Skis used mainly to be differentiated by the standard of skier they were aimed at. But then a host of different types of revolutionary new shaped skis came on the scene. First, there were the fat skis that brought off-piste skiing within the grasp of even an average intermediate. Then there were carving skis, which have virtually replaced the old-fashioned skinny skis and paved the way for a whole host of new types of ski.
So which type of ski should you go for? The easy answer is that you should try whichever take your fancy. Broadly, here's a summary of which type will suit what sort of person and what type of skier.
Carving skis, also known as 'shaped', 'hourglass', 'super-sidecut', or 'parabolic' skis, are ideal for skiers who want to stick to groomed pistes. They are wider at the shovel (front) and tail (back) than old-fashioned skis. Because of their shape they carve turns more easily and make skiing more fun. There are carving skis made for all standards from virtual beginner through to World Cup racer - it's important to choose ones that suit your standard.
Freeride skis suit people who want to ski all over the mountain with ease - on piste and off. They are generally shaped pretty similarly to carving skis but tend to be wider throughout their length and, in particular, at the waist. This increased width makes them float more easily off-piste, making it easier to ski powder and to power your way through crud. They also work very well on the piste, giving a great feeling of stability when making fast carved turns on groomed trails.
Blades are great fun for messing around on-piste - they make an amusing change from normal skis. Their short length (less than one metre) makes turning, jumping and doing tricks much easier. They are also good for practising your carving and centring your weight distribution over your skis.
Twin-tip skis have taken off in the last couple of seasons. Some have been around for a few years. Although they are essentially designed for doing tricks, including spins, they work superbly as ordinary free-ride skis too - they carve well on piste and also float through off-piste powder.
Extreme carve skis are for those in search of an extreme adrenalin rush, arcing high-speed turns, using extreme body angles and carving grooves in wide groomed pistes to rival a hard boot snowboarder.
Most hire shops now have a good variety of carving skis on offer. If you are considering buying your own pair, you should definitely try a few different pairs out first to really get a feel for which pair suits you best.
When choosing your ski poles, hold your poles upside down and hold them vertically with the handles touching the floor (you should be wearing your ski boots for this test). Hold the tips just below the basket (ie with the baskets above your hand). If your elbows are at about a 90-degree angle, they are the right length for you.
Bindings too have developed enormously in recent years. One of the main recent trends has been towards improved binding release mechanisms which are intended to reduce ligament damage - the skier's major injury worry. There are competing claims from different makers, but all modern bindings are much safer than those made even a decade or two ago.
Riser plates are designed to raise the binding on the ski and increase a good skier's ability to get the ski over on its edge and carve turns without the boot coming into contact with the snow.
Servicing your equipment
To get the best out of skis and snowboards, you need to have them serviced regularly to make sure the base is smooth and the edges are sharp so that they can grip even on hard snow and ice. You might prefer to have your equipment serviced before you go on holiday so that you waste no time after you arrive. But resort ski shops stay open until 7 or 8pm and will have your skis serviced by the time the lifts start in the morning.
For more tips and advice on learning to ski: Ski goggles and sunglasses | Ski boots | Snowboards | Ski wear | Extra gear | Ski fitness