Everything You Need To Know When Buying Skis

From a CSIA Level 4 and instructor trainer, this is your no-nonsense guide on what skis to buy for your GAP course.

When browsing online, you’ll be presented with hundreds of skis to look at: powder skis, park skis, freeride, backcountry touring, carving, race, all-mountain and a dozen more that fall somewhere between all of them. If you’re embarking on an instructor GAP course, in most cases, you should look at on-piste performance skis or carving skis as they’re known. Some exceptions exist, notably where your course is being held. If your GAP course is in Japan or some of the mountains across BC, Canada, a slightly wider ski may not be bad. To start with, we’ll take a look at on-piste performance skis.

On-Piste Performance Skis/Carving Skis

Generally between 68-80mm wide underfoot, with a sidecut/turning radius of 12-18m (this may be a bit smaller for shorter skis), on-piste performance skis make executing the skiing objectives required on your exams much more effortless. Their design makes steering the skis, edging and carving them much more accessible. From Level 1 all the way through to Level 4, you will be asked to demonstrate specific skills that will be much harder to perform if you’re skiing on a powder ski, park ski, etc.

Although other skis are fun, they’re utilised best in conditions and terrain that you will only find yourself on sometimes when teaching. Save those skis for days off to blast around with your friends. For demonstration, carving skis are your best friend.

As a quick side note, steer clear of true race or FIS skis. These are built and designed for elite-level and World Cup athletes and require an expert-level skier to handle them.

2 CASI examiners demonstrating carving to group on WSC Ski instructor course

How Long Should My Skis Be?

The length of carving ski you need will depend on your height. The taller you’re, the longer your ski needs to be. Generally, you’ll be fine if you aim to have the ski sit somewhere between your chin and the top of your head. If you’re buying powder skis or freeride skis, you can afford a ski that’s a little longer due to the effective edge of the ski being much smaller.

All Mountain Skis

So what if you’re taking a GAP course in Japan or Revelstoke? Blessed with tons of snow each season, you may be better off skiing on something more geared to those softer conditions.

All Mountain Skis

Often built with softer snow in mind, all mountain skis are usually a little wider, with tip and tail rocker a standard feature. Still capable of carving on piste due to camber underfoot, these are a great option and the closest thing you’ll get to a one-ski quiver. Not to be mistaken with a powder ski, all-mountain skis often share many characteristics of a true carving ski, with some subtle differences. Avoid a powder ski if you’re taking a GAP course; even in resorts with the most snowfall, many days you’ll still find yourself on a firmer groomed run. Often between 78-90 mm wide.

Many of these skis still come with camber underfoot, so they hold up pretty well on the firmer snow, but with a wider waist and early-rise rocker, they increase buoyancy and float in softer snow, making turns easier to perform. What is camber and rocker?

Having them a little longer is a good thing with all mountain skis. Somewhere between your nose and the top of your head, ideally.

What Skis To Avoid On Your Gap Course

Generally, we guard against the super wide skis and anything too park/ freeride specific. Any skis over 90mm, especially those over 100mm wide, make demonstrating as an instructor much harder. Park skis are often centre mounted, come with tip and tail rocker, and are generally much softer than carving and all mountain skis, this significantly reduces grip and control on piste. I’m not saying they’re not great skis; they’re fantastic but not ideally suited to what you’ll be doing most days. If you can fit two pairs of skis in the bag, don’t hesitate to bring them; you’ll have tons of fun on days off when the snow is deep or you’re crushing park laps. Check out this useful blog post on what to pack for your GAP course. However, if you’d like to take only one pair of skis, I’d caution taking a wide powder ski or park ski. Carving skis or all mountain skis would be the best option, and you can always buy a cheap pair of powder/park skis when out in the resort!


Have some questions about buying skis? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions

Do Skis Come With Bindings?

Great question; most carving skis come with an integrated rail system, so yes, they’d come with a binding. Some all-mountain skis are ski-only, so you must buy a binding separately. When purchasing online, always double-check that a binding is included. Most ski shops can advise you on which bindings to buy if you need clarification, and we always recommend visiting a professional ski shop to have your bindings fitted correctly.

How Do I Tune My Skis?

This is super important! There are always ski shops that can tune your gear in the resort; we recommend getting them done fairly regularly. However, if you want to save money and are interested in doing it yourself, we have a blog post on what you’ll need to get started.

What Size Bindings Do I Need?

If your ski has an integrated rail system, the bindings will be adjustable to any boot size. If you’re buying an all-mountain ski and need bindings separately, you need to ensure the brake width of the binding is correct. Your brakes should be the same width or no more than 15mm wider than the ski. For example, on an 88mm wide ski, a 90mm brake would be perfect.

How Long Will A Pair Of Skis Last?

You can expect your skis to last for a couple of seasons, bearing in mind that an entire season is 120 days long. After that time, the skis either lose their shape or have been tuned too many times and can no longer be maintained. If you look after your skis, you can significantly increase their lifespan.

What’s The Difference Between A Soft Ski And A Stiff Ski?

A stiffer ski is more resistant to bending and twisting which improves edge grip and stability at speed. A soft ski turns and slides easily but is less stable at speed and doesn’t hold as well on firmer snow.

Do I Need To Buy Ski Boots First?

That is an excellent question. If your bindings move on a rail (integrated rail system), then no, you can easily adjust your bindings if you get boots later. If you have drilled bindings, they can still be adjusted, but require a professional ski shop to redrill the holes in which the binding is screwed into to make sure it fits your boot.