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Types of Skis: Visual Guide With Pros and Cons

Types of skis header

It’s no exaggeration to say that skiing is the most popular winter sport. Sure, snowboarding is WAAAY cooler (according to snowboarders, at least!), but skiing predates snowboarding by many years and will always be the premier winter sporting activity.

There is nothing to beat the sensation of schussing down a mountain with a couple of planks strapped to your feet. Whether you enjoy the occasional skiing holiday or are a dyed-in-the-wool powder hound, skiing gets in your blood. Once you are bitten by the skiing bug, you’ll be an addict for life.

While you can hire skis, a lot of skiers prefer to buy their own, and that’s where things start to get tricky. That’s because there are lots of different types of skis, and each has different characteristics.

Because of this, it pays to know a little about the different types of skis so you can buy, rent or borrow the ones that are right for you.

In this guide, we take a look at the different types of skis and discuss the pros and cons of each so you can choose the best planks for your preferred style of skiing.

Types of skis

Broadly speaking, there are two types of skis – alpine skis and Nordic skis. Alpine skis have bindings that hold your entire foot on the ski, while Nordic skis only bind the front of your foot, so your heel is free to lift. Ski shapes then vary depending on what type of skiing you are going to use them for.

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Alpine skis

The main types of alpine skis are:

All-mountain skis

BEST FOR: Recreational downhill skiing on most types of terrain

All mountain skisAll-mountain skis are ideal for anyone who wants to do a bit of everything. They’re one of the best types of skis for beginners and a great choice for skiing generalists who enjoy skiing on all types of snow.

All-mountain skis are not the fastest or most agile type of skis, but unless you are a very proficient skier, you probably won’t exceed the performance limits of all-mountain skis.


  • Suitable for most types/styles of skiing
  • Ideal for all levels of proficiency
  • Reasonably fast and agile
  • Excellent all-round recreational skis


  • Not the fastest skis
  • Not so good for carving sharp turns
  • Experienced skiers may find they lack performance

Big mountain skis

BEST FOR: Advanced, off-piste skiing

Big mountain skisAlthough they sound similar, big mountain skis are a little different to all-mountain skis. Big mountain skis are designed for extreme skiing, e.g., heliskiing from the summit of the mountain all the way back down to your chalet. Wider, longer, and stiffer than most other types of skis, these skis are the extreme rally car of the skiing world.


  • Best skis for advanced, aggressive skiers


  • Not suitable for beginners
  • Not especially fast
  • Not the best on-piste skis

Powder skis

BEST FOR: Skiing off-piste in deep powder

Powder skisTrying to ski in deep powder with narrow skis is a recipe for disaster, as the small surface area means you’ll probably sink up to your knees! Powder skis are wider and can cope with even the deepest snow. They also feature a more curved tip, so your ski won’t dig into the snow and send you head-over-heels.


  • Best for off-piste skiing
  • Wide and stable
  • Good intermediate skis


  • Not the best for carving sharp turns
  • Can be quite slow
  • Not ideal for beginners


BEST FOR: Having fun, especially as a beginner

Snow bladesAlso known as ski blades, short skis, or ski boards, this type of ski is very versatile. They come in various lengths and are designed for recreational skiing and having fun! They’re all-rounders that you can use for a range of skiing activities, both on and off-piste. Snowblades are an excellent choice for novices as well as intermediates who just want to play in the snow.


  • A versatile ski that’s suitable for a range of activities
  • Short and stable, so good for learners and beginners


  • Not especially fast
  • Not suitable for deep powder (they sink!)

Freestyle skis

BEST FOR: Skiing in the park and half pipe, and for doing tricks

Freestyle skisThe most obvious difference between freestyle skis and most other ski types is that they have upturned tips at both ends so you can ski forward AND backward. Freestyle skis, also known as park and pipe skis, are made for jumps, turns, and other tricks. They’re primarily used in snow parks, but you can “hot dog” and strut your stuff on other parts of the mountain, too.


  • Best for performing jumps, turns, and other tricks
  • Ski forward or backward


  • Not really suitable for beginners
  • Not the fastest downhill skis

Freeride skis

BEST FOR: Developing skiers on all types of terrain

Freeride skisFreeride skis are a lot like powder skis but tend to be shorter, more agile, and a little more versatile. Freeride skis work well on and off-piste, making them great all-rounders. So if you like to spend your mornings on groomed ski runs and then head off-piste in the afternoon without changing your skis, these are the planks for you.


