It wasn’t that long ago that most “women-specific” skis were just men’s skis stripped of their metal (and integrity) and gussied up with flowery topsheets. Our female testers crammed their test cards with complaints (“noodle” was the operative word), then happily went home to their unisex models when the test was over. Now more manufacturers are conceiving and building women’s skis from the ground up, with all the technology and integrity that women deserve.
So when you walk into a ski shop and get herded into the women’s section—gear shops are now as segregated as shoe stores—don’t assume the salesperson is condescending. More likely, a woman’s boot or ski really will help you have more fun on the hill.
For starters, women’s skis are built for smaller, less powerful frames. (Sorry, ladies, but even the burliest of you bench-press less than a typical man.) The skis are generally lighter, which means they’re more maneuverable and easier to ski all day. They also tend to reward finesse over brute power.
The sidecut often has a waist that’s farther forward to better match a woman’s relatively lower center of gravity. A wider shovel aids in turn initiation.
As for boots, women’s are lighter, warmer and more flexible (the stiffer the boot, the more weight you need to flex it). The cuff is also lower and wider to accommodate a woman’s proportionally smaller foreleg and larger, lower calf muscle.
This year, all but a few of our ripping female testers admitted to owning—and, what’s more, loving—women-specific gear. Here’s what they think about the trend in general:
“Boots are the most important piece of equipment you own, by far. Having a boot that fits properly with the appropriate flex is critical for performance, and comfort, too. A women’s boot is more likely to provide that.”
“I thought I would just try women’s boots and skis, and they both are plenty [powerful] for me.”
“All women should consider women-specific gear. I’ve been searching for a
reason not to, but I can’t find one.”
“I do own a pair of ladies-specific boots. They are so comfortable—perfect for cruising and coaching.”
“I dream of being in a women’s boot. I hate my boots because they are too stiff and they hurt. I have to unbuckle these death traps at the bottom of each lift. Have I mentioned I hate them?”
“Most women’s skis do not have metal (or at least along the entire length), and I prefer the feel of a metal-laminate ski.”
“Women’s skis give nothing away in terms of performance, except on the very high end. (But if you’re skiing that hard and fast, then you won’t miss any user-friendliness by going to a unisex ski.) If you’re not skiing at the highest level, you’ll appreciate being able to actually bend the ski at more modest speeds and in variable conditions.”