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While many skiers still believe that the only difference between unisex and women’s skis is cosmetic – there are in fact REAL differences in their weight, flex, width, length, and mounting position which makes for a ski that delivers better performance and reduces tiredness for many skiers.
Skis for women are designed specifically to suit the needs of female skiers and their different body structures. The biggest difference is that women’s skis are 20% lighter, have a 20% softer flex, and the mounting position is moved slightly forward to meet a women’s center of gravity.
You don’t need a women’s specific ski, but you might benefit from one.
The Skis Flex
Women’s skis are less stiff than men’s skis. They are designed to have more flex in them so that the ski can edge or flex into the snow with less weight put on them. That means the skier can turn quickly as the skis react faster to weight transfers from one foot to the other.
Typically women’s skis are built with a 20% softer flex (relative to the unisex ski of the same size). Of course, different women’s skis will have more or less flex than this depending on the manufacturer’s design decisions.
Not only is the flex softer, but the pattern of the flex is adjusted to match a more forward mounting position. More flex is distributed to the front of the ski and greater stiffness to the back of the ski to provide stability.
The flex pattern for women’s skis will depend on the level of the ski, there are model specific differences between beginner, intermediate and expert skis. While some naysayers call this softer ski, the ‘a noodle ski’ – many women skiers benefit from this increased flex.
I skied on the unisex ski of the exact shape and length and realized I could ski just as well on the women’s version without getting so tired. It was easer, more forgiving and I used less energy on the women’s ski. Up ’till that point I didn’t think I needed a women’s specific ski…I realized I was wrong. Women’s skis are better for women.
Kim Reichhelm, Former U.S Ski Team.
The Skis Weight
To reduce the stiffness of the ski, the ski uses more flexible materials which make for a lighter ski. Because of this greater flex, women’s ski’s are on average 20% lighter.With proper skiing technique, you shouldn’t be lifting your ski at any point during your parallel turn.
The reduced weight does place less pressure on your legs throughout the day and it makes it easier to carry your skis to the slopes.
The Skis Width & Length
Women’s specific skis are generally narrow than men’s skis because it follows that women skier is lighter and doesn’t require as much float in the snow.
Narrower skis require less shifting of weight to make the same edge movement and so makes turning that much easier for a lighter person with smaller feet. The skis are also narrower to their proportion to match a shorter ski length.
The Skis Mounting Position
On Women’s skis, the mounting position of the bindings is moved a few centimeters forward to account for the different center of gravity. The re-positions the skier to a more forward-standing stance and allows the skier to transfer more energy and power to the tips of the skis, resulting in improved stability and greater ease in the beginning turns.
The Skis Ramp Angle
The ramp angle is the angle of how your ski boots sit in their bindings between the heel and toe. The ramp angle changes your stance and effects your balance and center of mass relative to the ski. Some women’s skis have a slightly forward tilting ramp angle compared with unisex skis to move a women’s lower center of gravity forward.
The Skis Shape
Typically women’s skis have a wider tip relative to their waist. This makes for a more responsive ski that improves turning.
The Skis Graphic
Women’s skis tend to have more feminine graphics than men’s skis. This is either a love it or hate it scenario. Many women will love the color options and prints to be found in a women’s ski, but plenty will be pissed off that they can’t find their preferred ski without butterfly decorations.
Differences at a Glance
|⛷||Unisex Ski||Women’s Skis|
|Flex:||Stiffer Ski||20% more flex|
|Ski Shape:||Wider||Thicker tips|
Difference Between Men and Women’s Ski Boots
As equally important as the ski, the ski boot we use can have a dramatic effect on our skiing performance. Women on average have calves that are lower and wider, with feet that have a narrower heel profile and wider forefeet.
Men’s ski boots can limit blood flow by putting too much pressure on the calves. This can potentially limit blood flow and leave you with cramped and colder feet.
Women’s specific ski boots have a lower cuff to accommodate the calf muscle and boot profile that matches the different foot shape. Even if you rent your skis, investing in a good pair of ski boots that mold to your feet is a smart idea. As ever, no matter what boot you choose, make sure it’s fitted properly.
If you were blessed with long, thin legs, you still may want to consider a men’s boot to optimize your leverage. There is no rule against mixing and matching women’s and men’s equipment. No matter which gear you ultimately choose.
Do I Need a Women’s Only Ski?
For many years women and men have skied on the same unisex ski and most skiers still continue to do so. Despite the reasons to switch, not every woman will prefer a women-specific ski, and their choice should depend on their individual preference, size, weight, and strength. Many will benefit from a lighter more flexible ski, including some men.
That’s why I believe manufacturers should look at offering the same unisex ski across different flexes and mounting positions alongside the female ski. (Not every women skier wants a more feminine graphic print on their ski & some men could improve their skiing by using a women style ski.)
I’ve sold a men’s or unisex ski to a woman. But doing the opposite is quite challenging. That’s probably for the same reason men overestimate their ability, while women underestimate theirs
Chris McKearin, Salomon Alpine Commercial Manager
Whilst on average men are physically stronger and bigger than women. These are only averages and in there is a vast array of differences across both genders. It’s for that reason that the men vs women divide in skis is artificial to some extent.
Whilst the differences between unisex and women’s skis is real – women’s skis aren’t necessarily for all women. That said, if you typically rent a unisex ski or currently own a unisex ski, then on your next ski trip rent out a pair of women’s skis for the day and see how you get on.
If you notice a marked difference in how you ski and you feel more comfortable then it might be worth considering a switch. In the end, only you will be able to know if a women-specific ski is for you.
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