2020-2021 All Mountain Ski Buyer’s Guide
Not everyone’s got the cash to have a specific set of skis for every occasion, so if you could only buy one, what would you get?
For lots of people, the end all be all would have to be an all mountain ski.
All mountain is one of the most popular categories of downhill skis. And for good reason, too. They’re fun, versatile, and a great option for lots of skiers.
Compared to traditional carving skis, all mountain skis are wider underfoot and more capable in a variety of situations. Most all mountain skis will rail the front side groomers, but they can also charge the sidecountry, head through the trees, and send it down into the back bowls where the snow conditions can be much more challenging.
As the name suggests, all mountain skis are great for skiing the whole mountain, front to back, whether it’s sheet ice or deep pow. They’re the perfect way to trim down your quiver, and for some, they might even be the only pair you need.
But what’s the best all mountain ski for you?
This buyer’s guide will go over the basics and give you everything you need to know in order to find the perfect pair of planks. We’ll explain the characteristics of different skis, provide you with some of our favorites, and answer some common questions at the end.
How to choose the best all mountain skis
While the term “all mountain” sounds all encompassing, it’s important to note that each pair is designed with certain attributes in mind. To get the most out of your skis, you’ll want to pick a set that’s in line with your style and abilities.
So, in order to head in the right direction, you first need to consider two main questions:
What does your ideal ski day look like?
Do you mainly stick to the front side of the mountain, the backcountry, or a solid mix of both?
Do you love hitting big lines and laying trenches at speed?
Do you venture out into the rougher stuff only on occasion, or are you constantly seeking out fresh tracks and rocks to jib off?
Depending on your answer, you’ll probably be looking for different characteristics in your skis.
Where do you ski?
Not everyone skis in Ontario all winter. Do you usually stick to the trails at Collingwood, or do you head out to Quebec from time to time? Or do you frequently travel to coastal or rocky mountain resorts like Whistler, Banff, and Big White?
While mountains in the east often have firmer, icier surfaces, western mountains typically have a lot softer snow with more powder. Conditions are different depending on where you are on the globe, so it’s important to keep your location in mind when choosing a new set of skis.
Which type of skier are you?
Depending on how you answered some of the above questions, you’ll most likely fit into one of the following types of skier profiles below. We’ll go over the best skis for each profile later in this guide, so take a look and see which type of skier best describes you.
Type 1: Eastern skier
The Eastern skier might spend his or her weekends at places like Blue Mountain or Mont-Sainte-Anne. If you rarely make the big trip out west, you’ll be looking for a pair of skis that excel in the firmer, heavier snow of eastern mountains.
Type 2: 50/50 skier
The 50/50 skier likes variety, and spends plenty of time in both the East and the West. If you fit into this group, you likely ski plenty of days in Ontario and Quebec, but still find the time to make a few trips to the big mountains each season. You’ll be looking for skis that aren’t overkill on the Eastern slopes, but still are plenty capable in the West.
Type 3: Powder hunter
If you spend as much time as possible skiing the rockies and western coastal mountains, you’ll be looking for skis that can handle powder. While you might ski Ontario and Quebec on occasion, you live for western mountain adventures.
What to look for in an all mountain ski
Keeping your skiing style and your location in mind, let’s go over some of the distinguishing characteristics of the different kinds of all mountain skis. Make a note of the attributes that sound right for you, and ski shopping will be a whole lot easier.
1. Waist Width
The waist width is the narrowest part of the ski, and that’s usually the best place to start when deciding on a particular model. Here’s a quick breakdown of the common size ranges and what they’re best for:
A ski that has a waist width of 80mm or less is going to be for skiers who rip the front side exclusively. These skis are great for carving groomers because they transition from edge to edge quickly and easily. While planks at this width might be limiting for true all mountain capability, if they come with a rocker, they’ll still be able to help you out on the chopped up sections.
Skis between 80-89mm wide offer great frontside speed and control but also allow for a little more capability on the soft stuff. If you mostly stick to groomers and love to dart through the trees from time to time, this width will be perfect for you. You won’t be compromising much on frontside fun while still having enough float for light duty new snow off piste adventures.
Skis with a waist width of 90-99mm are perfect for people who don’t like to choose. These skis typically provide the best balance between frontside and backside capability. You’ll still hold your own on the groomers but you’ll have a lot more float for choppy and powdery conditions. If you’re just as likely to send it in the backcountry as you are to carve down the trails, this will be your ideal width.
Skis at 100-105mm are great for powder hunters, but not all days are storm days. If you are forced to ski Ontario but are always chasing a Western mountain, go big. This waist width is for those who spend most of their time in BC and Alberta but still want to feel stable coming off the mountain on a groomer.
