We’ll be the first to tell you that ski lingo and terminology can be (1) difficult to understand, (2) vague, and (3) just straight up confusing at times. Understanding terms like, “corduroy”, “après” and “gaper” are important if you ever want to walk the walk. But what about when you’re buying skis? If you’re looking for a new pair of skis at a retail wall you may get terms like, “sidecut”, “taper”, and “versatility” thrown at you without really knowing what they mean.
In light of this, we have compiled a list of ski design terms that will help you not only understand what ski experts are telling you about their skis, but it will also help you talk like a pro!
Refers to a non-symmetrical shape of a ski, but actually has two appearances. An “Asymmetric ski” has a different sidecut between the inside and outside edge of each ski which is used to give certain carving characteristics that differ between the left and right ski, such as the K2 Marksman. A ski can also look asymmetric by having asymmetric tip and tail shapes but does not have independent sidecut, such as Folsom’s Spar Turbo, or the Moment Meridian.
B: Big Mountain
Refers to a type of ski terrain that involves high alpine (above treeline), highly exposed lines, and high consequence terrain. “Big Mountain” skis will often need to be longer, heavier and have lots of rocker to handle this kind of terrain at high speed (see the Folsom BTO).
C: Charge / Charger
Used in reference to a type of skiing style or a type of ski with the idea revolving around skiing fast and stable. A ski that can charge means that it’s able to bust through variable conditions with ease; the faster one can ski through those conditions makes it more of a charger.
How smooth a ski feels going over harsh or even icy snow conditions, resulting in a feeling that the ski is absorbing the impacts and snow variances, rather than your body.
E: Effective Edge
Effective edge is exactly what it sounds like: how much edge of a ski is touching the snow when laid flat on it’s base on hard snow. More effective edge requires more effort to turn the ski, while a shorter effective edge makes for an easier turn. Effective edge is impacted by the shape of the ski (reference “Taper” and “Sidecut” below).
Is reference to how easy a ski is to use in difficult terrain and is related to the “flex” of a ski. Often confused with “Damp” which refers to the ability of a ski to absorb oscillations and vibrations, a more forgiving ski is a softer flexing ski.
Not a good term. When you read or hear a reviewer say that the ski is grabby, they often mean that it’s edges are too quick in engaging with the snow and too difficult to release from a turn, making a ski unpredictable and hard to control. This could mean that the edges are too sharp (not de-tuned enough) in the rockered portions of the ski, or that the ski has too much camber for the skier’s intended use.
An entirely subjective way to say that one needs to do more squats. Also very depending on the skier’s size and preferences. Heavy skis are significantly more stable and damp than lighter skis, and recommended for resort use which is why it’s important to have the right weight skis rather than just lightweight skis. There’s a reason that downhill race skis are double the weight of your all-mountain skis for a reason, so hit the gym and turn “heavy” into “yeah they’re great on the downhill!”.
This is a tricky one, but is effectively how comfortable you are on a pair of skis. When skis are reviewed and noted as being “Intuitive” the reviewers often mean that said skis are easy to maneuver into the correct position and does not require a lot of effort for that user to feel confident on the skis. This typically is in reference to the overall geometry of the ski as well as the camber profile, and has less to do with the construction of the ski. This is a very subjective term and one’s experience on the same ski can be different from the reviewers depending on height, weight, ski experience, etc.
A descriptive term that’s often used when a ski is not very damp. If you’re skiing icy resort conditions on a full carbon touring ski, that is the epitome of jarring; feeling every little bump in the snow’s surface, disrupting one’s skier ability. A heavier or damper ski will typically feel much less jarring than a lighter ski. A ski that’s too stiff may have the same jarring effect.
K: Know before you go
Typically known for implications in the backcountry, it’s important to know the terrain you’re going into before you set off into the backcountry. Study the snowpack, slope angles, convexities, aspects, and weather patterns before any backcountry adventure. The same can be said about ski purchasing, but that’s why we wrote this blog, and are always available to help you understand the skis that you’re purchasing.
Adjective for a ski that becomes unstable at higher speeds. Subjective to the individual, but skis with more tip and tail rocker or even full reverse camber skis can feel loose in non-powder and hard snow conditions. Dull edges can also make a ski feel loose.
Comes from a combination of design factors (primarily sidecut, camber profile, and weight) but is often associated with skis that are quick edge to edge, and have a low swing weight. A true test of a ski’s maneuverability is how well it can ski tight trees. If it performs well and you don’t hit any trees, that’s a maneuverable ski.
N: Never (imported)
It’s more rare than you think to find ski manufacturers that completely build the skis they sell from start to finish. In fact, VERY few manufacturers build all of their own skis from concept to reality. We won’t name names, but larger companies may design the skis and build their sidewalls, bases and finish the skis in their buildings, but they also had other large company “X” make their topsheets, prebend the ski base edges, prep the cores, etc. By outsourcing, a lot of material waste is created, emissions per pair of skis greatly rises, and a less homogenous product is built because it hasn’t had the same set of eyes on it from start to finish. Folsom Custom Skis are built entirely in-house and never imported.
