Which skis? How to choose the ideal skiing equipment

So you’re set: your week’s holiday package in the French Alps, the first after so many years – or the first tout court – is booked, including candlelit chalet dinners, child care and skiing tuition.
All you have to do is get relatively fit and look forward to it….or so you think.
There are choices lying in wait for you, ready to ambush your holiday and hold the good times to ransom.
The starkest choice is: which equipment?
Of all popular sports, Alpine Skiing is the one that needs the most complex equipment. For a general overview, see our Alpine Skiing Equipment feature.
 A poor choice of skis, or gloves or even goggles, can truly ruin a good skiing day, if not a week. We at GSN are conscious of this and will offer you tips from the experience of successful athletes and week-end skiers alike.
In this feature, first of a series, we start from the perspective of Joe McSkier (with apologies to the lovely Jane McSkiers out there, but remember that our advice is pretty much unisex), a relatively inexperienced, or out-of-practice skier facing the question of which skis to buy, or rent (a good idea if you’re only doing one week a year). Other essential equipment will follow.
There are many brands on the market and the array of models is bewildering. For international balance, we look at four Alpine countries and choose a brand each from France (Rossignol), Switzerland (Stockli), Austria (Atomic), Italy (Nordica).
Each divides its rich offering by a combination of factors where level of skill and track type are paramount. All have wonderfully appealing and very clever websites but…if you’re Joe McSkier, how do you tell the difference between “All Mountain” and “Frontside” skis, or “Freeski” and “Park & Pipe” ones?
Here’s our effort at explaining, hoping it’ll help Joe McSkier in the choice of “which skis?”.
Joe wants a pair of skis that will help his rusty legs gain confidence with the piste in most conditions, and allow him to enjoy some fine turns on red and blue runs – black ones are interdit for the time being. Where does he look?
Say he wants to go French: stay with Rossignol but forget “Race” (this was easy!) and “Freeski” (even if you don’t know what it is, the pic on the website should be enough to put you off). “All Mountain” has a rendering of a mountainside that tells you to look here if you want to be able to float in knee-deep powder and slalom in it among the trees and off the beaten track: better leave it for next year’s holiday? Maybe, or maybe Joe should go to “Frontside”, aka skiing down the piste. Both categories in fact are useful, despite appearances.
The Austrians (Atomic) are more matter of fact about it: so avoid “Race FIS” and “Race”, plus “All Mountain”, “Freeski”, “Park & Pipe” (what?) and “Touring” (which means ski mountaineering, definitely not Joe McSkier’s kettle of fish, see Ski Mountaineering), and stick to the self-explanatory “Piste”.
At Nordica they’re rather un-Italian and go for the Austrian approach (but Nordica skis are made in Austria, from the old Kastle factory), so Joe knows to choose “On pist” (sic) and to click on “Beginner” as well.
Want the Swiss alternative? At www.stoeckli.ch , under “Kollektion”, you find Stockli’s own take on product segmentation: a bit cryptic in some definitions, but the pix are clear enough to suggest that Joe should go for the “Sinox” or “Spirit” stuff.
Then what? As with many things in life, once the first steps you take are in the right direction, then the rest of the trip is just plain skiing. For the next level of choice, our Joe will have to take into account price, objective level of skill, height and body weight, attraction to the skis’ design etc. in order to choose.
What we can do is give a few more pointers. Suppose that Joe is 180cm tall, weighs a comfortable 90 kg including a little beer belly, is conservatively intermediate in skiing skills and doesn’t mind a bit of colour on the slopes.
Given that
-   on piste carving skis should be max as long as the skier’s tall, and too short is worse than too long
-  the waist-to-tips ratio should not be too small, for it translates in less balanced skis
- curving radius: Joe should avoid skis with narrow curving radius, below 15m (unstable unless perfectly driven), and stick to middle-of-piste ones, between 16,5 and 17m.
- very light skis are ok in deep powder but highly impractical on medium-hard to hard and icy snow, for they allow far less control, though Joe’s weight would partly offset that
- websites don’t give prices and we don’t know Joe’s budget anyway,
our choices for Joe are the following:
Rossignol: in the “All Mountain” family, the PMC 3000 model size 170 cm; alternatively, as the PMC 3000 may be too light and too short for Joe, the Strato 70 TLD Ti model size 175 cm from the “Frontside” family.
Atomic: in the “Piste” family, the Carbon Black model size 177cm
Nordica: in the “On pist” family, the Speedmachine Mach 1 model size 178cm
Stockli: in the “Spirit” family, the Spirit Globe model size 176cm (pity about the grey colour).
There’s more to come, on skis and other equipment, so watch out for it on greatestsportingnation.com.