Last winter, I got a pair of Ripstick 102s to review. Part of the review exercise for this particular site is to review the brand’s marketing commentary for each of the skis. For the Ripstick, it read:
The Ripstick 102 W is designed by women for skiers who aggressively push their limits and seek out the toughest lines and deepest pow – all while putting the boys to shame.
That last part didn’t sit right with me. I’m not a better skier than my partner. And when I think about the couples I ski with most often, those women aren’t either. In each couple, the guy was the one who got into skiing as a child. The woman learned as an adult. Our stories are still impressive in their own right. My ski wife Erica went from sobbing over a fear of heights on the ski lift to skiing anywhere on the mountain (with good technique) in a season and a half. She also kept ripping pow until she was 7 months pregnant. My friend Zuz tore her MCL during her first ski trip and overcame a lot of fear to try the sport again. We’re not better than our partners, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we’re strong skiers showing tremendous growth within the sport.
I’m offended that the ski industry needs me to beat a (White, cis, straight) man in order to acknowledge that.
In fact, every woman likely has a man in her circles who’s a stronger skier, even the pros. Systemic issues mean men have historically had more time and money to invest in skiing since resorts started being built in the early 1900s, and the way brands sponsor more men and end women’s careers after pregnancy only continues to exacerbate the problem.
It’s a reflection of sexism ingrained in skiing. People in the industry believe that men are better skiers than women, have greater potential, and greater accomplishments. There are a few exceptions, and those girls are special. It’s the snow sports equivalent of the phrase “you’re not like other girls.” Your accomplishments aren’t worthy on their own. Your accomplishments are worthy because they give you proximity to men in a sport with a die-hard commitment to patriarchy.
Not only are these comments sexist, but they’re also an overdone trope. Let’s go through the receipts.
- First, this is new Cochise Pro on Evo’s website:
“In the battle for first tracks, you rip just as hard as your guy friends, why is it his boots go to ‘130’ and yours only go to ‘105?’ Strap in and hang on, because while they may not quite go to 130, the new Tecnica Cochise Pro W DYN Alpine Touring Ski Boots come roaring in with a solid 115 flex and all the bells and whistles required to make your freeride dreams come true. An all-new design for the Cochise series means better fit, a more mobile walk mode, and even a true size 22 for pros like you.”
I absolutely loathe this copy. It’s not just the sexism. But it’s even confusing for the reader to start referencing the men’s boot. It’d be one thing if the message was “This boot used to be men’s only, and now we are offering the same exact product and experience for women.” Instead, this reads: “Are you one of the women that needs a 130 flex boot? Too bad, we’re still presenting you with disappointing options.” What’s supposed to be the appeal here?
- Then there’s the 120 flex Mach1 Pro LV:
“For the pro in all of us, the new Tecnica Mach1 LV Pro W Ski Boots roll the 120 flex low volume fit together with Tecnica’s T-Drive Carbon Spine into a package that the hardest charging ladies have been asking for for a while. For the skier who typically hits the liftline before her guy friends and folds a 105-flex boot when she’s really pushing it, this is the way to enlightenment.”
This boot existed last season and shared a similar product description, but they left gender out of it, just saying it’s for the skier that’s “always first one down waiting patiently for your crew to catch up.” I could go on a full tangent about how boot flex isn’t a direct indication of how well you ski, but at least in that case, brands are equal opportunity offenders across genders.
- Zag Ubac 95 Lady at Powder7:
“The Zag Ubac 95 Lady will make you forget when you tried to “keep up with the guys.” Now, they will be trying to keep up with you. Au revoir, fellas!”
“Its relative width, robust flex, long camber area, early-rise nose, and tapered tail all let the Women’s Revelator not only keep up with the boys, but shred the sickest of lines, to boot.”
- Black Crows Captis Birdie at Powder7:
“The Captis Birdie is soft in the tip and tail allowing you to jump, pop, and butter, but has enough camber underfoot and edge hold to keep up with the boys.”
- Armada ARVw at Evo:
“Now featuring an AR50 sidewall construction, Comp Series Base, Hybrid Ultralight core and new AR Nose Rocker, the ARVw is an all mountain charger that will let you beat the guys down to the lift every single run.”
You get my drift; that’s enough to make the point. Notice how gender comparisons never go the other way. Men’s beginner skis all talk about fun, ease, progression, confidence. We don’t sell product to low level men by saying “Are you a giant pussy who gets beaten down the mountain by a crying six-year-old girl in a tutu and a tiara? Are you so shitty at skiing that you find yourself in the women’s restroom in the lodge?” Nor should we. I’d rather dismantle patriarchy in skiing rather than wield it against men (especially in this case, where beginner male skiers tend to have less social, economic, and race privilege compared to expert men).
And this “men > women” paradigm doesn’t just impact our gear experiences. We have all met the girl who thinks that her all-guy ski crew is a flex. She only tours with other women if she wants a “laid back day.” We know the girl who exclusively skis men’s skis. I swear one of those skis has an identical women’s version with the same size and construction. And she didn’t just land in the men’s version because it was on sale or because she had a preference for red over purple. She wants status in skiing and finds ways to distance herself from other women and increase her proximity to men. It’s pick-me behavior dressed in ski attire.
To be frank, I fell into a similar mindset over my first few seasons. My gal pals were in their first season and I thought skiing with my boyfriend and his friends made me special (which is hilarious because I was pretty awful at the time). I was lucky to follow a few incredible local skier chicks on social media who showed me that true elite skier women have elite skier women friends. (Shout out to Krystin Norman, Theresa Sippel, and Kristina Tursi for being positive role models). I also met my ski wife at the end of that season and realized skiing could get way more fun.
I also questing if sexism in skiing impacts my outerwear choices. When I met my partner for the first time on the slopes, I told him to look for “Backcountry Barbie” since everything in my kit was white and hot pink. I moved on to more subtle jewel tones, and now I dream of a kit that’s black on black with a pop of color on a pair of Look Pivots. I wrestle with whether skiing allows me opportunity to play with more masculine styling that I really like or if I’ve bought in to the idea that feminine colors and styles are signs of lesser skiers.
I also think our boot conversations are partly rooted in proximity to maleness. I’ve been working on a piece about 120+ flex boots for women (stay tuned!) and the market for these boots is extremely small. Even with 7 models on the market, they represent <1% of all women’s boot sales. There are issues that impact much larger numbers of skiers (Plus size apparel that disproportionately impacts women of color, older women, and disabled women. Small boot sizes for Asian & Hispanic women who tend to be smaller). Those issues aren’t the rallying cry of women’s gear advocacy the way stiff boots are. I see so many women who are over the moon with their 90-110 flex boots who like and share these memes about stiffer boots, and in part, I think we have women in our circles who need it. But I also think we’re privileged White women collectively trying to gain proximity to maleness over gear initiatives that make skiing a more equal and accessible sport.
It’s not just brands. It’s reflective of bigger problems in broader ski culture, and problems that women can subconsciously uphold and perpetuate. But I do expect brands to be early adopters of good behavior. Women are a faster growing segment of the ski population. Disentangling sexism from a brand’s image is good for business. Brands also have a lot of resources; evo has whole ass team focused on their impact on the community. And brands are also one of the few entities that influence the behavior of expert men.