Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Women's ski-board equipment evolves

2/08 tahoe mt. news

By Kathryn Reed

“The weak link in a woman's skiing is usually her equipment.”
That’s the theory of Jeannie Thoren, the Minnesota woman who has researched women’s ski equipment for the last 30 years. Heidi Ettlinger, Heavenly ski instructor and member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America demo team, credits Thoren (www.jeanniethoren.com) for getting the ear of manufacturers, which led to a revolution of sorts for women’s skis and boards.
Women’s bodies are shaped differently than men’s. Their center of balance is different. They stand differently. But for years it was a one-size fits all mentality.
Not so anymore. And it’s not just the cool graphics. Substantial changes have been made, from using lighter material, to changing the cut, to moving the binding mount.
K2 was the pioneer in women’s equipment. At first the company introduced all-mountain skis. Finally, they figured out the elite female skier deserved her own ski.
Amy McCormick, who runs Kirkwood’s instructional program and skis for K2’s Regional Alliance Team, is all about getting women onto skis that will make them enjoy the sport more. She said about 95 percent of ski clinic participants ride women’s skis.
“I would never not ski on a women’s ski again,” McCormick said. “The women’s ski changed my skiing style, my aggressiveness.”
The length of the ideal ski has dramatically changed. McCormick was on a 185 about 10 years ago and now skis on a 153.
Ettlinger is quick to point out that boots are equally as important as the ski.
“Visit a boot fitter who will spend some time with you, who knows how women’s balance is different than men’s, and sees how you stand,” she said. “If you are not properly aligned in the boot, you will have a hard time finding your edge or getting off your edge.”
Skiing magazine put out a supplement this season just for women, with a huge section on gear. At the back is a point-counter-point commentary from Thoren touting women’s equipment and Alex Shaffer – she is a national champion in slalom and giant slalom.
Shaffer agrees the changes in equipment – ramp angles for bindings and where they are mounted – are good. But she contends men would also benefit from these alterations.
I don’t own a pair of women’s skis. But I admit I noticed a difference when I spent a couple days demo-ing skis. My sister, Pam, tried out snowboards. She has been on a woman’s board this whole century, though when she switched from skiing to boarding in 1995 there was no such thing as women’s snowboards.
One hard packed Friday last month Pam and I were in and out of Kirkwood’s demo center six times. Brian Froiland, who runs the demo department, has a staff well versed in skis and boards.
I tried a couple of K2 and Nordica, and a pair of Volkl and Rossignol. Pam was on Burton, Sapient and Prior boards.
Three days later we were schussing through freshies and chopped up powder at Sierra. I took out the K2 Lotta Luv and Nordica Olympia Firefox to see how they did in these conditions compared to hard pack. I give the K2 higher marks both days.
At Sierra, Pam was on a different Burton, the G Twin, which is good for freestyle maneuvers – something she doesn’t do. The other was a Forum.
Even though she is partial to Burton, the two-day experiment had her pondering the purchase of the Prior Sister. The boards are handmade in Whistler.
We barely scratched the surface on what’s out there for women in our respective sports. Area ski shops and resorts have a slew of demos. Just make sure the worker knows if the carbon is from tip to tail, the type of wood, the importance of the side-cut, what materials are used for absorption to cut down on the chatter, the foam, and mounting options. Listen when the expert tells you to try something shorter.
And don’t forget the women’s clinics. Sierra, Kirkwood and Heavenly offer several sessions over the next couple months.

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