The broad application of well-defined synthetic oligosaccharides in glycobiology and glycobiotechnology is largely hampered by the lack of sufficient amounts of synthetic carbohydrate specimens. Insufficient knowledge of the glycosylation reaction mechanism thwarts the routine assembly of these materials. Glycosyl cations are key reactive intermediates in the glycosylation reaction, but their high reactivity and fleeting nature have precluded the determination of clear structure-reactivity-stereoselectivity principles for these species. We report a combined experimental and computational method that connects the stereoselectivity of oxocarbenium ions to the full ensemble of conformations these species can adopt, mapped in conformational energy landscapes (CEL), in a quantitative manner. The detailed description of stereoselective SN1-type glycosylation reactions firmly establishes glycosyl cations as true reaction intermediates and will enable the generation of new stereoselective glycosylation methodology.