If you're searching for that elusive one-ski quiver, this is the category to find it. The definition of “all-mountain” varies by manufacturer and retailer, but generally includes skis from 85mm to 100mm underfoot that can both carve on hardpack and provide float in fresh snow. Those who ski primarily on the East Coast should look in the 85mm to 90mm range, and those who ski out West will want a waist width from 90mm to 100mm (the 100mm ski in particular has become extremely popular as many experienced skiers consider it to be the ultimate all-mountain machine). The good news is that the lines have blurred in recent years with the adoption of lighter and stronger materials and innovations like mixed rocker/camber profile. It’s a crowded all-mountain field but below we’ve picked a range of the best models for the 2015-2016 season. For more information on choosing the right ski, see our buying advice below the picks. 

Men’s All-Mountain Skis

1. Rossignol Experience 88 ($650)Rossignol Experience 88 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain front
Dimensions: 135-88-124mm (180cm)
Sizse: 156, 164, 172, 180, 188cm
Ability level: Intermediate/advanced
What we like: A superb all-rounder.
What we don’t: On the narrow side for those who put in a lot of powder days.

Rossignol really hit it out of the park with the Experience 88, a do-all ski that excels most in hardpack but is wide enough to take on the entire mountain. First and foremost, it’s a great carving ski, with easy turn initiation and edge-to-edge quickness. Second, the ski is decently playful thanks to Rossignol’s Air Tip Technology that lightens up the tip with its honeycomb-style design. But perhaps most surprisingly, the Experience 88 provides better float in powder than you might think for a ski of its width. That means that it can handle all the hardpack days you can throw it plus new snow when necessary. We like the Rossignol Experience 88 as an all-mountain ski for those in places like the East Coast and Midwest. Those is the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest should consider the wider Rossignol Experience 100, another popular ski at the sought-after 100mm waist that can better handle powder and mixed conditions.
See the Rossignol Experience 88


2. K2 Pinnacle 95 ($700)
K2 Pinnacle 95 2016 all-mountain skis

Category: All-mountain
Dimensions: 132-95-115mm
Sizes: 170, 177, 184, 191cm
Ability: Intermediate to advanced
What we like: K2 is back!
What we don’t: Can't keep up with the Experience or Kendo on hardpack.

Legendary ski brand K2 has been casual in releasing new skis in recent years and has fallen a bit behind on technology. Yet 2016 may be the year they get it back together. Highlighting a full lineup of new skis is the K2 Pinnacle 95. Aiming for that perfect all-mountain category—a ski that’s equally adept at hardpack and powder—the Pinnacle has all the right bones: a 95mm width combined with an early rise tip and tail rocker for a playful feeling off trail, and a traditional camber for good edge control for spending the occasional day on the groomers. Showing some real prowess, K2 incorporates what they’ve dubbed Konic Technology, which amounts to distributing weight to the outside of the skis for strength, while cutting weight in the center for a lighter swing weight. We’re hopeful that this engaging ski (as well as the women’s fulLUVit) is a sign of good things to come.
See the K2 Pinnacle 95


3. Volkl Kendo ($699)
Volkl Kendo 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain
Dimensions: 127-90-110mm (177cm)
Sizes: 170, 177, 184cm
Ability level: Intermediate/advanced
What we like: Perhaps the most versatile ski on this list.
What we don’t: On the wide side for icy conditions.

For true intermediates that mostly ski the frontside on the resort but want the ability to hit the back bowls and get off piste on occasion, try the Volkl Kendo. At 90mm underfoot, it’s a highly versatile ski that is narrow enough to carve well and take on groomed runs at a variety of speeds, but wide enough to handle powder days too. Past versions of the Kendo have been criticized for being too stiff for intermediate riders, but Volkl loosened things up a bit for the 2015-2016 version, took the waist out another millimeter, and added some rocker in the tail for better float. For hardpack and light powder days, the Kendo is a great all-rounder.
See the Volkl Kendo


4. Rossignol Sin 7 ($600)
Rossignol Sin 7 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain
Dimensions: 128-98-118mm
Sizes: 164, 172, 180, 188cm
Ability: Intermediate to advanced
What we like: Great balance of on/off piste performance.
What we don’t: Edge control is only middle of the pack.

