The bar for launching women’s ski products is in the on the floor. In the basement. Underwater. The 2021-2022 season has brought a handful of new additions to the touring market and the announcements never fail to disappoint women. I understand that the women’s market is smaller, but the standard for line planning, marketing, and PR is beyond second-rate. It’s frustrating because it seems like every other week, brands are launching new women’s marketing initiatives without doing the bare minimum when it comes to their product communication.
Problem 1: Do these skis exist?
This issue would never happen within men’s skis. For men’s models, every part of a launch is meticulously planned, and all the plans get executed. Press releases get sent to every major ski magazine and review site, usually complete with early access product for review purposes. They sit front and center at the annual snowsports tradeshow. Brands work with retailers for in-store placement. Internally, they get plenty of photo assets for the website and social pages and they ensure that their (larger) male athlete teams are consistently plugging their product. The message is always cohesive, consistent, and clear.
On the women’s side, not so much. The most common confusion comes from brands rolling out a change in their men’s line, and then mirroring the update the following season for women. I’m not sure if brands stagger rollouts like this to ensure they always have newness with each season, but it’s terrible. The men’s rollout gets the bigger budget, more press coverage, and comprehensive review coverage. The women’s rollout sees less of all three, not to mention those rollouts are technically old news when you’re looking at the biggest stories for the overall ski industry. There are 7 articles announcing the release of Armada’s Declivity series from last season. This year’s release of the Reliance has only one. Same story for the Line Sick Day & Pandora refresh; 6 pieces covering the Sick Day redesign. None the following year for the Pandora. (It should also be noted that the Pandora outsells the Sick Day, so miss me with any arguments about which one’s the flagship). To boot, we spend that year in limbo unsure whether the lack of comment on women’s models means that the women’s models aren’t changing, or that the women’s models were an afterthought and omitted from the press kit just like brands do with kids’ gear. Both scenarios have proven true in the past.
We also get hit with an inverse scenario: skis that are communicated sometimes don’t actually exist. At the 2021 SIA show, Liberty Skis heavily marketed the new men’s Origin 106 Backcountry and women’s Genesis 106 Backcountry. They got it featured on Newschoolers and the Powder7 highlights. It got its own page in their product lookbook. Product pages with a preorder option went up on retailer websites. Throughout the fall, inventory came in for all the other models, and after recommending it to several women shopping for setups, I eventually reached out to the brand directly to figure out if the ski was actually going to exist. Turns out, it got delayed a year. Brands don’t leave men hanging like this. And in the very rare cases where delays happen, they’re clear and communicative about it because fucking with a men’s ski shopping experience isn’t acceptable.
We’re seeing the same thing happen with the release of the Elan Ripstick Tour. Photo assets all feature 5 models, but there are only 3 shopping links beneath them.
If you zoom in on the purple and blue models, they’re marked as a women’s 94 and women’s 88 version. Do these skis exist? They’re on the Elan Canada website, and they’re purchasable in England. They’re kind of real, depending on which country you call home. With supply chain issues being as prevelant as they are, I can think of plenty of explanations for why the women’s rollout isn’t universal. But “we’re just gonna let women be confused or do the legwork to figure it out” isn’t an acceptable action plan. Shoot a few new photo assets. Put the women’s products alongside the men’s with a “launching fall 2023” callout and disable the link.
Women customers already have more obstacles in their way when it comes to the purchasing process. Don’t ask me to play Harriet the Spy because you can’t figure out effective customer messaging. This is part of the reason men in the industry say “women don’t nerd out about gear the way men do.” It’s also part of the reason the women’s market is smaller. It also contributes to smaller sales within the women’s market. And then brands use the market size to justify giving us fewer options or rolling out women’s advancements a year after testing them with men.
To stay on top of women’s product launches, they’re all recapped in the Women’s Ski Gear Preview. And later this week, we’ll look at why all these touring launches lack powder-capable skis for women, so stay tuned!