Ski companies are starting to ask real women what they want out of their equipment.
It’s a crisp fall day in Park City, Utah, and a handful of ski industry veterans—primarily women, from a variety of backgrounds—are gathered around a table discussing their feet. Or, more specifically, their feet in ski boots—how boots should fit, their stance and positioning on their skis, and the variety of women’s calf sizes.
There’s a shop owner from Washington who’s been selling ski gear for three decades, certified boot fitters, an Alta Ski Area instructor, a former U.S. Ski Teamer turned freeride coach, and boot and ski designers and product managers from Tecnica and Blizzard. This focus group, the third of its kind that’s taken place in the U.S., with more gatherings held internationally, is part of Blizzard and Tecnica’s Women to Women project. The initiative, which launched in 2016, aims to change the way the two companies design and sell women’s gear. (Blizzard Skis was sold to the Tecnica Group in 2006 and both brands operate under the same Austrian parent company, with U.S. offices in New Hampshire.)
Women’s skis now make up 39 percent of the market, while 43 percent of alpine ski boots sold are women’s specific, according to data from SnowSports Industries America. That high demand for women’s equipment initially sparked the idea for this project, as the companies realized they could be doing more to cater to women skiers.
“I’ve been with Tecnica for 28 years, and I’ve never seen our companies as engaged and committed to women’s equipment and communication as we are now,” said Leslie Baker-Brown, marketing director for Tecnica and Blizzard in the U.S.
For years, women’s ski equipment from many brands was marketed to women but not really designed for them. It was essentially smaller, softer versions of the men’s gear, with more traditionally feminine graphics and colors. But in recent times, companies including Blizzard and Tecnica have realized women need customized designs built from the ground up. Because the more tailored the gear is to women’s bodies and needs, the better fitting and higher performing that gear is.
So, Tecnica and Blizzard decided to host focus groups around the world—including gatherings in Italy, Austria, and Portillo, Chile—and used a tool developed by researchers at Stanford University to study the data. They hired Maria Elena Rizzieri out of the Tecnica Group’s Italian headquarters to serve as the global leader of the Women to Women project.
“The information we obtained through the focus groups was used to think of new features, new materials, and redesign what was not working well,” Rizzieri said. “The women generally asked for warm and comfortable boots, but also boots that are high performing, stable, and had a great fit. They asked for stable, light and high-performance skis that were versatile, fun and gave them confidence even on hard snow. The graphic and design components were key, as well.”
The feedback collected went directly into improving Blizzard’s new Black Pearl 88 and 98 skis, and its whole line of women’s Tecnica boots. For the Black Pearl skis, the women asked for a light and playful feel that was also durable and sturdy. So Blizzard designed and built the skis with their signature Carbon Flipcore, a technology that involves stiff layers of aluminum alloy, a wood core, and carbon fiber tips and tails to make the skis resilient at high speeds but still lightweight. They added rocker in the tip and tail, essentially curving the ends of the ski so the front and back have less contact with the snow, for added float and liveliness.
Blizzard and Tecnica represent a growing list of ski and snow companies investing heavily in women’s gear. K2 launched an alliance of women testers back in 2000, which has grown steadily since, Völkl gets feedback on ski development from their elite crew of female athletes, like Ingrid Backstrom, Angel Collinson, and Jess McMillan, and smaller brands like Coalition Snow, which makes only women’s ski and snowboard gear, and Icelantic are ramping up their women’s fleet. Need proof that what Blizzard is doing is working? In 2016, the number one selling ski in America was Blizzard’s Black Pearl, a women’s specific ski.
“Blizzard is known for making some of the highest-performing women’s skis out there,” says Kim Beekman, the former editor of Skiing Magazine and a longtime ski tester for the magazine. “Rather than resting on their laurels from having the number one best-selling ski on the market with the Black Pearl, they proactively went to the drawing board and made it—and its wider cousins—even better. They’re doing a great job of listening to what women want.”
In addition to developing and redesigning gear, Women to Women aims to foster and grow the community of women skiers through initiatives focused on education, like web and social media content that aims to breaks down barriers to entry for women getting into skiing. They’ll also be hosting women’s nights at ski shops and promoting a women’s backcountry ski film.
“We’re creating a community of girls and women, including the next generation of skiers, who are going to be excited to join our community because of what we’re doing,” Keely Kelleher said. A former elite ski racer and owner of a ski camp for girls, Kelleher has been part of all three Women to Women focus groups in Park City. “Blizzard is working with the community for the first time to create a product that’s true to what women want.”
The Women to Women project may be new, but it’s not a just a temporary plan. “This is a long-term project,” Baker-Brown said. “Our company is committed to doing this forever.”