Fresh Tracks: 10 Best Skis For Every Rider

No matter where you may stand in the perpetual debate on skiing vs. snowboarding, one thing is certain, skiing boasts a more storied and applicable history than boarding. That’s not to say one is necessarily better than the other. Rather, we see the practicality of skis in the sport’s origin supersede the sheer recreational value snowboarding offers its devotees. Proof of this, for instance, can be found in preserved rock paintings that present 5,000-year-old hunters and trappers using ski-like devices to traverse what we can only assume were snowy landscapes. Then there’s the more profound evidence of the Scandinavian farmers and hunters from the middle ages using skis to mitigate the travel impediments from the region’s omnipresent snow cover throughout the year. Clearly, no matter which way you decide to slice it, skis initially played a pivotal role in our collective storied history.

Which brings us to today, millennia after the first pair of skis were fashioned from wood and animal furs to the constantly evolved market of recreational and competitive skis. And with such a diverse range of options — and purpose — available to the modern consumer, it’s no surprise the barrier to entry — or at least to upgrade — presents a daunting undertaking. Luckily, there are some keepers out there that cater to the handful of common styles and conditions we typically find atop our local resorts. Is this a be-all-end-all list of the absolute best? Of course not. However, we’re hoping our picks for the 10 best skis serves — if nothing else — as a jumping-off point into the next pair of skis worth your while this season and next.

The Basics

Know Your Style

With centuries of history comes inevitable variations of the sport. It’s what’s to be expected as the utilitarian origins carry over into the recreational realm. However, there are a few odes to the past we can appreciate here via the execution and celebration of traditional uses that have now transcended into the realm of Olympic-level participation. Naturally, you don’t need to be a professional athlete to fall within one of these four categories. Some guidance never hurt though.

1. Cross Country

Otherwise known as Nordic skiing, Cross Country is probably the closest you’ll get to the traditional origins of the sport. Here, most skiers don’t even need a mountain to participate as the cross country trails include both slight inclines, declines, and straightaways. As a result, the skier’s heel isn’t attached to the binding boots as opposed to other mainstream styles.

2. Alpine

As you might infer from the name, Alpine skiing involves a heightened downhill run where speed and control remain imperative in nature. Otherwise known as downhill skiing, alpine skiing requires the skier to be attached to their boot binding while the gear typically includes heavier and higher boots, shorter poles, and wider skies.

3. Freestyle

Here’s where the real fun begins — relatively speaking, of course. At least if you’re the hotdog of the bunch and enjoy hitting the park, jumps, halfpipe, or even the moguls in a downhill run, freestyle skiing is your calling. Almost always performed atop manmade terrain parks or resorts — unless backcountry freestyle is your terrain of choice — freestyle skiers typically enjoy the ease of access other parties do not.

4. Telemark

Named after the Norwegian city in which the first cambered ski was fashioned from woodcarvers for more evenly distributed weight across the surface of the piece, Telemark skiing consists of a mixture of cross country and alpine styles. Here, skiers enjoy a downhill slope but without the attached heel to the boot binding similar to cross country. Movements also mimic cross country in that skiers appear to lunge downhill while traversing the slope.

Style Points

Finding The Perfect Setup To Match Your Steez

As presented above, knowing your particular style and/or preference helps to outline the type of setup that’s most beneficial. This grows ever more important in areas with constant — or constantly changing — terrain conditions. For instance, is your local resort graced with freshly fallen snow or plagued with ice? Do you prefer on or off-piste trails? Or is the desire for speed so great that no other ordinary run will do? Knowing the answers to these pressing questions and more will ensure a smart purchase for the season.

1. All Mountain & All Mountain Wide

Ideal for groomed terrain as well as powder, all-mountain skis (including their wide-set brethren) are ideal for simply handling it all. It’s what also makes them ideal for novice skiers. Because no matter what the conditions, within reason, of course, you’re bound to enjoy everything the mountain has to offer. Characteristically speaking, all-mountain skis feature deep sidecuts and rockered tips so they’re easy to maneuver on the snow. They also hold nicely on edge for groomed runs making them a fine pair to grow with as you progress into more niche shapes.

