Unless you shop with your eyes closed, there’s no denying that the women’s sports market is one of the fastest growing markets in the U.S. In the past few years there has been an explosion of merchandise designed specifically for women and now nearly every corner of the outdoor sports market has products built with women’s physiology in mind. Peruse a shop like Outdoor Divas in Boulder, Colorado, and you’ll probably find apparel cut to fit women’s bodies, snowshoes that accommodate women’s gate and foot size, mountain bikes with lighter weight materials and shorter frames and kayak paddles with smaller grips to better suit women’s smaller hand sizes. The ski market is no exception to this growing trend. Each year, ski manufacturers have introduced more models made specifically for women. In year’s past, this meant replacing the topsheet of a unisex ski with feminine graphics and offering shorter lengths. With so much competition, however, skis have moved far beyond “shrinked and pink.” Now there are numerous models to suit all abilities—from expert carving skis to powder boards to forgiving learning tools.
Here are the basic components used in woman-specific ski design: Softer flex and lighter weight—It takes a lot of energy to bend a ski that’s too stiff. Since women tend to weigh less than men, many companies have addressed this problem by developing cores using lightweight wood or foam which makes the ski easier to flex and therefore easier to turn. Forward mounting position—Wider hips, a lower center of gravity and smaller feet affect women’s ability to pressure the tips of their skis. Mounting the bindings 1-2 cm forward of center allows women to be closer to the tip so they can easily pressure the ski. Smaller and lighter weight systems—Manufacturers have recently introduced systems (a binding and plate combination) that include shorter plates to accommodate women’s smaller feet and shorter ski lengths. The bindings are also typically made of lighter weight materials and include a slight ramp angle—where the heel is higher than the toe to put women in a more balanced position (from a “backseat” position) and to help with turn initiation. Unique molds—Until recently, women-specific skis were unisex skis with a few adjustments. Now skis are being built from the ground up just for women. This includes a sidecut and shape designed for women’s physical needs and a forward mounting position built into the mold instead of having to adjust the bindings forward of a unisex center.
Don’t think that a ski labeled woman-specific means it lacks personality. High-performance women’s skis can satisfy even an aggressive ex-racer. Since there are more choices than ever, try to demo a variety of models and lengths and find the model best suited to your ability. For a great ski-testing experience, try over 25 pairs of next year’s women-specific skis at She Skis, a women-only ski testing clinic held on the slopes of Vail, Colorado.
Do you struggle with making clean, carved turns down the slopes? Do you feel like your ski tips wander during a turn? Are your feet sore after a day of skiing—or even just a run? The antidote may not be farther away than your own feet.
You may have already heard that ski boots are the most important piece of ski equipment. But do you know why? Your brain sends signals to your feet about what action to take. In order to turn your ski, your feet first have to move your ski boots. Boots transmit both weight and energy to your skis—and voilá—your skis tip on edge and your weight pressures the tip of the ski and you turn. In order for this to happen, however, you need to have a properly fitted boot. If your ski boot is too loose, there’s a delayed reaction or greatly reduced reaction as your foot struggles to move the boot. The result? A sloppy, out-of-control turn. On the flip side, if your boot is too tight, your foot will hurt. Sore feet make for a miserable day of skiing. Also, tight-fitting boots can restrict blood flow, leading to cold and numb feet, which doesn’t help your skiing either. Furthermore, if the boot is too high and tight around your calf muscle, the issues mentioned above will occur as well as a loss of muscle control. Convinced yet? If you’re used to skiing in pain from sore feet, relief is just a paragraph away.
Here are some tips to ensure a proper boot fit and have a pain-free and successful day on the slopes: -Buy boots that fit snugly (but not too tight) in the shop. Remember the ski shop is a warm environment. Once you get outside, you foot changes. -Most women should buy boots that have lower cuffs because their calf muscles tend to be lower—and wider—than men’s. If the cuff is too high, it can both cut off your circulation (leading to cold feet) and restrict the use of your calf muscle. -Women should look at boots that have women-specific lasts—or inner shape. This often accommodates the narrower heel that most women have. Your heel should feel secure in the heel pocket of the boot. -Wear one pair of thin socks. This increases the foot’s feel inside the boot. If your feet get cold often, try boot heaters. -Find the right flex. The flex of a boot varies between different models and manufacturers. If you’re racing, you need a much stiffer flexing boot than if you mostly hit the corduroy. Find the right balance for your ability: Too stiff and you won’t be able to effectively turn the ski. Too soft and you’ll overpower it. -Don’t undersell yourself. Women tend to downplay their ability level. Talk honestly about how and where you ski to your local bootfitter. -Always use custom insoles. This may seem like a big expense after purchasing a pair of ski boots, but insoles put you in a neutral position, alleviating alignment problems that can effect your skiing. They’re also better for your knees and back.