Skiing Levels: A Guide to Ski Ability & Proper Gear Selection

Christa Burkett
By Christa Burkett
Last updated on June 25, 2020
Table of Contents

Skiing can be a ton of fun for people of all ages. But not only is it fun, it can also be great exercise and is an ideal way to get outside to enjoy some fresh air during the colder months of the year. 

However, one of the hardest choices that skiers have to make is the gear they want to use. 

Fortunately, I’ve put together the following quick guide on choosing the right ski gear for your specific ability level. 

Although there’s really no such thing as the perfect pair of skis, and most of it really boils down to your own personal preference, choosing gear that’s designed specifically for your skillset ensures that your skiing experience will be safer and more comfortable.

First, let's talk about the various skill levels that skiers can be divided into. 

Skiing Skill And Ability Levels

When it comes to learning how to ski, ability levels are typically broken into 3 categories, beginner, intermediate, and advanced, each of which, contains multiple distinct sub-categories. 

By understanding where you’re at in terms of your ability to ski, it will make it easier to look for gear that’s designed specifically for you. 

With that said, let’s take a look at the 8 different skill levels typically associated with learning how to ski. 

Beginner

If you’ve never been on skis before, or you have “that one time, but it was a really long time ago”, then you’d fall into the category of being a Level 1 beginner. 

A Level 2 beginner is someone who has at least skied once before, and can move slowly down a slope in a cautious wedge. 

Finally, a level 3 beginner can confidently make round turns and safely ride on beginner level slopes, which are typically denoted by a green circle. 

Intermediate

As a Level 4 intermediate, skiers are able to combine their turns with increasingly higher speeds, and feel confident on green and blue runs. 

By the time a skier has progressed to Level 5, they’ll be able to keep their skis parallel most of the time while riding, and they’ll only need to step or wedge to initiate their turns. 

The final intermediate stage, Level 6, includes the ability to hold a parallel stance on practically any blue run. Level 6 intermediates usually start to experiment with their skills on various types of terrain. 

Advanced

By Level 7, advanced skiers are able to perform properly controlled, parallel turns, while also maintaining high speeds on groomed black diamond runs. 

And finally, by Level 8, skiers have mastered their technique in all types of terrains and snow conditions, and are consistently able to ski using short radius carves. 

Choosing The Right Ski Profile For Your Ability Level

intermediate skill level woman on ski

When it comes to controlling and maneuvering your skis, it’s important to understand that the shape or “profile” of the ski will play a major role in how it feels on your feet. 

So when your shopping for skis that match your skill level, it’s important to understand that there are two different ski profiles, each that offer their own pros and cons for people of differing skill level. 

You’ll also find combinations of the two types of profiles, which will always affect how the skis perform on the slopes. 

Ski Profiles Explained

Ski Profiles

Camber - Good for beginners

The first profile, known as camber, is when the shape of the ski arches up in the middle, near the skier’s feet. This type of profile, which naturally flexes upward, helps make for easier turning, handling, and stability.

Because of this, skis with more of a cambered profile are going to be easier to control for beginners. You’ll often see a camber profile on traditional skis, which are ideal for riding on hardpacked, groomed trails. 

Rocker - Good for advanced skiers

Alternatively, other types of skis are designed with what’s known as a “rocker” profile, also known as an early rise or a reverse-camber. With this profile, the ski has a flat bottom, near the skier’s feet, but the tip and tail of the ski bend upward, away from the ground. 

This shape makes skis better at carving and turning at higher speeds, while also providing the skier with more floatation for when riding through powder. 

The problem is that this type of ski profile can be “too maneuverable”, especially for those with little skiing experience. 

Therefore, newer skiers can benefit from using a ski that only has a little bit of rocker. 

Choosing The Right Boots And Bindings For Your Skill Level

closeup of ski boots and bindings

While most ski boots have a hard outer shell and a softer interior layer, others have moldable inner layers, which allow for a fully-customizable fit. 

But regardless of fit, ski boots are typically rated on a “flex index”, which should be determined closely by a skier’s ability. 

Ski boot flex rating fit guide

In general, a higher flex number means a stiffer boot, making it better suited for use by advanced skiers, whereas a lower flex number means a softer boot, which means that beginners should look for boots with a softer flex rating (lower number).

Intermediate skiers, on the other hand, or anyone who expects to advanced rather quickly might want to look for a medium flex boot. And finally, advanced skiers should look for boots with a high flex number, which means a stiffer boot, ideal for maintaining control at higher speeds and on steeper terrain. 

Lastly, you’re going to want to make sure that you choose a good set of binding, which means a set that is properly-suited for your skill level. 

Not only are your binding designed to keep your boots attached to your skis, but they’re also designed to release your boot from the ski in the event of a crash. Therefore, especially as a beginner, you want to make sure that you’re using an adequate set of bindings, which have been properly adjusted by a professional. 

A binding’s release setting is meant to be based on your specific weight, height, age, and personal ability, therefore each skier should have their bindings adjusted according to their own dimensions. 

When choosing ski bindings, you’ll typically have the option of choosing integrated bindings or purchasing your bindings separately. 

Integrated ski bindings simply mean that they are designed specifically for that pair or skis and come pre-installed upon purchase. Although this makes integrated bindings more convenient, they also tend to provide a bit more flex, which also makes them ideal for beginners. 

On the other hand, more advanced skiers might prefer to purchase stiffer bindings separately. 

Choosing The Right Skis For Your Terrain

Aside from your personal skill level, skiers might also want to choose gear that’s designed specifically for the type of terrain they plan on riding

For instance, are you planning on riding on groomed mountains with hard-packed snow? Or, are you planning on shredding through backcountry powder, off the beaten path? 

It’s important to know that there are different types of skis that are all designed to perform better in specific conditions. Let’s take a look at the most common types of skis. 

  • Track skis - Designed specifically for use on groomed mountain terrain and trails. 
  • All-mountain skis - Designed as a more versatile ski, suitable for both groomed and powder conditions. 
  • Freeride skis - Designed for backcountry skiing and riding ungroomed slopes.
  • Race skis - Designed for speed, race skis are narrower, making them ideal for downhill and slalom racing.
  • Freestyle skis - Designed for snowpark riding and performing tricks.

The Importance Of Choosing The Right Gear

Although there’s really no such thing as the ideal beginner ski, a ski’s profile and its other dimensions will significantly change the way it performs on the slopes.

That’s why it’s important to understand what factors affect a ski’s performance in what ways, as well as how those changes are going to be felt by you, at your own skill level. Think about it; when you’re a beginner, choosing skis that are designed for high speeds and hard carves aren’t going to be any good for going slow on the bunny hills. 

In the end, just make sure to understand that there are different skis designed for different ability levels, and that choosing the right type of gear can save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run. 

Christa Burkett

Christa Burkett

Christa is an avid skier who loves to explore the world. She has a particular love for speed and snow which she has first found in her adulthood but since then she's made up for it with volunteering and ski resorts and learning from the best.
Published June 16, 2020
Last updated June 25, 2020
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