The Rossignol Sin 7 shares a lot in common with the award-winning Soul 7, but at a more approachable and carvable waist width. For us, the 98mm waist hits a sweet spot for someone lucky enough to have the occasional powder day, but still needs a ski that can be fun on the groomers (it’s a Pacific Northwest ski if we’ve ever seen one). The price also is quite reasonable for the performance—the benefit of trickle down tech from the wide-reaching Rossi 7 lineup. The now familiar honeycomb tip reduces swing weight and increases flotation, making it a willing dance partner in anything from hardpack to knee-deep powder. Unless you really need all of the extra flotation that comes with the 106mm wide Soul, we think the Sin 7’s are the best all-around option in the entire S series lineup.
See the Rossignol Sin 7


5. Nordica Enforcer ($700)
Nordica Enforcer 2016 all-mountain skis

Category: All-mountain back
Dimensions: 133-100-121mm
Sizes: 169, 177, 185, 193cm
Ability: Intermediate to expert
What we like: The quintessential backside ski.
What we don’t: Wide for those who stick to groomed runs. 

2016 seems to be the year to reach back into the ol’ name vault and bring back fan favorites, which is exactly what Nordica is doing with the Enforcer. A ski that gained a loyal following in the 2000s for its progressive wide footprint that managed to excel on the firm stuff, the 2015/2016 Enforcer takes up where that model left off. Most impressive is a 16.5-meter sidecut radius (177cm length), which makes it a great ski for those that enjoy tight and fast turns—on-trail or in the trees. This is a ski that loves the bends: the unique hammerhead tip is a great turn initiator and a medium flex with a metal edge means it’s fun but can really rail through corners. It can also cut through crud with the best of them thanks to an early rise tip rocker. You can count us among the many that are thankful the Enforcer is back.
See the Nordica Enforcer


6. Kastle FX95 HP ($1,199)
Kastle FX95 HP 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain
Dimensions: 126-95-115mm
Sizes: 165, 173, 181, 189cm
Ability: Advanced to expert
What we like: Pro-level performance on and off piste.
What we don’t: Only pros can afford it.

With big time power, performance-oriented skiers love the Kastle FX95 HP, which was developed by renowned ski mountaineer Chris Davenport. All Kastle skis feature a unique hollow construction tip to reduce swingweight and chatter through variable snow. Classic metal laminate construction will smooth out the bumps going Mach-looney on a groomer or through cut up powder, and a wonderful ash and silver fir core makes the FX95 a flickable off-piste joy. The older version of this ski was associated with being a difficult ride for non-experts, but the new design is more approachable and can be enjoyed even when you’re not muscling it around. Of course, price is the biggest barrier to entry here, and the improvements from other models on this list are incremental at best. But for those who truly get the most out of their skis, the FX95 HP is worth the extra dough.
See the Kastle FX95 HP


7. Blizzard Brahma ($650)
Blizzard Brahma 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain front
Dimensions: 125-88-110mm
Sizes: 166, 173, 180, 187cm
Ability: Intermediate to advanced
What we like: A top option for resort skiers.
What we don’t: Narrow for deep snow and the sidecountry. 

The Blizzard Brahma soldiers on for 2015/2016 with no changes, but earns a place on our list for the third year straight thanks to great frontside performance in almost all snow conditions. Recognizing the importance of rocker in modern ski design, Blizzard developed a construction process technology, “Flipcore,” which they claim allows their rockered skis to flex and behave more naturally than traditionally constructed skis. Combined with the relatively modest 88mm waist and light camber underfoot, the Brahma has great turning ability and decent float in powder, while “Flipcore” tip and tail rocker profiling retain rock solid edge hold on firm snow. A great coast-to-coast ski as long as you don’t get too crazy in the powder, the Brahma is a classic all-mountain choice.
See the Blizzard Brahma


8. Atomic Vantage 95 C ($500)
Atomic Vantage 95 C skis

Category: All-mountain
Dimensions: 133-95-119.5mm
Sizes: 170, 178, 186cm
Ability: Intermediate
What we like: A great price for a capable ski.
What we don’t: Lacking in high-end performance.

