Beginner skis offer great value and an easy platform for learning the basics of turning, balance, and control. In short, they make it easier to learn proper technique in less time. Beginner models come either as an integrated system with bindings or as a flat ski that requires you to purchase the bindings separately (we indicate if they come with bindings in the product title and our comparison table). For our top picks for 2016-2017, we’ve covered both cheap, entry-level models to get you out of rental gear up to all-mountain designs for the athletic or ambitious first timer. To complete your setup, we’ve also written about the best beginner ski boots.
Turning radius: 15m
What we like: More than just a ski for beginners.
What we don’t: Pricier than other skis on this list.
Women’s: Rossignol Temptation 77 w/Xpress 11 Bindings
A beginner ski that you’ll grow out of in a season isn’t a great buy, which is why our top-rated model is the very capable Rossignol Experience 77. This ski retains the important characteristics of a beginner setup: smooth turn initiation, a low weight, and an easy to manage narrow width, all with the stability to progress and carve at speed. It’s also a decent value at $550, which includes quality 11-DIN bindings from Look.
The Experience 77 borrows heavily from Rossi’s high-end models, including its lightweight Air Tip and mixed rocker and camber design. The Air Tip was popularized in their freeride “7” line for lightening the ski and giving it a playful nature, and is equally effective here. With a moderate rocker along the front, the tip won’t flap at speed and is eager to turn. And once you’re confident, the Experience 77 has fantastic edge hold for a beginner-friendly design. You can save $50 to $100 by getting a true entry-level model, but the higher performance threshold of the Experience 77 earns it our top spot for 2016-2017.
See the Rossignol Experience 77
Turning radius: 13m
What we like: The best ski package under $500.
What we don’t: A little less capable than the Experience above.
Women’s: Head Pure Joy w/9 SLR Bindings
A standout in the sub-$500 category, the Head Natural Instinct is our favorite budget ski. First, it’s very easy to turn with a light overall weight and moderate rocker profile. Head uses graphene in the construction—a Nobel Prize winning material—as a way to keep weight down, but a nice surprise is its stiffness at this price. It’s doesn’t have the loose feel that you get with most cheap composite skis. The Natural Instinct also is solid in the bends: its relatively wide shovel and narrow 74-millimeter waist give it a very short turning radius of 13 meters (most in this category are 15 meters or more).
Despite the advanced construction, the Natural Instinct still lags behind the Experience 77 for the true intermediate. Its eagerness to turn is somewhat overwhelmed on wide, sweeping turns and when you really get up to speed. Therefore, we give the nod to the Experience because you won’t grow out of as quickly. But as value goes, it’s hard to ignore the Natural Instinct.
See the Head Natural Instinct
Turning radius: 18m
What we like: Slightly wider profile for soft snow.
What we don’t: Drop in hardpack performance.
Women’s: Atomic Vantage 85
Atomic’s Vantage all-mountain ski line goes as wide as a 100-millimeter waist width, but we love the 85 as a great introduction to softer snow. Compared to our top two picks, the Vantage’s wider shape gives it greater flotation off trail and a comfortable platform on hardpack. It’s a little less willing to turn quickly, however, which can be a detriment to beginners. But for casual, medium-width turns, the Vantage is relatively effortless.
At $400 without bindings, it is a little more expensive than the integrated setups above—a decent pair of bindings like the Tyrolia Attack 11 will cost you another $169. Another downside is the ski is a little flexy for our tastes as a frontside carver, so it’s best for the skier that plans to explore the untracked parts of the mountain early on. For those with big-time powder ambitions, it may be worth considering investing in the Volkl 90Eight at the bottom of our list.
See the Atomic Vantage 85
Turning radius: 13.6m
What we like: Stable for a beginner model.
What we don’t: A little less forgiving.
Women’s: Salomon Cira w/Lithium 10 Bindings
The hardpack-focused Salomon X-Drive 8.0 X is a great option for aspiring East Coast or Midwest rippers. Salomon makes an even cheaper version of the X-Drive, the 7.5, but we think that model is too basic to be worth the investment. Stepping up to the 8.0 X gets you a wood core and solid 80mm width underfoot. And similar to the Head Natural Instinct above, the X-Drive is great in the bends with a short turning radius and a willingness to get on an edge.
Where the Salomon breaks from the Natural Instinct is the use of metal. The X-Drive 8.0 X has a layer of titanium above its wood core for increased stiffness and top-end stability. While performance frontside skis often have 2 layers, the titanium does make the X-Drive feel planted at speed. The downside is it takes a little more muscle to get the most out of the ski. This is a plus for the fast learner, but it’s a little less forgiving than the Head and Rossi that narrowly beat it on our list.
