the differences between the way skis and snowboards are ridden, it should come as no surprise that there are different metrics for their dimensions. Some key factors to consider:
- Effective edge: The edge length of the snowboard that actually makes contact with the snow when the board is on edge. This is shorter than the snowboard length. A longer effective edge will add stability and a shorter effective edge makes your snowboard feel looser and easier to turn
o Longer board = stability and speed, shorter = maneuverability
o If you're riding primarily in the park or freestyle, pick a board on the shorter end of the size range.
o If you're riding is mostly all mountain, powder or freeriding, consider a snowboard on the longer end of the size range or grabbing a volume shifted board.
o If you are above average weight consider a longer snowboard.
o If you are a beginner, aim for a shorter board in your size range.
- Flex: the tolerance a board has for bending. Soft flex boards are going to be more forgiving and easier to turn, and are good for beginners, riders with lower body weights and park riders. Soft snowboards tend to be a bit looser at higher speeds but can also provide a soft buttery feel at slower speeds. Stiff flex boards are usually built for freeride or backcountry use. They provide better edge hold and are more stable at high speeds. Stiff boards can be great for riders laying down high speed turns but tough for lightweight riders to flex properly
- Waist width: The width of the snowboard at its narrowest point, typically measured in millimeters. Narrow waist widths can be rolled from edge to edge faster than wider snowboards. Snowboards are designed to be ridden with your toes and heels very close to the edge of the board and waist width should correspond roughly with boot size
o When a snowboard waist width is sized correctly your snowboard boots will hang over the edges of the snowboard just slightly but not so much as to hit the snow when the board is on edge. Extending the toes and heels slightly over the edges of the snowboard allows you to apply leverage to the board and modulate pressure with your ankles. If your boots extend too far over the edge, they’ll hit the snow during hard turns and cause you to fall.
- Tip/Tail width: The width of the snowboard at the widest point, measured either at the tail (back end) or tip (front end) of the snowboard.
- Sidecut radius: The radius your board would create if the curve of the edge was extended out into a complete circle. Smaller numbers for sidecut radius = smaller circle = tighter turns.
Not all boards are created equal. The demands of the mountain terrain, weather conditions and style of the athlete all factor into the type of board to be selected. Some general points:
- All-mountain snowboards are designed to work well in all snow conditions and terrain. They are notorious for their versatility - if you’re just getting started or are unsure of exactly what you need, an all-mountain snowboard is a great choice.
- Freestyle or park snowboards tend to be shorter in length and best used in terrain parks, rails, jibs, trash cans, tree trunks, riding switch (non-dominant foot forward), wall rides and more. Freestyle boards often feature a true twin or asymmetrical shape.
- Freeride snowboards are designed for terrain found off of groomed runs and with varied features. They typically are stiffer and are ridden in longer sizes than freestyle snowboards. Freeride snowboards often feature a directional shape that is designed to perform optimally in one direction.
- Powder snowboards are designed to make the most of fresh conditions and usually have a wider nose and a tapered narrower tail. The binding inserts, which determine the rider's stance, are often set back on a powder snowboard, for flotation and steering with your back foot. Powder snowboards often feature generous rocker, a design element where the tip (and tail) rise starts farther back on the board, which also helps the rider float and pivot easily.
- Splitboards are designed for the backcountry rider and break down into two separate halves for uphill travel with climbing skins. Special bindings are required. Once you've reached the top, you reconnect the two halves for the ride downhill.
There is no magic formula for determining the right size ski for you. In general, the proper ski length is somewhere between your chin and the top of your head. The exact right size for you will depend on your skiing ability and style. Skill level, snow type, terrain and personal preference are some important factors to take into account.
Reasons to size your skis shorter, closer to your chin:
You are a beginner or intermediate skier.
You weigh less than average for your height.
You like to make short, quick turns and seldom ski fast.
You want a carving ski with only camber, no rocker.
Reasons to size your skis longer, closer to the top of your head:
You are skiing fast and aggressively.
You weigh more than average for your height.
You plan to do the majority of your skiing off the trail.
You plan to ski a twin-tip ski.
You want a ski that has a lot of rocker.
- Beginner skis: Someone who is new to skiing or a skier working on linking smooth turns together falls into this ability level. Typical beginner ski qualities include: softer flex, narrower widths, composite/foam/softer wood cores, and capped constructions. The idea is to create a ski that is easy to turn and very forgiving if you do make a mistake. The addition of rocker (see below) in the tip and tail tends to aid in turn initiation
- Intermediate skis: The majority of skiers and skis fall into this level. These skis are generally wider than beginner skis with a stronger wood core and sandwich sidewall construction. Depending on the type of ski, these skis may have full camber, rocker, or some combination of the two (see below).
- Advanced skis: these are generally stiffer both longitudinally and torsionally than intermediate level skis and can be challenging at slower speeds. You will often find layers of Titanal, carbon, flax, or other materials meant to deliver better performance at speed or in demanding conditions. You'll find expert level carving, park, all-mountain and powder skis with a wide variety of rocker configurations.
As is the case with boards, skis have particular metrics to pay attention to in order to find the best pair for a given person. Some key features to consider:
- Waist width: the measurement at a ski’s width at the middle (waist) of the ski, which is usually the narrowest point. Waist width influences how easily the ski is turns and how it will handle powder and non-groomed snow. Narrower = quicker edge to edge during turns, wider = better flotation in powder and choppy snow.