Proving that an affordable ski doesn’t have to compromise in technology, the Atomic Vantage 95 C is a whale of a deal at $500. The “C” in the name is for carbon, which is weaved into the construction for increased stiffness and reduced weight. The light feel and short sidecut radius make it a great ski to take into the trees, and although it’s a supremely smooth operator all over the mountain, it’s more tuned to the intermediate skier rather than the hardcharging type. Expert pilots may want to look into the Vantage 100, which adds some needed metal in the construction courtesy of a layer of titanium. Despite a few qualms, the 95 C should continue the popularity of the previous model, the Vantage Theory, thanks to an excellent design and affordable price.
See the Atomic Vantage 95 C


9. HEAD Monster 88 ($699)
Head Monster 88 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain front
Dimensions: 133-88-114mm
Sizes: 163, 170, 177, 184cm
Ability: Intermediate to advanced
What we like: Tears up groomers.
What we don’t: Too stiff for easygoing skiers.

East Coast and Midwest skiers who spend most of their time on groomed runs will love the popular Head Monster line. This ski will power through hardpack and ice and hold your edges with traditional camber, a tip rocker, and a stiff and strong construction. Beginning skiers or those looking for a light and playful ski may want to look elsewhere—the Monster does require a little muscle to really appreciate it, but it’s a great match for aggressive skiers. The 88mm waist is ideal for resort skiing in places that don’t get a ton of fresh snow, but should you require an even narrower ski, checkout the Head Monster 83.
See the HEAD Monster 88


10. Line Sick Day 95 ($600)
Line Sick Day 95 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain
Dimensions: 130-95-115mm
Sizes: 172, 179, 186cm
Ability: Intermediate to advanced
What we like: A playful coast-to-coast ski.
What we don’t: No metal edge impacts edge control in ice.

Although 95mm is the narrowest width in the freeride Sick Day lineup (widths reaching a powder-friendly 110mm), we think it’s the most fun. Featuring a directional flex pattern, the Line Sick Day 95 flexes softer in the tip than it does in the tail. The purpose is easy turn initiation through the tip at slow speeds and solid hold in turns through the tail at higher speeds. Line also employs a unique tip/tail thinning technology to reduce overall ski weight, swingweight, and tip bounce through crud. There’s just enough camber underfoot in the Sick Day 95 for solid edging and liveliness between turns; and, of course, there’s proper rocker in the 130mm tip for when you find your secret stash in the trees. A true coast-to-coast ski, the Sick Day is lively and fun in all conditions.
See the Line Sick Day 95


11. Rossignol Soul 7 ($750)
Rossignol Soul 7 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain back
Dimensions: 136-106-126mm
Sizes: 164, 172, 180, 188cm
Ability: Advanced to expert
What we like: Nimble and great flotation.
What we don’t: Wide for the frontside (but surprisingly capable).

Yes, 106mm is wide for the all-mountain category, but Rossignol’s 7 series has garnered so much praise in the past few years that it’s nearing legendary status. The Soul 7 is the flagship all-mountain offering and, as you would expect, does pretty much everything very well. At 106mm underfoot, the only thing that is missing is a claimed 20 percent of overall weight saved in the tip and tail insert that is filled with air, which makes the Soul 7 even more maneuverable and backcountry tour-able than its predecessors. It also got a redesigned rocker profile to decrease dreaded “tip flap” while charging crud and to improve overall performance in all conditions. Those that spend a good chunk of time on groomers will be better served by the more on-piste Sin 7 above, but for those living in powder country, the Soul 7 is an all-mountain dream.
See the Rossignol Soul 7


Women’s All-Mountain Skis

1. Volkl Kenja ($700)
Volkl Kenja 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain
Dimensions: 127-90-110mm
Sizes: 156, 163, 170cm
Ability: Intermediate to advanced
What we like: Nice improvements to an already excellent ski.
What we don’t: Still needs an aggressive skier at the helm.

