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Ski Length and Women

ski diva

Administrator
Staff member
Interesting article in Skimag.com on the appropriate ski length for women. What do you think?

Ladies, Don’t Let Shop Guys Sell You Short Skis

Jenny Wiegand March 29, 2021

Womens Skis: With new ski technologies, the old chin rule doesn't apply anymore.

Q: In the latest SKI Gear Guide, I found very few skis that come in a length less than 150cm. There was only one ski in the All-Mountain category, a few in Frontside, and none in the other categories. Maybe next year you could include a section on Petite Women Skiers. – Ellie G. (under 5-foot skier)

Most women’s-specific skis entered into SKI’s annual test come in a variety of lengths, but the shortest does usually hover around the 150cm-mark. Here’s why: In most cases, even petite women should be on a ski that’s at least 150cm long. Modern ski technology and construction, such as rocker profiles, have made longer skis much more accessible even to shorter skiers. And in most cases, the added length of the ski is a bonus. To help you choose the right ski length for your height and skiing ability, let’s dive deeper into how modern technology has changed the way skis perform relative to their length.

Rocker Technology and Ski Length

Most modern skis—even skis designed for on-trail performance—have at least a little bit of rocker in the tip. Wider skis designed primarily for off-trail performance will generally feature more rocker in both the tip and tail of the ski. If a ski is rockered in the tip (and tail), a portion of the ski’s tip (and tail) is designed to slightly curve upward away from the snow, so that this area does not make contact with the snow.

Rocker profile varies widely between ski manufacturers and the category of the ski. But whether a ski has minimal or generous rocker, this construction makes skiing easier because it reduces the effective edge of the ski, or the amount of edge that actually makes contact with the snow. Less edge contact allows the ski to pivot more easily from side to side, making turn initiation and release more effortless. But less effective edge also makes skis less stable at speed. Whereas skis of yore without rocker used to ski true to their length because you skied the entire edge length, skis today tend to ski shorter than their length because the amount of effective edge is reduced by the rocker profile.

Previously, women were often advised to purchase skis that reached up to their chin or nose (if you were considered a beginner, the chin-rule applied). Advanced and expert women were sold skis that reached to the middle of their forehead. But this sweeping rule is now outdated. If a woman were to choose a ski that only comes up to her nose today, chances are, that ski would ski too short for her because the rocker profile in the tip will provide less effective edge relative to the length of the ski. So instead of relying just on height to choose the right ski length for you, you should first and foremost consider your skiing ability and where you like to ski.

Choosing Ski Length Based on Ability

Despite rocker technology, true beginners may still want to stick with a short ski because it will be lighter and more maneuverable, making the learning process a little easier on them. But intermediate women should feel comfortable choosing skis that are as long as they are tall. Even if you’re very petite, say 4-foot 11-inches, a 150cm ski will reach right up to the top of your head. Remember, a rockered ski that reaches to the top of your head will ski shorter than its length, so choosing a ski that’s as long as you are tall gives you a little more effective edge to work with.

Advanced and expert women, on the other hand, may want to choose a ski that’s actually taller than they are, especially if they are particularly strong and athletic skiers.

Stronger skiers tend ski in a forward position and bend a ski a lot more than intermediates, so they could probably use more effective edge. Picking a ski that’s slightly longer than they are tall gives them more edge grip and more stability at speed, while still benefiting from rocker technology which generally makes longer skis easier to turn.

The average height of SKI’s female gear testers is around 5-foot 6-inches (or 168cm). Most of our female testers prefer a ski that is at least 170cm, and when testing all-mountain or powder skis, most size up to 172cm to 175cm.

Choosing Ski Length Based on Terrain and Style

Besides your ability, the type of terrain you like to ski and your skiing style may dictate the length of ski you want. Intermediate women who spend most of their time on groomers should look for a frontside ski that comes up to their forehead or is about 3-5 cm shorter than they are.

