Ski Equipment | Men's vs Women's
By Steve Kopitz
Being excellent shoppers, women often find great deals on men's ski equipment that is the correct length or boot size and wonder if it would be appropriate for them. In a few instances this might be an economical option, but we strongly recommend that women purchase women’s specific ski equipment. That isn’t just because were in the business of selling women's ski equipment; here at Skis.com we strive to help women choose the equipment to help them ski their best. Over the last decade the ski and boot manufacturers have taken a new approach to creating women's ski product.
Women clearly have a different physical make up than men. Unfortunately this puts many of us women at a disadvantage when it comes to ski technique and equipment. Women have a lower center of gravity, a wider pelvis, and a shorter lower leg with a lower positioned calf muscle. Regardless of how long you have been skiing, your ski instructor, husband, or boyfriend has probably nagged you to stop sitting in the back seat, or to get forward over the tips of the skis. These errors in technique aren’t necessarily your fault and can easily be corrected with the proper equipment.
Ski manufacturers are constantly adapting the way they design skis. The defining characteristics of women's skis are their lighter weight, softer core, shorter turn radii, and forward binding mounting position. Since women are typically smaller and lighter than men, the skis are different in terms of shape and construction style to give women skis with work with their body structure. The ski manufacturers aren’t just making skis in shorter lengths and decorating them with pink graphics anymore.
Women's Skis are Lighter
To compensate for the differences in physical make up, women's skis are typically about 20% lighter than a man’s ski of the same length. The skis lighter weight is commonly achieved by varying the type and thickness of materials used in cores of the skis. Women's skis are made out of a variety of woods, metals, laminates, and composite materials. To achieve a lighter weight product a women's ski may use a softer, less dense wood or more composite materials to reduce the overall weight and make them easier to flex. Some of the manufacturers are even using multiple types of core materials in each ski to soften the tips and tails, making them easier to turn. The use of lighter materials doesn’t affect the quality, durability, or longevity of the product; they simply make women ski better.
Women's Skis use Different Construction Methods
In addition to core material, the construction method used to produce women's skis can be varied to achieve a softer flexing, easier turning ski. There are three basic types of construction styles: sidewall construction, cap construction and a hybrid cap-sidewall construction. While all three styles are used in both men’s and women’s skis the latter two are more commonly used in women’s equipment because they make the skis softer flexing and easier to turn to compensate for a woman’s lighter weight. Since women's skis are easier to turn, a women’s specific product will reduce the stress and strain you put on your muscles during a long day on the slopes. By reducing muscle fatigue, you can ski longer and ski safer.
Women's Skis have a Shorter Turn Radius
In addition to construction modifications, many women's skis feature a shorter turn radius than a comparable men’s product. The shorter turn radius allows you to make more turns over the course of the run. Making more turns helps you control your speed better as well as making the skis easier to maneuver. This can be compared to the differences between trying to park a sedan and parking a large truck or SUV.
Women's Skis are Mounted Differently
Maneuverability comes from the ability to initiate each turn quickly and easily. Being able to initiate turns is directly related to your positioning over the tips of the skis. The binding mounting positions on most integrated women's skis (those that come with bindings) has been moved forward slightly to help correct a common problem in women’s skiing technique, back seat skiing. A few companies have taken that a bit further and designed the skis to incorporate a slight ramp angle under the bindings to help you get your weight forward and keep you in the proper skiing position. This can be compared to the way wearing high heeled shoes make you stand up straighter.
Exceptions to the Ski Rules:
While the vast majority of women should be using women’s specific skis there are a few exceptions. Most all mountain skis come with an integrated binding system, which can limit the ski options to some women. Since women's ski boots are only made to a size 27.5, many of the integrated binding systems are only designed to accommodate boots up to a 28.5 at the biggest. Women with large boots can get around purchasing men’s skis by choosing a flat mount women's ski which requires that you purchase a binding separately. Because flat mount skis do not have a track system for the bindings, they can be mounted to accommodate any sized boot. Very aggressive female skiers often choose men’s skis because they construction styles make them stiffer and more challenging to ski. This is only recommended if the woman is confident in her skiing technique and always stays over the tips of the skis. Many of the manufacturers are now making a women's skis that is just as hard charging as many of the men’s options, realizing that some women want to rip turns and show the boys a thing or two. While some women are turned off by the feminine graphics on the skis, remember that function is the most important element to choosing a ski. If you really don’t like the look of a particular ski, try looking at another manufacturer’s product. While every intermediate women's ski doesn’t perform exactly the same way most of the skis available have a direct competitor in terms of function and feel. If you need help finding some ski options ask our experts on Skis.com Live Chat.