Volkl excels at women’s specific skis, pouring in a lot of R&D for dedicated designs appreciated for their lightweight and natural feel. With a full wood core, partial metal laminate, and now incorporating a tail rocker for 2016, the Kenja is a real-deal ski that should treat most resort skiers well. The previous model used to eat up novice riders with a stiff and unforgiving design. The new model retains the stiff setup with a few incremental improvements, highlighted by the tail rocker, a redesigned tip shape and 3mm of additional width. The end result of their work modernizes these well-respected sticks without sacrificing its race-bred past. 
See the Volkl Kenja


2. Rossignol Temptation 88 ($650)
Rossignol Temptation 88 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain front
Dimensions: 135-88-124mm
Sizes: 156, 164, 172, 180cm
Ability: Advanced to expert
What we like:  A powerful women’s-specific ski.
What we don’t: More on-trail focused than is implied.

It may be only 3mm wider at the waist than the Atomic Vantage 85 W below, but the new Rossignol Temptation 88 is a world away in terms of performance. Based on the popular men’s Experience series, but adapted to suit female skiers, the Temptation 88 has pulled in a nice haul of awards for 2016. Many of its accolades can be credited to an incredibly playful nature at any speed that acts like a race-bred GS carver when you really let gravity do its thing on a groomer. The subtle tail rocker just cruises through variable chop while assisting in smooth transitions when connecting turns. Rossi suggest a 50/50 split for on and off-trail use, and we’d adjust that even more towards on-piste—the stiffer setup is best appreciated by those that lean on their edges.
See the Rossignol Temptation 88


3. Line Soulmate 92 ($500)
Line Soulmate 92 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain
Dimensions: 127-92-115mm
Sizes: 151, 158, 165cm
Ability: Intermediate to advanced
What we like: Playful and snappy for the aspiring freerider.
What we don’t: Early rise tip can be trouble in firm conditions.

Transitioning slightly from the stiffer on-piste ski above to those that love some powder time, the Line Soulmate 92 is a mid-width freeride ski that brings some fun to the slopes. This tried-and-true design from Line got an update for 2016, but continues to offer solid resort and sidecountry performance for intermediate to advanced level skiers. An early rise tip will keep things on top if there’s some fresh snow to be had. Forgiving at all speeds, it seems to be able to make turns in any kind of snow condition with ease, albeit in a more deliberate manner than stiffer options like the Kenja above. As long as you don’t need extra width for improved flotation in dry and deep snow, we think the Line Soulmate 92 is plenty of ski for those that cover the whole mountain.
See the Line Soulmate 92


4. Nordica Santa Ana ($699)
Nordica Santa Ana 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain back
Dimensions: 133-100-121mm
Sizes: 153, 161, 169, 177cm
Ability: Intermediate to expert
What we like: Our favorite women's backside ski on this list. 
What we don’t: Some parts of the country don’t get enough snow to justify this ski.

A ski making some serious waves for the 2015/2016 season is the all-new Nordica Santa Ana. With the same shape of the Enforcer on our men’s list, the Santa Ana is an equally adept partner for women that carve up the whole mountain. Changes from the Enforcer include a Balsa wood core, which is dedicated to the women’s line, and a lack of metal edges. Cutting weight is a major reason women-specific skis are so appealing, reducing fatigue so you can keep charging run after run. What sets the Santa Ana apart from the rest is the fun-to-drive factor that doesn’t come at the cost of on-piste performance. It’s not something that shows up on the specs sheet, but everyone who puts in even a single run on these sticks comes back raving.
See the Nordica Santa Ana


5. K2 FulLUVit 98 ($700)
K2 FulLUVit 98 Ti 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain back
Dimensions: 131-98-119mm
Sizes: 163, 170, 177cm
Ability: Intermediate to expert
What we like: Women’s-specific flex and construction.
What we don’t: Nordica Santa Ana beats it in all-around performance.

Don’t confuse the FulLUVit 98 with a men’s ski that’s been given a splash of color; this is women’s ski through and through. A look at the profile reveals a thoughtful design that trims weight from the center while retaining full thickness along the edges for improved control. The ski has a nice, natural feel to it thanks to liberal use of wood in the construction. Dubbed BioFlex, the design incorporates three different types: paulownia to cut weight, aspen for strength and improved power transfer, and stiffer bamboo to keep tip and tail chatter in check. Another benefit of a wood-heavy design is its light and playful performance, an attribute that is readily apparent in the FulLUVit. Even with strong sidewalls, though, the ski has far too much surface area for those that stick only to groomers. But for the advanced-level freerider, add the K2 FulLUVit to your wish list.
See the K2 FulLuvit 98


6. Atomic Vantage 85 W ($400)
Atomic Vantage 85 W 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain front
Dimensions: 122.5-85-106.5mm
Sizes: 149, 157, 165cm
Ability: Beginner to intermediate
What we like:  A great option for intermediate skiers.
What we don’t: Advanced/expert skiers need not apply.

