Are your skis holding you back? Powder edition

As I’ve researched women’s ski buying tendencies, one of the things I’ve noticed is that women buy less skis than men. Our quivers tend to be smaller. We don’t upgrade as often. On one hand, I love this. I love a girl who’s good with money and making efficient use of resources. But on the other hand, sometimes this is a reflection of women spending seasons on gear that’s holding them back when it comes to progression. So I’m starting a series of a few signs that your gear is holding you back and that it’s time to upgrade. I really like working through these questions in the spring because you’re at the top of your game for the season, compared to early season when it takes a few weeks to get your ski legs back under you. Most gear is on sale, and the things that are sold out will be fully stocked in the fall. And in normal (non-pandemic years) spring is when the big industry demo days happen that make it easy to test out a lot of new designs. I’m kicking things off by looking at whether your skis are making it hard to start powder skiing.

 Have you ever been skiing on a pow day and wished it wasn’t so deep? Your friends are woo-girling and getting face shots, while your skis just get buried and stuck. You kind of loathe powder days because you feel like a shit skier, but you don’t feel like you can admit that out loud without getting crucified by other skiers, so you fake a few hoots and hollers, fumble down the slope with broken turns and then are like “omg that was amazing” at the bottom of the lift. I know that feeling all too well. Powder skiing takes some practice and skill, but there are definitely ways to stack the odds in your favor when it comes to ski choice. I always thought that my all-mountain skis were the best choice for starting to dabble in powder, and then I’d get a powder ski once I could ski pow well and spent more time skiing fresh snow (especially since retail sites like Evo rate all their fat skis as “expert” skis). But the truth is that is that the right ski design can make your first forays into pow skiing much more enjoyable.

Powder skiing is fun when the tips of your skis are “planing” up on top of the snowpack. There are a few ways you can get skis to plane. 1 – you lean way back on your skis. Good ski technique dictates you should be leaning forward, and skis are designed accordingly, so this method sacrifices a lot of control over your skis. 2 – Speed makes you plane faster. Some people don’t need a specialty powder tool because they approach it with speed and confidence. Some of us are more hesitant and ease into new things at a slower pace. A lot of people think women need less width to be able to float, but they forget that many women are socialized to be extra careful and controlled when it comes to sports, and we get recommendations that don’t set us up for success like they could. So we need option 3 – Choosing skis that are specifically engineered for maximum tip planing at float.

So getting into ski design, the first thing I want to talk about is width, because Ski Bro Logic about women’s ski width makes me *irate*. Ski Bro Logic says that Ski Bro is on a 185 ski with a 110 waist on powder days and he loves it. His girl is 80% of his size. So his girl needs a ski 88 at the waist for a similar experience. Except this isn’t how skis work. The Y intercept is not zero. Bindings need to drill into something. Boots have to stand on something. We put men on skinny carvers 65-75mm wide, we put women on skinny carvers 65-75mm wide, and we put children on skinny carvers 65-75mm wide. No one’s complaining that these skis are too wide for their 5 year old to start developing proper form, or that it’s holding their middle schooler back in their junior race league. It’s logic that only comes out to make excuses for why women don’t need more / wider skis in their quiver. And if women are convinced they don’t need them, shared household incomes don’t have to provide them, ski shops don’t have to allocate room for them, and brands don’t have to put time and energy into producing them.

The other problem with that logic is that width is only a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to float. Shape also matters. And without fail, women’s skis inherit the shapes from their male counterparts. So even if we said that 88mm was enough width for women’s skis to float, the 88mm skis are designed for men for all-mountain use with a front-side bias, and the women’s 88mm ski takes that shape and makes some minor tweaks to the materials, the mount point, or the sidecut, but none of those will turn it into a powder tool.

So what do I mean by shape? Every ski has “rocker” or that little flip up at the front of the ski. But some have more rocker than others. Rocker has 2 dimensions, tip splay (how far apart the ends of the tips are when you sandwich your skis together) and rocker depth (how far down the ski do the tips finally touch when sandwiched). Here’s all that in a picture:

For an example, here’s the Pandora 84, 94, and 104, showing off their differences in their tip profiles. All 3 have similar tip splay, but the rocker depth is deeper on the 104s, then the 94s, then the 84s. All 3 are labeled as “all mountain skis,” but if I’m struggling in powder, I’ll benefit from a ski with more rocker depth, more tip splay, or both.

Wider skis tend to have more rocker, but it’s not a universal truth. Here’s a Rossignol Temptation 100 compared against a Rossignol Sky 7, which is 96mm wide. The Sky 7 is narrower, but the extra rocker on the front more than makes up for being a smidgen narrower.

New powder skiers also benefit from tips that are softer. My favorite soft snow ski is the Black Crows Atris Birdie because the middle of the ski is a stiffer flex, but the tips are really flexible and springy. When I’m standing still, the middle of the ski sinks down in the snow, but the tips bend up and stay on top of the snowpack. I can stop and take a break without them “taking on water” and I don’t have to use up a bunch of energy trying to shuffle them free when I’m ready to start up again. The soft tips also come in handy when I’m on the move. On my skinnier all mountain skis, I often rode them deep in the backseat out of fear and an effort to keep my tips up, but when I did feel confident and start to shift my weight forward, I’d sometimes bury a tip if I wasn’t moving fast enough. With the softer tips, they’ve always been able to bend up and stay on top of the snow, regardless of my speed or whether I’m in a neutral or forward stance. Once I knew I wouldn’t sink in a defensive backseat position, I felt comfortable getting forward, skiing more confidently, and gaining more speed.