See the Salomon X-Drive 8.0 X
Turning radius: 17.8m
What we like: A big jump in quality and performance.
What we don’t: Quite a bit more expensive.
Among our beginner ski recommendations, the Supernatural 86 is the only one to make the leap to our more advanced all-mountain ski list. This ability to cross over makes it a suitable long-term purchase to take you from a novice to advanced intermediate (that actually may save you money in the long run and you won’t have to ditch your beginner skis and buy intermediates skis). The key to the design is its lively personality: a wood core with a mixture of aspen and maple makes it super easy to control but also just plain fun once you get it up to speed. And its higher price tag yields a much higher performance potential with good edge hold and true high-speed stability.
In contrast to the Vantage 85 above, which has similar dimensions, the Supernatural is better tuned for on-piste travel with a metal laminate. But it does cost you another $150, and its price is too high if you’re not sure you’re going to stick with the sport. But for athletic beginners that are rearing to go, it’ll save you in the long run. And its 86-millimeter width is spot-on for all-mountain riding on either U.S. coast so long as the powder isn’t too deep.
See the Line Supernatural 86
Turning radius: 16.7m
What we like: Well made and super playful.
What we don’t: Best if you have freeride or terrain park ambitions.
With all-mountain dimensions and twin tips, the Soul Rider is a far cry from the on-piste designs that most beginners turn to. For comparison, the Experience 77 uses only 30% rocker for the tip and tail, while the Soul Rider uses 45%. What that translates to is a smaller contact patch for laying into a corner but far better versatility in soft snow. Nordica doesn’t use metal in the construction, but carbon fiber is placed over the edges of the skis to retain a light and lively feel.
We think the Soul Rider is even more fun than the Supernatural above, although it does lose some of its on-trail strengths. But a playful and easy to maneuver ski makes it easier to learn and progress with (up to a point), so the Soul Rider 87 remains a fantastic option. And if you’re dreaming of hitting the terrain park or natural features on the hill, the Soul Rider should be at the top of your list.
See the Nordica Soul Rider 87
Turning radius: 14m
What we like: Stable for the price.
What we don’t: Harder to turn.
Women’s: Blizzard Quattro 7.3 w/TP10 Bindings
The Blizzard Quattro 7.7 is a simple, no-nonsense beginner option. It features a wood core, a small amount of rocker in the tip and tail, and a comfortable feel. As with most Blizzard models, the ski feels solid on hardpack, and the long edges grip well in the bends. At a price of $500, it adds up to a good bargain.
So why does the Quattro 7.7 land in 7th place on our list? We think it falls short is eagerness to turn at slower speeds. It’s a nicely built ski that does well if you’re moving at a good pace, but it seems caught in-between a beginner and intermediate construction, and isn’t as easy to learn with for true beginners. The Experience 77 is $50 more, but a superior ski overall and the better option to take you from a beginner to intermediate skillset.
See the Blizzard Quattro 7.7
Turning radius: 23m
What we like: Fun introduction to a freeride design.
What we don’t: A little too soft and wide for frontside only use.
Women’s: Rossignol Sassy 7 w/Look Xpress 11 Bindings
Rossignol’s 7 Series of skis—highlighted by the Soul 7 HD—is among the most popular on the market today. Their wide, flashy designs are great for folks that spend a good amount of time off trail, but they remain light and playful on a groomed run. The $750 Soul 7 gets the most attention, but their $400 entry-level Smash 7 is the best for the lightweight beginner. You clearly give up a lot in performance, but the Smash offers a fun freeride experience.
At 92 millimeters in the waist and with only 50% camber underfoot, the ski is clearly tuned for soft snow. And its extremely wide turning radius makes it lazy on hardpack. On the other hand, the long rockered tip is easy to turn and it can cruise a groomed run just fine. As a value option for those wanting to explore the whole mountain, it’s a total winner. And as a nice bonus, Rossignol includes the same bindings as our top-rated Experience 77 ski but at a significant discount.
See the Rossignol Smash 7
Turning radius: 16.2m
What we like: Extra width for soft snow.
What we don’t: The Line and Nordica are better for the beginner.
Women’s: Salomon QST 92 Lux
The Salomon QST 92 represents the next step up in performance from the Nordica Soul Rider and Line Supernatural above. And it’s not just in dimensions—although the QST does afford you another 5 to 6 millimeters in width for flotation—but also in ability level. Realistically, it’s best for someone that’s already been on skis and has already begun to feel comfortable on the hill. It’s just too wide and stiff for the green runs.
Once you start exploring more of the mountain, the QST 92 shines. It’s stable, fun when you push it, and a decent value for its construction at $500. But it lands lower on our list because it’ll come up short for most beginners. If you plan to head straight to powder, get the Volkl’s below, and we think the Nordica and Line’s above are the better designs for someone that’s just starting out. And while it’s clearly a better ski overall than the Smash 7 that beats it on the list, it’ll cost you another $250 with bindings, which is why we have it here.
