Beginners ski one type of terrain, gentle groomed runs and have one major skiing objective -- staying upright. Intermediate and advanced skiers explore the entire mountain, ski all types of snow and develop personal skiing styles and preferences. To the great delight of ski manufacturers and retail stores, no one type of ski handles all types of terrain and all snow conditions. The only limits to the number of different skis most advanced skiers own are the amounts of storage space in their garages and the limits on their credit cards.
Most intermediates choose "all-mountain" skis. These are the family sedan of skiing. They turn easily at moderate speeds, are comfortable on groomed slopes and will perform adequately in powder. The "slalom" style models with deeper sidecuts are designed for short turns and will handle easy moguls, while the "giant slalom" or "GS" models will perform better at higher speeds with longer radius turns. Like your family car, they are practical and reliable but not really exciting.
The only thing better than skiing western "champagne powder" is soaking in a hot tub drinking champagne afterward. If you ski mainly off-piste, try soft, wide powder skis. Their width enables them to float over the surface of deep soft snow, making the experience of skiing powder seem effortless for intermediate skiers. If you live in the west and enjoy heli-skiing, powder skis are a good investment, but their extreme softness makes them chatter or lose their grip on hard snow, so they are not a good choice for people who ski mainly in the east.
Moguls, Freeride and Freestyle
If you like getting big air and doing tricks in moguls or terrain parks, double-tipped freestyle skis let you ski both backward and forward and make quick turns. They are not particularly forgiving of bad balance nor are they stable enough for high-speed cruising, but they help you do impressive moves in tubes and, even better, look cool on chair lifts.
Racing and Hardpack
If you ski on hardpack or ice, race or just enjoy high-speed cruising, you need a stiff, narrow ski that won't wash out in turns. Race-inspired skis don't turn well at low speeds and are unforgiving of bad technique, but if you have the strength and skill to control them, they give you the edge you need to shave seconds off your race time, or at least get down to the base area before your friends have eaten all of the bar snacks.
Try Before You Buy
Ultimately, the best ski for you is one you like. Go to demo days at your local resort to try a wide range of skis for free. Many rental shops also carry high-end demos you can rent out for the half-day or day, and often sell off their demo models inexpensively at the end of the season. Don't choose skis based on your friends' opinions or chairlift gossip, but pay attention to what feels good and helps you ski better.
Carol Poster began writing professionally in 1974. Her articles have appeared in "Outdoor Woman," "Paddler," "Ski Magazine," "Women's Sports & Fitness," "Dance News," "Show Business," "The Athenian," "PC Resource" and "Utah Holiday," among other publications. Poster holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University, as well as a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri.