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 2020-2021, 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: 14.5m
Ability level: Beginner to intermediate
What we like: More than just a ski for beginners.
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 76 CI. 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 “CI” in the name is for the carbon insert, which delivers the right amount of power without compromising turnability and control. Coming in at $500 with a pair of well-respected 11-DIN bindings from Look, the Experience also is a solid all-around value.
In terms of build, the entry-level Experience 76 borrows heavily from Rossi’s higher-end models, including its Air Tip and mixed rocker and camber design. The Air Tip was popularized in their freeride “7” collection for lightening the ski and giving it a playful nature, and it’s 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 76 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 74 for $400), but the higher performance ceiling of the Experience 76 earns it our top spot for 2020-2021.
See the Rossignol Experience 76 CI See the Women's Rossignol Experience 76 CI
Turn radius: 15.2m
Ability level: Beginner
What we like: Soft and extremely forgiving construction.
What we don’t: Fast learners will outgrow it quickly.
The Rossignol Experience above balances the needs of progressing beginners and intermediates, but true first-timers likely will be better off with the Elan Element. The ski’s standout characteristic is its forgiving nature: the rockered tip and tail are soft enough that they won’t bite back in the middle of a tentative turn, and the narrow 76-millimeter waist is extremely easy to manage. We’re also happy to see that Elan included some wood in the core—although it is mixed in with composite to keep costs in check—which allows the ski to flex naturally. Priced at $450, the Element is a solid value and the most affordable set-up to make our beginner list for this season.
The reason we have the Elan ranked below the Rossignol, however, is its low performance ceiling. The flexible construction can be out of sorts once you get up to speed, and it’s hard to get the Element on edge to carve a turn (it’s more inclined to slide and surf). For $50 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 Element is a fine choice.
See the Elan Element w/ELW 9 GW Bindings
Turn radius: 13.5m
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 76 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 (94mm at the waist) below.
See the K2 Mindbender 85 See the Women's K2 Mindbender 85 Alliance
Turn radius: 12.5m
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 couple 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 12.5 meters (most in this category are 14m or more).
Despite the advanced construction, the Head V4 still lags behind the Experience 76 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 2020-2021, we heartily recommend checking out the Sick Day 88.
See the Line Sick Day 88
Turn radius: 14m
Ability level: Beginner to intermediate
What we like: Stable for a beginner model.
What we don’t: A little less forgiving and less versatile on soft snow.
The hardpack-focused Salomon S/Force 7 is a great option for aspiring East Coast or Midwest rippers. Salomon makes an even cheaper version of the S/Force (the “5”) but we think that model is too basic to be worth the investment. Stepping up to the 7 gets you a wood core, 76-millimeter width underfoot, and an 11-DIN binding that’s well-matched for higher speeds and more powerful riders. And similar to the Head V-Shape V4 above, the S/Force is great in the bends with a short turn radius and a willingness to get (and stay) on edge.
Where the Salomon breaks from the V-Shape and Rossi Experience is its less versatile construction. The ski is mostly camber underfoot (Salomon lists its tip rocker at only 15%), which gives it surprisingly good energy for carving but leads to less confidence in powder. In addition, the ski 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 Salomon is more of a one-trick pony compared to the V-Shape and Experience.
See the Salomon S/Force 7 See the Women's Salomon S/Force 7
Turn radius: 19m
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.
Taking the place of the discontinued Smash 7 in Rossignol’s line for 2020-2021 is the Black Ops Smasher. And in most ways, this is a very similar ski: it’s wide for an entry-level model at 90 millimeters at the waist, 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 worth having the Smasher on your radar.
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 Salomon’s S/Force 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. As a value option for those wanting to explore the whole mountain, we think the Smasher is a winner. And as a nice bonus, Rossignol includes very similar bindings to our top-rated Experience 76 ski but at a significant discount.
See the Rossignol Black Ops Smasher See the Women's Rossignol Black Ops Dreamer
Turn radius: 17m
Ability level: Intermediate to expert
What we like: A true all-mountain design 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 94 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: 19m
Ability level: Beginner
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 dedicated 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
Turn radius: 20.1m
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 wide 20.1-meter turn radius 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 76 CI||$500||Included (11 DIN)||123-76-109mm||14.5m||Beginner - intermediate|
|Elan Element Skis||$450||Included (9 DIN)||127-76-102mm||15.2m||Beginner|
|K2 Mindbender 85||$400||Not included||130-85-113mm||13.5m||Beginner - advanced|
|Head V-Shape V4||$499||Included (10 DIN)||132-73-113mm||12.5m||Beginner - intermediate|
|Line Sick Day 88||$400||Not included||127-88-113mm||17.4m||Beginner - advanced|
|Salomon S/Force 7||$500||Included (11 DIN)||124-76-108mm||14m||Beginner - intermediate|
|Rossi Black Ops Smasher||$400||Included (10 DIN)||119-90-109mm||19m||Beginner - intermediate|
|Blizzard Rustler 9||$600||Not included||127.5-94-117mm||17m||Intermediate - expert|
|K2 Press Skis||$300||Not included||111-86-106mm||19m||Beginner|
|J Skis The Allplay||$599||Not included||120-98-117mm||20.1m||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 76 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 2020-2021 feature wood in their cores (the Elan Element 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. For example, the Rossignol Experience 76 at the top of our list is nearly unchanged for this season other than graphics—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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