Frontside skis have less rocker, more effective edge, and ski truer to their length, so a slightly shorter ski will give intermediate skiers enough edge grip and stability on hard snow without bogging them down. Again, advanced and expert skiers should look for a ski that is roughly as tall as they are.

All-mountain and powder skis generally feature more rocker in both the tip and tail of the ski, so intermediate women should feel comfortable sizing up slightly to a ski that is as tall as they are. Advanced and expert skiers may want to consider an all-mountain or powder ski that is slightly taller than they are provided the ski has a generous rocker profile.

Short Women’s-Specific Skis

Petite women who have done their research and still feel more comfortable on shorter skis can look to manufacturers like Stöckli, Kästle, Blizzard, Nordica, Rossignol, and Elan. These brands do make some skis that come in lengths starting at around 147cm.

If you need something even shorter than that, you may need to look at junior skis. These skis will generally be even easier to maneuver and come in multiple lengths below 150cm. It’s worth noting, however, that junior skis may not be up to the same performance standards as the women’s-specific skis tested and reviewed in SKI’s annual Gear Guide.
 
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newboots

Angel Diva
Good to hear! I recognize what a difference the rocker makes, of course, but she lays this out so helpfully.
 

Iwannaski

Angel Diva
I love how clearly it’s laid out. Again, I am 5‘7” and not light for that height, and a “shop guy” sold me a 150 cm ski. It GRAZED my chin. 15 ski outings in, I could feel the limitations of the length...both at speed and on slush.

the one thing I don’t see in the article is a snow conditions/geography consideration...but otherwise, based on my experience, I REALLY agree.
 

edelweissmaedl

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
I was a little surprised by the article since it seems the Divas here aren’t afraid to ski the lengths recommended in the article. The recent post from @Iwannaski did come to mind when you posted this though. I’m now curious what the more common experience has been from this group.
 

nopoleskier

Angel Diva
I'm 5'6 and grew up on 185-215 straight skis. My first shaped skis (Rossi Peeks) were 185- then I went to 164 Atomic heavens gates - stayed on them for years (stashed a pair in the closet when rocker came out) they became Atomic Clouds. I've liked the 160-165 range for front side and 172 for powder skis still have my 159 Old Black Pearls that are my spring slush quick stepping bare spot dodging skis, they are my shortest ski.

Skis have come so far technology wise, what one person loves, another hates.
 

SarahXC

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
Although the skis I own are a bit shorter (and one pair has no rocker) than listed in the article at 5’6” and 160 lb I found myself being handed demos of 174 cm (rockered, unisex, qst 99) last year. I was super nervous about the length and just sheer weight of the skis (in comparison to my daily drivers at that time) but I figured I could trade them out if needed. Well after 2 runs I was thrilled with the ski. It was then I think I realized I could probably ski easily mid 170s or more in more soft snow oriented skis.
 

floatingyardsale

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
My experience as a newish skier and recent purchaser is that this is the only place on the whole Internet that recommended longer skis. I'd heard from a couple of sales people that longer skis were OK if they had a lot of rocker because of the shorter effective edge. But the Internet size guides would have put me in a 155 or so as an intermediate.

I'm 5'5" 130 and my new skis are 164cm and they're fantastic. They have a decent amount of tip rocker so the meeting point of the skis is a little below my chin.
 

tinymoose

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
I'm still in the place I've always been; I like my skis right at about 150 or just a hair under. I have started to think that I wish my Yumis were a little longer than 147 at times (I preferred the length of the Kenjas at 149), but when I demoed them in a 154 back in 2018, I still felt like they felt longer than I liked, so I don't know that I'd feel any different today. My junior SLs feel good at 150. I'm probably just about 154 cm in height myself.

I have come to realize that I don't think my preference in shorter skis is doing me any favors in powder, as it makes maintaining my fore aft balance more difficult, but then I don't see much powder on the east coast, and I don't make it out west often. My powder skills are atrocious anyhow, since I've seen so little of it ever.