- Turn radius: the shape of a ski determined by its tip, waist, and tail width, usually expressed in meters. The narrower a ski’s waist is in relation to its tip and tail, the shorter the turn radius and therefore the deeper the sidecut. A ski with a deep sidecut (short turn radius) will make quicker turns, while a ski with a subtle sidecut (long turn radius) will turn more slowly and is typically more stable at high speeds. Some modern skis combine two or more radii on a single edge.
- Camber: a slight upward curve in the middle of a ski or board, with the contact points (where an unweighted ski or board contacts the snow) close to the ends. Cambered skis and boards produce more pressure on the snow at the tip and tail since they have to flex further to achieve this curve. It represents the traditional profile for skis and snowboards. Camber requires more precise turn initiation, but offers superb precision and power on groomed terrain and harder snow. The rider's weight puts an even and concentrated pressure on the edge from tip to tail, resulting in increased edgehold. Racers and high level park riders often prefer camber.
- Rocker: also called reverse-camber, rocker is just as it sounds – camber turned upside down. All skis and snowboards, rockered or cambered, when put on edge and weighted in a turn achieve reverse-camber. Rocker skis and snowboards offer superior float in the soft snow and increased ease of turn initiation with less chance of "catching" an edge. As skis in general get wider, rocker helps keep the new shapes maneuverable for a wider range of skiers. Wide ski and board shapes designed primarily for powder are often rockered.
- Rocker/Camber skis pair a traditional cambered profile underfoot with an elongated, early rise tip borrowed from fully rockered skis. This profile places the front contact point further back from the tip, while the rear contact point remains close to the tail. The rockered tip allows for better flotation in deep snow and a less catchy feel, while the cambered rear stores and transmits energy similarly to a fully cambered ski and retains edgehold when your weight is over the tails. More and more all-mountain, big-mountain and even carving skis are being built with this profile. Because of its asymmetric shape, this profile does not ski backwards as well as other profiles, but floats well in powder without giving up too much hard snow performance.
- Rocker/Camber/Rocker skis have the playfulness and float of a rockered ski as well as the added edge hold of a cambered ski. The contact points on skis with this profile are closer towards the middle of the ski than a fully cambered ski, but still not underfoot. The cambered midsection provides a longer effective edge on hardpack, increasing edge hold and stability, while the rockered tip and tail provide floatation in deeper snow and allow the ski to initiate and release from turns easier. This profile provides playfulness for park skiers, flotation for powder lovers, forgiveness for beginners and versatility for those who only have one pair of skis. Many ski manufacturers offer multiple types of Rocker/Camber/Rocker to accommodate different skiers, pairing different amounts of rocker and camber with different ski widths and sidecuts.
- Rocker/Flat/Rocker is another variation on the rocker theme that seeks to provide a little more hard snow edgehold than full rocker while retaining ease of turning and float. Performance is between a fully rockered ski and a rocker/camber/rocker ski.
- Keep in mind that companies will combine the above profiles in different ways, sometimes inventing creative names like "Mustache," "reCurve" and "Jib Rocker" to market them.
Ski selection based on terrain preference:
- All mountain: these are for skiing the entire mountain. They are designed to handle anything you throw at them including powder, ice, groomers, steeps, heavy snow, and everything in between, but they aren’t necessarily a master of any one terrain or snow type. If you’re only going to own one ski to do it all, this is what you want. All-mountain skis generally have “mid-fat” waist widths that range from 80-110mm.
- Powder: these are designed to function best in fresh powder. Skis in the powder category are wide (115 mm or more in the waist) and most often have some form of rocker or early rise plus a relatively soft flex. Some have unique sidecut shapes like reverse sidecut; the tip and tail are not always the widest parts of the ski.
- Big mountain: these are designed for charging big lines with high speeds and big airs. They vary in width from wide, powder-oriented skis to narrower, mixed condition skis. Skis in this category tend to be on the stiffer and heavier side, often with more rocker in the tip and less in the tail
- Carving: these are designed best for skiing over on edge and arcing a perfect turn. These have narrower waists and shorter turn radii for edge to edge quickness and responsive turn initiation and exit on groomed runs and hard pack.
- Park: often called freestyle skis, these are for skiers who spend the majority of their time in the terrain park. Traditionally, park and pipe skis have narrower waists with full camber profiles but this category is increasingly incorporating more rocker patterns and different shapes. You will almost always find these skis with twin tips as well as other park specific features like thicker, more durable edges and dense extruded bases.
- Alpine: also known as backcountry skis or alpine touring (AT) skis. These are designed for going uphill as well as downhill. They are typically light for their width and many feature fittings that accept climbing skins. They vary in width and weight, with the wider heavier versions usually used for winter/deep snow touring and the skinnier, lighter skis usually used for spring/summer/long distance touring.
- Women’s: these are typically lighter, softer, and shorter to optimize performance with the typically lower center of gravity and reduced body mass of women compared to men of the same height. These factors lead to reduced leverage and force imposed on the skis, but require less force to power and turn. This is accomplished by using thinner, softer cores and less laminate layers in the construction. Mounting positions are often a centimeter or so further forward on these skis. Of course there is no reason a female skier cannot ski well on a men’s ski, and vice versa – these are just modified to match typical trends associated with body size and shape.