Uh, shape, flex, camber? You don’t need to know anything about grape varietals to get drunk on wine, but you might appreciate a good bottle even more if you do. The same goes for the elements of ski design, and the terms below should make your discussion with any ski maker more fruitful.
The waist of the ski refers to its width underfoot. A wide waist, anything from 100mm on up to 127mm, is best for floating through powder whereas a narrow waist like 80mm is found on a ski made for carving groomed snow or dancing around on moguls.
The turning radius of the ski is determined by the sidecut—the depth a ski is cut from the tip to the waist. The deeper the cut, the quicker the turn. If carving quick slalom turns or dicing through tight trees, look for a shorter turning radius like 18 meters. For big slalom turns or straightlining ahead of Alaskan avalanche sluff, ask for a bigger radius like 24 or 26.
Traditional camber gives a ski a little lift under the foot, which when pressed downward bites into the snow and gives you good edge control. Rockered skis feature ends that are bent upwards for better float in powder. Some skis use one or the other, and recently, many now feature both.
The flex of a ski is determined by the thickness and stiffness of the materials used to build it. Stiff skis carve better but can throw a skier around, while soft skis float better but can be alarmingly floppy on the hardpack.