Ski gear terminology can be overwhelming, even for those who have been skiing for years or their entire lives. Gear and technology are constantly evolving, and with those changes come new terms that can turn skiing into a foreign language.
Never fear—we’ve broken down the most common and current need-to-know terms so you can translate gear reviews, walk confidently into a ski shop, and come away with exactly what you were looking for. Here’s a breakdown of ski and boot terminology.
These days, most skis have some sort of rocker profile to make turn initiation easier and make the ski more versatile.
- CAMBER : The curvature of an unweighted ski on a flat surface. A ski with traditional camber has a slight arc through the mid-section of the ski. Camber makes for poppy, responsive skis and encourages solid edge contact.
- ROCKER : Shape that shortens the camber of a ski and reduces the amount of effective edge contact during turns; makes skis easier to maneuver and more versatile. Can especially enhance skiing in powder, crud, and steep terrain.
- BASE: A sheet of plastic, usually high-density polyethylene, that’s “structured” with microgrooves to promote glide.
- SIDECUT : Also referred to as dimensions. Sidecut is the shape of a ski when viewed from above. Most skis have asymmetrical hourglass shapes. Measured in millimeters (mm).
- Shovel – The front of the ski. Usually the widest sidecut point.
- Waist – The middle of the ski. Usually the narrowest sidecut point.
- Tail – The back of the ski. Usually wider than the waist but not as wide as the shovel.
- CORE: The inside of a ski that critically influences its behavior. Can be made out of different combinations of wood, metal, carbon, fiberglass, and/or foam. Some foam cores (the good ones) are milled to precise shapes from foam blanks, then laid into the ski mold. Wood cores—generally heavier, more durable and more damp—are made by laminating vertical strips of wood together (think plywood tipped on edge).
A core, usually wood, encased in a fiberglass sock, then epoxy-soaked and cured. So named because it resists twisting (see “torsional rigidity,” right). A torsion box construction can produce a lighter ski that still has positive edge grip at the extremities.
- SIDEWALL : The sides of skis made with a sandwich construction.
- Sandwich construction indicates the sidewalls are placed next to the ski’s core.
- Cap construction indicates the top sheet and reinforcement materials wrap all the way around to the edges, eliminating the need for sidewalls.
Prized for its power and edge hold, the laminate ski is built—or “laid up”—in horizontal layers contained by vertical sidewalls. Typical laminate construction: base sheet, then a sheet of pre-preg fiberglass, then a sheet of metal, then the core, then metal, then fiberglass, then topsheet.
- LAMINATES: Sheets of reinforcing material—usually metal or fiberglass fabric—layered above and below the core. Metal laminates make a ski more damp and stable; fiberglass, more light and lively.
- TOP SHEET: The top layer of a ski, typically a sheet of clear plastic with graphics printed on its underside.
- TITANAL : The name of an aerospace-grade lightweight aluminum alloy. It’s known for its ability to flex under pressure but return back to its normal state, making it an ideal ski core material.
- CARBON STRINGERS: A laminate layer inside a ski made with carbon fibers that run tip-to-tail. They help snap the ski back into a cambered shape when exiting a turn.
- TAPER: The difference between the tip and tail widths. A ski with a smaller taper generally initiates arcs easily, resulting in a turnier ride, while a ski with a larger taper is less hooky and easier to skid.
- TORSIONAL RIGIDITY: A ski’s ability to resist twisting, often achieved by aligning glass fibers across the core at an angle (see “torsion box”). By increasing torsional rigidity, a manufacturer can make a lighter, metal-free ski that still holds an edge on hardpack.
- DAMP: Used to describe skis with reduced longitudinal chatter, or materials that reduce vibrations and enhance a ski’s stability in motion.
- DIRECTIONAL : Shape which determines how the ski is designed to go downhill, which is usually tip-first. Twin-tips and most freestyle skis are designed to be skied both tip-first and tail-fi rst to allow skiers to ride backwards.
How Skis are Made
We can’t help thinking about panini. You know how they’re made: layers of bread, meat and cheese, squished and cooked into cohesive goodness by a heated press. The best skis (those not made by injecting foam into a shell) are made in a similar fashion.
Instead of prosciutto di Parma and fontina, of course, we’re talking less tasty ingredients: plastics, wood, metals, fibers. Instead of melted cheese to hold it all together, there’s epoxy. And rather than using a panini mold, ski manufacturers use a high-powered press designed to accept various ski molds.
A factory worker starts with an empty mold and a supply of all the components needed to build skis of a certain length, shape, and design. Into the mold go the ingredients, layer by layer: base and edge material on the bottom, then the vertical sidewalls over the edges, a couple of reinforcing laminates over the base (typically Titanal and/or pre-preg fiberglass), then the precisely milled core (wood, foam or a combination, sometimes wrapped in fiberglass, as in torsion-box construction). One or two more laminates are placed above the core, and finally the topsheet—a clear layer with the graphic printed on its underside. Into the heated press it goes, where pressure squeezes out any extra epoxy. The ski is then cleaned up and tuned. Once it’s cured, it’s ready for the slopes.
Ski Boot Terminology
Anatomy of an alpine ski boot featuring an overlap shell and traditional alpine lugs.
- FLEX : The amount of movement a ski boot allows when the skier’s shins are pushed forward in the boot. Flex ratings range from 80 to 130- plus. The higher the flex rating, the stiffer the boot. Note: Each brand assigns its own flex rating, there is no standardized measurement.
- FOOTBED: The insole of a ski boot. To enhance comfort and performance, upgrade from stock footbeds that come with a ski boot to a custom-made footbed.
- INSTEP: The area of an overlap ski boot above the midfoot. Skiers with large dorsal muscles (area where foot connects to the shin) need boots with high insteps.
- LAST: The widest point of a boot’s lower shell. Wide lasts correlate with larger ski boot volumes and vice versa.
- LINER : The soft insert inside the hard-plastic ski boot shell. Can be removed, and most can be heat-molded and/or customized to better fit the foot.
- GRIPWALK : A rockered ski boot sole made with rubber that makes walking easier. Also features plastic reinforcements at binding contact points to enhance skiing performance. Boots with GripWalk require bindings designed to accommodate GripWalk (ISO 9523 certified).
The Dalbello Lupo Air features GripWalk soles, tech inserts, and a cabrio shell.
- CABRIO : A type of ski boot constructed with three parts: lower shell, cuff, and tongue. Usually has three buckles and a smoother flex compared to overlap boots.
- OVERLAP: A style of ski boot shell that has a lower shell and cuff that wrap all the way around the foot/leg and overlap, especially in the cuff. Usually features four buckles.
- TECH INSERTS: Metal-reinforced indentations in the toe and heel that make a ski boot compatible with tech bindings for ski touring. Sometimes called “Dynafit inserts.” Require bindings designed for tech inserts (ISO 13992 certified).
- LUGS (toe and heel) The portions of the shell’s sole that interface with a ski binding; must meet industry standards for size and shape; sometimes replaceable in the event of wear.
For more information on feet and ski boots, read the Top 10 Foot Injuries and Problems.
Written by SkiMag.com Editors for Ski Magazine and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
Featured image provided by Ski Magazine