An Expert Guide to Women's SkisPublished on 05/08/2023 · 13 min readSkiing Expert Lauren Dobbins breaks down everything lady shredders will need to know when picking out a new pair of skis for next season!
Just a few awesome lady skiers! All photos courtesy of Lauren Dobbins
TL;DR: When buying women's skis, consider the skier's ability level, terrain preferences, and skiing style. Pay attention to ski length, width, and sidecut radius for optimal performance. Opt for women-specific skis, which are generally lighter and have a more forward mounting position, or choose a unisex or men’s skis for specific performance needs.
I know firsthand how difficult it can be to navigate the ski market as a woman. Women are, unfortunately, a minority in skiing. According to the National Ski Areas Association, only 37% of people on the slopes in the 21/22 season were women (down from the average of 40%). As a consumer, I’ve spent way more time than I would like to admit trying to understand the different options. As a Skiing Expert at Curated, I’ve helped numerous women find their perfect match based on their specific needs.
Ultimately, it is important to understand the different methodologies around women’s ski designs. Brands approach developing women’s skis very differently. Some take a men’s ski, make it shorter, and change the graphic (aka, shrink it and pink it, as we call it in the biz). Some take a popular men’s ski and tweak the design. Some have women professionals involved in the design process. Some only make unisex skis. So how do you as a woman (or someone shopping for that special woman in your life) decide which women’s, unisex, or even men’s ski is right for you? Here are a few tips on how to make that decision:
What Are Women’s Skis?
Women's skis are specifically designed for women skiers, considering differences in body shape, weight, and center of gravity. They are generally lighter, more flexible, and have a more forward mounting position to accommodate women's lower center of gravity and reduced muscle mass compared to men. These features allow for easier turns and better control on the slopes. Women-specific skis help enhance the skiing experience by providing better control, stability, and responsiveness, making them a popular choice for women skiers of all levels.
What Are the Different Kinds of Gender-Specific Skis?
Now that we’ve covered the unique features of women’s skis, let’s dive deeper into the types of women’s, unisex, and men’s skis you might consider.
1. Women’s Skis: Complete Design from Scratch
Some exceptional brands have taken on the mentality of creating skis by women, for women. Often in alliance with professional women skiers or even us average folks, these skis are created from the ground up with their own unique design. Programs like Blizzard’s Women2Women and Atomic’s #sheskis testers allow these ski manufacturers to design a ski for exactly what a woman needs.
- Accessible to new and casual skiers
- Easier to control and maneuver
- Offers input from actual women skiers
- Keep in Mind
- Limited offerings from different brands
- Reduced options for advanced to expert skiers
2. Women’s Skis: Adapted from the Men’s Line
Women’s skis are often adapted from a successful men’s line. As a result, these skis will have all the benefits of a women-designed ski lineup but with limited input from women in its creation. Brands that operate in this manner, however, shouldn’t be overlooked. Notably, Nordica took the success of the women’s Santa Ana line and put their terrain-specific metal construction into their all-new men’s and women’s Unleashed lines. This development shows that designing men’s skis off of women’s skis may be the way of the future!
- Takes lessons learned from an established, successful line of skis
- Offered by numerous brands and styles of skis
- Accessible to a large number of women
- Keep in Mind
- Women's input is still limited in the design phase
- Many brands lack unique nomenclature (i.e., adding “W” to the name)
3. Women’s Skis: Shrinked and Pinked
As I previously mentioned, “shrinked and pinked” skis refer to men’s/unisex skis made in shorter sizes and different graphics to appeal to women. Although these types of skis are labeled as women’s specific, there is nothing unique in the design to adapt them to a woman’s body and form. While I’m all for equality and the mentality that women can do anything men can do, we still have physical differences that should be considered in the design of skis. To determine if a ski has been “shrinked and pinked,” compare the women’s ski description to the men’s. If no construction differences are listed beyond shorter sizing, they are just men’s skis in disguise.
