How to Size an Alpine Touring Ski

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How to Size an Alpine Touring Ski

How to Size an Alpine Touring Ski
The ski touring industry is growing faster and faster. With such growth, gear is increasingly improving in terms of price, performance, and durability. Touring skis have gotten better for edging on hardpack, floating through powder, and flying up the skin track all at once. Everything has gotten easier for backcountry skiing - everything except choosing the right skis!

If you have read our article How to choose a ski touring setup, you already have some insight into which quiver slot you would like to fill or what skier archetype you might suit. There are many different factors that go into choosing a touring ski such as: skier height and weight, intended use, ski geometry, and skier preference. This is not an objective process and this article is to serve as a guide for choosing the right ski for you. If you have any questions you can always email us at info@cripplecreekbc, make an appointment to come see us in person, or meet up online through a FaceShots call.
Sizing Skis With Height and Weight
In general, we advise our customers to size alpine touring skis a bit shorter than a alpine resort ski. This helps reduce the overall setup weight for uphill travel and allows you to have more maneuverability while skiing in variable backcountry conditions. However, you don't want to size down too much because your weight and height could overpower the ski. While not accounting for certain, more specific quiver slots - the recommended range for an appropriate ski length is from your lips to the top of your head. This means if the ski is standing straight up in front of you with the tail of the ski on the ground, the tips will measure within the range of your lips to the top of your head.

Skier Height in Feet & Inches | Suggested Ski Length Range (cm)
5' | 140-160
5'2" | 145-165
5'4" | 150-170
5'6" | 155-175
5'8" | 160-180
5'10" | 165-185
6' | 170-190
6'2" + | 175-190 +

If you weigh a little more for your height, ski very fast wide-open turns, or intend on skiing with a heavy pack - then we would suggest sizing to the upper end of your range. Read on to see more factors that will play a roll in deciding an appropriate length ski.

Quiver Slots and Intended Use

One of the important factors for sizing an alpine touring ski is the quiver slot you choose. Quiver slots describe the intended style and use of your alpine touring skis. Powder or Freeride boards are going to be sized differently to Ski Mountaineering tools which will be sized differently to All Mountain skis. In this section, we briefly touch on how ski touring quiver slots relate to ski size. For a more in-depth description on quiver slots, check out our in-depth explanation here. Check out the graphic below to see how quiver slots relate to ski waist measurements. Typically, Race and Fitness skis measure between 60-85 cm. Ski Mountaineering skis will be wider at 75-100 cm. All Mountain skis are considered the most versatile ski width at 85-110 cm. Then Powder and Freeride skis are as big as skis get at 100-120+ cm.

Race and Fitness
For competing and exercise-focused touring
Race Skis
When we say race, we are referencing ski mountaineering racing. Ski mountaineering racing is essentially competitive ski touring. Racers complete a set course of designated up tracks, descents, and transition zones. All race skis come in two lengths ranging from 150 - 161 cm. According to ISMF (International Ski Mountaineering Federation) standards, male racers must ski on planks at least 160 cm in length, while female racers must ski on planks at least 150 cm in length. Race skis are perfect for training and competing at your highest level. If you are looking to be as light as possible and perform to the highest of your ability in ski mountaineering racing, then you'll want to get a pair of race skis. You will feel like your flying up and down the mountain with the freedom of motion and lightweight of a race setup. However, if you want to use touring as a form of exercise and are willing to sacrifice a few 100 grams in exchange for improved durability and downhill performance, we suggest looking to a pair of fitness skis instead. Race skis are 150-161 cm in length and ~65 cm in width.
Fitness Skis
A fitness ski is perfect for on-piste touring when the main objective is to get exercise. These skis come in a featherweight package but are capable of holding an edge down groomed runs and skiing through the mixed terrain that you might find on the resort. If you race to push your personal limits more than competing against others, we recommend a fitness ski [over a race ski] for their improved downhill performance and durability. Fitness and race skis have a traditional cambered shape to get every bit of effective edge and holding power out of their slender frame. Fitness and race skis are the trail running shoes of the ski touring world: they're light, agile, and energy efficeint. A fitness ski will be short and maneuverable, but the extra bit of weight will provided an improved downhill skiing experience [compared to a race ski]. Fitness skis are 160-180 cm in length and 70-80 cm in width.

