What prompted this title - and the short essay I'm about to write - was this digital article from Backcountry Magazine, Women's Specific: Are Female Focused Skis Necessity or Preference? You might want to read it before continuing here...
OK, now back to the essay. When I worked to become a PSIA Level 2 Alpine Ski Instructor, I learned - the management and training team at Alpine Meadows was a female-majority. I learned - a lot - about how biomechanics effects the ski turn, and how women move differently from men to have the same effect on their skis. But even though a woman's biomechanics are subtly different from a man - their center of mass is lower than men's, for starters - a woman can still make a ski perform like their male counterpart.
An analogy that I'm thinking about (you know I love analogies) are cars. My wife and I are almost a foot apart in height, and I have a significantly different leg proportion. But we can still drive the same car - we just need to adjust the driver's seat and mirrors. Are ski really any different?
So, do women-specific skis really exist? And do they need to? I knew a male ski instructor at Alpine Meadows who was relatively small and light-weight, and one year preferred a women-specific ski because he liked the shorter, "softer" flex it offered. But I also know a female ski guide who prefers a "unisex" ski because it has a "stiffer" flex than its direct women-specific counterparts.
Which brings up another question for me - why do we have "women-specific" vs. "unisex"? Doesn't that really mean women vs. men? How many female customers have walked into a ski shop and not made a purchase, because they were frustrated by the smaller offering of "women-specific" skis than the unisex (aka men) models?
I do think that some women-specific skis have unique construction, but I also know of at least two models that are - quite literally - the exact same ski as the unisex, simply given a different topsheet, and have a shorter length offered. And they sell.
I talked to my wife about this. She's a solid intermediate skier. And a telemarker, but I don't hold that against her. Both of her skis are 1) unisex models and 2) too long, in my opinion, for her height and more importantly her mass.
Two important take-aways from the article for me. First - a woman may get more performance from a unisex ski simply by moving their binding forward than from picking the "women-specific" version. And second, from the comments, maybe ski manufacturers should be suggesting height/weight for a given length instead of defining them as a boy's or girl's ski. Certainly I believe more than ever that we, the customer, should be thinking that way.