2023 Women’s Big Mountain Skis

2023 Women’s Big Mountain Skis


There’s only one good reason for a woman to own a Big Mountain ski, and that’s flotation. It takes at least 8 inches of uncut snow to float someone on a ski, which should give you some idea how often you might need one yourself. Point being, a women’s Big Mountain model will be perforce a second pair of skis for a person of at least advanced skills, which shrinks the range of potential buyers. Since they’re unlikely to get a lot of use, they’ll stay in a skier’s locker for over a decade, further shrinking the turnover rate.

Since demand is small, the ski supplier has little incentive to present more than one option in the genre, and less incentive still to make it a unique, feminized construction. Moving the center mark, or providing multiple indicated options, is about the extent of the gender-driven modifications in the Big Mountain category.

Because all Women’s Big Mountain models are a riff on a Big Mountain ski meant for larger humans of at least advanced ability to rip around on, they don’t work so well as a set of training wheels for those uninitiated in the mysteries of skiing powder and its evil twin, a tattered, former powder field. If you’re being thrown in the deep end of the pool by a well-meaning friend/guide, get the shortest size offered, avoid models with metal in their make-up and be prepared for the occasional face-plant.

The 2023 Women’s Big Mountain Field

Because the women’s market for skis over 100mm underfoot is relatively tiny compared to the Big Mountain market for men, the need to renew old models or introduce new ones is less urgent. Two new unisex model series, Dispatch from K2 and Unleashed from Nordica, have no women’s iterations, and Atomic’s Bent Chetler 110, Dynastar’s M-Pro 108 Ti F-Team and M-Free 108 and Kästle’s FX106 Ti have no sister skis.  Fischer has a new women’s model in the Ranger 102, but as it’s only an alternate colorway, Fischer dropped its “WS” (for Women’s Series) suffix.

While the women’s side of the Big Mountain genre doesn’t always receive the same treatment as the unisex field, the only changes that do occur within its confines are triggered by actions taken in the men’s market.  There is simply no justification (or demand) for creating a Women’s Big Mountain model from scratch, as Head did many moons ago with the Big Joy.  It took Head several seasons to sell off its original stock of Big Joys – which, BTW, were great skis – and they were never made again.

Salomon incorporated enough discernable changes to its QST 106 Stella to merit the NEW! mantle, and Rossignol tinkered with the size range and construction of the 2022 Rallybird Ti to make the 2023 Rallybird 104 Ti a bird of a different feather.  The 2023 Kore 103 W from Head received a urethane topcoat, but how discernable this cosmetic-preserving embellishment may be from a performance standpoint is open to debate. Note that the Kore 103 W went through a significant makeover just last season, making it the only new Women’s Big Mountain model introduced in 2022.  By that sorry measure, the supply of new Women’s Big Mountain models this year looks like a bumper crop.

To learn about the women who penned these reports, please visit our Women’s Test Roster.

Völkl Secret 102

The Völkl Secret 102 does not condescend. If you want to tear through crud as if it were rice paper, this is your ride. The Secret 102 has all the goodies: Titanal Frame coupled with 3D Radius Sidecut creates a ride that secretes power. Listen to the testimony of former US speed-event racer Edie Thys Morgan, a lady who has spent a lot of her skiing life in the upper end of the speedometer.

“The Secret102 may look like a fatty—and it’s definitely got the girth to plow through the powder of your dreams and its skied-out aftermath—but it’s no one trick pony. The ski gets happier as you dial up the intensity, which is also to say, it performs best when you’re the boss.

“This is not the ski for the faint of heart or of flex,” notes Morgan, underscoring an important point. “For best results, you need to stay centered and be prepared to move forward and drive.”

Read the full review here

Nordica Santa Ana 104 Free

The first edition of the Santa Ana 110 swapped the Enforcer 110’s poplar/beech core for balsa, but otherwise faithfully replicated its unisex structure, including two full sheets of .4mm Titanal. That’s a lot of ski, too much for most women hoping to make powder skiing easier, not more demanding. Last season, Nordica found the solution, Terrain Specific Metal: the wider the ski, the more metal is cut out of is mid-section. The widest models, the Santa Ana 110 Free and 104 Free, went from charging like barges to pivoting like catamarans.

Taking some of the Titanal out of the Santa Ana 110 Free certainly helped its maneuverability, but it’s still favors the expert who knows how to get after it. For a slightly less aggro personality who doesn’t want to run as hot through a crud field, the Santa Ana 104 Free may be a better choice.

Read the full review here

Salomon QST Stella 106

Salomon’s R&D department must be constantly fiddling with fibers, for every few years they re-arrange carbon, flax and basalt into different combinations. For 2023, Salomon applied the same, end-to-end layer of C/FX’s latest incarnation that debuted last year in the QST 98 to the QST Stella 106.  The 2022 Stella already had a Titanal mounting plate, a critical component whose stabilizing influence extends beyond its borders.