An East Coast quiver-of-one for the conservative skier, the Atomic Vantage 85 W delivers lightweight maneuverability at a good price. A clear step up from foam-stuffed entry-level skis, the poplar wood core is smooth flexing and forgiving, which should help expedite the learning process for beginning skiers. The wide-ranging Vantage series of skis share technology up and down the lineup, and accordingly, the 85 W reaps the benefits with beefed up sidewalls you can trust when rolling onto the metal edge. A tighter sidecut radius and lighter feel can contribute to some instability at high speeds, but that’s not what the Vantage 85 is intended to do. Stepping up to the $500 Vantage 95 C W buys you a carbon weave for improved stiffness and an additional 10mm of width for true coast-to-coast usability.
See the Atomic Vantage 85 W


7. Rossignol Savory 7 ($750)
Rossignol Savory 7 2016 skis

Category: All-mountain back
Dimensions: 136-106-126mm
Sizes: 162, 170, 178cm
Ability: Advanced to expert
What we like: Awesome flotation and fun in the powder.
What we don’t: Too much ski for extended frontside use.

The Savory 7 is Rossignol’s women’s-specific take on the popular Soul 7. The graphics are designed to specifically highlight Rossi’s “AirTip” technology, a special honeycomb insert in the tip and tail that serves to reduce weight, ease maneuverability, dampen tip chatter, and gain floatability in soft snow. In hand, you can actually see daylight shining through and you also notice how the metal edges stop a good ways from the tip, which keeps overall weight down.

Don’t be afraid to go for a longer size in the Rossignol Savory 7. The lengthy, tapered tip has a good amount of rocker making the effective edge of the ski shorter underfoot. This makes them ski much shorter, and opting for your typical size may limit your speed and flotation potential. Despite all of the innovation, the Savory remains a ski with a 106mm waist, so don’t pick one up unless you expect some knee deep powder days. If you’re lucky enough to have those in your future, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best skis on the market.
See the Rossignol Savory 7


All-Mountain Ski Buying Advice

Ideal Terrain for All-Mountain Skis

By definition, an all-mountain ski should be adept at just about anything you’ll encounter during a day on the slopes. This isn’t a hard-and-fast category, generally encompassing skis from 85mm to 105mm underfoot that are best for the front side of the mountain and skiing in bounds (at least most of the time). At the narrow end are focused on-trail groomer skis, and at the wide end are skis that can handle back bowls and powder just fine.

It’s important to understand the limitations of this ski type. All-mountain skis are not ideal for deep powder or the backcountry. They’re also often too heavy for uphill travel. What they do offer is that all-in-one functionality: for anything from bluebird powder days to crusty hard pack, there’s an all-mountain ski for that. Logically, it’s not as simple as just choosing any old all-mountain ski and calling it good. The decision should involve local snow conditions, skiing style, and ability level. We cover these important considerations below.

Waist Width (85mm to 105mm)

The width of the very middle of the ski is the key measurement in choosing a proper all-mountain setup. You’ll see the waist width measured in millimeters, also referred to by the term “underfoot.” Skis nowadays are trending towards ever-wider waist widths for improved stability and control in soft snow. If you line up a current all-mountain ski with one from 10 years ago, the change in waist width is dramatic. Here is where things stand for 2015/2016, and for more information, see our full article on choosing the right ski waist width

  • 85mm to 95mm - Best for groomed, on-trail skiing. Closer to 85mm (Rossignol Temptation 88): a great ski for those primarily on the East Coast. And around 95mm (K2 Pinnacle 95): coast-to-coast capabilities.
  • 95mm to 105mm - Solid performance on groomers, but enough float for powder too. Ideal for Colorado, Utah, and other places that get a lot of fresh snow. 

