How Snow Skis Work

By: Jacob Silverman

Snow Ski Materials and Design


For years, wood reigned as the classic ski material, but it's since been supplanted by more high-tech designs. Today, your skis are likely to be made from fiberglass or aluminum. But a ski isn't simply a shaped piece of one of those materials; it has many components, which vary in style or size depending on the model. Many of these components have logical names, but we'll go over them here.

The main part of the ski is the base, which comes into contact with the snow. The top of the ski, where the boots attach, is known as the deck, like a skateboard.


Skis aren't perfectly flat. When you place your ski on the floor of a ski lodge, you might notice a slight gap between the center of the ski and the floor. This gap is known as the camber. Think of it as the arch in your foot.

Of course, when you put the skis on and are careening around the slopes and placing your weight on the deck, all parts of the ski do eventually come into contact with snow. But say you're still looking at your ski, unworn, on the floor of the ski lodge. You'll see that parts of the bottom of the ski are touching the floor -- essentially, large parts of the front and back of the skis, with the camber in the middle -- and these areas are called contact points.

Like elf shoes, the front of skis curve up, preventing them from getting caught in the snow. This curved front is called, quite simply, the tip or the nose. The rear end of the ski is called the tail. The length from tip to tail, measured in centimeters, is the overall length.

If you've spent any time skiing, you've probably heard people talk about the edges of their skis. The edges are metal and help you to carve out turns. An effective edge denotes the part of the edge that actually touches the snow when you turn. Shorter effective edges make for quicker, but potentially less steady, turns.

A ski varies in width, and the widest part of the ski is called the shovel, near the front of the ski. The waist width is the narrowest point.

Finally, a ski's sidecut refers to how the ski is shaped from nose to middle. Imagine a ski as a perfectly rectangular board. The sidecut refers to the amount of material cut out of the sides of that board, creating the familiar, gently curved ski shape. A more dramatic sidecut produces a rounder ski that helps a skier to make sharper turns.