In the early ’90s, when dinosaurs had only recently been supplanted by mammals and plaid shirts were worn layered on top of each other, terrain parks were in their infancy. They were an attempt to welcome snowboarding to the resorts and to corral (unsuccessfully) the skate-inspired tricks that boarders favored and that upset the status quo.
Initially, skiers were not allowed in the parks, but with youth being youth, that restriction became more of a temptation than any marketing ploy could ever hope to achieve. Skiers began “poaching” the parks, and not long after, the first production twintip ski (the K2 Poacher) hit the market. This was the original park and pipe ski, and for almost a decade, all a manufacturer had to do was put an upward curve in the tail of a mold and slap some rad graphics on the topsheet to make one.
Twenty years later, park and pipe skiing is its own industry, and the most televised skiing discipline in history. Park and pipe skis are designed specifically for the sport, and while the abundance of choice may present a tough decision, the actual difference from one park ski to the next is not as extreme as you might think. Park and pipe skis tend to stick within a narrow design range and are focused on achieving a few goals within that scope.
A park ski doesn’t have to float in powder, and it doesn’t have to rail high-G, high-speed turns, so dimensions usually fall in-between carving and all-mountain skis, with a little extra width for stability but not enough to make the ski sluggish or sacrifice hard snow grip. Around 80-85mm underfoot seems to be the sweet spot, with a shorter radius of between 11 and 16 meters. Some manufacturers offer “true twin” dimensions that are identical in the tip and tail, which (in theory) makes switch skiing easier and improves balance for spinning tricks and rails, but most seem to believe that a slight directional shape offers a better all-around experience.
As for length, you’ll want to go a touch shorter than you would for a carving ski, but not too much … you don’t want a ski that’s so short that your landings are going to feel squirrely, especially if you’re going big. Keep in mind that bindings are usually center-mounted (on true twin-tips) or only very slightly off-center, so they’re going to feel a touch shorter than, say, an all-mountain ski where your bindings are mounted slightly further back.
Construction is where you will find significant variation in park and pipe skis, but again, manufacturers are all trying to achieve the same results: light weight, durability, and “pop” or rebound energy for better takeoffs. Cap versus sidewall construction is the endless debate in park skis, because there are benefits to each design but no universal winner. In cap construction, the wraparound topsheet layer provides excellent protection against chipping and delamination, and the lack of a sidewall makes the ski lighter. Vertical sidewall construction sacrifices some durability against chipping in day-to-day skiing but handles hard impacts better and adds carving power, rebound, and torsional stiffness for better stability at speed. Some manufacturers are moving to hybrid sidewall-cap designs that incorporate sidewall material in high-wear areas, but remove it from tips and tails where it adds weight and unnecessary cost. You’ll find this in park models like the Armada Al Dente and the Atomic Punx.
Whichever design you choose, look for a full wood core; while slightly heavier, will offer longer-lasting performance than synthetics that are usually found in entry-level park skis.
An important thing to remember is that while you want great performance out of your skis, park and pipe skiing takes a huge toll on equipment. Pro-model skis might tempt you with their light weight, but remember that the pros have a stack of backup skis waiting in the garage in case they break one or rip out a binding during practice or competition. If you’re looking to get more than a season out of your investment, thicker edges, bases, and cores are going to offer better endurance in exchange for a few grams of added weight.
All photos courtesy of Line Skis.