A lot of women ask me if they should buy a ladies ski, and I encourage them to at least demo a pair to see for themselves. Even if they don't know much about gear, they're usually surprised at what a difference they can feel.
Women's skis have come a long way. I've been selling skis since 1968. In the beginning it was all about cosmetics-they'd slap a pretty color on a basic ski and call it a ladies ski. About five years ago, decent women's skis started coming out. Now there are high-performance skis designed for women, by women.
If a woman isn't sure, I explain why there are ladies skis: Our anatomy is different. We're not as heavy as men, so we need a softer flex. Many women buy skis that are too stiff. Their boyfriend likes a particular ski, but the women are never going to enjoy the performance it's capable of. With a softer flex, a lighter skier can actually get more edge on the snow. It turns easier, and you feel more in control.
But the biggest mistake women make is buying skis that are too long. They think that to get good performance they need a long ski. I explain, to both men and women, that skis are going shorter-about forehead high-to give you more control. I fuss at manufacturers at trade shows when they don't offer shorter lengths. Last year, I went to try a ski and they only had it in a 175. This guy-who was about 200 pounds-handed me the ski and said, "It's a 175, you can ski it." I looked at him and said, "Well, what length do you ski on?" And he said, "I ski a 175." And I said, "Yeah, we're about the same size," and then he got it.
Manufacturers are moving binding mounting positions one or two centimeters forward on women's skis. That helps, because most women have a lower center of gravity than men, which makes it hard for them to keep their weight forward in traditional mounting positions.
Women also tend to downplay their abilities. Most women say they're less aggressive or less skilled than they are-especially when they're older. I'm 56, and I've seen women from 46 and up say, "Well, I'm not going to get any better." I love to say, "But you can. The equipment makes it so much easier. Don't ever assume you've hit your peak."
You also need to be open to expert advice. I recently had a lady buy a pair of 185s. She liked the color, so she went with a ski that was too long. She wouldn't listen. So expert advice is key. Ask about mounting positions and you'll learn if the salesperson is good. Or ask how many women's models they carry. If they say, "We don't believe in women's models," then maybe that's not the right shop.
Also, I'd suggest leaving your spouse or boyfriend at home so you can take your time and not feel pressured. This is an important purchase, and a lot of men aren't the most patient shoppers.
When you find the right ski, take a refresher lesson. Technique is evolving along with equipment. To get the ultimate enjoyment out of your ski, you have to know how to use it.
Sue Booker has been in the Colorado ski trade for 35 years. She manages the Loveland Ski Shop.