See the Salomon QST 92
Turning radius: 20m
What we like: Great pop and easy to handle.
What we don’t: Flexy and too light.
It may come as a surprise that a park ski makes our list, but the K2 Press is light and easy to handle for true beginners. The ski is very soft in the tip and tail for generating good pop off of jumps, which translates to smooth and easy transitions between turns. Throw on a pair of decent bindings and you have a full system for under $500 (not including the cost of mounting the bindings).
The primary downside of such a light and flexy construction is that it’ll feel flimsy for heavy and powerful skiers. And while it’s easy to turn, the ski prefers wide sweeping turns and won’t provide a lot of grip once it gets on an edge. Its limited performance potential puts it near the bottom of our list, but if you want to go straight to the terrain park, the K2 Press is a nice option.
See the K2 Press Skis
Turning radius: 17.9m
What we like: A true all-mountain design.
What we don’t: Too much ski for most.
Women’s: Volkl 90Eight
As we touched on above, the term "beginner" can mean different things to different people. For athletic people that expect to progress quickly, it's worth skipping the beginner concept completely. Stepping up to the Volkl 90Eight gets you a ski that is wide enough at 98 millimeters in the waist to perform well on and off trail, while retaining enough of the qualities of an entry-level model to pick up proper techniques along the way.
The price for this high quality of a ski is, well, its price. At $649 without bindings, the Volkl 90Eight is out of reach for most folks who are just starting out, and you should think long and hard about your plans before taking the plunge. But it’s the only ski here that can keep up with you from the beginner lift to back bowls. For more options, see our article on the best all-mountain skis.
See the Volkl 90Eight
|Rossignol Experience 77||$550||Included (11 DIN)||122-77-111mm||15m||Beginner - intermediate|
|Head Natural Instinct||$450||Included (10 DIN)||127-74-110mm||13m||Beginner - intermediate|
|Atomic Vantage 85||$400||Not included||124-85-108mm||18m||Beginner - intermediate|
|Salomon X-Drive 8.0 X||$500||Included (10 DIN)||126-80-109mm||13.6m||Beginner - intermediate|
|Line Supernatural 86||$550||Not included||125-86-112mm||17.8m||Beginner - advanced|
|Nordica Soul Rider 87||$500||Not included||124-87-114mm||16.7m||Beginner - advanced|
|Blizzard Quattro 7.7||$500||Included (10 DIN)||123-77-105mm||14m||Beginner - intermediate|
|Rossignol Smash 7||$400||Included (11 DIN)||119-92-109mm||23m||Beginner - advanced|
|Salomon QST 92||$500||Not included||129-92-112mm||16.2m||Intermediate - advanced|
|K2 Press Skis||$300||Not included||113-85-104mm||20m||Beginner|
|Volkl 90Eight||$649||Not included||133-98-116mm||17.9m||Intermediate - expert|
- What is a Beginner Ski?
- Waist Width
- Ski Profile
- Turning Radius (Side Cut Radius)
- Choosing the Proper Ski Length
- Integrated Bindings
- Ski Binding DIN Rating
- What About Boots?
Beginner skis are defined by a few shared characteristics: a softer flex for easier turn initiation, a lower price point that typically denotes value-oriented materials in the construction, and narrower dimensions because most skiing will be done on groomed runs. In addition, you often get an integrated binding that comes with the skis. Skis, almost more than any other gear type, can be broken into simple categories purely by price, and for beginner skis, the ski packages (including skis and bindings) should run under $500 or close to it.
The best option for you, however, is more nuanced and can reach well into what’s considered an intermediate-level model. For those starting out that are athletic or will be spending a lot of time on the mountain, it’s often worth foregoing the true beginner category altogether. The more capable skis that made our list, including the Line Supernatural 86 and Nordica Soul Rider 87, have the forgiving characteristics that make them relatively easy to learn on, but are also plenty capable at speed and for all-mountain use. The more advanced construction will cost you more and you often don’t get integrated bindings, but you’ll save money in the long run because you won’t have to replace your skis as quickly. For more intermediate to advanced ski options, check out our article on the best all-mountain skis.
Ski width measurements are given in a set of 3 numbers, listed in order of the tip, waist, and tail of the ski. And for an indication of performance in varying snow conditions, identifying the waist width of a ski is quite helpful. While all beginner skis are designed for groomed runs, not all groomed runs are created equal. Some areas are prone to icy conditions while others get so much snow that powder inevitably accumulates throughout a ski day. And should you test your developing skills in the trees, a ski with a little more waist width can be helpful.
