Downhill Ski Buying Guide

Downhill skiing is a great way to get out and enjoy the snow every Winter, having the proper alpine ski set up is key to the enjoyment. Whether you like to cruise groomed runs, hit features in the park, or seek out fresh powder on the mountains, there’s a ski setup that’s right for you. In this guide, we’ll explain the different parts of a ski setup and how to select the right downhill skis and gear for you.

What Makes Up a Ski Setup?

Four main parts make up a ski system: the skis, bindings, boots, and the poles.
Let’s start by learning more about downhill skis.

Now let's learn about what connects you to the skis, the bindings.

Now let's talk about the direct connection you have to the system, the boots.

Finally, let’s learn a bit about ski poles.

What size skis to I need?

There are a lot of factors that go into determining the best size downhill skis, AKA alpine skis, for an individual. Check out our Ski Sizing Guide for more information on this.

What Types of Downhill Skis Are There?

All-Mountain Skis

All-mountain skis, just as their name suggests, are designed to perform anywhere on the hill and in all snow conditions. They can handle icy, man-made snow or fresh deep powder, mellow groomed runs or steep, ungroomed mountain runs.

Because of their versatility, all-mountain skis are an excellent option for skiers of all types. If you’re a newer downhill skier and unsure what’s right for you, an all-mountain ski is a great option. And if you’re an experienced skier that wants one ski that will hold an edge at higher speeds on groomed runs and hard snow or let you dip into the powder from time to time, these are the skis for you.

All-mountain skis come in a variety of widths, shapes, and stiffnesses, so there are options to tailor your ski selection towards the type of downhill skiing you want to do.

Woman Riding Skis Down Slope
Freeride Skis

Freeride skis are for the skier that wants to spend time off of the groomed runs, or off-piste, whether it’s hitting fresh powder, riding steep terrain, or hitting big drops and jumps. These skis are typically wider than an all-mountain ski to allow them to float better in powder, but come in a variety of styles to suit you.

Freestyle & Park/Pipe Skis

Freestyle skis, also called park and pipe skis, are designed for the skier that wants to spend the majority of their time in the terrain park. If you spend your time hitting jumps, rails, or the pipe, these are the skis for you. These downhill skis usually are twin-tips, meaning that they can be skied forwards or backward.

Skier Jumping off pyramid rail
Women's Skis

Within the different styles of skis, you’ll also find men’s and women’s options. So what makes a women’s ski different? It’s not just a matter of making the skis shorter. Women are typically lighter than men of equal height, so a men’s ski may be too stiff for a woman to turn efficiently. Women’s downhill skis will have a softer flex to allow the ski to turn correctly and perform at their best. That said, women can certainly select a men’s ski and vice versa depending on the skiers wants and needs.

Women downhill skiing and smiling
Kids Skis

The most important thing to consider when buying a ski setup for your child is getting the right size. While it might be tempting to buy downhill skis that they can grow into, skis that are too big will be hard for them to turn and control, while properly sized skis will be easier for them turn and ultimately enjoy and learn on.

One great option that ERIK’S offers if you’re concerned about buying a ski setup for your growing child is our ERIK’S Kid’s Downhill Ski Lease Program.

Girl Skiing at Ski Hill

What are System Skis and Flat Skis?

System skis come with bindings, and they’re integrated into the ski. Rather than drilling holes into the ski to mount the bindings, they have a plate attached to the ski that the bindings attach too. Flat skis are sold as a ski only. Bindings are then mounted to the ski by first drilling holes into the top of the ski and then installing the heel and toe pieces. When picking bindings for a flat ski, the brake width of the binding should be equal to waist width or up to 15mm wider.

Most all-mountain skis are sold as a system ski while freeride and freestyle skis are often sold as flats.

Ski Profiles


Camber is the traditional shape for downhill skis. When laid on a flat surface the tip and tail of the ski make contact close to the ends and the ski curves upward. The ski essentially stores energy when it’s flexed by the skier's weight, providing for lively turns, or providing pop when you hit a jump or the top of the pipe.


Rocker, also called reverse-camber, is essentially the opposite of camber in that it curves upward. When laid on a flat surface, the ski’s tip and tail will kick up in comparison to the center of the ski. Where and how much that ski kicks up will vary depending on the ski’s design. Downhill skis with rocker offer better float through powder by lifting the nose. The rocker shape also makes it easier to turn wider skis.


As the name says, these skis are flat between the tip and tail. If you laid one down on a flat surface, it would sit flush. Truly flat downhill skis are not very common. More often you’ll find skis that are almost flat through the middle of the ski with rocker in the tip and possibly the tail.


This is where many skis today fall, with some combination of rocker and camber being common. Rocker in the tip of the downhill skis makes them easier to turn and offers float in powder or choppy snow, with camber underfoot to better hold an edge while turning. The blend of rocker and camber that a ski manufacturer chooses will match the style of skiing that the skis are designed for.

Ski Poles

When it comes to selecting ski poles, the most important factor is getting one that’s the right length. The easiest way to size a pair of downhill ski poles is to flip it upside down so that the grip is touching the floor and then grab under the basket. You should find that your elbow is at or just slightly more than a 90º angle. If you find that your hand is higher than your elbow, you should size down a pole. If you’re going to be skiing primarily in the park and pipe, you should move down one or two sizes. Ski poles are also split into men's ski poles, women's ski poles and kids ski poles.

Have more questions about skis? Our Brain Trust gear experts are here to help!

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