Refers to construction trends in the ski industry such as giving skis a lightweight wood core, numerous sheets of titanal, and usually some weird 3D printed, GMO certified tip insert with a ridiculous name like “Forza Texnolo-gi”. Those skis are overthought, overmarketed and overbuilt because they lose sight of the simple ingredients of a ski. They focus more on making sure that a customer can be wow’d and maybe even talk about the new technology in their skis, rather than delivering a quality product that lasts a long time and feel great. Again, we won’t name any names.
Refers to how much energy a ski transmits back to the skier. Skis with higher cambers and stiffer flexing skis are often thought of as powerful skis due to the amount of pressure and energy they can load and release from a turn. More powerful skis benefit heavier skiers and those that ski more aggressively.
Bonus P: Playful
Usually in reference to skis that are softer and more rockered that are capable of flexing easily, slarving and slashing more than they like to carve. Also skis that haver shorter turning radii are frequently considered to be playful. Generally subjective to each skier as someone lighter may find a softer ski is a more appropriate flex for them.
Means that when a ski is on hardpack, freshly groomed corduroy, or just conditions when there isn’t much snow, that a ski does not experience a lot of chatter. How damp a ski is built will also contribute to how quiet it is.
The portion of the skis’ tips and tails that splay up and away from the snow’s surface. Acts to increase the maneuverability, versatility, float, and ease of turn of a ski. For powder conditions, more rocker is better to maintain float and pivotability, while hardpack or carving conditions require much less rocker so the edge hold is more precise and locked in. (See our “What is Rocker and Camber” blog here.)
Bonus R: Recommended Mount Location
The halfway point between your binding’s toe and heel pieces. Calculated from the apex of the sidecut of a ski so that the skier is positioned in the most efficient location to use the edges and rocker of the ski optimally. Moving forward from the recommended mount location makes the skis easier to turn, but risks the loss of stability at speed. Moving the bindings backwards of the recommended mount location makes the skis more stable at speed but harder to turn.
Not to be confused with “Turning Radius”, however they are directly correlated. Sidecut measures the change in width from the tip, to the waist (underfoot), to the tail of the ski to determine how much a ski will want to grab the snow when on edge. Typically, powder skis will have less sidecut than carving or all-mountain skis, but that can be adjusted depending on how much “taper” a ski has. Slalom skis generally have more sidecut, while a big mountain or Super G ski would have a less sidecut.
Bonus S: Suspension
BLISTER Gear Review describes ski suspension the best. It’s thought of as the way that a ski travels over or through any kind of snow condition and can easily be conceptualized when thinking about car suspension. The more suspension a ski has, the more stable yet responsive it’s going to feel going through crud, while a ski with “bad” suspension will feel jarring and unpredictable in such conditions. Note: Suspension is not the same as damp or plush because it incorporates how responsive a ski is as well as it’s stability. A ski that’s very damp may not have good suspension if it’s impossible to move quickly.
When the widest point of the ski is no longer right at the very tips and tails of the ski, but is rather a few centimeters closer towards the center of it. Used to reduce the effective edge and increase the sidecut of the ski to make it feel quicker on edge. Very useful in conditions with moisture dense snow where you need to be quick but still have a wide tip width to plow through denser snow.
Bonus T: Turning Radius
A unit that ski manufacturers “calculate” to measure how quickly the ski turns. Skis with a shorter stated turn radius will have an easier turn initiation, while skis with a longer stated radius will have a more difficult turn initiation. Short turning radii would fall in the 10-19m range, and longer radii would measure in at 20-30m.
Where Folsom Skis are made from scratch. We source most of our materials from the US and are one of just a few manufacturers that truly build every element of their skis in-house from the start to finish.
V: Versatile / Versatility
When reviewers and manufacturers say a ski is versatile, they often mean that a ski can be used in more than one specific condition (like solely powder or hardpack conditions). A versatile ski has a good balance of float, edge hold, power, precision and suspension. Not directly correlated with ski weight, typically a versatile ski has to be heavy enough for bad conditions but light enough for perfect days.
A measurement (typically in mm) that’s used to reference the tip, waist (underfoot) and tail widths of a ski (ex. Cash 106 138-106-124mm). The underfoot width of a ski generally tells you what category of ski it is: Carving skis <90mm, All-mountain skis 91 – 110mm, Powder Skis >111mm.
Width does not tell the whole story of a ski! Make sure you look at the turning radius of the ski as well to know how much taper it has and therefore how much available effective edge. If a 120mm underfoot pow ski has an 18m turn radius, it’s probably got a lot of taper and not much effective edge. If an 88mm underfoot carving ski has a 24m turn radius, it will have very little if any taper, and a lot of effective edge, so its turn initiation may be a little difficult.
Getting eXtreme is an essential part of skiing, best described in Folsom favorite Aspen Extreme (1993). You can thank us later.
Often the immediate reaction one makes when stomping a cliff or pillow line, or after laying down some juicy corduroy turns. Also an appropriate reaction after taking an Alta Bomb, or finding Coors Light on tap for less than $5 at your local ski resort.
Z: Zipper Line
Any direct fall line path through a mogul field, the tighter and faster the better.
Did we miss any terms or are there any aspects of ski design that you would like to know more about? Let us know in the comments or shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.