So how do you know if your skis are the issue? There are a few ways to check. Several sites photograph skis from a profile view. Evo does it for some skis, Blister does it for all of their reviews, and Ski Essentials has most of their assortment covered in the “Ski Test” portion of their website (although theirs is shot on a busy background and a little harder to see where the skis touch when sandwiched). I’ll list a few skis below, but open up a view of your skis vs some of these listed and check out the differences in splay and rocker depth. For flex, Blister goes into details on the flex pattern for their skis (check out the men’s version if the women’s isn’t available. The overall flex is often softer, but the general pattern and way the ski stiffens up from the tips to underfoot is often similar). Hand flexing also helps a ton (see the first few seconds of this G3 video on ski flex). Don’t be afraid to push hard on them. They take the force of our entire bodyweight, so you probably won’t break it with your hands. Check out the overall stiffness of the ski, but then check in to where the bends are. Is there a deep bend in the tips while it’s strong underfoot? Or is the flex pretty consistent down the length of the ski? I take the time to feel up most of my friends’ skis when we’re having parking lot bevvies at the end of a ski day, or making a point to check out flex patterns when I’m at the ski shop.

Is your daily driver the wrong tool for the job? If you’re able to add a second ski to your quiver, awesome. If not, you can still keep a 1 quiver ski, but go for one of the narrower models that has an all-mountain, soft snow bias design vs one that’s more of a specialty tool.

If you’re looking for specific model suggestions:

  • DPS Yvette 112 or 100 RP: These are super expensive at MSRP, but I’m living proof that sometimes they show up on Craiglist. I’d venture to guess they’ve got the most rocker of any women’s ski on the market. According to DPS’s product page, 45% of the ski’s total length is taken up by rocker. But the tips are still fairly stiff, which keeps them from being overly chattery at speed or in firmer conditions. The turn radius is 15m and DPS designs their “RP” shape to be nimble and easy to turn. They like to be driven from a forward position, but they’re really forgiving if you’re leaning back in a defensive position.
  • Sheeva 10 or 11: Both these skis have lots of rocker on the tips and tails, which makes them have a surfy feeling out on the snow. The extremities of the ski are quite soft, while there’s metal underfoot for a more versatile experience and better stability in cruddy skied out snow or on groomers. The heavier midsection sinks in the snow and doesn’t give quite the same “floating” sensation as some of the other skis, but the soft tips always stay up on top of the snow. The turn radius on these is also tight, and your radius shortens even more when you flex the ski, which is easy on the Sheevas since the tips and tails are soft. Add in a more forward mount point (that also creates a nimble, easy experience on a ski) and these things love to turn. I wish I had a pair when I was learning to ski off piste because I could’ve made lots of “tight squiggly” turns that would’ve kept speeds really slow, but also allowed me to maintain fluidity and rhythm. Go with the 10 for a 1-ski quiver or the 11 for a dedicated powder ski.
  • Line Pandora 104: This is a completely different design and material layup compared to the 110, so I’m listing them separately. The 104 is the women’s version of the Sick Day 104, whereas the 110 is built with the same construction as the Vision 108. The Pandora 104 is more of an all-mountain ski with great soft snow performance. The tail isn’t quite as surfy as some of these other models, but the tips are the right shape and flex, and that flatter tail helps with more variable uses and conditions.
  • Line Pandora 110: This ski is lighter and softer than the 104. The rocker lines are deeper and there’s more rocker in the tails to create a surfy feel to turns. The light weight makes it a great option for touring sticks, but it also means it can get bucked around a little more in crud and at high speeds compared to the 104s. The 104s also prefer if you’re a bit more confident and forward, whereas the design of the 110 favors a centered and laid back stance.
  • Liberty Genesis: Very similar story here as many of the others, soft tips, but solid underfoot for versatility. It’s got a lot of rocker in the tips and tails and a tight turn radius, which combines to make a really nimble package that floats at slow speeds. I think the 106 is a great daily driver for the PNW, but the 96 is also worth consideration for skiers who are still spending a good amount of time on piste.
  • Armada Trace: Copy + paste the same spiel about a lot of rocker and soft tips. I think the Trace 98 and 108 have more crossover potential as a backcountry setup vs an all mountain setup. If you’ve got a solid all mountain ski and you’re easing into powder skiing with goals of moving into the backcountry, one of these with a Shift binding could kill 2 birds with 1 stone.
  • Icelantic Maiden: If you’ve turned these snapshots into a drinking game at this point over the number of times I’ve called out a ski for a lot of rocker, soft tips, short turn radius and being nimble and forgiving, it’s now time for another round. These come in a 91, 101, and 111. All 3 are worth considering, but I do think they make the most sense in the wider flexes as more powder-oriented parts of a quiver, as they don’t get the best reputation for crud performance. Riveter 95 or 105 could also be worth a look, but I haven’t tried them out yet.
  • Armada ARW VJJ: At 116 underfoot and tons of tip & tail rocker, this is probably the easiest, floatiest, women’s ski on the market. They’re designed to reward really smeary, skidding turns over perfect carves and the more forward mount point helps with pivot-y control. These ski super short, so don’t stress over the size choices. If you’ve been rocking a mid 150s all mountain ski, the 165 won’t be a major difference. These get a 106-width sibling starting next fall (and it lacks the “VJJ” name if that’s a dealbreaker for you).

Why no Atris Birdie? It’s got a 20m turn radius and poppier flex. It’s not hard to bend it, but it does take a little bit of speed. And it’s pretty hard to steer from the backseat (ask me how I know). They’re not much more advanced compared to the others on the list – by no means anywhere close to the wider Santa Anas or 4FRNT Hoji, but if you’re approaching powder with a hesitant and defensive stance, some of the other options will be a bit easier to control.

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