Ski Turn Radius Explained: The 3 Major Types to Know

Ski turn radius and sidecut go hand in hand. They are essential to know when you buy skis but also as you progress with your technical skiing abilities and understanding of skiing. So what is sidecut and ski turn radius?

Simply put, sidecut is the curvature on the side of the skis from tip to tail. Ski turn radius is affected by the sidecut in the skis.

Let’s see how sidecut affects ski turn radius and why it even matters.

 colorful ski displays

What is Sidecut on Skis?

As we mentioned sidecut is the curve on the side of the skis. Over time, different sidecuts have been applied to skis for deeper carving, making them more beginner-friendly and for powder-specfic skis.

Getting a sidecut that matches your riding style is one of the most important factors when getting new skis. You don’t want to make the mistake of getting skis with a sidecut for powder when you just ride resort groomers. With all the different options for sidecut, let’s take a look how sidecut is measured on skis.

Measuring Sidecut: What to Know

Skis have 3 main measurements when buying them. They are:

  • Waist width – the measurement across the narrowest part of the skis
  • Tip width – the measurement across the biggest width at the tip of the skis
  • Tail width – measuring across the greatest width at the tail of the skis

Most brands mark their skis in universal numbers so you can understand from brand to brand. Take a pair of Lib Tech Wunderstcks for example. They are measured Tip (148mm)- Waist (118mm) and Tail (137mm)

This brings us to the point that there are two ways to calculate sidecut. First, you can put the ski on its edge and measure the highest point of the sidecut. The other option is to use math. The formula to measure your sidecut is –

(Tip Width + Tail Width) / 2) – Waist Width

div x 2

That means the Lib Tech skis would have a sidecut of –

(148 + 137)/2 -118 = 12mm

This would mean the skis have a sidecut of 12mm i.e. the amount of ski cut away on the side.

Ski Turn Radius Explained

When you are looking at skis, you are going to see another measurement marked with the letter R. The R stands for the ski turn radius. It is measured in meters and is a representation of how the skis do when taking corners.

Small sidecuts don’t turn as sharp as a ski with a large sidecut. Think of a sidecut as how the skis cut into the snow to make a full circle. A shallow sidecut means it will be a larger circle for a full turn while a big sidecut means you could realistically make a full turn in a smaller circle.

So Why Wouldn’t Every Skier Want Deep Sidecut Skis?

grinding ski edge
Edging skis on the grinder.

Skis with an aggressive sidecut don’t hold up as well at high speeds. There is a tradeoff between turning and speed. To balance this, many brands make all-mountain skis that land in the middle of sidecut ranges and compensate for speed.

Ski Ability Levels and Ski Turn Radius: How They Relate

The more advanced a skier gets, the shallower of a sidecut they can explore.

A good rule of thumb is as follows –

  • Beginners: Stick to a larger sidecut in skis
  • Intermediates: Find a sidecut somewhere in the middle
  • Advanced skiers: Can opt for a shallow sidecut to maximize speed

The key area is beginners. A large sidecut will provide stability to beginner skiers and make it easy to turn with a short turn radius. Beginner skiers will find the most success with a large sidecut hence you’ll find that most rentals have a large sidecut at resorts.

For a shallow sidecut on rental skis, you’ll often have to upgrade to rental skis at resorts.

Beginners should also think about what they need to accomplish in terms of their skills. They are not trying to become a world-class carver on day one. Instead, they need to learn to link turns, control their speed and stop. Getting skis for the task and skills at hand is important to having fun days out on the slopes.

Finding the Correct Skis For Your Style

There is 3 major types of ski turn radiuses.

  • Large turn radius skis – Made for powder. 20+m
  • Medium turn radius skis – Freestyle and all-mountain. 15-20m
  • Short turn radius – Downhill, carving and mountain skis. 10-15m

Beginners often fall in that middle category while advanced skiers branch out to try new styles.

Long vs Short Turn Radius: What’s the Difference

As mentioned, the largest driver between long and short turn radius skis is the sidecut. The turn radius always comes back to the sidecut. Powder skis with a large turn radius are the opposite of short turn radius carving/ downhill skis.

Ski Turn Radius and Different Types of Terrain

The terrain is another way to plan for what style of turn radius skis you should be looking at. Ask yourself what terrain you love to ride and then dial in skis from there.

1. Groomers

Do you like riding the groomers at resorts? The best ski turn radius for groomers is often a short to medium-turn radius ski. This falls in the all-mountain and mountain style of skis. You’ll be able to link turns and still bomb some of the groomers with speed.

2. Backcountry, Powder or Tree Skiing

Powder skiing flips the script. You’ll want a large turn radius ski. It will help you float through the powder or backcountry all while getting in the best runs. There is no need to go for short turn radius skis when you have a dusting of the fresh pow pow.

3. Park Junkies

Skier using park skis for turns, speed and flex

Falling right in the middle is park skis. Grab yourself a set of medium turn radius skis and you’ll be able to control your speed into the hits and rails. Park skis are designed to balance a bit of turning, speed and flex.

Having a good set of park skis is like having a specific tool for a job. You’ll need medium-turn radius skis if you want to ride the parks.

4. Mogul Manics

What do you think? Short or large turn radius skis for moguls? If you said short, you are correct. To make those quick slashy turns in those bumpies, you’ll need a set of short turn radius skis for the moguls.

Final Thoughts

Some skiers don’t know what impacts ski turn radius or what to look for when buying skis but being informed will get you better skis for the slopes. Review your riding style and then compare it to the turn radius ranges. You should now be able to make a smart decision when getting your next pair of skis!

Alec Wilson writes for Proper Peaks and lives near Claremont, VT. He hardly misses a weekend on the ski slopes in the winter. If there is snow, Alec’s skis are on for a go. Look out for his stickered-up helmet and you might just meet him on the trails.

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