Getting your first slalom ski or finally upgrading that treasured antique? Waterski design and construction is constantly changing and there’s a lot of technical information out there. This guide will help you to find a ski that will suit your needs whether you’re ready to rip up the course or have a freeride at your local lake.
The size of your slalom ski is the most important thing to get right and should be selected to compliment your weight, boat speed and ability. Most slalom ski manufacturers provide charts that match your weight and boat speed to ski length. We’ve provided a general chart below but all skis are slightly different so make sure to check the manufacturer’s specific size chart.
This size chart doesn’t take your skiing ability into account. Going one size longer in a slalom ski gives you more stability, easier starts and requires less effort to ride but the ski will sit higher in the water and be less responsive. Consider buying a ski more suited to beginners rather than just going longer in a more advanced ski.
Waterski construction has come a long way since its humble beginnings. Back in the day, waterskis were made of wood with a carved tunnel in the bottom. Slalom skis are now made of a variety of lightweight composite materials chosen to suit the style and level of the ski’s design. Most slalom skis are constructed from a molded polyurethane foam core wrapped in fibreglass, carbon fibre or a combination of the two. Fibreglass makes for a more forgiving ride as it has more flex than carbon fibre. Carbon fibre gives you a responsive and lightweight ski but is less forgiving for beginners. Some ski companies like Radar have moved entirely to carbon fibre to wrap their skis because it makes them so much lighter than fibreglass.
Advanced and competition slalom skis use CNC machined PVC in their cores to make them lighter and stiffer for aggressive skiing at higher boat speeds. PVC core skis are really responsive but way less forgiving making them suited to high boat speeds and smooth water conditions. When it comes to construction, think about the kind of skiing you want to do. If you’re a beginner or social skier a foam core ski will give you a forgiving ride and will handle any choppy conditions. If you like to ski fast and aggressive or you’re running the slalom course a PVC core ski will handle higher boat speeds and perform better in smooth conditions.
The shaping of slalom skis is a constantly changing area of the industry. Ski manufacturers are releasing new designs almost every season. Waterskis may look very different to how they did in the past but the principles of slalom ski shaping remain the same. Understanding the features inherent to all slalom skis will help you to find a ski that will suit your ability and skiing style.
The overall width of your waterski determines how much surface area you have under your feet. Wider skis give you easy starts and are well suited to skiing at lower boat speeds. With added surface area, wide skis have low drag and are way less tiring to ride than a traditional ski. It also means the ski takes longer to get through a turn giving you a predictable, smooth feel on the water. As they are easier to start and ride most beginner skis are quite wide at the tip and continue this width through to the tail of the ski.
Hybrid slalom ski designs keep width in the tip of your ski and get narrower towards the tail. This gives you the same easy starts and low drag but with the added performance of a traditional slalom ski. These shapes are great if you’re a social skier who likes a responsive ride at higher boat speeds or if you are starting out in the slalom course.
Tournament skis are the narrowest shapes on the market. This is because narrow skis change edge quickly and give you an aggressive turn with tighter radius which generates more angle across the boat wake. However, even modern tournament skis have more width than a traditional competition waterski from years gone by. Construction materials have advanced to the point that the loss of response in a wider ski can be compensated for by using stiffer, lighter materials like carbon fibre and PVC. Tournament shapes are still quite narrow but a little extra width in the tip makes the ski turn faster with less input from you. Basically, modern tournament skis drag less and do more of the work for you compared to a traditional ski that brakes and accelerates hard in and out of the turn requiring more effort from you.
Concave refers to the tunnel that in the base of a slalom ski that runs from tip to tail. The depth and width of waterski concave affects how responsive the ski feels when you initiate an edge. A deep concave that runs to from edge to edge gives you the most responsive and aggressive turns. Advanced and tournament slalom skis use this design so your ski is constantly seeking an edge to suit competition style skiing.
Having a flat or rounded area on either side of a shallow concave makes your ski stable and predictable. Beginner and intermediate skis generally run a shallower modified concave tunnel with a flat or rounded spot through the mid section of the ski and full concave in the tail section. This design is the best of both worlds giving you a forgiving ride with smooth deceleration into the turn and fast acceleration out of the turn.
The bevel is the point of your slalom ski where the vertical sidewall meets the base and governs edge hold. Sharper bevels help the ski to track and give the greatest grip through a turn. Rounder bevels make your ski roll onto edge quickly and allow the skier control through the turn for minor corrections. Bevel design is a precise science and most modern slalom skis now have a combination of micro-adjusted round and sharp bevels to balance performance from tip to tail.
Like rocker in a wakeboard, slalom ski rocker refers to the curve in the ski from tip to tail. Shallow flattened rocker lines hold speed better and give your ski stability making it easier to ride. The downside is you get a longer turn radius and it’s harder to generate angle out of the turn. Adding more curve to a slalom ski rocker shortens the turn radius for more aggressive skiing but slows the ski down. Most modern slalom skis run a flat spot through the middle of the ski for balance and speed with the ski tapering up at tip and tail to give you that shorter turn radius.
The fin on a slalom ski is essential for creating drag to give you the grip you need to turn and maintain edge. There are many different shapes and sizes but here are 3 common types of fin that you will encounter on modern slalom skis:
FREERIDE:The most basic type of fin is usually used on beginner and social skis. They are shaped like a surf fin to give you the most grip and stability. Freeride fins are designed to make waterskiing easy and will make your ski perform even if you’re technique is a little off.
COMP: This is the traditional and most common type of slalom ski fin. A comp fin’s Distance From Tail (DFT) can be adjusted forward and back on the ski but Fin Depth (D) and Fin Length (L) remain fixed.
TOURNAMENT: Made for course skiing, these fins are fully customisable for fine tuning. Every part on a tournament fin can be micro-adjusted so competition skiers can personalise their ski or set it up for different water and weather conditions.
On all these fins you may have noticed the wing (or foil) attached to the side of the fin. Fin wings are set at an angle to create more drag and increase deceleration into the turn. As modern slalom skis have far less drag than traditional shapes the wing is often included on beginner and intermediate skis to reduce the risk of slack rope from coming into your turn too fast. Too much angle on a wing makes your ski much less forgiving so advanced slalom skis tend to have a wing angle of about 9 degrees while intermediate and beginner skis stick to around 7 degrees.
Manufacturer’s do a lot of testing to ensure their slalom ski fin settings are just right out of the box and very minor fin adjustments can drastically alter how your ski performs. We recommend leaving your fin at the manufacturer’s settings and adjusting your technique if you’re ski doesn’t feel right.
We’ve left slalom ski fins until the end of this guide for good reason. Fin design, tuning and setup is a deep rabbit hole that only the most enthusiastic slalom skiers get involved in. There is an ENTIRE BOOK dedicated to the subject if you’re interested but we will leave it at that for now.
We hope this guide has helped you find your next slalom ski but if you still have questions please CONATACT our friendly staff. We can talk about skis all day!And don't forget about our DEMO PROGRAM which allows you to try before you buy. Learn more...