I was surprised to see the article didn't list Volkl at all, because I have always felt that Volkl has been one of the brands that does a better job of offering up sub-150 skis, even in their more "advanced" skis.
 

Abbi

Angel Diva
I’ve gone to slightly longer skis over the past couple of years. That said I still ski short for me, probably. Understanding the size and shape of the skis also explains why I have one pair at 158 cm and ones with a lot of tip at 162, or maybe 163 cm. They handle similarly as though they were the same length.
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
As background . . . I started skiing on straight skis that were over my head (late 1960s). But only skied a couple of seasons as a teen. The first pair of skis I bought as an adult are still in my closet. They are mid-170s. I'm 5'0" (officially a bit shorter), 110 lbs, and didn't become a solid advanced skier until 5-6 years ago (after age 55). The skis I've bought in the last 15 years range from mid-140s to 159cm. The powder skis I've rented when I got lucky on trips out west have ranged from mid-150s to mid-160s.

The exception was the BP98 at Taos @152 during a Ski Week when no black terrain was open but we got to ski 9 inches of fresh snow for a day. Of course, the emphasis at Taos is skiing bumps and trees, not wide open powder bowls. Some of the instructors prefer that people renting get relatively short skis.

I'm very happy with the DPS Zelda @158cm, 133-106-122, R 18m, that I bought from a Diva a couple seasons ago. They are most definitely powder skis at 106 underfoot, but my technique has improved to the point that I could carve them on soft groomers at TSV last week.

By taking every opportunity to demo (Massanutten and Whitetail in Jan, Alta in April, in the northeast a few times), whether at a Demo Day or by checking out multiple skis when renting demo skis, I became a lot less worried about ski length. Any powder skis that are 5-10 cm longer than my all-mountain skis are fine. When you're petite, sometimes can't be too picky.

Then there are the indie ski that are completely different in terms of design on purpose. I had a chance to demo a pair of Mad Russian skis (all wood, made by hand by the inventor/creator) at Wachusett (near Boston) back in 2018. Not only way over my head, but also had bindings mounted far from the center of the skis. There was a LOT of ski length in front and almost no sidecut. However, they were quite easy to turn on groomers and in a few inches of untracked powder (side of a blue).

Mad Russian Wachusett 31Jan2018 - 3.jpg
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
From the article posted in Post #1
Most women’s-specific skis entered into SKI’s annual test come in a variety of lengths, but the shortest does usually hover around the 150cm-mark. Here’s why: In most cases, even petite women should be on a ski that’s at least 150cm long. Modern ski technology and construction, such as rocker profiles, have made longer skis much more accessible even to shorter skiers. And in most cases, the added length of the ski is a bonus. To help you choose the right ski length for your height and skiing ability, let’s dive deeper into how modern technology has changed the way skis perform relative to their length.
That seems to reflect a soft snow and powder bias of the writer. For skiing in the northeast, I like my Head AJs, which are 148cm. Bought them after demo'ing the 154cm at Massanutten. Those were fun to ski but I went shorter on purpose for skiing in the MidA/SE and northeast.

One Taos instructor (female) was happiest when I was on BP88 @145cm when no black terrain was open and we were working on technique on groomers. I was actually trying to get the BP88 @152cm but @santacruz skier had them already. Demo skis were free as a perk for the Women's Ski Week.

The instructor was very experienced and teaching the most advanced Women's Ski Week group, which included women who had been skiing steeps and trees for decades (TSV level 9/10). When I had the K2 Alluvit 88 @156cm the first morning, she thought they were too long more me. Although those skis were the same length as the all-mountain skis that I bought in 2012 (original BP, 88mm) and in 2017 (at Taos).

