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 the 2021-2022 season, 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. For background information to get started, see our buying advice. And to complete your set-up, we’ve also written about the best beginner ski boots.
Turn radius: 13m
Ability level: Beginner to intermediate
What we like: Well-built and plenty capable for beginners up to solid intermediates.
What we don’t: Narrow for all-mountain use.
A beginner design that you’ll grow out of in a season isn’t a great buy, which is why our top pick is the well-rounded Rossignol Experience 78 Ca. This ski has all the important characteristics of a great beginner set-up—smooth turn initiation, a low weight, and an easy-to-manage width—with the stability to progress and carve at speed. The “Ca” in the name is for the carbon insert, which, combined with the poplar wood core, delivers the right amount of power without compromising turnability and control. Coming in at $500 with a pair of well-respected 10-DIN bindings from Look, the Experience also is a solid all-around value.
In terms of build, the entry-level Experience 78 borrows heavily from Rossi’s higher-end models, including its sidecut shape and mixed rocker and camber design. Like its pricier sibling, the Experience 86 Ti, the 78 has a moderate amount of tip rocker that makes it eager to turn and helps the ski stay planted in chopped-up snow. And as your confidence increases, the Experience has very good edge hold for a beginner-friendly build. You can save $50 or more with some of the true entry-level models below (and Rossi does offer a more basic Experience 76 for $400), but the higher performance ceiling of the Experience 78 earns it our top spot for 2021-2022.
See the Rossignol Experience 78 Ca See the Women's Rossignol Experience 78 Ca
Turn radius: 15.1m
Ability level: Beginner
What we like: Low price for a light and easy-to-control ski.
What we don’t: Foam core and low performance ceiling.
The Rossignol Experience above balances the needs of progressing beginners and intermediates, but true first-timers likely will be better off with the Atomic Vantage 75 C. The ski’s standout characteristic is its forgiving nature: the rockered front end is soft enough that it won’t bite back in the middle of a tentative turn, and the narrow 75-millimeter waist is extremely easy to manage. Plus, Atomic has done a good job keeping weight to a minimum, so it’s easy to pivot and move the ski around even at low speed. Priced at $400, the Vantage is a solid value and the most affordable setup to make our beginner list for this season.
The reason we have the Atomic ranked below the Rossignol, however, is its low performance ceiling. The foam construction is quite flexible and out of sorts once you get up to speed, and it’s hard to get the Vantage on edge to truly carve a turn (it’s more inclined to slide and surf). For $100 more, we think the moderately stiffer Experience is the better long-term investment. But for those that want to start out on a brand-new pair of sticks rather than renting or scouring local ski swaps, the Vantage is a fine choice.
See the Atomic Vantage 75 C See the Women's Atomic Vantage 75 C
Turn radius: 13.3m
Ability level: Beginner to advanced
What we like: Great option for those who live in areas with consistently good snow.
What we don’t: Drop in hardpack performance.
K2’s Mindbender all-mountain ski line goes as wide as 116 millimeters, but we love the narrowest 85 as an introduction to soft snow. Compared to our top pick, the Mindbender’s wider shape and increased rocker in the tip give it more flotation and a comfortable platform on groomers. It’s a little less willing to change direction quickly, however, which can be a detriment to those just starting out. But for cruising green and blue runs, the K2 is buttery smooth and relatively effortless.
At $400 without bindings, the Mindbender 85 is a step up in cost compared to the integrated design of the Experience 78 above (a decent pair of bindings like the Tyrolia Attack 11 will cost you another $150+, for example). Another downside is that the ski is a little soft for our tastes as a frontside carver, so it’s best for those who live in areas with consistently good snow or who plan to explore the untracked parts of the mountain down the road. And for those with big-time powder ambitions, it’s worth considering investing in an even wider ski like the Blizzard Rustler 9 (92mm at the waist) below.
See the K2 Mindbender 85 See the Women's K2 Mindbender 85 Alliance
Turn radius: 11.5m
Ability level: Beginner to intermediate
What we like: Light and easy to turn quickly.
What we don’t: Less capable than the Experience above.
Head’s popular Instinct was replaced by the equally solid V-Shape line a few years ago. As with the prior model, this ski is very easy to control 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 doesn’t have the loose feel that you get with most cheap composite skis. The V-Shape also is solid in the bends: its wide shovel and narrow 73-millimeter waist give it a very short turn radius of 11.5 meters (most in this category are 14m or more).
Despite the advanced construction, the Head V4 still lags behind the Experience 78 for intermediates. Its eagerness to turn is somewhat overwhelmed on wide, sweeping curves and when you really get up to speed. Plus, it can't match the Experience's predictable rebound on hardpack (an advantage of the Rossi's wood core). Therefore, we give the nod to the Experience because you won’t grow out of it as quickly. But for a quick turner at a solid price, the Head V-Shape is well worth considering.
See the Head V-Shape V4 See the Women's Head Pure Joy
Turn radius: 17.4m
Ability level: Beginner to advanced
What we like: A lot of ski for a great price.
What we don’t: A bit soft for on-piste skiers.