BOOTS: Fit, Flex, Forward Lean, and Features
Ski Boot manufacturers are constantly adapting the way they design boots. The defining characteristics of a women's ski boots can be classified by the four F’s; Fit, Flex, Forward Lean and Features. Since men’s and women’s boots use the same Mondo Point Sizing system, there is no difference in length between a 25.5 women's ski boot and a 25.5 mens ski boot from the same manufacturer. However, there are significant differences in the fit, flex, forward lean, and features making it better for women to use women's ski boots.
Boot fit is one of the biggest differences in between mens and women's ski boots. Since women are built much differently than men, the boot manufacturers have gone to great lengths to accommodate a woman’s physique. A woman’s Tibia and Fibula (lower leg bones) are typically shorter than a man’s when compared to the length of their Femur (upper leg bone). In addition, since the calf muscle is positioned lower on the woman’s leg we typically have to fit more volume into the cuff of the boot. While some manufacturers may use the same lower shell for some mens and women's ski boots, all of the major brands are using women’s specific cuffs. The cuff height is considerably shorter and the back is generally scalloped to sit below the calf muscle. This shorter cuff not only makes the fitting process considerably less painful, it also makes the boot easier to flex forward. If you find that a women's ski boot is too tight in the cuff, getting a men’s boot is not the answer. The cuff may be a hair larger in diameter but it will also be taller and can emphasize any pinching of the calf muscle. The best suggestion is to try a different brand of boot; some Salomon’s and some Tecnica’s tend to have a wider calf opening. In addition, Women's ski boots generally use a heel wedge, or a similar technique to make the heel pocket smaller for a sung, more controlled fit while still allowing plenty of wiggle room in the toes. As a whole women's ski boots typically have a smaller volume than men’s boots in both the width and instep measurements to fit women's more delicate feet.
While ski boots come in a variety of flex ratings, women's ski boots are typically a bit softer than men’s boots. Manufacturers realized that women are generally lighter than men and have shorter legs, making it more difficult for women to get the appropriate leverage to bend a stiff boot. By softening the flex the manufacturers make it easier to get the boots on and off, in addition to making it easier to bend the boot and control your skis.
The manufacturers realize that many women have issues getting their weight forward over the tips, so they increase the ramp angle within the boot. This is similar to wearing a pair of high heels, with a more upright posture you end up putting more pressure on the ball of your foot. Don’t worry women's ski boots are definitely more comfortable than wearing heels all day. With your weight tipped slightly forward, more pressure is placed on the ball of the foot making it easier to initiate each turn and control your skis. Many women's ski boots come with a removable rear spoiler, and a wedge shaped piece of plastic that clips to the back of the cuff. The spoiler is designed to increase your forward lean, keeping your weight forward over the tips of the skis making turn initiation easier.
Fit aside, women's ski boot manufacturers have gone to great lengths to improve the thermal properties of the liners. Many of the women’s liners are made with heat trapping materials such as down, Primaloft insulation, and micro fur fleece. The better thermal properties of the liners will help keep your feet nice and toasty warm all day long. Additionally, some of the companies have started pre-wiring the boots for boot heaters, for combating those extra cold days on the slopes.
Exceptions to the Boot Rules
While the vast majority of women should be using women’s specific ski boots there are a few exceptions to the rule. Women's ski boots are only made up to a mondo point size 27.5, which will accommodate up to about a size 11.5 women’s shoe. Unfortunately if your foot is larger than an 11.5 you will have to purchase a men’s boot. If that is the case, pay special attention to the last and flex measurements to make sure they are comparable to your skill level. While many of the manufacturers make wide width women’s boots, they are typically only produced in beginner to intermediate flexes. If you have a very wide foot and are looking for an advanced to pro level boot, you may find a men’s boot a bit roomier, as they make wider widths in stiffer more performance oriented shells for men. If this is the route that you decide to go, make sure that you are able to get enough pressure forward over the tips of your skis to easily initiate your turns. If you find yourself a bit in the back seat, installing a heel lift can help you achieve ideal form. Most ski shops should be able to quickly install heel lifts for you at a minimal charge. Women with very long legs or small calf muscles can usually wear men’s boots without many fit issues, however this is only recommend if your technique keeps you out over the tips of the skis as men’s boots are not ramped forward as far as women's ski boots are. If you need help finding some ski boot options ask our experts on Skis.com Live Chat.
Hopefully this article will help you in determining if it is appropriate for you to purchase men’s equipment, or if you truly would be better suited in a woman’s specific ski or ski boot. Happy Skiing!