2. Powder

Just as you might imply from the name, powder skis (sometimes called super flats) typically have a wider waist width for a more natural float and almost surf-like feel in the freshly fallen snow. These are typically more advanced skis complete with a fully rockered profile for added floatation, yet aren’t built for quick-turning agility like their all-mountain counterparts. Keep these on hand for the next winter storm that promise to dump more than a few inches of fresh powder.

3. Backcountry

Also falling into the “expert” realm — if only for their intended purpose — backcountry skis are built for unmarked territory enjoyed by advanced skiers. Here, with great freedom comes great responsibility as local knowledge of the terrain and avalanche territory is mandatory for participation. As for the skis themselves, they’re typically lighter than traditional alpine gear with narrower waists for heightened agility. They are, however, also occasionally used for telemark skiing in some conditions.

Armada ARV 86

If the preferred notion is to let the Mountaineers have their fun on the backside of the mountain while you rule the professionally groomed park, Armada’s here to hook you up with their ARV 86 ski — complete with rockered tips and tails to really crank up you park prowess. Also, we can’t ignore the ARV 86’s freestyle rocker profile for both regular and switch stances, solid ash and poplar core for a lively feel, Spin Tip laminates, and AR75 Sidewalls for enhanced edge pressure under the boot. Quite the iconic park rat go-to if you ask us.

Best Park

Turning Radius: Medium
Rocker Type: Rocker/Camber/Rocker
Ability Level: Intermediate-Advanced

Purchase: $400


After a record-breaking year with their newly-introduced MSP99, 4FRNT decidedly released a new — and slightly wider — version of the ski now dubbed the MSP107 as its larger brethren. Now, since expanding upon the capabilities of its predecessor, the 107 hosts some high-performance potential in powder. These skis are ideal for those often powder-graced runs of the western side of the United States, that’s what makes the 107 such a great beginner ski in this region. Additional features include a tight sidecut for precise carves, a sintered base, and Titanal laminates for heightened edge hold and dampness.

Best for Beginners, West

Turning Radius: Long
Rocker Type: Camber
Ability Level: Intermediate-Advanced

Purchase: $599

Volkl M5 Mantra Skis

Sometimes, it’s not all freshly fallen powder and untamed backcountry terrain. All too often, reality plagues us with icy patches from overnight refreezes and heavy trail traffic from a busy week on the slopes. For that — as well as the occasional powder run, of course — there’s Volkl’s M5 Mantra Skis. Built specifically for performance across a wide variety of snow and mountain conditions, the ski’s strategic 96mm waist is ideal for providing enhanced float on blissful powder runs and reliable stability on hard-packed groomers while its Titanal frame offers more energy thanks to its lightweight construction and flex. Additionally, each pair of Mantras features both a tip and tail rocker for extra agility, a sintered base, and an Ice Off topsheet to keep the snow under your feet and off your skis.

Best All Mountain

Turning Radius: Medium
Rocker Type: Rocker/Camber/Rocker
Ability Level: Advanced-Expert

Purchase: $699

Blizzard Bonafide

Big mountain devotees take note of the Bonafide. If alpine speeds and hard-pack carving are your preference, the Blizzard Bonafides might just be the ultra-responsive set you’ve been after for so long. Here, what we have is a true-blue daily set for just about any premier resort pursuits one can find under the sun. We say that because, in addition to a Carbon Flipcore complete with double Titanal for both heightened responsiveness and stability, each set of Bonafides hosts a traditional sidecut, a rockered profile for added floatation, a 98mm waist, and a poplar/beech wood core for a poppy response.

Best Big Mountain

Turning Radius: Medium
Rocker Type: Rocker/Camber/Rocker
Ability Level: Advanced-Expert

Purchase: $700

Black Crows Camos Freebird

They don’t call them Freebirds for nothing. In the alpine touring sector, these are about as good as it gets. That’s because the Camos Freebird is a top choice in the mid-fat touring segment due to an updated core, shortened ABS section for a more lively feel, a 96mm waist for a significantly lightweight composition, intermediate flex, and progressive rocker on the nose. Not to mention their ability to handle just about any conditions mother nature can throw your way, the Black Crows ski is yet another example that pro-touring-quality gear is very much accessible with the right know-how and budget.

