Are Fat Skis Ruining Skiing?


In skiing as in life, I want to be on the cutting edge.  I see those techy ski nerds with the helmet cams and large watches calculating vertical, air temperature, the weather forecast and the winning lotto numbers, and wish I could be one of them.  But, lets face it, I’m not.  Not usually anyway.

Last year, after a day shooshing around the ski area on a powder day on my K2 Pontoons, I had an aha! moment.  It was John, really, that sparked it.  Convinced that my skis were the reason my knees were so sore, he put forth the silly notion that fat skis were ruining skiing.

I scoffed.

Fat skis had revolutionized skiing.  And now he was saying they were ruining it?  Nonsense.

But he had a point.  In the past few years I’ve seen it too.  Gone are the days of crowded slopes on a sunny day.  No longer do skiers and boarders arrive at the mountain ready for all conditions.  Instead, they watch the forecast, check the NWAC observations, calculate the best possible box on their calendar for ensuring powder skiing.  The crowds only come for the powder.

And hey, who can blame them?  Powder rocks. I’d rather ski powder than

(Photo by Chris Morin)

anything else in the world.  (Well, almost anything.)

Some argue they wait for the powder days because of money.  Wanting to get the most bang for their buck, they save up their days like spendthrifts, metering out their joy like misers.  But I have a feeling it’s more about the width of one’s skis than the width of one’s wallet.  And since skiing is always a metaphor for life, this tip towards the extreme, like any binge, is swallowing up the fun.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like fat skis.  My quiver includes a pair of 179 Pontoons, which at 130mm underfoot are about as fat as it gets.

But if all you ski is Pontoons or Hellbents or anything else with 130mm underfoot, then most days at a ski area will not be fun.  Groomers hurt on fat skis.  Forget carving, that lovely hook-up of your edges that catapults you across the slope, allowing you to pick up speed and feel, if even momentarily, like a super hero.  Or at least that everything in the world is temporarily okay.

If you ski exclusively on fat skis, you have to go heli-skiing, or live at Snowbird and wait for the canyon to close while they blast the slopes, dipping your chin into your jacket and giggling at all the poor suckers waiting down below.


(Photo by Chris Morin)

But, let’s be real.  How often does that happen?

And skiing is all about fun, right?  At least in my book it is.  I want to propose a new concept.  In a world when extreme has come to define the most worthwhile aspects of the sport, I propose moderation.  Balance.  Zen.  Following the wu wei of skiing.

Instead of five different skis–one for every temp change and inch of accumulation, I propose finding a one quiver skis.  (Sorry ski shops).

I ski my K2 MissBehaveds in nearly all conditions.  Groomers to powder, these skis have been with me now for four seasons and we have an understanding.  Like any relationship, there’s some give and take.  When the pow gets really deep, I can’t ski quite as fast or feel quite as heroic as on the Pontoons.  But I like the compromise that knowing every morning, when I walk out of the patrol room, regardless of conditions, these trusty friends are with me.

34 responses »

  1. Nice post! I ski my G3 Rapid Transits everyday. They have gotten me to almost 50 days this season; powder or ice. The shape allows me to tele on top of powder yet still carve the nice turns on groomers, and maintain the edge on crust. People who ONLY ski powder are snobs!

    • Andrew,
      I completely agree. If all you ever ski is powder, than either you can afford a season pass to a heli-ski operation, or you don’t ski enough. Either way, as my friend Michelle likes to say, “all skiing is good skiing”.

  2. Nice post – as someone who used to hit the terrain parks, until a major accident almost paralyze me, I want to turn myself into a powder hound. However, when I am on the slopes after a big snow – and I duck into the trees, or find that great 1st line – I can’t turn for sh*t! I ski blacks and double blacks all day, but can’t ski for sh*t on powder of more than 8 inches. Long story short – been eyeballing a pair of K2 Pontoons to solve this – and naively thought I would chuck my 4 year old ski’s when I bought them.

    Thanks to your post – I will not be doing that…. I will travel to the slopes with both set’s of ski’s and choose the ones best for the conditions.

    Thanks again,


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  4. Long time Crystal Mt. skiers pride themselves in being able to ski all conditions from groom, powder, broken crud and simply difficult conditions.

    Fat skis is only one dimension of the whole experience.

    • I agree with Ed. Fat skis limit the total experience to a small moment in time. One should be able to ski the POW on any ski – just ask Ross. A mid fat works great at CM – early morning and throughout the day.

  5. Nice post & I agree on the “all purpose ski” — I have K2 MissBehaveds as well and LOVE them, they rock and I think they have improved my skiing 10x from my prior, thinner skis (had Rossi B2s — very good skis but better behaved in CO snow than here in the PNW). I’m pretty sure I don’t ski nearly as well as you do but I can get through most conditions here in my K2s with (generally!) a smile. Thanks for the insightful commentary as always!

  6. Agreed – fat skis are good for Pow, Off Piste and the heavy wet but, they are not the piste de resistance for everyday skiing.

    Save your knees for the future with a ski reasonable under boot ski for the groomers, packed pow and ice. Years from now, your knees will thank you.

  7. Nice to know a “leading expert” has this opinion!!! We generally ski our “all mountain” skis, ones with a bit of rocker, and keep a pair of narrower “rock skis” for days when it’s hard pack with a rock or two out there (like this year!). We find that our old friends get us through most everything and almost never let us down.

    Loved the “‘piste’ de resistance” by the way, Rick. Cute.