While skis wider than 105mm will still be fine heading down the frontside trails, these skis are definitely designed for powder. These extra wide all mountain skis are made to perform at their best in the deep snow and back bowls, so if you almost exclusively ski the backside of the mountain, this width will be your best bet.
2. Ski Length
Length should be decided only after you’ve chosen your appropriate width. While width determines most of how a ski will handle, length (along with the following characteristics) will help you fine tune your ride.
Height plays a smaller part of determining your optimal ski length, whereas your weight and ability level is much more important. A good rule of thumb is that heavier or more advanced skiers benefit from a longer ski, and lighter or more intermediate skiers will do great with a bit shorter ski.
Ski width and rocker profile also play a part in determining the best length. Wider skis with more rocker will allow you to go for a longer ski, because the contact points on the snow are closer to the bindings so they’ll feel shorter than they actually are.
It’s also helpful to have a longer ski for backcountry or powder situations. You’ll want a little more float off-piste than you would on groomers, so you might want to go with a longer all mountain ski than you would go with a dedicated frontside ski.
Ski Sizing Chart
|Skier Height (ft)||Skier Height (cm)||Suggested Ski Lengths (cm)|
Shop All Mountain Skis By Length
Rocker is the gradual rise in the tip or tail of the ski that allows it to float over powder, chop through the crud, and be more maneuverable, all of which are important factors for an all mountain ski. Rocker helps you stay in control by helping you initiate turns and prevent submarining in powder.
All mountain skis with rocker are designed for control in varying snow conditions and allowing the skier to be evenly balanced heel to toe.
Here are the most common rocker profiles for all mountain skis:
Camber with tip rocker
Most skis will also have a degree of camber, which provides better edge hold and "pop". Tip rocker raises the tip of the ski up for better float while still being able to hold an edge, and every all mountain ski comes with some level of tip rocker. More tip rocker means more float, while subtler tip rocker helps reduce tip chatter and is often better for groomers.
Tip and tail rocker
This profile is when the front and back section of the ski rise up. Rocker at both ends of the ski provides great maneuverability. Tip and tail rocker is great for float on the powder side, as well as pivoting in tight trees and rocking on to the back of the ski to pivot away from cliffs.
Full rocker (or reverse camber)
A full rocker ski is more or less going to be a designated powder ski designed for maximum float and maneuverability in side and backcountry conditions. The main benefit of full rocker is FUN. These skis provide plenty of poppiness, so they’ll give you more height in jumps and are perfect for hopping up on pillows.
Twin tip vs flat tail
Twin tip skis, where both the nose and the tail are turned up, were extremely popular for a while, but you don’t see them with modern skis as much. More skiers opt for the flat tail profile, which provides more power when exiting the turn and more control into the next turn.
4. Turning Radius
Turning radius is determined by the sidecut of the ski, which is the difference between the width of the waist and the tips of the ski.
A ski's turning radius is measured in meters and impacts maneuverability. A shorter turning radius will make turns shorter and quicker, while a longer radius will make you turn a bit more slowly but allow for faster speeds.
A turning radius of 17m or less is a shorter radius designed for more nimbler, tighter turns.
From 17m to 22m is the medium radius range, which is where lots of all mountain skis live. This medium turning radius adds to the versatility of all mountain skis so they still pull some Gs in plenty of situations.
5. Construction, Core, and Flex
A key part of your ski specs will be the materials they’re made from and the construction method used. Here are the most common for all mountain skis.
With cap construction, the ski’s core is fully covered by the topsheet and the composite layer, which results in a lighter, often more playful and durable ski. Cap constructed skis are also less expensive, but one trade-off is in stiffness. These skis are great for people who ski less aggressively but still prioritize maneuverability.
Sidewall construction employs sturdy sidewalls to add rigidity to the ski, allowing for a stiffer feel and more aggressive characteristics. If you like to ski hard and fast, you’ll appreciate the added stiffness for great stability at speed.
There’s even a hybrid “half cap” construction that combines the stiffness and lightweight characteristics of both of these styles.
Laminated wooden cores are typically the foundation of most all mountain skis. Hardwoods provide great compliance that helps absorb the bumps, and cores made from wood often outlast other composite materials that look to save weight. While different types of wood have varying characteristics, choosing a ski with a laminated wood core is always a solid move.
All mountain skiers should consider their weight and their skiing style to determine how stiff a ski they should look for.
Heavier skiers or those who ski more aggressively should look for a stiffer ski, while lighter skiers or those who go a bit less hard will benefit from skis with more flex.