Thinking about entering a ski mountaineering race? Check out the Grand Traverse Packing List to get an idea of what's required, what to expect, and what to look forward to!
Race
Race
Fitness
Fitness
Ski Mountaineering
For long days in the mountains where efficiency and performance are key
Ski Mountaineering skis are for actual ski mountaineering (not ski mountaineering racing, I know it's confusing) Ski Mountaineering skis are designed as tools for efficient travel in the mountains and confident skiing on technical terrain. These skis should be sized on the shorter end of the range to maximize their dexterity in technical terrain and to save weight for longer missions. They need to jump turn in couloirs and be carried on your pack while climbing. I like to view skis in this category as utilitarian: they are designed for the specific job of skiing safely in technical terrain and energy efficient or mountain travel. Most skis in this category have straight tails, traditional camber underfoot, and [at times] tip rise to compensate for their narrow waist while in deeper/mixed conditions. Ski Mountaineering skis are typically 170-185 cm in length and 75-100 cm in width.
Ski Mountaineering
Ski Mountaineering
Ski Mountaineering
Ski Mountaineering
All Mountain
For equal parts uphill and downhill skiing performance
All Mountain skis are meant to be a jack-of-all-trades: competent from powder skiing to light mountaineering to fitness touring. These skis walk the line between many different categories, so it's good to size them in the middle of your size range. You will find the most variety in shapes, lengths, and widths when it comes to All Mountain skis because its such a broad category of touring. All Mountain skis put more of an emphasis on downhill performance than Ski Mountaineering skis or Race & Fitness skis, but they will be heavier for touring uphill. All Mountain skis won't be as wide or stable as Powder & Freeride skis, but they will be lighter and have more nimble dexterity. Consider All Mountain skis the goldilocks balance between uphill and downhill skiing performance. If you want one ski for the entire season that can ski all conditions with literacy, I would suggest looking for an All Mountain ski. All Mountain skis are generally 160 - 190 cm in length and 85-110 cm in width.
All Mountain
All Mountain
All Mountain
All Mountain
Powder and Freeride
For soft snow flotation and high speed charging
For Powder and Freeride skiing, size does matter. For floating in powder or maintaining stability during fast descents, the extra length, width and mass will play to your advantage. For Freeride skiing, a bigger ski reduces chatter and deflection in your ski, maximizing stability at high speeds and control in variable snow. For Powder skiing, a bigger ski helps with floatation, keeping your ski on top of the snow so you can maintain speed and maneuverability. These quiver slots will vary with shape: Freeride skis are cambered, directional and heavier to help maintain edge control at high speeds while Powder skis are rockered and lightweight to help with flotation and dexterity in deep snow. If you want to surf through soft snow, charge through any form of frozen water, and do so with a huge smile on your face, then you'll need a pair of Powder or Freeride skis. Powder and Freeride skis are usually sized longer (170-190 cm in length) than average and 100-120+ cm in width.
Freeride
Freeride
Powder
Powder

Ski Geometry

The important next step when selection alpine touring skis is to look at ski geometry. Back in the day all skis were skinny and straight and usually really, really long. Skier's had to initiate turns by offsetting the skis in order to create an arc (tele skiing). Now skis have curved shapes and improved performance and help turning. There are a number of factors that go into a ski's geometry, all of them affecting how the ski performs. Some names to keep in mind are rocker, camber, sidecut and turning radius.

1) Rocker and Camber
Rocker is the curve in a ski away from the snow [if the ski was lying flat on the snow]. Camber is the curve in the ski towards the snow. Rocker helps with ski flotation. Camber helps with turn initiation (it's a little bit more complex than that, but come into the shop and well discuss the minutia over espresso).