- Suitable to a heavier and/or more aggressive skier
- Accessible to non-binary or transgender individuals who want a women’s specific ski but need the construction of a men’s ski
- Keep in Mind
- No women-specific design to adapt to a woman’s biology
- Makes women skiers feel like an afterthought in a men-dominated market
4. Unisex Skis
Some brands (such as DPS) create only unisex skis; others have added unisex skis to their lineups. While they will lack the women’s specific design, they are meant to be a friendly option for just about any skier. They are often light and easy to control and come in a wider range of sizes. Buyer beware: If a ski is labeled as unisex but still has a separate women’s option, it is a men’s ski.
- Accessible option for women who don’t want to have the “women’s” label
- Gender-neutral colors and graphics
- Covers many ability levels and styles of skiing
- Keep in Mind
- Shorter skiers will find an issue with sizing
- Still lacks women-specific construction needs
5. Men’s Skis
I rarely recommend a men’s ski to a woman skier; however, a men’s ski is an excellent option for a very tall skier who cannot find women’s skis in her size. Additionally, many expert skiers also will opt for a men’s ski, as there are many more options for a true expert woman. If you are in one of these two camps, you will have endless options of men’s skis!
- Optimal for a tall, heavy, and/or aggressive woman skier
- Available in a significant range of styles
- Keep in Mind
- Harder to control
- Not for beginners or intermediates
What to Consider When Buying Women’s Skis
We’ve reviewed the different types of gender-specific skis. Let’s cover some factors to consider before deciding which type of ski is right for you.
1. What Are Your Height and Weight?
The skier's size is probably the most straightforward factor when choosing a ski. If you are short (like me at 5’3.5”) or lightweight (not like me), you may automatically be limited to women’s specific skis. Ski length is generally based on skier height, and women’s skis take into account that women are typically smaller than men. As a result, I’m usually limited to women’s skis to find one that works for my height. Unisex and men’s skis will be designed for taller skiers, especially more advanced skis. These skis may be a better fit for someone taller or heavier.
2. What Size Turn Radius Do You Prefer?
Considering a ski’s turn radius (sidecut) should be an important factor when selecting skis. Turn radius refers to the size of turns a ski is designed to make (often reported in meters). Women’s skis typically have a smaller turning radius than unisex and men’s skis. This is advantageous if you want to spend a lot of time in trees and moguls. On the other hand, unisex and men’s skis usually have a longer turning radius, allowing huge arching turns in open bowls and wide groomers. Think about how you want to use a ski to help narrow your search.
3. What Is Your Ability Level and Style of Skiing?
It’s no secret that very few skis are designed for an aggressive, hard-charging woman (in fact, I can only think of two). Most women never advance past intermediate groomers. Fortunately for most ladies, a women’s specific ski will perfectly match this level. A unisex or men's ski may be a better match if you are extremely aggressive and tend to overpower a ski.
4. Are You Looking for a Specific Type of Ski?
If you are looking for a very specific type of ski, this may also direct you to a certain category. For example, women’s powder skis usually top out around 110mm for waist width. In contrast, unisex or men’s powder skis easily broach 120. Therefore, a women's ski won't be a good match if you want a ski exclusively for deeper snow situations (i.e., heliskiing). Conversely, women’s skis are often narrower and very well suited to groomers and hard snow.
5. Do You Have a Color or Graphics Preference?
Graphics should be the least of your worries, but I understand this is something people think about when buying skis. Women’s skis often have a more feminine design and use colors to match this aesthetic. Personally, I hate pink or super girly graphics; my favorite colors are black, grey, and blue. I was very lucky that both of the skis I wanted for their profiles alone just so happened to come in these colors. While I wouldn’t rule out a ski for looking a certain way, I’m very happy that it wasn’t a factor for me.
Features to Look for When Buying Women’s Skis
When choosing skis in general, consider the following specific features and technologies to enhance your skiing experience:
- Rocker/Camber profile: The ski's profile can significantly affect performance. Rocker (upward curvature) improves floatation in powder and turn initiation, while camber (downward curvature) enhances edge grip and stability on groomed runs. A combination of rocker and camber offers versatility for all-mountain skiing.
- Sidecut radius: The sidecut radius determines how easily the ski turns. A smaller radius allows for quicker, shorter turns, while a larger radius enables longer, more sweeping turns. Choose a sidecut radius based on your skiing style and preferred terrain.