Line Skis never take themselves too seriously—just a quick visit to their website will give you a taste of the brand’s personality—and their latest Sick Day sums this up nicely. In its 88-millimeter width, the Sick Day is light, poppy, and fairly easy to turn for a beginner or intermediate. But the standout feature here is price: for $400, you’re getting a quality aspen wood core, a thoroughly modern shape with tip and tail rocker, and the right amount of stiffness to start testing your limits.
The Sick Day’s line reaches as wide as 114 millimeters, but even their narrowest 88-millimeter ski has a liking for the soft stuff. As a result, if your long-term goals involving staying entirely on-trail and you want to be able to really get out on an edge, this likely isn’t the ski for you. But for high fun factor and one of the best values on the market for 2021-2022, we heartily recommend checking out the Sick Day 88.
See the Line Sick Day 88
Turn radius: 13.1m
Ability level: Beginner to intermediate
What we like: Great on-trail performance that grips well while turning.
What we don’t: Same price as the Experience 78 above but with some downgrades.
Elan flies a little under the radar in the U.S. market, but they consistently impress with a quality lineup of playful and quick-reacting skis. At the bottom of their on-trail-focused Wingman collection is the $500 78 C, which includes a couple signature design elements of the brand. One is their asymmetrical setup—there are dedicated right and left skis—that allows them to tailor the rocker/camber profile. On the outside, there’s more rocker for easy turning, and on the inside, you get a bit more camber for improved precision and grip while on edge. The net result is one of the best groomed-run performers in this entry-level segment.
How does the Wingman compare with Rossi’s Experience above? Both skis have fairly similar dimensions, are sturdy enough for intermediates, and include some carbon in the construction for a little extra pop. Additionally, they share a preference for quick and snappy turns, which is great as you build up your confidence and on- and off-trail abilities. We do prefer the full wood core of the Rossignol—the Wingman uses a cheaper mix of foam and wood in the construction—and the Experience’s performance threshold is a bit higher too. As a result, for the same price, we give the slight edge to the Rossignol.
See the Elan Wingman 78 C See the Women's Elan Wildcat 76
Turn radius: 23m
Ability level: Beginner to intermediate
What we like: Great price for an all-mountain-ready design.
What we don’t: Slow to turn; too wide for many beginners.
Rossignol’s Black Ops Smasher is a bit of an anomaly in the sub-$500 ski market. It’s wide for an entry-level model at 91 millimeters at the waist (most are 80mm or less), has a soft and flexible construction, and its extended rocker at the tip makes it easy to control off-piste. For beginners looking for an introduction to freeriding—the lightweight build and wide range of lengths available line up nicely for teenagers—it’s an intriguing option. And at just $400, which includes the same bindings that come with our top-rated Experience 78, it’s a darn good value too.
With only minimal camber underfoot, the Black Ops is clearly tuned for soft snow. And with a wide turn radius, the ski is much lazier on hardpack than an alternative like Head’s V-Shape above or Rossignol’s own Experience. On the other hand, it’s perfectly content sliding through a turn, and its playful design is fun for mixing groomer runs with a lap or two in the park. The concept clearly has downsides for those wanting to dial in their carving technique, but as a budget option for riders wanting to explore the whole mountain, we think the Smasher is a winner.
See the Rossignol Black Ops Smasher See the Women's Rossignol Black Ops Dreamer
Turn radius: 14m
Ability level: Intermediate to expert
What we like: A true all-mountain option for those who learn quickly.
What we don’t: Pricey and too much ski for most beginners.
As we touched on above, the term "beginner" can mean different things to different people. And for athletes that expect to progress quickly, it's worth skipping the starter concept completely. Stepping up to the Blizzard Rustler 9 gets you a ski that is wide enough at 92 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 Rustler is light and poppy but also can put the power down with a partial Titanal insert underfoot and carbon fiber in the tip and tail. The net result is the only ski on this list that can keep up with you from the beginner lifts to the back bowls.
The price for this high-quality of a ski is, well, its price. At $600 without bindings, the Blizzard Rustler 9 is hard to justify for most folks who are just starting out, and it’s best to think long and hard about your plans before taking the plunge. Additionally, its wide platform and moderately stiff construction do require a fair amount of confidence to push into a turn (it is forgiving enough, however, to slarve). But the reward is a very satisfying, performance-oriented ski that excels in just about every environment.
See the Blizzard Rustler 9 See the Women's Blizzard Sheeva 9
Turn radius: 15.6m
Ability level: Beginner to intermediate
What we like: Impressive carving abilities for a beginner model.
What we don’t: A little less forgiving and less versatile on soft snow.
The hardpack-focused K2 Disruption 78C is a great choice for aspiring East Coast or Midwest rippers. K2 makes an even cheaper version of the Disruption (the “76X”), but stepping up to the 78C gets you a boost in energy and pop with more camber underfoot, a little extra width, and improved dampening for higher speeds and stronger riders (it lines up well with confident beginners all the way up to progressing intermediates). And more than any model here, the Disruption can really rail through the bends with a willingness to get (and stay) on edge.