Petite women who have done their research and still feel more comfortable on shorter skis can look to manufacturers like Stöckli, Kästle, Blizzard, Nordica, Rossignol, and Elan. These brands do make some skis that come in lengths starting at around 147cm.
Along with Head, that list pretty much covers my favorite brands based on demo'ing in the past decade. Only one missing is DPS, which really focuses on powder skis.
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
The author, Jenny Weigan, has been skiing since she was very young. She's 5'5", 140 lbs, in her 30s, skis 50+ days a season. Crested Butte is her home mountain. While I'm sure she's a great tester and very knowledgeable, it may be hard for her to completely understand how a petite woman (4'11"-5'1", under 115 lbs) feels on skis 145-165cm. Especially for petite women who didn't get on skis until after age 30.

I rarely read written reviews any more. When I do, I look at the stats for the reviewer. If they are over 5'4" I take that into consideration. What I do more often is read reviews of skis that I've had a chance to demo. Doesn't matter if I liked the skis or didn't. I always learn something about how to interpret the review for my own purposes.

It's a good article. But petite skiers will be best served by demo'ing as much as they can in their home region or in the region they travel to the most.
 

shadoj

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
Part of the reason I joined this forum is exactly because no one else seems to write about petite female skiers and their gear needs! And, I'm not even the tiniest one here :smile:

Our society has a weird definition of petite (thanks, fashion world) -- the average height of a U.S. woman is ~5'4" (~162cm). I guess I'm beyond the article's "extremely petite" at 4'10" (147cm)... but I'm much more muscular than a tween at that height. So, a 150cm ski is by definition "expert length" on me -- good thing I learned as a kid, because good luck finding a nice beginner/intermediate length, non-junior ski that would help me progress if I was trying to learn at 40.

I started on straight skis. Despite the current super-rockered fad which does let them "ski shorter" -- you now have much more ski in front of and behind your probably-tiny feet. Much more torque, potential for tip crossing/tail stomping, harder to rotate because the weight is further from your pivot point... not so much an issue if you love groomers and carving, or boaty powder turns; but, if you happen to need to use rotational turns (think pivot slips), it's a lot more work. I don't have the joints of a little kid any more, so getting caught up has more potential to do damage.

Maybe we should write our own Diva guide for the < 5'1" set?!
 

tinymoose

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
I started on straight skis. Despite the current super-rockered fad which does let them "ski shorter" -- you now have much more ski in front of and behind your probably-tiny feet. Much more torque, potential for tip crossing/tail stomping, harder to rotate because the weight is further from your pivot point... not so much an issue if you love groomers and carving, or boaty powder turns; but, if you happen to need to use rotational turns (think pivot slips), it's a lot more work. I don't have the joints of a little kid any more, so getting caught up has more potential to do damage.

I think this is why I've always preferred to keep my skis a little on the shorter side. I also don't weigh a whole lot (100 lbs) and am sort of built like an awkward tween (skinny, long gangly arms and legs, big feet and hands). On a 154-156 ski on a groomer I don't notice the extra length at all, mostly because I'm keeping them on edge. But you bet I notice the moment I need to add more rotary motion to it.
 
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MissySki

Angel Diva
I'm that average height of 5'4" and weigh in at just under 120lbs right now. I am lucky that my preferred ski length is almost always available for demo because it just usually falls somewhere in the middle. As far as ski length that I like and own.. I go from 161-168 and like them all. My sweet spot is ~165, but for example my 161 are a Stockli Stormrider that feel incredibly stable at 161 and I felt like I didn't love the next option at 168 as much due to my love of skiing bumps and trees in the East often. Most of the rest of the time I prefer a lighter, more rockered, playful ski and those are where the mid to high 160s come into play. I'm also kind of scared of the 170 length mark for some reason, and I guess it's kind of arbitrary. I'd consider demoing say powder skis in that range eventually I suppose, but don't feel the need for more length in general with my normal skis in the East. I HAVE however felt the desire for more length depending on the skis out West with wider open areas and choppy snow.
 

