How to choose the right skis for you

The choice of skis on the market is bewilderinug – how do you find a pair to suit you? Some tips from Stéphane Bouet, ski guru at Ski Service in Verbier.

Stéphane Bouet, equipment expert at Ski Service in Verbier, adjusts a ski binding

Stéphane Bouet, equipment expert at Ski Service in Verbier, adjusts a binding

Should beginners buy skis?

It is much better to invest in a good pair of boots. If they fit well, they should last a long time – and let you try many different skis as your skiing improves. m

How long does a ski last?

It varies. Here we keep rental skis for three years. But if you ski every day, the ski is going to die in one season.

The flexibility of a ski changes with time. When a ski is new you hear a crack when you bend it. That is the wood in the core. Already after a few runs the ski is softer. It depends on how you ski, and the construction.

Also, each time you service the ski, the edges and the base become thinner. It’s like scraping butter off a block with a knife.

How are women’s skis different?

Women’s skis are usually a little softer and often a little thinner. The choice has grown enormously, and it’s a big part of the business.

Before, couples often came in the shop together; the man would be the more experienced skier, and he would give lots of advice.

Now we have many more women coming in on their own, choosing for themselves without a man trying to tell them what to do.

Stéphane Bouet, equipment expert at Ski Service in Verbier, examines a ski for flexHow do you know which ski to recommend?

We have a lot of experience, and we try all the skis each winter, but sometimes it is difficult to convince a customer to try what we recommend. In fact it has become harder, because of the internet. Many customers have spent hours researching, and know everything detail about the sidecut, the construction, the manufacturer’s recommendations – sometimes more than we do.

If a guy asks to rent a specific ski and it is not available I say, OK, I will book it for you for tomorrow – and often recommend something I think is better for him in the meantime. In the evening, when he comes back, it’s funny – he won’t say it was good, he says yes, well, maybe, and tells me why it wasn’t quite right, and insists on having his first choice the next day. And after that, he comes back and tells me why his own choice was better – even when he decides to buy or rent the one that we recommended. Strange.

What we do here is try to put everything in proportion. We look at how much a client weighs, how much experience they have, how many weeks a year they ski; and we try to balance what they have read with what they can do in reality.

In the end, it’s a personal choice. Two skiers can have the same height, same build, same ability, but will like different skis. The best thing to do is to try as many different skis as you can. Every time you come across a free testing at a resort, take advantage of it, try out as many as possible.

What do you look for in a ski?

Sometimes I compare skis with cars – like a four-wheel drive, or a race car.

Freeriding is like going off-road, so you want something with good suspension to take off in powder and cope with the bumps. The ski should not just be wider, to float above the snow, but also have a softer nose, and be stiffer in the tail.

A race ski is more like a race car. You want harder suspension in order to drive faster – so it should be thinner, harder and stiffer to give you more control so you can ride very fast. If the ski is too soft you will slide.

What size?

It depends on the ability of the skier. For a beginner, I recommend a very short ski – coming up to between the shoulder and the nose, to make it easier to turn. If the customer wants to buy, I recommend one that comes up to between the chin and the nose, because they will improve quickly.

Generally, a longer ski is more stable, and you can ride faster, but it’s also harder to control.

For a freeride ski, or an all-mountain ski, take one that is about as tall as you are. For a slalom ski, take one that is shorter – coming up to somewhere between the chin and the eyes.

I’m 1.81m tall. I normally take skis of between 1.78 and 1.82. If I’m riding powder, I usually go for a ski between 1.86 and 1.90.

Skis from the 2009/2010 season at Ski Service, VerbierWhat are the most popular skis here?

For Verbier, because of the great freeride terrain, it’s good to have an all-round ski. Something like the Scott Mission or Scott Crusade. Classic skis, 89mm wide under the boot.

The best-sellers have probably been the Scott Mission, and now the Scott Crusair – partly because a lot of the guides ride them. The Völkl Mantra and the Atomic Nomad are also classic Verbier skis. With many of these, you can also put touring bindings on.

And then, for the crazy big-powder days, you should have a really fat ski. They are so easy to ride, you think you’re the king. And that’s a problem, too. A few years ago, it was easy to find couloirs with no tracks; now everyone can go everywhere. That’s why Verbier is so popular, it’s easy to find crazy runs.

Stéphane Bouet, from Toulouse in France, began working with skis as a schoolboy, helping out at his uncle’s sports shop. He then taught skiing in the Pyrenees before travelling the world and finally settling in Verbier, where he works at Ski Service (00 41 27 771 67 70; www.skiservice.com ).