  8. With fat skis, everyone is an expert on a powder day. Add a quad or sixpack chair, and the powder disappears so much faster. Also the fattest skis don’t allow you to sink in and rebound out of the snow as well, spoiling one of the great experiences in skiing. Now everyone just wants to go as fast as possible.

  9. Yep i have been preaching this for a while: I ski Whitedot Preachers as a one-ski-quiver. Pretty fat with 112mm but still very able on the slopes with its full camber and side cut. They have to be in the Alps (I am European based) as snow conditions change quickly. Always a grin on my face when skiing them on or off piste.

  10. If you’re looking for a one-quiver ski then 95-105mm is the way to compromise (it’s not going to be any fun on hard snow & iced groomers but workable). However I much prefer a combo of a proper piste ski for days when I know I’m not going out-of-bounds and 105+ for everything else. The slalom or GS ski should ideally be as close as possible to true FIS certified planks (most if not all skis with the word race on them are far removed from the racing world) because under right conditions, and if you know how to ski them, they can be almost as much fun as skiing powder. It’s about two very different sides on a mountain and compromises are just that.

  11. Last season I bought a pair of Kung Fugas @102 underfoot they are quite fat, I was hoping for an all round ski but found that on piste they weren’t half as much fun as my old calving skis, living in the UK we have to book ahead so hitting an alpine powder day is like randomly throwing darts at a board hoping for a bullseye. Should I just settle for quality piste action? Don’t think so!! the rewards are worth the risk.

  12. Are you implying that people ski groomers on fat skis? Why would you do that? Of course your knees hurt. Duh! Not to mention ankles. Also, what’s all this people only want to ski on powder days anymore, or people just care about going fast on the surface of powder? Ok. Ok. Ok. I’m sooo sorry I don’t get off skiing super slow and buried in powder, taking face shots all day like I’m Jenna Jameson anymore. Yo I’m a real skier not trying to be the best at skiing mash potato bumps. Peace

    • Felix,

      The ski industry needs more people like you. Powder is a limited quantity, and if skiers and snowboarders only want powder, they aren’t going to get that many days in. You’d be surprised how many people do, actually, try to ski groomers on fat skis. Skis are expensive and many people can only afford to buy one pair. If it were me, I’d look for skis that could do everything. But skiing powder on a pair of great fat skis is a wonderful thing. To each his (or her) own.

  13. I have been rocking Moment Donner Partys for the last year. Theyre 140mm in the waist and have reverse sidecut, yet i still ski them almost everyday with no problem.. Even on groomers! As far as i see it they still have a long way to go with powder ski designs and i dont think it means getting smaller.

  14. Agree, my Bent Chetler’s (123mm underfoot) are great in deep pow, but kill my knees on the chopped up flats heading back to the lift. With the width of these fatties, the uneven snow can torque the skis side-to-side, demanding out legs and knees to respond, accelerating fatigue. My plan is first runs with the Chetler’s then change out to more traditional skis 88-95 under the foot.

  15. Its not the skis, its the people that buy them. People should stay home where they belong and surf the internet, instead of surfing powder on fat skis. Couch potatoes rule! Now run along kids and
    leave my freshies alone…

  16. Great commentary. My knees are shot from skiing 40 years an average of 50-70 days a year. I notice more knee pain as skis evolved wider. I had not skied more than a 6-8 days a year starting in 2008 and jumped on wide skiis for a trip with my kids. Knees did not hurt before trip, but because of additional torque noticed severe change in knee pain without injury immediately following, and now can only do groomers where most of my skiing was powder, crud, and packed with the occasional bump run ( taught and/or coached for 37 years). I yearn for the days of straight 185-190cm skis where you couldn’t see them in the powder but could still do great runs with face shots through the trees. More research is needed, especially for the recreational skier.

  17. You seem to forget about sled-skiers.
    I only use my “pinner chopsticks” while skiing with my boy who is 7.
    The rest of the time: “when you try fat, you never go back.”

  18. Well now if any of you have a pair of Volkl Grizzlies you know that there really is a one ski for all conditions. Admittedly the skis are a little heavy and demand to be ridden but give and you will get.
    The 3 settings (cruise/dynamic/power) align with conditions as required. Deep pow=cruise, settled snow and moguls=dynamic, hardback and ice=power.
    May sound hokey but let me assure the technology works!
    The waist is 86mm and provides a solid base no matter what conditions you may encounter.
    Every turn is an accelerator when you’re on ’em.

  19. Having skied skinny skis for the last 40 yrs I though I should buy wider skis for the spring slush in michigan. Of course listening to people commenting about your old skis gets old also. Well I here to tell you people have never skied 205 skis, the short , mine are 182 cm, do not carve as well as 205 cm that’s why they were 205. These short skis are like the bigger skis 40 yrs ago that couldn’t carve, but it didn’t matter as biggers couldn’t carve anyway. I’d like to think skiing had evolved to better skiing but skiing today in Michigan at a resort with “better” skiers demonstrated to me that these people has just learned to skis I don’t think I saw more than one person carve a turn all day. My state of the art skis were impossible to carve more than a quarter of the turn. I am not impressed. Especially at the cost of the skis.

  20. My knees were killing me using skis that were too skinny for the powder. I got powder skis and that significantly reduced discomfort in my knees. By the way, I actually FIXED a lot of my knee problems by using this supplement called Joint Vibrance. I highly recommend that to anyone who is screwing up their knees in the powder.

  21. I call todays skis training wheel skis. They are boring and take little skill to ski like a pro. The narrowest I could get were Volkls at 123 84 104 and they seem too wide. Oh well.

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