Selection Guide – Freeski
There are a wide variety of skis that are tailored to perform best in specific conditions. Bear Valley has a tremendous choice of terrain and conditions, so you may decide you want more than one pair of skis to optimize your experience. Here is a run down.
Alpine: Takes place at lift-served ski areas; skiers’ heels remain locked into bindings at all times.
Backcountry (off-piste): Takes place in wilderness zones outside of patrolled commercial ski areas. If no lifts are available, skiers climb to high points on their own power (often aided by climbing skins attached to their skis), then descend through trees, drops or whatever the mountain presents. Heels are not always locked into bindings. Backcountry skiing is divided into 2 main styles:
- Randoneé (also called alpine touring or AT): During downhill runs, Randoneé boot heels lock into bindings, but during climbs they float free for efficient uphill movement. When descending, Randoneé and alpine skiers execute turns using identical technique. Randoneé gear resembles alpine equipment and performs the same, but it usually weighs less.
- Telemark: Heels never lock into bindings. Whether climbing or descending, telemark skiers use a free-heel technique similar to cross-country. Tele skiers make short- and long-radius turns with 1 heel up while keeping their downhill leg in a flexed-forward position.
Note: Randoneé skiers sometimes visit lift-served slopes, but their primary habitat is the backcountry. Telemark skiers also feel at home on untracked snow, though in recent years more tele skiers are opting to make turns in-bounds at resorts. Both are more advanced skiers who possess such mountaineering skills as avalanche assessment, route-finding and navigation.
Important: All backcountry and sidecountry skiers should avoid traveling solo and must always carry vital emergency items—an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe.
Park-and-pipe: Constructed terrain parks (with jumps, pipes, rails and other obstacles) where skiers perform tricks and aerial acrobatics.
Freeride (sometimes called “big mountain” skiing): When a mountain’s natural features (particularly very steep, off-piste slopes) are used as a terrain park for jumps and stunts.
Freestyle: This term’s usage can vary among skiers. Many equate it with mogul skiing combined with aerials, often performed in a competitive environment. Others use it more generally to describe tricks performed in a terrain park or on powder.
Comparing Ski Types
- Best for: 1) Groomed runs (all levels, including moguls); 2) a mix of groomed runs and powder.
- Waist width: Up to 85mm. Sometimes also called carvers. Narrower waist gives skis an hourglass shape, which makes them easy to turn.
- Pros: Excellent edge-hold on groomed routes or hard snow. Nearly every skier, novices and up, can have fun on easy-turning all-mountain skis.
- Cons: May not fulfill every high-performance demand of skiers with specialized interests (such as deep powder, park-and-pipe).
- Bindings: Most are available with integrated (custom-matched) “systems” that flex naturally with the ski and accommodate easy turning. Some are available flat (without bindings) for skiers seeking customization.
- Summary: Suited for all age groups, both genders and any experience level. The most popular ski type on the market. High-end models can satisfy performance expectations of expert-class skiers.
- Best for: The skier who wants to ski all over a mountain, both on groomed runs and off-piste, and wants a single ski to handle it all.
- Waist width: 84mm-105mm. Sometimes also called mid-fats or fats. Skiers get enhanced flotation in soft snow without sacrificing too much agility on groomed slopes. Wides can bust through crud (chopped-up snow) and slush with greater ease than narrower all-mountain skis.
- Pros: Wider waist adapts easily to powder, efficiently cuts through sloppy snow.
- Cons: Not quite as nimble in turns as narrow-waisted all-mountain skis.
- Bindings: Most are sold flat (nonintegrated), but a few come integrated.
- Summary: Aimed primarily at fans of powder who also ski the groomers. Twin tip skis in this category are constructed primarily for directional skiing (mostly forward, sometimes switch); the design of the twin tip tail allows skiers to adjust their turn shape more freely.
- Best for: 1) Deep, light snow; 2) powder fans who sometimes end up on groomed runs; 3) sidecountry or backcountry.
- Waist width: 101mm and higher. Sometimes called super-fats. Powder skis are all about creating lots of surface area to maintain flotation in the steep and deep.
- Pros: Virtually unsinkable in bottomless fluff. Most include “rocker” technology that creates an early upward arc (or rise) at tip and/or tail sections to further boost flotation and keep edges from catching.
- Cons: Not built for precise maneuverability on groomed runs.
- Bindings: Most, but not all, are sold flat (nonintegrated).
- Summary: As the name implies, powder skis perform best in powder, though advanced skiers can use them anywhere on a mountain. For most skiers, powder skis occupy a secondary, specialized place in their quiver of skis.
- Best for: 1) Park-and-pipe; 2) groomed runs; 3) powder.
- Waist width: 80mm-122mm. A few wide-waisted models are targeted at skiers who devote time to powder play in addition to their park-and-pipe activity.
- Pros: Designed to hold an edge in a pipe, handle well in powder, provide stability when skiing in reverse (i.e., riding switch) and soften impacts when landing jumps. In most cases, their performance compares favorably to all-mountain skis.
- Cons: Designed to be skied while centered on the ski, which traditional skiers might find odd. Graphics are skewed young, which may be a factor to some skiers.
- Bindings: Most are sold flat (nonintegrated), but some could be integrated.
- For tricks: Upturned tips front and back simplify tricks. Tail rise makes it easier to ski backwards.
- Summary: Skis designed for ambitious fun-seekers who ski fast, do tricks and enjoy pushing the limits. They have a unique look, yet offer a variety of shapes and sizes that deliver performance in a terrain park or anywhere on the mountain.