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Water Ski Buyers Guide

Picking the right water ski will result in more fun and an easier time on the water. Whether you are buying your first slalom water ski, kid's combo skis, replacing your 15 year old ski from your teen's or getting the best competition ski on the market we have you covered.

First let's cover some of the basic of ski construction and design:
Slalom skis are ever evolving with new designs and shapes. Skis are built with a with a skier type, speed and skier size or build in mind to get the achieved result: a great time on the water! Let's break down how each of these areas dictate what ski you should choose.

Skier Type:

Let's face it, not all of us ski like World Champions Will Asher, Andy Mapple or Wade Cox (even if our family and friends say we are). We need to have an accurate idea of what type of skier we are to get a ski that is designed for our level or intensity. We classify skiers into general categories:

  • COMPETITION SKIER
    You know who you are! Competition Skiers ski nearly daily and spend their time working in a slalom course. They are shortline skiers that focus their efforts on getting the next ball in a course and getting the next line length off. Often the ski guru in their crew and will do anything to get a leg up on their competition. Competition Skiers frequently short lines (32' off or more) and competition speeds (34 MPH or 36 MPH).
  • ADVANCED SKIER
    Advanced Skiers ski as much as they can in the best water conditions. They can jump into a course, but do not spend all of their time in a course. They ski moderately short lines (22' off or more) and have solid technique take their time on the water seriously, but know that it is for enjoyment.
  • INTERMEDIATE-ADVANCED SKIER
    Intermediate-Advanced Skiers ski in all conditions. They ski mostly open water or free ride. They have skied a slalom ski course before, but do not plan on it often. They look for good performance in their skiing, but are more focused on having fun.
  • INTERMEDIATE SKIER
    Intermediate Skiers are either just getting back into the sport or are progressing. They get on the water for the fun of it. They have not skied a course and do not plan on it. Intermediate skiers ski at longer line lengths (15' off or more). They ski at slower speeds (28-30mph) and are more concerned with comfort and ease of the ride then the performance of it. Often they are new to the sport and have limited experience and form can be an issue.
  • NOVICE SKIER
    Novice Skiers are just learning to slalom ski. They have skied with two skis before but want to get a big cut and throw a "Big Wall" when they turn. They ski at the slowest speeds and may need to drop a ski to do a deep water start. Novice Skiers are just moving from a pair of combo skis and have tried dropping a combo ski to slalom with success.
  • FIRST-TIMERS
    Think John Candy in Uncle Buck. You ski only a couple of times a year and usually when the water is rough. First-Timers ski on combo skis exclusively. First timers like just cruising around the lake on two skis

Skier Speed:

Slalom water skis are designed to be skied in a defined range. This is because the speed we ski at dictates how deep the ski sits in the water. At slower boat speeds, skis need more surface area to allow the ski to stay on top of the water. Skier speed closely corresponds to skier type (Competition skiers ski faster where Novice Skiers ski slower). We use Skier Speed because sometimes you may ski faster or slower than your perceived Skier Type and need a ski that will work best for you. Many boat speedometers are very inaccurate. If you are not skiing with Zero Off or Perfect Pass, we recommend using a GPS or a smart phone with a speedometer application to verify your true skiing speed. Boat speedometers are frequently 2-4 mph off
  • 36 MPH
    This is the speed that high level water ski competitions are pulled at. This is the fastest a boat should ever go pulling a slalom skier. This is an intense ride and only competitive skiers should go this fast.
  • 34 MPH +
    34 MPH is the speed that many Advanced and a majority of Competition water skiers are pulled at. Many skiers who ski at this speed will prefer a stiffer ski that is designed to handle the load that will be applied in a turn. A stiffer ski will "spring" back and exit a turn with more speed.
  • 31-33 MPH
    This is the speed range many recreational skiers use. Since they are not competing and may not have cruise control on their boat they ski at what feels comfortable or what their driver gives them! At these speeds, the water does not put as much upward force on a ski. Frequently skis designed for this speed will start to use slightly wider ski. These skis are typically not considered a "wide-body construction". They are only .2" to .4" wider than a competition ski but frequently are still very stiff. The width makes the ski sit on top of the water as it is designed and makes skiing less fatiguing (because the skier is not pushing as much water) and added stiffness equates to added acceleration out of turns.
  • 28-31 MPH
    This speed is typical of Intermediate Skiers. Skis designed for this speed are .5" to .7" wider than a traditional competition ski. We start to see these skis classified as "Wide-Body". The extra width not only makes the ski stay on top of the water at the appropriate height, but also makes the ski more stable. Most 29-31 MPH water skis are designed to be able to take a break and go straight down the lake where some more aggressive skis are edge seeking and always want to turn. Skis designed for these speeds and skiers are also more forgiving and have a slower edge-to-edge movement that promotes confidence and stability.
  • 30 MPH and Under
    Many Novice skiers will ski under 30 MPH. Skiers of this speed like the slower feel and when they speed up feel like things are moving too quickly. Most of the skis in this category are considered "wide-body". These are the widest skis on the market and are designed as "cruisers". Skiers at this speed move from edge to edge more slowly and want the stability and the reduced fatigue that wider skis provide. The wide-body water ski designs also make deep water starts easier. Think of them as larger airplane wings. If you have a more ski in the water, there is more lift.