Moving to a wider ski increases flotation in powder. Old ways of keeping yourself afloat involved straining your toes in your boots to keep the ski tips from getting bogged down under the surface. Nowadays with a wider ski base along with rocker technology (covered below), the greater surface area means you can ski more easily and aggressively.

It’s not all good news with fat skis. Wider skis generally make wider turns, and the benefits are mostly appreciated by those that ski off trail or live in areas like Utah or Colorado. We’ve seen too many skiers suffering on hard pack with skis that are too wide and cumbersome. The lesson: don’t get caught up too much in the wider is always better mantra. Make sure you’ll be able to appreciate the tangible benefits wider skis provide.

Ski Profile

The profile of a ski can be broken into three main categories: camber, rocker and mixed rocker/camber. There are others, including skis with a flat bottom shape, but the three listed below are the most popular—and for good reason. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses for skier and snow type, and we detail those below.

Camber is the traditional groomer ski design. The profile has a half moon-like shape that peaks right underneath your boot and contacts the ground towards the tip and tail of the ski. While skiing, your weight presses the ski into the snow, and when you lift coming out of the turn, you get a satisfying pop that propels you into the next turn. The design has been popular for many years because it provides even contact with the snow and superior edge control when carving down a groomed slope.

Camber used to dominate the all-mountain category, but now it’s become a bit of a rarity. So why has traditional camber fallen out of favor? In short, because the industry fell in love with the new kid on the block: rocker (and then mixed camber/rocker). But traditional camber remains a great choice for those that like to ski aggressively on groomed runs. Don’t buy the marketing hype that pure camber is dead.

Rocker, also known as reverse camber, is when the tips of the skis are raised on either end, creating a sort of banana shape to the ski profile. This design came about originally for its benefits in deep powder. And even just a few years ago, rocker was mostly resigned to powder skis, but the design has come on strong in all-mountain setups of late. Our take is that a full rocker setup, rising at both the tip and the tail, is still best for those that like to spend more of their time off-trail. The downside of a pure rocker ski is the flat surface underfoot has a tendency to be more skittish when carving on hardpack. Although it turns easily, it just doesn’t hold an edge like traditional camber. From this issue was born a third category: mixed rocker/camber.

Mixed Camber/Rocker
With both rocker and camber providing real world benefits enjoyed by skiers of just about any ability level, manufacturers have turned their attention recently to mixed camber. In theory, it should provide the best of both worlds: the edge control of a traditional camber ski and the crud busting and easy cruising in deep powder that you get with rocker. And reality isn’t that far off. There are variations in how manufacturers pull off this mix: some go with a tip-only rocker while others go for tip and tail (the latter is great for those that spend some time riding switch). If you’re a skier that tries to cover all of the mountain, a mixed camber/rocker setup is a great pairing.

For you visual learners, snow sports retailer Evo has put together a helpful video explaining the various profile types.

Side Cut Radius

Side cut radius is a key measurement of the turning radius of your ski. A ski with a higher number makes wide sweeping turns, while a lower number means tighter turns. A tight side cut radius is great for moguls or cutting in and out of trees, but trimming away materials also means it doesn’t float as well in the soft stuff. Below are general ski parameters:

  • Carving: Less than 16 meters
  • All-around: 16-20 meters
  • Sweeping turns in powder: 20+ meters

Modern all-mountain skis are shaped wider at the tip and tail and narrower at the waist, creating an hourglass arc. A ski that has a more dramatic hourglass shape that narrows significantly at the waist will have a lower side cut radius number (measured in meters), while a ski that has a similar width throughout will have a higher number.

Keep in mind that a longer version of the same ski will increase the side cut radius, so if you’re weighing two ski lengths know that the shorter option will be more inclined to turn a little sharper (at the sacrifice of some top end speed and flotation).

Core Materials

The core of the ski, essentially the material taking up space in the middle, is a fundamental indicator of ski quality and performance. Any pair of skis can look pretty cool with some nice graphics, but it’s what underneath that really counts. The most common core material in a pair of quality skis is wood, but it’s rather expensive, so there are various other options like foam or composite.

With the flex that all-mountain skiers really desire, wood cores are by far and away our favorites. You pay to upgrade to a wood core for a more natural flex, power transfer and satisfying “pop” when connecting turns. Wood cores are also unrivaled in their playful nature—and aren’t we out there to have fun? That’s reason enough for us to recommend going with a wood core for most all-mountain skiing.

