For some, winter slopes inspire images of carving perfect turns on endless powder. For others, the images are of endless days spent sipping sickly-sweet hot chocolate in the lodge. In the past, skiing hasn’t been for everybody. But the winter sports arena has changed dramatically. Now, there’s something for everyone.
Cross-country and telemark skiing and even snowshoeing are growing in popularity among women in part because of the increased selection and innovation in women’s gear. Manufacturers are providing women with choices, covering the spectrum from beginner to advanced. And luckily for us, products at every level continue to improve.
Here’s a selection of this year’s offerings to confirm that there’s no turning back. You can still have the sickly-sweet hot chocolate. Just save it for after dinner.
Innovation and selection in Alpine skiing continue to be defined by the shape, or parabolic, ski. The super sidecut of shape skis enables skiers to get on their edges more easily than ever before. That means the skis are more responsive to technique, not just muscle. Good news for women, who often rely more on brains than brawn.
Women-specific skis are usually lighter and softer in flex than unisex skis. Some brands also move the binding mounting position forward to offer more forward lean and better turn initiation and control.
This year, Olin has two new offerings, the Radius V ($575), for the advanced skier. and the DTV Super Shape ($500), for the intermediate to advanced and expert skier. Volant is also offering two new skis, the SuperKarve L ($475) and the PowerKarve L ($495). Both are suitable for the intermediate to advanced skier and are made with a forward mounting position for women. This season, Dynastar has expanded its line to include the top-of-the-line ATL ski ($595), also made with a forward mounting position. To keep up with innovation, Rossignol has revamped its line of Energy skis. The Energy 10.1 L ($479) is for the skier who wants a lot of performance but not necessarily a lot of speed while the Energy Cut 9.9 L ($539) suits an advanced skier.
Of course, your skin is only as good as the boot that transfers the energy from you to the ski. This season, Raichle presents its new Diamond Series, three boots with both liner and shell built on a women’s last. For the ultimate fit, the top-of-the-line Diamond 24 Lite ($350) is made with a 100-percent custom-fit Thermo-Flex liner.
If you have a narrow foot, check out Lange’s GX8 L ($525), an all-around, high-end boot built with lateral support to heighten the performance of super-sidecut skis. For women with wider feet, Nordica’s Trend Exopower line includes three books, among them the high-performance Trend 07 L ($350).
Although telemark is considered a niche market, the fact that more than 60 women showed up for Vail’s first Women’s Only Telemark Clinic show it’s a women’s niche. Manufacturers have responded by introducing products such as the first-ever women’s plastic telemark boot, Garmont’s Veloce Lady ($450). Made with a liner lasted for women, the Veloce features increased padding in the heel and less padding in the calf area to accommodate a wider, lower calf. Crispi also has a women’s boot this season, the Futura Pro Lady ($425), which features an external plastic shell for performance and a leather forefoot for flexibility. Scarpa made a good thing even better this season. Its high-performance Terminator series has been a favorite among women, even though in the past it has been unisex (read men’s) boots. This year things have changed, as the new T2 ($368) backcountry boot is offered in a women’s version.
Although the trend has been toward plastic boots, some women still prefer the suppleness of the leather. In this category, Merrell offers its updated FTS Flash ($310) an all-around leather boot that can be used inbounds or in the backcountry.
The fast learning curve that a shaped ski provides in alpine skiing also holds true for telemark skiing. Although those skis are not specifically made for women, it is worth purchasing a good telemark ski. In particular, Fischer offers a number of super sidecut backcountry skis, including the TeleCarve ($485), for intermediate to advanced skiers. If you’re looking to ease into the sport, Voile’s Mountain Surf ($399) is a fat ski that offers a wider platform, good in crud or in powder. If you’re a traditionalist, Karhu’s new Lookout backcountry ski ($205) is good for climbing into the hills and enjoying the fresh stashes.
The number of people who snowshoe has grown by 45 percent from 1995 to 1996, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. To meet new demand, companies are offering more shoe styles, from running to mountaineering models, in every price range. MSR’s Denali Llama ($99) is a good choice for its price but also for its versatility. Four-inch ($25) and eight-inch ($30) attachable flotation tails are available to prevent you from sinking.
Atlas’ 6 series ($129) is an introductory-level shoe. This hybrid performance shoe is made with a specialized plastic tip and tail, a durable nylon center and a heel cleat. From Redfeather, this season are two lines, the Sports series, made with aluminum V-tail frames and abrasion-resistant synthetic decks, and the Arc-Tech series. The latter is injection-molded and reinforced with fiberglass rods. The Redfeather shoes can be broken down into two pieces to fit into your pack, and the Lemming ($129) comes with a snowboard binding strap, which also adjusts for a regular shoe, for backcountry adventurers.
Some of the most innovative changes in cross-country skiing have occurred in the hand straps of poles. New systems that wrap around your hand offer a larger surface area to push down on when polling, creating a powerful stroke and a longer glide.
This year, Swix’s SR 94 Strap System ($75) is available with a weight-saving cork grip or a plastic compound grip. The straps can be bought as a separate item or as part of the three models of poles made with this system: the Star Pole ($250 to $275), the Team Pole ($200) and the Carbon Pole ($140 to $160). Exel’s Evolution Strap System ($33) can also be bought separately or as part of one of three models of poles in its elite category: the Avanti ($285), the Venturi ($185) or the Galaxi ($150).
For boots, this season, Salomon offers a new backcountry line for women, the Vintage series ($79 to $225), featuring six versions. Particularly noteworthy is the Vitane 9 ($220), which functions as both a classic and a skate ski boot. Alpina also offers women’s boots. The NNN 138 ($110) is a popular boot for touring, and the NNN BC730 ($130) can be used for light backcountry adventures or as a touring boot for someone who wants extra support.
Although there are no cross-country skis specifically for women, a wide selection of skis is available to choose from. Companies such as Madshus, Salomon, Rossignol, and Fischer are household names in the world of cross-country skiing. Skate skiing continues to grow in popularity for the aerobic workout it provides, while in touring, more skiers are choosing a ski that’s a bit wider for better control, such as Fischer’s Revolution Country Crown ($160).