Ski Size:

Along with Boat Speed, the build of a skier (height and weight) helps us get the right size ski. The amount of ski that is needed by a pro-football linebacker is going to be completely different from a 100 pound kid. Slalom skis are designed to stay on top of the water, they do this with surface area. If we have more weight to support, we need more surface area. WaterSkis.com puts a suggested weight range on all of the skis we offer. We do this to each ski specifically because each ski shape and design will change the way the ski will ride and therefor the intended size for that ski. Here is a screen shot of our site showing several ski sizes offered and their corresponding suggested weights:

Sometimes you may want to choose a different size ski. This is a very situational adjustment. Here are a couple of examples. You are buying for a 140 pound 15 year old boy that is already close to 6' tall. Based on weight alone we would typically recommend getting a ski that is 65" long (based on chart above) but because of the height of the skier and the fact that he is 15 and will probably fill out his frame you would want to go with a 67" ski. If you trying to chose between two sizes, keep in mind that a longer ski will carry more speed and be more stable, a shorter ski will turn quicker, but will fatigue the skier quicker. In general we are recommending much larger skis than we did 10+ years ago. This is because newer skis can turn better, even in larger sizes, and there is more stability and speed between turns to be had in larger skis.

With these three factors in mind you can get the right ski the first time. Now choosing the difference between two skis that are in the same category and fit your speed, build and type you will need to figure out the correct ski design. Slalom Ski designs differ in the Base Concave (tunnel or spoon shape on the bottom) to the Edge Bevel (rounded corners from the side to the bottom), and Stiffness. Here is brief description on each of these factors.

  • Base Concave
    Base Concave is the shaping on the bottom of the ski. We see a three main designs and a blending of these three in skis.
      1. "V-Bottom" design uses a center rib that runs down from the tip of the ski. This shape is indicative of most Wide-Body Novice or Entry-Level skis. The "V-Bottom" gives the ski two main features. First, the ski will run straight extremely easily. This is because the center rib is acting like a rudder on a sail boat. It centers the ski and gives it a base line. The second aspect is that because these skis are typically much wider, it gives it a pivot point to move from edge to edge. This is not a fast movement, but it allows the skier to easily move their weight to the new edge.
      2. Tunnel-Concave design uses a center concave with two flat spots on each side of the edge. This design sits higher on the water. These flat spots also act like pontoons on a boat. It allows the ski to ride straight and smoothly at several speeds. The width of the flat spot changes with each ski shape (the larger the flat spot the more stable). The concave base between these flat spots is what allows the ski to hold an edge. The larger the concave design the more the ski will like to be on edge and hold stronger.
      3. Full Concave design uses a concave base that goes fully from edge to edge. This ski shape will move the quickest from edge to edge and hold a turn stronger. The dept of the concave dictates how strong the edge holds, but also the deeper the concave the more energy it takes to transition edges. Most competition and higher level skis will base their shape off of a full concave to achieve a solid edge hold.
  • Edge Bevel
    Edge Bevel is the degree to which the base edge (flat bottom) hits the side rail. If you run your finger along the edge of a ski you will feel an angle that blends the bottom to the side. The edge bevel control the ease in which the ski will roll onto edge and how quickly a ski will finish it's turn. If a ski did not have an edge bevel the ski would not "float" out and start a turn, rather it would do the last half of a turn. Think of the turn as half a circle; without the edge bevel the ski would not do the first part of the half circle (or turning away from the wake), it would only turn back towards the wake. Competition skis use the smallest bevels, as they are designed to have the quickest turn whereas novice skis have the most bevel giving them the easiest turn initiation and slower turns.
  • Stiffness
    Getting a ski with the correct amount of stiffness is key. Every ski flexes or bends during a turn. Flex is needed throughout the entire turn (initiation, main turn and finish). As a turn happens we initiate the turn, this is where flex is used the least. As the turn progresses the ski flex is engaged. In the middle of the turn the ski is flexed the most. In this flex energy is stored in the ski and it is released at the finish of the turn. The stiffer the ski the more energy is created. If we ski a ski that is to soft, the skier will feel like the ski is just getting pushed around and they get nothing out of it. If the ski is too stuff, it will be hard to control the ski in the finish of the turn. Think of it this way when determining how stiff your ski should be. Will Asher (current world champion) needs to have the stiffest skis out there. He skis at 36 MPH and is a pro athlete that is in phenomenal shape. The amount of force that he puts into each turn is amazing. He needs a stiff ski to ensure that he gets everything out of each turn to get the next world record. Now look at a "Wally-Weekender" they ski only a couple of times a year. Their turn is more of a veer from side to side. The amount of force that they put into a turn is not much. Yet, they still need to the ski to flex, if they skied the same stiffness as Will the ski would not flex at all and it would feel terrible. Understanding that, we all need our ski to flex the same amount, what changes is the amount of stiffness in our ski. Will would hate "Wally's" ski and "Wally" would hate Will's ski.
    We get stiffness from a two aspects of the ski's construction. The skis core and the amount and type of fiberglass or carbon fiber used. Most competition level skis use a PVC core that is ultralight and super stiff. It provides the most energy transfer in a turn. Non-Competition skis typically use a Poly-Injected core. This is an expanding foam that is poured into a form and then pressed into the ski shape. This is the softer of the two and holds less energy but also makes it possible to lower the price of the ski by $100-200. Lastly, the amount of fiber glass and the type effects the stiffness. Most women's skis will use a layer or two less glass then a men's version to allow for a softer ski. Also, as we get to Advanced and above skis will start to use carbon fiber instead of traditional fiber glass. This is lighter and stiffer giving more performance to the ski.

Now that we thoughtlessly confused you, checkout the water skis we offer. If you'd like to get an answer right away, click here for our online chat. Otherwise please give our Water Ski Experts a call at 763-404-7372 or email us at sales@waterskis.com and we will clear up any confusion.


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The 2014 Radar Graphite Vapor Water Ski is the same great layup as the Lithium Vapor, but with a slightly softer core. The 2014 Radar Lithium Vapor Water Ski is the a completely redesigned high end water ski. The Radar Alloy Vapor Water Ski is the same great shape as the Lithium Vapor, but able to tackle the open water just as good as a slalom course.
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Water Ski Buyers Guide

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