The fact that the skier has trouble defining the metal/non-metal border is a testament to just how substantial a weave of fabric can be, for the absence of Titanal is usually instantly detectable. In the Stella, the full-length C/FX factor is more dominant than the metal element, delivering a balanced flex stem to stern with a bite underfoot that won’t wilt in the face of boilerplate.

Read the full review here

Rossignol Rallybird 104 Ti

The last few years have seen several off-trail series that have adopted a less-is-more approach to metal in their female model families. Rossignol’s carefully allocated measure of metal in its new Rallybird 104 Ti fits neatly in this popular trend.

When selecting the right metal dosage for the new Rallybird 104 Ti, Rossi elected to use the relatively shorter Ti plate of the new Sender 104 Ti, along with a bottom laminate of Carbon Alloy Matrix to even out the flex balance and smooth out the ride in rough conditions.  The truncated Ti plate shared by the Sender 104 Ti and Rallybird 104 Ti deliberately doesn’t quite reach the edge, which loosens its grip, the better to glide sideways in slop.

Read the full review here

Blizzard Sheeva 10

Buttery. That’s the best single word for the Sheeva 10 and her plumper big sister, the Sheeva 11 ($900, 140/112/130). Four varieties of lightweight wood and a smidgeon of milled foam are sandwiched between layers of glass embedded with carbon stringers. The major juju that gives the Sheeva 10 her spine, literally and figuratively, is a top plate of Titanal that’s tailored for each size. It’s either a skimpy version of a sidewall-to-sidewall sheet of Titanal or an enlarged mounting plate, take your pick; either way you look at it, it delivers just the right dose of stability without muffling the Sheeva 10’s playful disposition.

Unlike its burly cousin, the Blizzard Cochise 106, the Sheeva 10 doesn’t try to subdue whatever lies ahead, but instead caresses it into submission.

Read the full review here

Head Kore 103 W

The sole new ski in last season’s Women’s Big Mountain genre was Head’s Kore 103 W.  Last season, Head pushed the Kore collection down to an 87 on the skinny side of the width spectrum; the only direction left in which to extend the Kore clan was to go fatter. Hence the Kore 103 W.

The last time Head ventured a women’s model in the Big Mountain category, it was the Joy collection’s first season. Critics raved about the 110mm Big Joy, but almost no one bought it. (Pity, as it was a great ski.) But that was before Kore arrived, setting a new standard for what a lightweight design can do.

The 22/23 Kore 103 W is part of the second wave of Kore development, which should be more attractive to women due to a softer, livelier flex.

Read the full review here

Völkl Blaze 106 W

 Most Big Mountain models use a high-end construction, which is reflected in their retail pricing; the same could be said for most Völkl models, for the brand is known both for its high quality and the way its elite constructions attract a consumer crowd top-heavy with experts. The Blaze 106 W addresses both limitations, but the real reason it sold to the wall in its debut season is it fits the profile of a ski light enough for backcountry but stout enough to rock in-resort.

As last season unfolded, no one knew what resort skiing would look like except that it would be somehow rationed. Backcountry skiing, in comparison, seemed limitless, inspiring thousands of skiers who had thus far resisted its charms to take it up.  The Blaze 106 W provided the perfect fit: price, performance and cross-over capability.

Read the full review here

Fischer Ranger 102

When Fischer made the decision to be gender neutral in its 2023 Ranger ski line – meaning men’s and women’s models would use the identical recipe and even the same names – it did so by blending the constructions (and consequent behaviors) of its existing Ti and FR designs.

The new Ranger 102 is a product of this design union, retaining the loose and smeary extremities of the old 102 FR, with a patch of .5mm Titanal in the binding zone that palpably augments its gripping power.  Of its two parents, it takes after its maternal (non-metal) side, limiting its displays of muscular power to the critical area underfoot. If you loved the retired FR for its surfy attitude, you’ll be at least as enamored of the 2023 Ranger 102.

Read the full review here

K2 Mindbender 106 C W

The Mindbender 106C W ties together several strands of K2’s DNA. One strand is K2’s pioneering history of women’s models; since K2 introduced its first women’s ski, I dare say they’ve marketed more women’s models than any other brand. Another spiral of its genetic make-up is K2’s early adoption of rocker, giving it a wealth of experience in mastering flotation and ease of operation in deep snow. The baseline of the Mindbender 106C uses a low, gradual rocker on both ends, so all that surface area can take care of job one.

The third embedded gene is K2’s integration of its Women’s Alliance test team in its product development, a process that has been going on for over twenty years. Kim Reichhelm has been a leader of K2’s Alliance since its inception, and continues to contribute every year. Last year she filed a review of the Mindbender 106 C W that provided peek behind the curtain at her role at K2:

“Testing powder skis is a real treat, but it’s also a real job. Our mission is to design skis that are high performance and complement our individual style, regardless of our stance and aggressiveness.”

Read the full review here