Where the Disruption breaks from the Head V-Shape and Rossi Experience above is its less versatile construction. The ski is mostly camber underfoot (there’s a slight rise at the tip), which gives it surprisingly good energy for carving but leads to less confidence in powder. The ski also takes more muscle and commitment to turn and slide at low speeds, and the front end can get knocked around in crud. For fast learners who wants to stick to groomers, these are fair tradeoffs, but the K2 is more of a one-trick pony compared to the V-Shape and Experience.
See the K2 Disruption 78C See the Women's K2 Disruption 78C Alliance
Turn radius: 16.6m
Ability level: Intermediate to advanced
What we like: A well-made ski from an exciting new brand.
What we don’t: Too wide for many beginners.
Up-and-coming J Skis is making waves with an impressive hand-built lineup covering everyone from strong beginners to freestyle pros. One of their most versatile designs for those still working out the kinks in their technique is the aptly named The Allplay. This ski is built for park and all-mountain use, so it’s reasonably soft, forgiving, and easy to handle with a low swing weight. And J Skis’ limited-edition graphic releases mean you’re getting a unique, premium product even as a starter ski.
Where The Allplay is a little limited for a true beginner is cost and width. The $599 price tag isn’t the steepest on our list, but it’s still a hefty investment for someone just starting out (and it doesn’t include bindings). Moreover, the 98-millimeter waist and wider 16.6-meter turn radius (for the 164cm length) make it a little more difficult to control in tight spaces than the narrower options above (including the similarly capable Blizzard Rustler 9). But we love to see a smaller brand with real appeal for a wide range of skiers, so if you have powder and park ambitions, The Allplay is a great match.
See the J Skis The Allplay
|Rossignol Experience 78 Ca||$500||Included (10 DIN)||125-78-111mm||13m||Beginner - intermediate|
|Atomic Vantage 75 C||$400||Included (10 DIN)||115-75-100mm||15.1m||Beginner|
|K2 Mindbender 85||$400||Not included||130-85-113mm||13.3m||Beginner - advanced|
|Head V-Shape V4||$499||Included (10 DIN)||132-73-113mm||11.5m||Beginner - intermediate|
|Line Sick Day 88||$400||Not included||127-88-113mm||17.4m||Beginner - advanced|
|Elan Wingman 78 C||$500||Yes (10 DIN)||125-78-104mm||13.1m||Beginner - intermediate|
|Rossi Black Ops Smasher||$400||Included (10 DIN)||119-91-109mm||23m||Beginner - intermediate|
|Blizzard Rustler 9||$600||Not included||124-92-114mm||14m||Intermediate - expert|
|K2 Disruption 78C||$600||Yes (10 DIN)||125-78-112mm||15.6m||Beginner - intermediate|
|J Skis The Allplay||$599||Not included||119-98-117mm||16.6m||Intermediate - advanced|
- What is a Beginner Ski?
- Waist Width
- Ski Profile
- Turn Radius (Sidecut)
- Ski Construction: Core Materials
- Choosing the Proper Ski Length
- Integrated Bindings
- Ski Binding DIN Rating
- Where to Find Discounted Skis
- 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. 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 about $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 Sick Day 88 and K2 Mindbender 85, 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 three 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 where a narrow ski is a great match, 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 model like the K2 Mindbender 85 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.
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 78 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 turn radius (also known as sidecut), this can either be a long sweeping turn or something a little tighter. Turn 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 sidecut number with a more dramatic the shape (much wider at the tip and tail compared with the waist). For most beginners, a lower turn radius is a good idea because you likely will not be all the way out on your edges in a turn. When you have a lower turn radius, even a more tentative turn can be reasonably tight. Below are some parameters for beginner 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 often increase the turn radius, so if you’re weighing two ski lengths know that the shorter option will probably be more inclined to turn a little sharper (at the sacrifice of some top-end speed and flotation).
In line with their relatively cheap price tags, beginner-friendly skis stick to the basics in their construction. Options for core material fall into two general camps: foam and wood. Starting with foam (also referred to as composite), these designs are associated with the cheap models you often find at the rental counter. They’re typically very flexible, offer decent vibration control, and are best at low speeds. Stepping up to a wood core gets you far better energy and pop as you connect turns, greater stability at speed, and a boost in lifespan. As such, almost all of the skis that made our list for 2021-2022 feature wood in their cores (the Elan Wingman has a mix of foam and wood). We think if you’re making the investment in new skis, it’s worth getting a set that can last more than a season or two.
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 set-up, 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.
Skis are expensive even at the beginner end of the spectrum, but there are deals to be found. The good news is that changes in technologies aren’t typically groundbreaking from year to year, so if you’re willing to forego the latest colors, you can sometimes save a bundle. For searching online, we’ve found Evo’s Ski Sale selection to typically be the best, including prior season’s models and even lightly used gear. Skis.com, Backcountry, and REI also have their fair share of discounted skis and ski packages. It’s important to know that things get picked out rather quickly as the winter progresses, so you’ll have the best luck purchasing early, but we think it’s always worth checking the sale section to avoid paying full MSRP.
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 set-up 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 set-up 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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