There is not as large a range in waist widths for beginner skis as what you’ll find in more advanced all-mountain or powder ski categories, but here is a good guideline to use:
- 70mm to 80mm: Tuned for on-trail performance. Not too wide to be inhibiting while practicing basic turns, but still offering a stable base.
- 80mm to 90mm: More all-mountain capabilities but without compromising on groomed runs. Will often be associated with more expensive, intermediate skis.
- 90mm+: Intermediate to advanced level skis designed for mixed on and off trail use.
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.
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. As a result, camber is a popular choice for beginner skis; however, the benefits of rocker technology are changing the market landscape.
Also known as reverse camber, rocker 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, but it has become popular on beginner skis because the raised tip of the skis makes it much easier to initiate a turn—oftentimes a challenge for beginners. We do not suggest getting a full rocker ski, however, as it just doesn’t hold an edge like traditional camber. Instead, the ultimate beginner ski puts together the two designs with a mixed rocker/camber.
The most popular ski profile nowadays is the mixed camber/rocker. This is another place where entry-level skis have benefited from earlier advances in technology, but with adaptations to suit casual cruising. There are variations in exactly how manufacturers utilize this mix, and for beginners, our favorite is a modest tip and tail rocker with a traditional camber underfoot. This allows a ski like the Rossignol Experience 77 to turn easily, but also retain good edge hold and natural flex underfoot.
As your skills advance and you transition your weight into a turn, you’ll feel the skis naturally rotate at a certain angle. And depending on the ski turning radius, this can either be a long sweeping turn or something a little tighter. Side cut radius is measured in meters, and the lower the number the tighter the turn. The number itself is based off of the shape of the ski, moving from the tip to the tail. Most modern skis have an hourglass arc to them, and you get a lower side cut number with a more dramatic the shape (much wider at the tip and tail compared with the waist). For most beginners, a lower side cut radius is a good idea because you more likely will not be all the way out on your edges in a turn. When you have a lower side cut radius, even a more tentative turn can be reasonably tight. Below are some parameters for beginning skis:
- Carving: Less than 15 meters
- All-around: 15-20 meters
- Sweeping turns in powder: 20+ meters
Keep in mind that a longer version of the same ski will increase the turning 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).
Picking your ski size 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 and ability: 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 your height should do is give you a good ballpark. We’ve found these ski sizing guides from Backcountry and Evo to be helpful as baseline information.
As we touched on above, most entry-level skis come as an integrated system of skis and bindings. And while they’ll still need to be mounted and tuned at a ski shop or at the resort before your first run, you don’t have to worry about binding-to-ski compatibility issues. What about the quality of these bindings? Most have a plastic-heavy construction as a result of being focused on a price point. For casual use, the more basic designs are completely fine and should still offer multiple seasons of good use, and a properly tuned binding should release safely. You will miss out on a longer-lasting metal construction and advanced technology that rotates the bindings prior to releasing your boot in a fall, which can help reduce knee injuries. Beyond that, an entry-level binding remains a reliable option for resort use.
Should you choose a ski that does not include a binding, check out our article on the best ski bindings for our list of recommendations.
You will see a DIN rating given to all integrated ski systems, and this refers to the amount of force at which a binding will release a locked in boot. The numbers range from roughly 1 to 18, and the higher the number, the longer the binding will hold prior to letting go. Understandably, beginner bindings won’t hold you as long and are more inclined to release even at a slower speed to avoid injury, and intermediates will have a higher DIN rating. Skier weight also plays an important role in the binding release, and a higher setting will correspond with a larger skier.
For DIN recommendations, let us start by clarifying that even the charts put together by respected retailers are not a replacement for going into a ski shop. Our take is that if you’re not qualified and it’s a safety item, let the pros take care of it for you. Snowsports retailer Evo has put together a helpful chart that breaks down DIN settings by weight and ability, and when shopping for your right setup, it’s a great idea to use this to ballpark your necessary DIN range. And as mentioned in this article by Evo, it’s best to choose a binding that doesn’t put you at the maximum DIN setting right off the bat (e.g., don’t get a 10-DIN binding if you’re planning on setting it at 10). It’s better to have a little wiggle room to make adjustments once you spend some time on your new sticks.
Don’t start to think that because you’re just starting out skiing that any old boot will do. Trust us, having a nicely fitting and comfortable boot can be the difference between making this a lifelong sport and hucking the whole setup into a dumpster. A beginner boot has a more forgiving feel that flexes rather than a rigid boot that transmits every slight input to your skis. And much like a beginner ski and binding, the softer setup does dull performance, which is why we don’t advise a beginner boot for skilled skiers. To help put together a suitable beginner ski package, we have an article covering our favorite beginner ski boots with the best options for men and women.
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