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News flash: Women are different than men. So it’s not surprising that we have different approaches to everything, including communication (“Getting you to tell me how you feel should not be a multiple-choice quiz”) and buying skis (“I do not have 12 hours to spend reading forums about touring bindings”).
Needless to say, when a woman walks into a ski shop that’s operated entirely by dudes, there may be some gender barriers that may prevent her from getting the gear that’s right for her. (Of course, that’s yet another reason to order custom skis from Wagner.)
Here’s a little tip sheet to help you navigate.
Women routinely downplay their abilities. This is not just hearsay—it’s a thing called “the confidence gap”—and it happens everywhere, from the office to the ski shop. (According to data from Snowsports Industries of America, just 13% of skiers who identify themselves as “experts” are women. For the math-challenged, that says nearly 90% of experts are men. Clearly, this is bullshit.) The reason this is a problem in the ski shop is that when you tell the shop kid you’re an “intermediate,” he’s going to put you in some soft, cheap, foam-core model so short it’s only suitable for Keebler elves or snowbladers. If you’re a strong advanced-intermediate who’s learning how to attack the fall line, say so. In short, be honest. Even brag a little. Because a ski you can grow into is better than a ski that will not support you.
Ski shops are notoriously intimidating. And just because you may have a good job, or live in a city, or don’t rock a flat-brim ball cap with the sticker still on the bottom does not mean you don’t belong there. Before you go in, give yourself a good pep talk. You’re a skier, damnit. Also remember that kid talking down to you and flexing his tattoos probably still lives in his mom’s basement. Don’t be afraid to challenge him and ask lots of questions.
According to Tracy Gibbons, president of the Northwest division of Christy Sports, women are far more driven by the benefits vs the technology, so they often don’t know the terms the shop folks are trained to use. “They come in and say, ‘I want this ski to help me be a better powder skier,’” she says. “They don’t care if it has metal or wood or basalt.” Men, however, want to hear all the technology and engineering, i.e., what the rocker profile is, and what the core is made out of.
This is where a little knowledge of shop talk will help you get the right gear for you. “It’s like me going in to buy a computer,” Gibbons says. “I say I want a nice picture and want it to be fast. I don’t know the tech talk, but I know what it needs to do for me. But understanding the terms that the shop guy is going to use helps.”
Skis are divided into categories by waist width. The narrower the waist, the more suited it is for groomed terrain. The fatter the waist, the more suited it is to surf powder. Very generally speaking, an 90-100 mm waist-width can be considered all mountain for most advanced skiers who ski mostly softer snow. (Less advanced skiers or East Coasters who naturally spend more time on groomers should opt for something narrower, like 85.) Learn more about ski width here.
This is reverse camber—it bends up at the tip and sometimes tail—to surf better through soft snow and easier initiate a turn. The amount of rocker on a ski will impact the length you choose (it makes the ski feel shorter than it is).
The opposite of rocker (when you hold the bases of the skis together, the convex curve creates a space between them). Cambered skis grip the groomers better. Many models are made with rocker-camber-rocker, for ease of turn entry and exit. Learn more about rocker and camber here.
Good skis are made with good old-fashioned wood. Foam cores are cheaper and tend to be geared toward beginners. Learn more about our wood cores here.
In Gibbons’s experience, many shops get women into skis that are too short. “If you’re an advanced intermediate or above, you definitely shouldn’t be skiing on a ski that’s shorter than you are tall,” Gibbons says. A slightly longer ski will offer more stability and better floatation (so you’ll want to go longer as the waist-width increases). Learn more about ski length here.
The width is also a problem for both men and women, Gibbon says. People want the fatter skis because skiing powder is obviously the best, but you shouldn’t purchase something based on aspiration. “Be really honest about where you’re skiing. If you ski groomers 70-80% of the time, that means you should buy maybe an 88-mm ski. And if you get the opportunity to ski pow, go demo a pair of powder skis for the day,” she says.
Women’s skis tend to be lighter weight and shorter in length. Some companies use lighter core materials or strip out the metal to accomplish this. Other companies don’t change the materials at all, making the only difference the length and topsheet. Lighter skis can be less taxing on your muscles, but they can also be less stable in chop and at speed. Ask the shop about the models you’re looking at.
This brings up the state of women’s skis generally speaking. Time was, companies used the “shrink it and pink it” model for building women’s models, resulting in boards that experts found condescending to say the least. Nowadays, however, women’s skis are damn good. That said, heavier, more powerful, or high-expert women may still prefer the unisex model. (And the opposite is true for men, if they were ever to be able to get past the stigma.)
All this said, a ski doesn’t know if you’re a man or a woman: It knows how much you weigh, how much power you generate, and how good you are.
So, ladies, consider yourself armed with the knowledge you need to succeed. And if you’d like to learn more, see Wagner’s Buyer’s Guide.
Article by Kimberly Beekman
Kimberly Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late, great Skiing Magazine (RIP), and a longtime editor of SKI Magazine before that. She currently uses the title of “freelancer” as a beard to ski powder all over the world. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.