Women’s Skis Vs. Men’s Skis
Article Updated 10/3/2016
For many years ski manufacturers created Women’s specific skis simply by shortening the lengths and softening the flexes of the equivalent Men’s models. Fortunately, during the early 2000’s this system for making Women’s skis completely changed due to the efforts of groups like the K2 Ski Alliance (still going strong today) and skiers like Jeannie Thoren. By looking at the physiological differences between the female and male skier’s leg to torso proportion, upper to lower proportion, and pelvic proportion were found to have the biggest impact. Now that ski designers have an understanding of the bio-mechanical differences between the female and male skier, women’s ski design has evolved, creating skis that meet the needs of female skiers.
Let’s break down these key differences.
Leg to Torso Proportion and Upper to Lower Leg Proportion
The torso makes up more of the total body length and the upper leg makes up more of the total leg length for a female. This means as a female skier flexes forward into their boots the center of gravity has an increased chance of shifting backwards towards the tails of the skis. When this shift occurs it has the potential to unweight the ski tips making it more challenging to engage the ski in a turn and also allowing the tips of the skis to wander and feel less stable.
The pelvic width in proportion to total body height is greater for a female. This means the pelvis needs to be shifted more to keep the center of gravity balance through a turn. The extra rotation requires more force and leads to an increased chance of over rotation at the hips. When this over rotation occurs it can lead to skidded turns rather than carved turns.
How does ski design change for these differences?
The mounting position is moved forward to reduce the impact of a rearward shift in center of gravity. By addressing where the skier is standing on the ski the center of gravity can be kept in the ideal position over the ski. This helps to ensure that the skier’s energy and power is transferred to the ski tips, leading to increased stability and reducing the effort to initiate a turn.
The flex pattern is engineered to be balanced correctly for a forward mounting position. By tuning the flex to the more forward stance the tails of the skis offer more hold. This helps to eliminate skidded turns that would be created by the extra effort needed to keep the center of gravity balanced through the turn.
The best part of these two design elements is that they can have a tremendous amount of variations. Typically ski designers will make larger modifications on beginner and intermediate skis where a skier may need additional correction as they are learning. In advanced to expert level skis, while these design differences exist, they are less pronounced allowing the skiers power and technique to be the main factors in how the ski behaves.
Over the past few years ski designers have developed truly unique, women’s specific skis for every level of skier. See all women’s skis
Fortunately, skis are not the only piece of gear to be designed specifically for women. Women’s ski boots also address the key physiological differences that have the biggest impacts on fit and performance. Upper leg to lower leg proportion continues to be a substantial factor as well as foot width to length proportion and taper.
Again, let’s take a look at these key differences.
Upper to Lower Leg Proportion
As the upper leg makes up more of the total leg length it changes the knee position over the boot. This means the pivot point for creating leverage is moved, reducing the amount of leverage a female skier has over the boot. When this occurs it requires more effort and energy to stay in a forward skiing position and to flex the boot which can tire a skier more quickly and reduce control over the skis.
Another impact is that the position of the calf is lower in position compared to the overall leg length. This means that the cuff of the boot is more likely to pinch or squeeze at the calf muscle. When this occurs many issues can arise such a general discomfort, leg pain, and cold feet due to reduced blood flow.
Foot Width to Length Proportion and Taper
Foot width is typically smaller in proportion to length, generally accompanied by a more aggressive taper towards the heel. This means a female foot takes up more volume, at the same width, but has a more slender shape and narrower heel. When a more slender foot and heel is in a boot with a wider heel pocket, movement inside the boot can occur leading to reduced control and comfort of the boot.
How does ski boot design change for these differences?
Shorter Cuff Height
By reducing the overall height of the ski boot cuff multiple potential problems can be reduced. First, a shorter cuff reduces the amount of leverage that is lost with a shorter lower leg. It allows the female skier to efficiently and effectively stay forward on their skis and in better control with less energy. Secondly, it allows the calf muscles to remain above the cuff of the boot. This improves overall comfort and generally leads to better circulation which can aid in having warmer feet.
Women’s specific lasts, or shapes, are designed based on anatomically correct women’s foot shapes. While these lasts come in a variety of widths the overall proportions are always designed around a female foot to ensure a proper fit and a snug, secure heel hold. This helps to ensure a safe, controlled, and comfortable boot that efficiently and predictably transfers energy from the skier to the ski.
As with ski design, these applications can be found in a variety of boots ranging from a first time skier through 100+ day expert. See all women’s ski boots