  • Excellent multipurpose skis
  • Suitable for a range of skiing activities
  • A good choice for late beginners and more advanced skiers


  • Not as fast or as agile as some other types of skis

Carving skis

BEST FOR: Fast, controlled, piste skiing

Carving skisCarving skis are probably the most common type of ski and what most recreational skiers are used to. They have a distinct shape which makes them easier to turn. The edges are curved, which means they naturally want to turn when you put your weight on the edges and “carve” the snow. Carving skis are at home on well-groomed ski runs but aren’t much use off-piste.


  • Great for downhill and piste skiing
  • Reasonably fast
  • Very agile and good for sharp turns
  • Suitable for all levels of skier


  • Only really suitable for on-piste skiing

Racing skis

BEST FOR: Going really fast!

Race SkisRace skis are long, narrow, and incredibly fast. Top downhill skiers can hit mind-boggling speeds and turn sharply, too. Race skis are flexible and very responsive. However, your ability to turn is somewhat affected by the length of your skis. Long skis are often faster but harder to turn. Racing skis are designed for speed freaks! These skis are the F1 cars of skiing.


  • Very fast and agile – with turning circle depending on the length
  • Great for downhill and some slalom (especially giant slalom)
  • Ideal for well-groomed slopes


  • Not really suitable for beginners
  • Longer lengths (200cm+) can be pretty hard to turn

Alpine touring skis

BEST FOR: Ski touring uphill and downhill off-piste skiing

Alpine skisAlso known as backcountry skis, these planks are designed for downhill, flat, and uphill skiing. They’re light but stiff and ideal for covering longer distances with relative ease. Most have releasable bindings so you can free your heels and skate. If you want to go exploring, these skis are what you need. They’re available in a range of lengths and widths, with wider skis being better for fresh powder and longer skis being faster.


  • Good for long-distance skiing
  • Very efficient, good for gliding


  • Not especially fast or agile
  • Not ideal for beginners

Slalom skis

BEST FOR: Slalom racing

slalom skisThe only reason to buy slalom skis is if you are a competitive slalom skier or that’s what you aspire to be. Made for speed and agility, using slalom skis for anything other than tearing down the mountain at top speed while weaving in and out of poles is like using a rally car on a straight motorway!


  • Fast and incredibly agile
  • The best skis for slalom racing


  • Not suitable for beginners
  • Not really suitable for any other type of skiing

Nordic skis

And finally, it’s time to look at some Nordic skis…!

Cross-country skis

BEST FOR: Travelling across flat or undulating terrain

Cross-country skisCross-country or Nordic-touring skis are similar to Alpine touring skis in that they are usually light, long, and narrow. However, with Nordic cross-country skis, your heels are free to move, allowing you to skate on the flat and glide downhill. Nordic cross-country skis are sometimes called telemark skis, although telemark skiing is as much about the elegant technique as your choice of skis.


  • The best touring skis for covering long distances
  • Can be used on flat, downhill, and uphill slopes


  • Free-heel skiing is a tricky skill to master, so these skis may not be suitable for beginners

Jump skis

BEST FOR: Ski jumping!

Jump skisJump skis are the longest, widest type of ski. In competition, jump skis are usually around 145% of the skier’s height. They’re made of light plastic and shaped for aerodynamics so the jumper can glide (fly? fall?!) as far as possible. Jump skis are very fast, but their length means they are almost impossible to turn. That’s not really an issue, though, as the ramp leading to the jump has groves to follow, and turning is not a requirement.

Needless to say, like slalom skis, the only reason to buy jumping skis is if you want to try your hand at ski jumping. Rather you than me!


  • The best ski for ski jumping


  • Only suitable for ski jumping!

Types of skis – closing thoughts

The best type of ski is the one that matches the style of skiing you want to do. So, if you want to head off-piste, powder skis or big mountain skis are probably your best choice. But, if you want to use your skis both on and off-piste, all-mountain skis might be the better option.

That said, if you spend all your time on groomed slopes, carving skis are the most logical choice for most people, with racing, slalom, and freeride skis best left to alpine specialists.

If exploring is more your bag, any type of touring ski will suit your needs, although you’ll need to choose between alpine and Nordic binding styles.

Finally, if you want to defy gravity and soar like an eagle, get yourself some jump skis. However, that’s probably not the best choice for most recreational skiers!

About the author


Patrick Dale is a freelance writer and author of three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos. Ex-Royal Marine Patrick is no armchair fitness expert. He has participated in many sports, including rugby, triathlon, rowing, rock climbing, trampolining, powerlifting, and stand-up paddleboarding. A keen outdoorsman, when not lecturing, training, researching, or writing, Patrick spends as much time as he can enjoying the sunny climate of Cyprus, where he has lived for the last 20-years. He lives by the adage that a bad day spent in nature is always better than a good day at work!

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