“Why don’t they make skis like this for women?” It’s a question I hear a lot as women lament how dull and limited women’s lines are in comparison to the iconic, interesting, and aggressive models that seem to come in men’s only designs. I’m a child of 1990s girl power, brought up with the expectation that men and women always have the same options. When we don’t there’s a problem. So looking at the overall market for women’s skis, it looks like something is wrong. If they don’t offer the fattest, stiffest, most aggressive skis for women, it’s probably an issue of sexism, right? It’s more complicated than that.
Bear with me for a bit while we walk through a handful of charts.
Within adult skis, women’s models make up 37% of unit sales, despite making up over 40% of the ski community. This could be due to a number of reasons: women being more likely to use rentals, buying smaller quivers, upgrading their gear less often, or the likely chance that women ski a men’s model with greater frequency than men shop the women’s lines.
But it’s also due difference in the number of models offered to both genders. Women’s models make up 35% of selection. Meaning that the average women’s ski model sells more than the average men’s model. There’s slightly saturation on the women’s side of the shop.
So yes, the argument that women need more options has some data-driven support. But the slant that they need to be wide & aggressive counterparts to men’s-only offerings is where things start to fall apart.
Below is a chart of the total skis by type, broken out between genders. The categories include:
- Beginner Piste – Skis under 80mm, rated by major online ski retailers for beginners.
- Piste – All other skis under 80mm, but excluding race models.
- Narrow All Mountain – Skis between 80-89mm
- Wide All Mountain – Skis between 90-99mm
- Big Mountain – Skis between 100-109mm
- Powder – Skis 110mm+ at the waist
- Park – Skis with a park designation by major online ski retailers
Beginner piste sales are dominated by the women’s market (71% of beginner skis sold are women’s models). Even crazier, women are paying higher prices for their beginner setups ($359 vs. $312) despite the fact that women’s models are lighter, use less materials, and sell in greater numbers where economies of scale could be used to decrease costs. Women’s sales also slightly edge out men’s for piste skis, but anything wider or more demanding, men put up stronger numbers. For example, the size of the men’s big mountain market is almost 7 times bigger than the women’s; the men’s powder market segment is over 29 times bigger than the women’s.
But, as I mentioned, selection isn’t at parity on both sides of the ski wall. Part of the reason for the disparity is the number of options. Women have less than 5 choices for 110+ powder skis. Men have 27. So by taking the average sale per model in each category, we can somewhat control for the disparity in the number of options. But still, we see the same general data pattern that women gravitate towards the narrowest, easiest skis on the wall and the powerhouse models for men tend to be wide all-mountain skis.
The same pattern emerges for waist width, with the average men’s ski measuring just over 91mm at the waist vs. 84mm for women. And similar patterns are reflected when looking at the sales by ability rating (charted below both by the sum of sales for each rating class and the average ski at each rating class; all ratings pulled from major online ski retailers). There’s a documented & studied confidence gap between male and female skiers, so it’s no surprise that skis rated for better skiers don’t move as fast:
So why don’t they make the fattest, stiffest, raddest skis for women? Because brands have ample evidence that we won’t buy enough of them. We have to stop blaming the manufacturer because it is not their fault. But if selection parity is the goal, how do we get there?
- Fight the factors are much broader than the ski & outdoor communities. There’s a very real pay gap and things like housing or retirement tend to take priority over gear budgets. Until the earnings gap closes, it’s probably wise for women’s quivers to be a touch smaller or update less often.
- We need to get passionate about getting women off-piste. It’s the biggest reason women aren’t buying skis with off-piste strengths. Likewise, for every woman who’s tried it, struggled, and said they can’t ski powder, we need to make sure they’re giving it a shot with skis that aren’t 85mm boat anchors that tip dive and sink at slower speeds.
- We need to improve ski literacy across female skiers. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that we’re struggling, we blame ourselves and not our gear. And while every recreational skier has room to improve, sometimes these issues could be fixed with a change of ski or adjustments with a bootfitter. It’s hard to recognize when your mismatched with your gear without understanding how a ski build matches up to a ski style.
- We need to reserve a special place in hell for every dude who’s solicited skis or advice for their girlfriend/wife/etc. with a request that reads something like “Need a ski for my wife who’s 5’2” and a low intermediate, not into high speeds, the softer & more forgiving the better. Doesn’t need to be anything special.” Because of the gap in ski literacy, many times a woman’s Gear Guy takes over. Many times, her Gear Guy is a condescending dumbfuck. Guys, if you find yourself waiting at the lift for a long time for your girl, all it means is that she doesn’t need a 187 Bonafide. Maybe last time you put her on skis that were too short and they’re not stable enough at speed. Unless you’ve skied with a lot of women (especially of a similar size and ability level) and talked to them about their gear, you’re a pretty poor resource. Share some knowledge, introduce her to your favorite shop, suggest some demos to start with and then let her be the driver’s seat.
- We need to give feedback on how shops treat women customers. I’ve spent plenty of chairlift rides venting about annoying ski shop visits, but they aren’t going to spur any changes. When your friend recounts the shop attendant’s comments about her Backland 102s as “I’m surprised you’re going so wide. Usually women don’t like skis over 100, their thighs just get too tired,” you send an email to customer service. Brick & mortar stores know that they’re competing against online shopping where mansplaining is a non-issue, so they need to prove their value with good customer service. Those comments aren’t it. And it works the same way for positive feedback.
- In that same vein, I’d urge shops to speak to the women buying gear and not her Gear Guy. Most women aren’t hitting up the annual ski movies, following pros or brands on social media, or reading ski blogs and magazines (yet). The time she spends with the shop employees is the extent of her interactions with “the gear industry.” Get her engaged in the decision and affirm all her hopes and dreams for skiing as you shop. She probably finds you intimidating and that affirmation goes a long way.
- Advanced and expert women need to show support and mentor. Skiing can seem really cliquey and exclusive. Only so many people move efficiently around the mountain and big touring groups are risky, so not everyone can come. But there are so many ways to engage with and encourage the rising ranks of women skiers. Volunteer with an org like SheJumps. Answer gear questions. Ask how lessons are going. Hype their IG stories. Encouragement leads to confidence which leads to more ladies buying more advanced skis.
- We need more resources on good skis for athletic and driven skiers who are newer to the sport. Given the data, I have a whole new appreciation for the sales behemoth that is the Black Pearl 88. Hats off to Blizzard for getting so many women on a ski wider and stiffer than average. But there are many other beginnermediate skis worth celebrating, like the Lux 92, Sheeva 9, Yumi, Captis Birdie, or Pandora 84. They’ll be more expensive than a true beginner ski, but the value is in the fact that you won’t outgrow them 3 weeks after purchase.