Used to be, buying skis was as simple as knowing the difference between slalom and giant slalom. No longer. Now you have to sort through a mind-boggling array of categories and the abstruse terms that come with them, such as parabolic, super-sidecut, carving, free-skiing, and new-school. These may or may not be properly delineated at the ski shop. Not to worry. The lingo isn't nearly as important as the idea behind the new designs—all of which are considered "shaped." And it adds up to one thing: Skis are becoming more fun to turn.
What most of today's models have in common is a deep sidecut, meaning a big difference in width between a ski's waist and its tip and tail. Think Betty Boop rather than Olive Oyl. Where they differ is in overall width and the amount of sidecut. An all-mountain plank might measure 105 millimeters at the tip, 70 at the waist, and 95 at the tail (105-70-95 in shop shorthand), while carving models have narrower waists for resort hardpack, and thicker-waisted midfats thrive on wild, ungroomed slopes.
The upshot? You can finally burn those 210-centimeter-long torpedoes. Length isn't the key to edge-control and stability anymore. Even though the new skis are relatively short, you're actually getting more edge on the snow because of the dramatic waistline—the tips and tails dig in the instant you pressure the ski. Also, most good skis now offer steadier rides, thanks to wider girth and built-in shock absorbers, be they simple elastomers, metal structures on the exterior, or fancy electronic doodads.
The nine skis we tested combine unprecedented levels of egghead science with up-to-the-minute ski theory. Each model is intended for a slightly different purpose. What unites them, however, is that they all love to etch curvy lines on snow.