How to Choose the Right Ski Length

While there’s no equation that looks like (height x weight)/(skill level)√magical number = perfect length in the skiing world, there are a few tips that can point you in the right direction when you’re trying to figure out which length of ski is right for you.

Above Photo: Backcountry Athlete Greg Hill in Rogers Pass, BC
Photo By: Tommy Chandler

The Long & The Short of It

Length changes the way a ski performs while you’re going in a straight line, while you’re turning, and while you’re skiing at any speed. Within a single make and model, a shorter length will usually make the ski more nimble, which leads to quicker turns and more maneuverability at slower speeds, while the longer lengths in that ski will have a longer turn radius and be more stable at a higher speed. The reverse is also generally true: longer skis tend to be more sluggish at slow speeds, while shorter skis tend to lose stability as you go faster. It stands to reason that as a general guideline, taller, heavier people and more advanced skiers tend to prefer longer skis because they have more leverage over the ski and feel more comfortable making longer turns. Shorter, lighter people (and less-experienced skiers) will usually feel more comfortable with the maneuverability of a shorter ski.

therightskilength-BCRE_130324-1012Backcountry Athletes Jenn Berg and Jamey Parks at Alta, UT. Photo By: Re Wikstrom

Get Out Your Tape Measure

We mentioned before that there’s no single formula to give you the right size, and there isn’t. What there is, however, is a good old rule of thumb to point you in the right direction.

First, take your height and convert it to centimeters, and use that number as an indicator of the ski lengths you should be considering. Your height will be the mid-point of a 30-centimeter range of ski lengths. For example, a 5-foot 9-inch person is about 175 centimeters tall. Assuming nothing else, that individual should probably be seeking a ski somewhere in between 160 centimeters and 190 centimeters long. A beginner should start at the lower end of the range, while a more advanced skier will likely prefer something longer. Another way to describe this is to use the head of the skier as a reference: a beginner should start somewhere under the chin and work up to the nose, while an advanced skier can start at the nose and continue up from there. Here’s a basic guide to choosing the right ski length based on height and weight.


The Last Word

There will always be exceptions to the rules we’ve outlined. Just like width, radius, camber profile, or any of the other characteristics that define a ski, length is something you choose based on the way you ski, the terrain and snow you ski on, and the way you want to ski it. The most important lesson to take away from this article is that nobody can tell you what ski you “should” be using; it’s up to you to go out there and borrow, rent, or demo skis until you know what feels right.


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