- Waist width: The waist width (the narrowest part of the ski) impacts the ski's performance in different snow conditions. A wider waist provides better floatation in powder and soft snow, while a narrower waist enables quicker edge-to-edge transitions on groomed runs.
- Core materials: The ski's core materials can affect its weight, flexibility, and performance. Common core materials include wood, foam, and composite materials. Wood cores typically offer a lively, responsive feel, while foam cores are lighter and more forgiving.
- Construction: Different ski construction methods, such as sandwich, cap, or hybrid, can impact the ski's performance and durability. Sandwich construction usually provides better edge grip and stability, while cap construction is lighter and more forgiving.
- Flex pattern: The ski's flex pattern (how it bends) influences its performance and ease of turning. A softer flex is more forgiving and suitable for beginners, while stiffer flex offers better stability and precision for advanced skiers.
- Binding compatibility: Ensure that the skis you choose are compatible with your preferred binding system, as this affects the ski's performance, safety, and ease of use.
- Taper: The difference in width between the tip, waist, and tail affects the ski's turning characteristics. A more tapered ski offers smoother turn initiation and release, while a less tapered ski provides better edge grip and stability.
Features to Avoid in Women’s Skis
While there aren't specific features to outright avoid in women's skis, certain aspects might not be suitable for your individual needs, preferences, or skill level. Here are some factors to consider when choosing skis:
- Overly stiff flex: A ski with an overly stiff flex might be challenging to control, especially for beginner or intermediate skiers. Choose a ski with a flex pattern appropriate for your skill level.
- Mismatched ski profile: Avoid choosing a ski profile that doesn't match your skiing preferences and terrain. For example, a fully rockered ski might not be suitable for skiing primarily on groomed runs, while a fully cambered ski might struggle in deep powder.
- Inappropriate length or width: Skis that are too long, too short, too wide, or too narrow for your height, weight, and skiing preferences may hinder your performance on the slopes. Choose the right length and width based on your skiing style and body measurements.
- Cheap materials or construction: Avoid skis made with low-quality materials or poor construction, as they may lack durability and performance. Invest in well-made skis from reputable brands to ensure a better skiing experience.
- Incompatible bindings: Make sure the skis you choose are compatible with your preferred binding system to ensure optimal performance, safety, and ease of use.
How to Choose the Right Women’s Skis for You
Let’s walk through a few real-life scenarios to help illustrate when you might consider a women’s ski. Before reading the suggested products, think about what you would recommend each woman based on her needs. Do any of these women match you or someone you know?
Needs: This woman takes it easy and likes to have fun. She spends most of her time on groomers, but she still enjoys powder from time to time. She is a solid intermediate, and she doesn’t foresee developing beyond this level. She is of average height, build, and athleticism.
Products to Consider: Women’s specific skis. Given her aspirations and build, she will have various options for women’s skis. In addition, since she is an intermediate developing her skills, the design of these skis will allow her to have easier control to make learning fun.
Needs: This skier can go from groomers to bumps with ease. She is aggressive and easily keeps up with the men. Although she is strong and has been an athlete her whole life, she never did competitive skiing and has never had professional aspirations. In addition, she is short even by women’s height standards.
Products to Consider: Women’s specific skis. Okay, I can admit that this example is about me. As a short woman, I’m limited to mostly women’s skis. Regardless of the length issue, having a lighter ski designed for a woman’s physique makes it easier for me to keep up with the boys.
Sample Skis: Nordica Santa Ana 98 or K2 Mindbender 99Ti Women’s
Needs: This lady is an ex-racer. She hits incredibly high speeds and can rip past any man on the mountain. She is 5’11” and exceptionally strong and muscular. She is retiring her old racing skis and wants a wider all-mountain ski for all types of terrain.
Products to Consider: Men’s skis. Given her expert ability and tall height, she will find women’s options exceptionally limited. A men’s ski will not only match her ability, but it will also give her flexibility to find a ski long enough for her.
Sample Skis: Line Blade Optic 104 or Nordica Enforcer 104 Free
Overall, finding the right women’s skis for you can be a difficult endeavor. Hopefully, after reading this buying guide, you feel more informed about shopping for your new gear. Still undecided on what is right for you or a woman in your life? Reach out to another Skiing Expert here at Curated or me, and we will help you find the skis to match your needs!