Kimmyt

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
I'm 5'3" and probably 130 lbs and consider myself an advanced skier. I am on 165s right now that have some tip rocker and feel a little short for me. I demoed a few years ago and was happy at a 171/172 for a softer more playful ski or a high 160 for a stiffer ski. The snow conditions definitely factor in, a longer ski feels more stable to me in chopped up snow which I am often skiing on. Its a fine balance though between a ski tthat feels nimble and can make quick turns in trees (another favorite of mine) and still feel stable through the crud and in open terrain.
 

Jilly

Moderator
Staff member
I sat in on an hour long Zoom meeting with Lesley Baker Brown from W2W at Blizzard/Technica last month. This seminar was put on the CSIA Ontario Women's Group. So these are professional ski instructors of varying levels of certification.

I was amazed at the lack of understanding of the tools on these ladies feet!! The Ski Diva's know more than most of these gals!!

I remember Lesley saying.."don't match your skis to your jacket". In the chat room someone posted...why not, I like blue? REALLY!! Most didn't know the difference between an all mountain ski, freeride ski and a carver. Except - those ones are pretty!!

I know I was lucky to spend a lot of time at our local ski shop, doing Christmas rush, product knowledge sessions with the ski/boots/board reps over the years. So I do have a different outlook on products, but anyone with an internet connection these days can get that information now.

As for ski length, I remember when the first really shaped skis came out. I argued with the shop that I wanted shorter. I ended up with longer and only kept them a year. I really wanted shorter and got them. Now: Front side - tip rocker 159-161. All mountains 165-171, lots of rocker. I'm 5'4 and 150 lbs, CSIA L2 skier.

I go into a store and have already done my research and maybe demo'd, so I know what I want.
 

fgor

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
Yes, so many places on the internet recommend ski sizes that are wildly short! At 5'3 115 cautious intermediate, my ski lengths are 148 (SL, no rocker), 158/159 (all mountains, some rocker) and 165 (104mm pow skis, most rocker). I am totally comfortable on all these skis.

Oddly enough most demo techs here aren't too weird about ski lengths. I've been upfront about my abilities and ski style (cautious) and mostly been handed skis to try which were pretty appropriate, normally low 150s to low 160s. Although one time I had nothing better to do than demo whatever skis an enthusiastic Line tech threw at me, for shits and kicks, including a Line Sakana - when I looked closely at the ski 3/4 of the way down the mountain, I found it was 174, nearly 15cm taller than me :laughter:I guess that ski has a short effective edge, I found it ok, kinda glad I didn't realise how long it was at the top of the run though!

My #1 issue with ski length and women is actually the fact that when you start talking about womens gear in skiing, a lot of dudes comment that well you don't have to ski womens skis, you can ski mens skis if you want, just ski whatever suits you! Well for us short women, that really isn't a choice unless you want to pretty consistently be on skis 15+cm taller than you.
 

altagirl

Moderator
Staff member
I love how clearly it’s laid out. Again, I am 5‘7” and not light for that height, and a “shop guy” sold me a 150 cm ski. It GRAZED my chin. 15 ski outings in, I could feel the limitations of the length...both at speed and on slush.

the one thing I don’t see in the article is a snow conditions/geography consideration...but otherwise, based on my experience, I REALLY agree.

I have run into that over the years as well. I'm 5'9" - which is apparently the height of the average US male. My feet are even larger than average male shoe sizes, and I'm not that far under average male weight. And yet I've had shop guys look at me and recommend short women's skis, or worse yet, argue with me when I tell them what I own and like.

I do totally get that for someone who is short, lightweight, and has a small foot size - a shorter and lighter ski sure sounds like it makes sense. And I also get that as the ski technologies change over the years, there is more to it than just the length and some skis will ski short or long. My typical everyday skis have been in the 175-178 range, but I've had skis that I love everywhere from 165-185. It varies depending on the type of ski.

But I'd definitely say that skiers come in all shapes and sizes and manufacturers should certainly still be making skis in lengths for everyone. And we all have to do our research to know what works for us (it's good to try demoing various lengths to see what the differences feel like) and to not be sold nonsense from shop guys who like to try and box people into a few categories without really getting to know what you like/need.
 

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