Different Types of Skiing Explained

youn man cross-country skiing on a lovely day
James Shaffer
By James Shaffer
Last updated on February 22, 2021
Table of Contents

Skiing isn't just skiing. There's a range of different skiing types and not all are equally popular. Some are beginner-friendly whereas others require experience and a solid ability level. In this article, we'll teach you all you need to know about the different types of skiing and what they have to offer.

Alpine/Downhill Recreational Skiing

The majority of people who ski every year are recreational skiers. If you like to get out and make a few turns at your local resort or on vacation a few times a year, you are a recreational skier. When it comes to buying recreational skis, the goal is to find boards that make the experience more enjoyable for those precious days on the hill.

You are in luck, recreational skier. New innovations in ski shapes and technology make skiing easier than ever before. Skis these days are shorter and feature more aggressive sidecuts (the difference between the width of the ski at the tip and tail versus the waist), which makes them turn with less effort. Recreational skis are built mostly to handle groomed runs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t push yourself and learn to ski bumps, trees and even powder on a good pair of recreational boards. Check out our guide on the best all mountain skis to find your ideal pair.

Furthermore, ski rentals and demos have improved over the years, making it possible for you to try out quality equipment at the resort to make a better decision about what ski is right for you when it comes time to buy.

Halfpipe and Terrain Park

halfpipe skiing

With the influence of snowboarding and skateboarding, skiing has evolved. It’s no longer just about making turns straight down a mountain’s fall line. Park and pipe skiing (sometimes called “freestyle” or “freeskiing”) is about creativity in the halfpipe and on jumps, rails, and other manmade objects in the terrain park.

Pipe and park skiers flip, twist, spin and often ride or land backwards (called “switch skiing”). Halfpipe skiing made its debut as an Olympic sport in Sochi, Russia, at the 2014 Games. And slopestyle competition, where skiers descend a terrain park with tabletop and big air jumps, and a jib section with rails and boxes, also made its first appearance as an Olympic sport in Sochi.

Short, stable twin-tip skis are the ticket here since park and pipe skiers need their boards to perform going in either direction, and they want to be able to swing them around quickly underfoot. Freestyle skiing doesn’t need to be confined to the park, however. More freestyle skiers these days are taking the skills they learned in the pipe and park into the backcountry, throwing flips, and spins off natural terrain features.

Ski Racing

Ski racing has historically been the epicenter of the sport, and it still rules in Europe, where thousands of fans show up to big races with cowbells to cheer on their favorite stars. Here in North America, ski racing is popular for school-aged kids and even adult amateurs. It’s the way many big-mountain skiers got their start.

You’ll see ski racing’s big events—downhill, Super G, GS and slalom—on TV during important competitions like the World Cup, and of course the Olympics. In each discipline, racers weave their way through a series of gates, carving high-speed turns on rock-hard slopes. Unlike other disciplines like slopestyle or extreme competitions, there are no points for style. Simply put, the fastest time from the start gate to finish gate wins.

Many racers including Jean-Claude Killy, Alberto Tomba, Picabo Street, Hermann Maier, Bode Miller, Julia Mancuso, Ted Ligety, and Lindsey Vonn have become household names thanks to their performances on the biggest stages.

Ski racing is the one place you’ll still see long skis, which are built to run and stay stable at frightening speeds. Downhill racers on the World Cup routinely reach speeds of 60 mph. Since ski racing is a game of fractions of seconds, race skis need to be tuned and waxed frequently to perform at their highest potential.

Powder and Backcountry

backcountry skier

As hardcore ski bums will tell you, “There are no friends on a powder day.” Everyone waits for the days when it dumps—deep , fresh snow is the soul of the sport, and skiing powder is a sensation akin to flying. But powder is not always perfect fluff — snow in the backcountry or off-piste can vary from light “ego snow” to hard, breakable crust. A good fat ski can handle all types of wild snow.

The stars of Warren Miller and Teton Gravity Research movies take powder skiing to new levels and pros like Glen Plake, Seth Morrison, Seth Wescott, Jeremy Jones, JT Holmes, Jess McMillan and Ingrid Backstrom thrill audiences with their exploits in untracked snow across the globe.

The latest fat skis were developed by the late extreme ski star Shane McConkey, who ushered in the rockered (or curled up tip and/or tail) ski revolution that has overtaken powder skis. Powder requires a different technique than carving on groomed runs. These new rockered and reverse camber skis have made it easier for both casual skiers and veterans to float in powder.

While a standard cambered ski is built to edge into the snow, rockered powder skis push away from it like a water ski. Plus, new fat skis have been engineered so that they can also hold an edge on groomed runs, too.

James Shaffer

James Shaffer

James is a veteran snowboarder and skier. His passion for snow sport dates back to his early life growing up in Colorado. He spent his early adulthood as a ski instructor around popular locations in Europe but is now back in Colorado.
Published May 15, 2020
Last updated February 22, 2021
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