By: Jackson Hogen
Published: October 24, 2017
[For the last two weeks we’ve been investigating the women’s ski market. In this, our third and final installment, we look at two different directions open to advanced women who have outgrown what’s available in the women’s Frontside genre.]
We open our closing rumination on women’s skis with a brief inspection of a category virtually invisible to the U.S. market yet important enough worldwide to merit women-specific constructions. The women’s Technical genre, like its unisex counterpart, is comprised of narrow (67mm-74mm waist), high-performance skis meant for skilled skiers (hence the title “Technical”) skiing on groomed runs. Skilled American women tend to migrate off-trail rather than sticking to the piste, which accounts for the category’s disappearing act on this side of the pond.
Despite their commercial irrelevance on this continent, women’s Technical models merit our attention because they tend to be unique constructions even when they share the shape of a unisex Technical ski. When a women’s Technical model headlines a series of Frontside skis, the Technical iteration tends to be a different composition than the rest of the pack bearing the same name.
A snapshot of some of the principal players in the genre reveals the diversity of solutions for the ripping, on-piste female:
Atomic Cloud 12: unique mold, all-poplar core, narrower tail geometry
Blizzard Alight 6.9 Ti: mimics unisex model not offered in U.S.
Dynastar Intense 12: shares tooling, but sidecut radius, core & construction vary
Fischer My Curv: shares tooling, but thinner core profile & thinner Ti laminates
K2 Luv Machine 74ti: unique mold; special core composition
Kästle LX73: no unisex counterpart; made for lighter skiers, not women per se
Nordica Sentra SL 7 Ti: unique mold, camber profile, core & lay-up
Rossignol Famous 10: shares tooling, unique composition, all-poplar core
Völkl Flair SC E: unique mold, core, construction & baseline
The point of this romp through an underappreciated cast of exquisite carvers is that manufacturers are willing to invest in women’s specific solutions where there is both a perceived need and an established market willing to repay that investment.
Yet all this earnest focus on making a better women’s carving ski hasn’t inspired many women to ask for them. In this country, Frontside skiing is often seen as a rite of passage all novitiates must endure before being freed to explore terrain untrammelled by sno-cat treads. This Gestalt is what compels even first-time ski buyers (after learning the limits of rental gear) and a huge chunk of second-time buyers to choose a ski that facilitates off-trail travel without being a hot mess when groomers are the only game in town.
This is why the All-Mountain East genre is now the epicenter of the U.S. women’s market. Skis in this category (85mm-94mm) have more than enough flotation for a lighter person yet retain enough shape that on-trail skiing still feels facile. Because of the comparative size difference between men and women, skis in the All-Mountain East genre deliver the same broad range of terrain suitability that All-Mountain West models provide for men. Because they suit so many ambitions, skis in this genre attract women of all abilities.
Wherever the ski market is willing to support a higher price point, fierce competition is soon to follow. A trail blazed by the Völkl Kenja 7 years ago is now as wide as an 8-lane highway, populated by at least one model from every ski maker, large and small. Most women’s AME models mimic a men’s ski in shape and/or composition, but a few either use original tooling or significantly alter key components. No two models in the entire genre are built alike or feel alike on snow. The range of sensations in just this one category is phenomenal, especially considering almost all are trying to appeal to the same skier.
The women’s All-Mountain East genre is so diverse, it’s hard to discern a pattern that unifies its members other than roughly similar waist widths. One new model that’s emblematic of how ski makers are creatively responding to the demand for lightweight designs that don’t compromise elite performance is Nordica’s Santa Ana 93. Instead of cloning the unisex Enforcer 93, Nordica adopted the lightweight balsa core of the Enforcer 110, a clever construction that takes advantage of the weight loss created by using carbon laminates around a multi-material core to add two sheets of Titanal to the sandwich. This move elevates the 2018 Santa Ana 93 into the first rank of all-mountain models meant for the advanced female skier.
So, fellow seekers of Wisdom and Truth, what did we learn from this exercise? One, that the women’s portion of the ski pie is substantial and suppliers are willing to invest in women-specific adaptations as long as there’s a viable market. Two, that as far as the U.S. market is concerned, women begin their ski lives on a Frontside model but gravitate to the All-Mountain East genre as their skills develop.
Three, at the end of the day, you’re not buying a category of skis meant for a certain skier archetype; you’re buying one ski, your ski. You don’t represent womankind, but an individual with your own set of preferences and ambitions. Just like Lindsey and Michaela, you want a ski made just for you, not because you’re female, per se, but because of the kind of skier you are.
And if Mr. Ski Maker happens to make your perfect ski a little lighter without giving up control, that would be very nice, too.