Selecting Junior Skis
The answer is that there is more than one answer to the questions. However, once you put together a skiing profile for each child, it will be easier to figure out what skis to put them on. Here's a look at how a child's age, size, their time on the slopes and what activity they do on the slopes can determine the best skis to buy.
A caveat to any length information concerning youth skis is that it's not an exact science. The ground to shoulder, chin, etc. lengths that I mention below are an average of what you'll find in ski shops and rental areas. This junior ski category usually covers weights up to around 135 - 140 pounds.
You might find that five different ski shops may recommend five different exact centimeter lengths for a child (all ski manufacturers use the metric scale for length and width). However, all the recommendations should work because there are certain innate variables.
Junior Ski Length Variables
Several variables can apply, starting with the fact that different ski brands make their models in different lengths. If Ski Shop A sells Volkl they might recommend a 140cm model while Ski Shop B handles Rossignol and offers a comparable junior in 142cm. Also, when some children are taller or heavier, the salesperson will pick a longer ski based mostly on their sales experience. Bottom line - buy your kid's skis from a reputable ski shop with a trained staff.
The Little Ones
A good thing to remember when we first introduce young children to skiing is that flopping around on the snow with skis on should be fun - skiing comes later. Keeping it fun means, in general, putting kids 3 and under on a pair of skis that come up to roughly, between their shoulder and their chin. This length allows them to feel the sensation of sliding yet still be able to flop around, get up, and side step or slide and glide. Ski nursery school is all about this having fun and the kids do better on skis they feel comfortable on.
This is not to say there aren't any children who are rippin' at 3 years old, but those little racers are the exception. Skiing is recreation for a lifetime and being introduced to it in a playful and fun-filled way makes it an activity kids will want to do again.
Junior Beginner Skis
Once the kids get to about 4 or 5 years old, both weight and height come into the equation when choosing skis for beginners. We need to consider both factors, because junior skis, in general, are made of soft core material. Since children don't have the body mass for bending stiff skis, manufacturers make the skis more flexible to bend into the arc that makes shaped skis so easy to turn.
On average, this will translate to these beginner juniors using skis that stand between their chin and nose. If you wish to do this measurement in advance use an inches/centimeter tape measure, or convert inches by using 1 inch = 2.54cm. If your first time junior skier is about normal weight and is 45 inches to the upper lip (45 x 2.54) look for skis closest to 115cm. I think it best to favor the standard ski model size lower than your calculated number if you can't be exact, especially for beginners.
Junior Intermediate and Advanced Skis
As kids get more time on the snow, you will start to see a pattern as to the terrain and speed each one is most comfortable skiing. The average intermediate junior with a year or 2 on mostly blue terrain can be outfitted with a recreational, generally soft ski for easy carving, that measures up to around eye level.
It is not uncommon to find juniors that are truly aggressive, hard driving skiers who are comfortable in parks and on black diamond trails. These kids need skis on the higher end of the body length scale - up to the forehead and a more specialized, stiffer, ski to absorb the shocks of their aggressive style.
The Tall or Heavier Junior Skier
There are tall and/or heavier youngsters whose measurements don't fall into the junior classification mainly because their body mass makes soft junior skis unresponsive to turning. Not to panic, in this case the kids can easily move to a beginner adult ski that is just a little stiffer but still affordable.
All manufacturers make junior skis, some make expensive race skis or freeriders, as well as powder skis. You can spend a lot of money on junior skis or you can get good recreational models at moderate prices. Once you determine the right length and style for your child, you can find really good ski deals online.
If you buy skis online, be sure to take them to a reputable ski shop to have the bindings mounted. Call ahead to see if the ski shop has techs certified by the manufacturer of the binding you bought. If you received the skis with bindings already mounted take them to the shop to have a binding test done and the correct DIN set for your child's size and ability.
Junior Lease Plans
Another value venue to look for when buying junior skis is to find a ski shop that offers a Junior Lease Plan where you return the skis at the end of the season. A great way to keep fast growing kids on the right skis at the right price.