Best Alpine Touring

Turning Radius: Medium
Rocker Type: Rocker/Camber/Rocker
Ability Level: Advanced-Expert

Purchase: $720

Black Diamond Boundary Pro

Off the beaten path and onto the untamed backside of the mountain, those who risk it all for off-piste adrenaline should look no further than the “boundary-less” Black Diamond Boundary Pro 107 set of skis. Built for groomed terrain and reckless backcountry powder, these versatile yet disciplined skis host a 107mm waist to handle whatever conditions are thrown your way, a rockered profile for added float on the soft stuff, cambered underfoot, a sidewall damping system, and a poplar wood core to keep things feeling as playful as possible for many seasons to come.

Best Backcountry

Turning Radius: Medium
Rocker Type: Rocker/Camber/Rocker
Ability Level: Intermediate-Advanced

Purchase: $750

Elan Ripstick 96 Black Edition

A ski that offers the stability of big-mountain preparation with the precision of an all-mountain ski? Sounds like a legitimate freestyle pick to us. No wonder Elan calls this black beauty the Ripstick — for, with the right attitude and experience, the entire mountain becomes your oyster with this excpetional offering. It’s all thanks, partially that is, to a quick edge-to-edge 96mm waist, a short radius for speedy turns, lightweight TNT construction, carbon laminates, and foot-specific profiles for easy turn transitions. Can’t complain here.

Best Freestyle

Turning Radius: Medium
Rocker Type: Rocker/Camber/Rocker
Ability Level: Advanced-Expert

Purchase: $800

K2 Ikonic 84 Skis

Anyone who’s spent time traversing the country’s ski resorts is more than aware of the East Coast’s ice-plagued trails with the occasional powder day. This presents a need, at least for beginners, to pair up with a set of skis that won’t steer them wrong in icy conditions. Cue the K2 Ikonic 84Ti Ski. Here, not only will beginners experience superior edge control but the ski’s all-terrain rocker is accepting of a myriad of trail conditions. Additionally, enhanced stiffness comes in handy due to the ski’s Evo-Konic wood core with Titanal laminates and TwinTech sidewalls to help up durability across the board (literally).

Best for Beginners, East

Turning Radius: Short
Rocker Type: Rocker/Camber
Ability Level: Intermediate-Advanced

Purchase: $900

Kastle BMX105

To enjoy everything the mountain has to offer takes honed dedication and planning if you’re to conquer it all in a day or two — not to mention the right pair of skis to get you there. Now, while Kastle can’t help you with the former they can without a doubt assist with the latter. Complements of their all-new BMX105 all-mountain skis, this pair of hard-charging skis host a 105mm waist to handle both the powder and the hard pack, a rockered tip and tail for simplified floatation, cambered underfoot for those packed afternoon runs, and a full wood core that’ll offer a smooth ride with a consistent flex because let’s face it, the park needs some attention as well.

Best All Mountain Powder

Turning Radius: Medium
Rocker Type: Rocker/Camber/Rocker
Ability Level: Advanced-Expert

Purchase: $999

Salomon S/Max Blast

So maybe you’re not an Olympic downhill skier. That doesn’t mean the odds of finding an ideal carving ski lie outside of your favor. On the contrary. Thanks to Salomon, with a little expertise and some help from the S/Max Blast, carving gracefully down the mountainside will come as naturally as slicing through the snow at adrenaline-inducing speeds. In fact, these are quite possibly the closest set out there to an official pair of racing skis. Needless to say, a tight turning radius, Race Woodcore, Double Ti Laminate, full sandwich sidewalls, and Edge Amplifier all work in harmony to keep you carving like a pro.

Best Carving

Turning Radius: Short
Rocker Type: Camber
Ability Level: Advanced-Expert

Purchase: $1,000

15 Best Puffer Jackets For Men

Need a puffer jacket to keep you warm at the lodge in between runs as well? Well, look no further than this fine roundup of the 15 best puffer jackets for men. Stay warm out there.