Buying a pair of skis can be a difficult task, especially for those new to the sport. Luckily, Alpine skis (also called "downhill skis") can be divided into five types, one of which will easily match up with your interests and abilities. Your most important consideration is to figure out what kind of skiing you like to do most; then, you can select the type of ski that best meets your needs. Within every category of ski, you will be able to select the appropriate length (about the same as your height), and there are often models that are gender-specific and built to carry skiers with differing centers of gravity.
This ski is ideal for those who like to ski all areas on a mountain. It performs as well on groomed trails as on moguls and also handles well in powder. Built with an hour-glass shape, these skis are easier to turn than other straight-edged models. If you are an intermediate skier who enjoys being able to navigate any terrain a mountain may hand you, this is the ski for you.
These skis are designed for the ambitious trickster. Most have twin tips, which means that they turn up at both ends. This allows for easy backward skiing, making tricks and jumps more exciting. If you spend most of your time in the terrain park or the half pipe and eagerly anticipate the day when you'll be able to throw a perfect daffy, these are your boards. Most brands make at least a few models of freeride skis--just be sure to look for the ones with twin tips.
This ski is for the all-around newbie. It is soft and short, making it easy to control. For those who prefer to spend the day cutting up corduroy, these skis perform well under beginner and intermediate conditions. If you ski just a few times a year and avoid moguls and powder like the plague, strap these skis on for a fun, stress-free day on the mountain.
Powder skis are wide, light and long to create the snow equivalent of a surfboard experience. In its article about choosing downhill skis, REI explains that because of their increased surface area, these skis will float any skier through powder. If you regularly ski in deep powder or you live in places like the Rocky Mountains or the Pacific Northwest, these may be a good choice for you. The skis don't handle well on hard-packed terrain, so don't bother if you generally ski groomers or ice.
Racing skis are obviously made for racers. Specifically built to turn on a dime at high speeds, these skis are really only useful if you are already a racer. According to the Ultimate Online Ski Shop, they are stiffly built to absorb vibrations, thus allowing them to carry a skier at faster speeds than softer alpine skis. If you haven't recently donned a GS suit and bombed a slalom course, you can probably skip these skis.