Ski School: Terminology Primer

Only term you know is chairlift? Read this primer.

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Alpine Touring

This system allows you to climb like a tele skier (free heel, with skins) and descend like a traditional downhiller (heel locked down). The key is the binding, which lets you easily switch back and forth. AT boots tend to be stiff and supportive, for aggressive skiing on steep terrain. It’s the best choice if you’re an alpine (resort) skier who wants to venture into the backcountry without learning a new (tele) technique.

Backcountry Touring

Going on a hut tour? This lightweight, free-heel system is designed for all-day comfort. Boots are flexible for cross-country travel, yet have enough support for moderate to steep downhills.


The tip-to-tail arc in an unweighted ski is camber; it spreads your weight over more of the ski. More arc helps you turn on firm snow and power out of corners.

Climbing Skins

Think of these ski-length strips of mohair or synthetic material as instant tread. They adhere to the bottoms of skis via clips and sticky glue. Press them on to ascend, strip them off to descend.


New Nordic Norm is a stable boot/binding system with dual underfoot ridges.

Rugged Nordic Touring

This is the lightest backcountry setup. The system excels on the flats, letting you kick and glide–and cover miles fast. Skis may or may not have edges (get them for steeper hills). Fish-scale patterns on the ski bases provide climbing grip on mild ascents so you don’t need to take skins on and off. The system works well on groomed cross-country trails, while still allowing backcountry use in mellow terrain.


The difference between a ski’s width at three places: tip, tail, and center. Skis with lots of sidecut (they will have an extreme hourglass shape) are best for quick, sharper turns; skis with less sidecut will hold an edge better, which is good for long, sweeping turns in firm conditions.


This is the original system for backcountry touring over steep terrain. Tele systems have permanently free heels and flex at the forefoot for touring comfort–and mobility for those deep-knee tele turns.

Three-pin Binding

This lightweight, affordable setup consists of a toe plate with three vertical, side-by-side pins that mate with compatible duck-toed telemark and backcountry touring boots.

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