2024 Women’s Big Mountain Skis

2024 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 2024 Women’s Big Mountain Field

Because the women’s market for skis over 100mm underfoot remains relatively tiny compared to the Big Mountain market for men, the need to renew old models or introduce new ones is less urgent. Nonetheless, there are four fresh faces in the Women’s Big Mountain collective in 2024, all parts of a larger family make-over: Blizzard’s Sheeva 10 and Sheeva 11, Völkl’s Secret 102 and K2’s Mindbender 106 CW. 

The Sheeva 10 and Secret 102 both underwent significant re-design that saw the Sheeva substantially improve its Power properties, while the Secret 102 became more user-friendly without gutting its awesome power. The Sheeva 11 is also a first-rate performer, but its added girth diminishes its agility on-piste; it’s more of a pure-powder performer, so we’ve chosen to focus on the more versatile Sheeva 10.  The Mindbender 106 CW deliberately aims at a lower performance level that falls below our Recommended threshold.

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

Blizzard Sheeva 10

Blizzard’s Sheeva 10 optimizes the best qualities of Blizzard’s latest freeride technology, FluxForm. Introduced across six new models, 3 Rustlers for men and 3 corresponding Sheevas for women, Fluxform deploys Titanal in a different fashion than was last used in these models’ 2023 iterations. Instead of a single, truncated top sheet of Ti, FluxForm concentrates its Ti laminates directly over the edges, in strips that run nearly tip to tail. In the center of the Sheeva 10, roughly where the Ti plate was last season, is a women’s-specific platform that helps distribute force evenly underfoot without the heft of metal.

This redeployment of Titanal is the major reason the new Sheeva 10 feels more stable from end to end, but it isn’t the only reason the latest version feels at once smoother and more powerful. The other major contributor to the Sheeva 10’s stellar handling is the switch to Blizzard’s carefully crafted TrueBlend core. TrueBlend combines slender tendrils of dense beech interspersed with lightweight poplar and Paulownia in a precise pattern that is adjusted for every size.  Note that the new Sheeva 10 offers six different sizes on 6mm splits, so women can dial in exactly the right length, which is key for maneuverability in off-trail conditions.

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. Two years ago, Nordica found the solution, Terrain Specific Metal: the wider the ski, the more metal is cut out of its mid-section. The widest models, the Santa Ana Free 110 and Free 104, went from charging like barges to pivoting like catamarans.

Taking some of the Titanal out of the Santa Ana Free 110 certainly helped its maneuverability, but it still favored the expert who knows how to get after it.  This season, Nordica gave up trying to lure lasses onto its fattest offering, putting the Santa Ana Free 110 out to pasture and installing the Santa Ana 104 Free as its flagship freeride ski.

With its slightly lower price and thinner waistline, the Santa Ana Free 104 may seem like a step down from its big sister, but if anything, she may be a better match for most women, a classic case of less-is-more.

Read the full review here

Völkl Secret 102

As was the case with its men’s counterpart – the Mantra 102 – last year, the latest bundle of modifications to the Secret 102 has infused it with a complete personality transplant.  As succinctly summarized by former US Ski Team member Edie Thys Morgan in her review of the 2023 Secret 102, “This is not the ski for the faint of heart or of flex.” The 2024 Secret 102 has shed its hell-bent ways. It no longer seeks to subdue whatever gets in its way, instead responding to its pilot’s subtle suggestions with grace and poise.

What happened to turn a barely tamed bronco into a well-trained show pony?  Two factors did most of the heavy lifting, Tailored Titanal Frame and Tailored Carbon Tips.  In the original Secret 102, the forward section of the 3-piece Titanal Frame was a one-size-fits-all affair; in the 2024 iteration, each size gets its own part. This is of particular importance in the smaller sizes women prefer. Every aspect of the new Secret 102 is size-specific, so shorter skis aren’t saddled with over-sized components.

Part of the reason that the double-rockered Secret 102 rips groomers like a fully cambered ski is the manner in which Völkl applies an extra dose of carbon to the shovel. Most carbon that goes into skis are either thin stringers or weaves in a pre-set orientation. To get exactly the pattern they wanted, Volkl engineers created hundreds of prototypes, stitching carbon thread into a fleece matrix to arrive at just the right dosage to keep the tip quiet.

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 that somehow out-perform the previous generation.  In 2023, Salomon applied the same, end-to-end layer of C/FX’s latest incarnation that debuted two years ago in the QST 98.  The 2022 Stella already had a Titanal mounting plate in its mid-section, a critical component in that its 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 presence, or more accurately, 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.

Any Big Mountain ski is going to offer plenty of flotation for lighter weight women; the differentiator is how well it handles its business when the freshies are shot. Not to worry, the Stella has you covered. The same imperturbability it displays in tracked-up crud fields carries over to just about any condition you can encounter.

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 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.

By keeping most of the plate confined beneath the bindings, the extremities are lighter and looser so the skis swivel with less resistance, an essential trait off-trail. As we noticed on the Sender 104 Ti, concentrating the Titanal under the bindings keeps the swingweight down, for easier swiveling, and lowers the overall mass so the ski feels more nimble and easier to foot-steer, all desirable traits for off-trail skiing.

Read the full review here

Head Kore 103 W

The sole new ski in 2022’s Women’s Big Mountain genre was Head’s Kore 103 W.  The year before, Head had 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 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 and a beveled top edge that helps conserve energy by sliding sideways effortlessly. And of course, the Kore 103 W is insanely lightweight, tipping the scales at a mere 1710g in a 177cm.

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 the first pandemic-affected 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.  The Blaze 106 W provided the perfect fit: price, performance and cross-over capability.

As for its performance attributes, listen to the testimony of Ingrid Backstrom, extraordinary athlete, film star and mom, describe her first experience with the Blaze 106 W. “On the icy groomers, I could hold an edge and go for bigger turns without chatter.  Of course, they were Völkls so I expected them to perform well, but I was blown away by the playfulness in this softer ski.  The Blaze 106 made fun skiing instantly accessible to me on the tricky snow after many months of not skiing.”

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 2024 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 2024 Ranger 102.

Whether the Ranger 102 is a woman’s cup of tea depends on style and weight more than ability, although the Ranger 102’s soft flex is especially well suited to those making their first forays into sidecountry. The Titanal plate in its midsection sits astride a substantial beech and poplar core, so security underfoot shouldn’t be an issue for female skiers.

Read the full review here