That being said, all mountain skiing is about versatility, and lots of skis in this category are on the stiff side.
Our favorite all mountain skis
Here are a few of our favorite all mountain skis we think you should take a look at based on the skier type we outlined at the beginning of this guide.
Type 1 Skier
Volkl Deacon 84 Ski + LowRide XL 13 FR D GW Binding 2021
More powerful all mountain ski.
Atomic Vantage 82 Ti Ski + F 12 GW Binding 2021
Powerful, yet playful.
Rossignol Experience 84 AI Ski + SPX 12 Konect GW Binding 2021
Crowd pleaser: good for all levels. With lighter swing weight.
Type 2 Skier
K2 Mindbender 90 Ti Ski 2021
Metal reinforced stability, but a soft snow focused early rise tip.
Rossignol BlackOps Smasher XP Ski + XPress 10 GW Binding 2021
Playful, buttery and a whole lot of fun.
Volkl Kendo 88 Ski 2021
Energetic, hard charging German engineering.
Type 3 Skier
Volkl Mantra M5
Best selling, most advanced all mountain ski. Truly best in class for all terrain.
Rossignol Blackops Escaper Ski 2021
Light, playful and great for soft snow. Less bad vibrations and more good vibrations.
Volkl Blaze 94 Ski 2021
Can hold an edge on ice, but surprisingly playful in deeper snow.
Black Crows Justis Ski 2021
Sturdy and fast. Chomps through crud at high speeds.
Top Women's All Mountain Skis
Head Real Joy SLR Womens Ski + Joy 9 GW Binding 2021
Great for levels, likes groomers and faster edge to edge.
Head Pure Joy SLR Womens Ski + Joy 9 GW Bindings 2021
Super light, more forgiving, easy to maneuver all mountain ski.
Head Absolut Joy SLR Womens Ski + Joy 9 GW Bindings 2021
Wooden core, power companion, great for strong intermediates.
Our favorite ski brands
If you’re not psyched on our shortlist of favorites, try taking a look at some of our best selling brands.
Browse our full catalog
Want to explore our catalog on your own? No problem, you’ve got plenty of information and knowledge to find your new pair of skis.
All Mountain Ski FAQs
How long are all mountain skis?
As we discussed earlier in the guide, how long your ski should be depends on a variety of factors, such as waist width, your weight, and your ability and style. You can check out our ski sizing chart for more info, but here’s an example of some common sizes:
Male skier. 90mm width underfoot. ~180 lbs. Intermediate. = 175-178cm
Female skier. 90mm width underfoot. ~135 lbs. Intermediate. = 150-165cm
Are all mountain skis good for beginners and intermediate skiers?
All mountain skis require a good deal of power to maneuver them properly since they’re wider, stiffer, and longer than skis that beginners typically use. Beginner skis are easier to control and more agile for those just starting out, so we suggest skiers who are still building their skills stick to skis designed for the frontside exclusively.
Are all mountain skis good for piste/groomed trails?
All mountain skis will absolutely rail turns on groomers. These longer, stiffer skis require a good amount of force to maneuver but provide exciting power, transition assistance, and control at speed.
Are all mountain skis good for moguls?
Wider all mountain skis are designed for big turns and high speeds, but while you could hit a mogul trail on your way down the mountain, that’s not what they’re designed for. If you love moguls, grab a narrower ski with faster edge to edge transition and duck into some bumps on the way down.
What’s the difference between all mountain skis and freeride skis?
Freeride skis are like the park skis of big mountain. They’re wider than all mountain skis and are made for maximum float in deep powder on steep, untouched slopes. All mountain skis are better suited for a mix of front and backside skiing.
Can you use all mountain skis in the park?
If you’re just looking to catch some air in the park on your way back to the lodge, all mountain skis will get the job done. That being said, they aren’t designed for the terrain park and you’ll be much better served on a smaller, more nimble ski with full rocker if you’re really trying to get creative or go higher.
Can you use all mountain skis for touring?
You certainly could, but most skiers would opt for a lighter ski to climb with. However, if touring is a once in a while occasion for you, a wide all mountain ski might be a killer choice.
Are all mountain skis hard to turn?
Depending on the width and profile of your ski, turns can be snappy and responsive or require more effort. The longer turn radius the wider your turns will be, and more power will be required to turn efficiently. All mountain skis will require more effort to turn than beginner skis.
What’s the best all mountain ski?
Here’s the deal. There is no single best ski for everyone. Which ski you should choose depends on your ability level, your location, your riding preferences, your weight, and a bunch of other factors we go over in detail on this page. After you’ve checked out the guide you should have a good idea of what you’re looking for.