For us, there’s wood cores and everything else. But if you aren’t able to fork over the heftier sum that accompanies a wood core ski or need a ski that is supremely stiff, composites can do the job. Composite, by definition is a rather vague term, but what it means for skis is that the core is made of materials laid on top of one another. The benefit of the layering technique is manufacturers can incorporate stiff materials like carbon to increase strength or save some money by using fiberglass (materials vary by make and model). No matter the choice, you lose the flex and playfulness of a wood ski, but get a stiff and effective tool for carving in its place. Intermediate to advanced groomer skiers should be completely satisfied with a well-built ski with a composite core.

The cheapest alternative to wood is to opt for a ski with a foam core, but if you’re planning to actually purchase a pair of skis and not rent, we recommend steering clear. Foam saves money but sacrifices too much in terms of performance and long-term durability. They’re best seen as a basic tool that dulls some of the fun out of a day on the slopes.

Location, Location, Location

East Coast (85mm to 95mm)
As folks on the East Coast are aware, deep powder days are few and far between. When a snowstorm blows through overnight, it’s best to be laying the first tracks as those couple of inches probably won’t make it to lunchtime. As a result, most East Coast skiing is focused on the groomed runs, and it’s best to pick a ski accordingly. In other words, don’t be seduced by a wide powder ski, not matter how amazing it looks. Take this is a generalization, however, as there are some powder oases out there. But if you’re used to snow machines and staying primarily on groomed runs, a skinnier waisted ski in the 85mm range (sometimes stretching to around 90mm) will be an ideal pairing. For more on this category, see our list of 7 great skis for East Coast hardpack.

All-Arounder (95mm to 100mm)
An all-arounder ski can handle anything from early season groomer days to the occasional off-track powder runs. East coasters that like to take the occasional trip out West or those that live along the West Coast are well suited for this category of ski. As a result of the universal appeal, this is the core of the all-mountain category. Ideal waist widths vary from about 95-100mm and a more universal profile is preferred (light tip/tail rocker to limit tail flap).

Western Powder Sleds (100mm+)
Utah and Colorado skiers are usually blessed with a couple months worth of glorious light powder. Avoiding the dense, wet snow that often sets in in the Pacific Northwest, the dry and light stuff that falls in these Western States have made them a skier’s paradise. So what’s the best all-mountain ski for these conditions? To start, it’s best to acknowledge that a one-ski quiver will be insufficient for backcountry powder hounds—those folks will be better served with a dedicated powder ski that can stay afloat in the deep stuff. But should you stick to lift assisted skiing and don’t get too lost in the trees, a ski with a width of 95-105mm should be just right.

Choosing the Right Ski Length

Picking skis used to a pretty simple process, and could be done simply by knowing your height (the center of the forehead was a common match for a ski). Those days are long gone, replaced by more of a scientific process. Now, ski manufacturers are basing their recommendations on height and weight. This allows you to maximize the ski’s potential with proper amounts of flex and power transfer. Other considerations are skiing style: shorter skis are easier to handle for beginners and turning faster, while longer skis float better and are more stable at high speed. In the end, the right skis might only come to your chin or they may reach the top of your head, so all length should do is give you a good ballpark. We’ve found these ski sizing charts on Backcountry and Evo to be helpful as baseline information.

Finding the Right Ski Boots and Bindings

Of utmost importance in choosing a ski setup is to realize how interconnected each piece is. Boot, binding and skis need to be all working in concert to maximize the performance potential of your gear as well as to maximize your enjoyment. Skimping on one will impact the performance of everything else. As an example, if you have a stiff, performance-oriented boot, you’re going to waste its abilities with a slow and cumbersome entry-level ski and binding. Alternatively, if you have a beginner, flexible boot with an advanced ski and binding set, you won’t be able to transfer enough power to really carve your way down the slopes.

To help guarantee you end up with a proper match, our ski binding and downhill boot recommendations breakdown the categories in a similar fashion as all-mountain skis: tailoring picks to ski conditions and ability level. Should you have additional inquiries, feel free to fire away in the discussion section below.

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