Tip rocker refers to the amount of ski tip that rises off of the snow. This helps with turn initiation and floatation in soft and/or variable snow. With tip rocker, skiers are able maintain a forward stance on the ski without having the tip dive or catch in the snow. Tail rocker works on the same principle as tip rocker, offering ease in turn initiation and release at the end of your turn. Rockered skis pivot more easily and help maintain a controlled position while in deep or variable snow. The more rocker a ski has, the less edge is in contact with the ground, meaning the ski will feel shorter in firmer conditions and maintain less of an effective edge.

Camber refers to the arc underneath your ski when you lay your skis flat on the snow. When the ski is weighted with a skier, the arc disappears distributing energy along the length of the ski. A ski's "pop" is generated by the loading and unloading of the camber through a turn. As a result, the more camber a ski has the more energy potential there is for turning. Cambered skis will be more lively and powerful while turning, maintain a longer effective edge and control.

Most touring skis have a combination of both rocker and camber. The balance of the two are deciding factors in how the ski will perform in specific conditions.

2) Sidecut and Turning Radius
Turning radius and sidecut should also be considered when choosing your touring skis. However, they are secondary points to the larger considerations of length/width and camber/sidecut. The sidecut is a ski's shape when looking top-down on the ski. It's always a three-number sequence referencing the tip width - waist width - tail width. The arc created between a ski's tip, waist, and tail is the turning radius. The bigger variance between tip/tail width and waist width, the tighter the turning radius. The larger the turning radius, the wider the ski will want to turn. The smaller the turning radius, the tighter the ski will want to turn.

Don't get caught up too much on the sidecut and turning radius. Again, they are secondary factors to your height/weight, quiver slot, and skier ability. Here is the basic work flow for selecting a pair of alpine touring skis:

1. Find your ski length from your height and weight
2. Choose your quiver slot by deciding what skiing you want to do
3. Refine your ski search by fine tuning your desired ski geometry

Bringing it All Together

Those are the nuts and bolts of how to size an alpine touring ski. We talked about how to size skis from our height and weight. We discussed different styles of ski touring and their associated quiver slots and how that can affect our ski selection. Then we got into the nitty gritty of ski geometry. This gives us a work flow to follow for how to best select skis for touring. Hopefully, this information shed some light on the seemingly daunting process of choosing touring skis.

Don't hesitate to shoot us an email, schedule a FaceShot video conference, or call us up with any questions, comments or concerns. We love gear and want to get you into the perfect set up.

View our complete intro to ski touring guide here.

What is the Backcountry?
Ski Touring:
Splitboarding:
Avalanche Safety:

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  • Doug Stenclik
Comments 3
  • Tom Norman
    Tom Norman

    Looking to get a resort touring set up. I’m 173 cm 72kg. I have some Salomon qst 120 with low tech insert soles. I had the change to buy some cost price Salomon shift bindings so also have them. Looking for a ski 85-100 mm and around my height. I won’t need to be racing up so being super light doesn’t matter, I like a stiff stable ski. Currently ski a blizzard bonafide 173 and love it. Just a little heavy to tour in. Any ski recommendations

  • Gary Smith
    Gary Smith

    Hi Jon,

    How tall are you? I would guess if you like both of those lengths, somewhere between 177 and 180 would be a good ski touring length. I would highly advise looking at a lighter oriented boot, especially if it’s a dedicated touring boot. You’ll either not tour much or be buying a new boot next season!

    Gary

  • Jon
    Jon

    Hi, I’m an experienced skier who has got through mid level instructor courses. I’m 175 out of ski boots and 84 kg; ski gotamas in 184 and mantras in 177, find short skis unbearable; just thinking of first tour gear, going to start with k2 pinnacle boots 130; for my height have shorter legs, what would you advise for ski height if you can share an opinion?

    Jon

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