Resorts unveil new programs to enhance women’s ski performance and confidence |

Resorts unveil new programs to enhance women’s ski performance and confidence

Jennifer Geisman
Special to the Daily
Vail Resorts instructor Valerie Gross, right, skis with Heather Fried and Barbara Henderson, left, during SKADI fest on Thursday. SKADI Fest is a woman-specific multi-day event including demo days, lessons and other events developed for female skiers.
Townsend Bessent | |

Equipment guide

Women are built differently than men. Shocking, we know, but despite what the gear guidelines say, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” for male and female skiers. According to Jeannie Thoren, former competitive skier and women’s gear guru, the weakest link in a woman’s skiing is usually her equipment.

• Get the right boots: Thoren said your feet should never be cold or in pain. The comfort of toes, insteps, heels and calves all affect your ability to control your skis. Even boots specifically designed for women still need custom tweaking to achieve optimal fit. Boots should fit like gloves, not mittens.

• Women’s skis are lighter: According to’s Jess Kopitz, women’s skis are lighter, less fatiguing and easier to turn. Ski manufactures move up the mounting position on skis to help compensate for the different center of mass and also make women’s skis narrower and softer in the tail to allow for easier exit and completion of a turn.

• Don’t let goggles lose function: Women have smaller faces than men, and some ski goggles can be a bit overwhelming. “We usually steer our female clients to Giro, Scott and certain types of Smith goggles, as they tend to fit better over the face without losing function,” said Ayo Omojola, of NYC Snow Bus.

It’s no secret that a woman’s brain is wired differently than a man’s, and it’s no surprise that their bodies contrast as well. Teaching skiing and snowboarding, and how to improve performance in those sports, with a woman’s body structure in mind can achieve a higher level of success.

No men allowed

Beaver Creek and Vail have honed in on how women and men differ when it comes to skiing and ski gear. This week, Vail Mountain hosted the inaugural Skadi Vail Women’s Ski Fest, a women’s event for all levels of skiers whose namesake was inspired by the Norse goddess of winter, Skadi. The ski festival focused solely on female skiers and treated them to a customized, on-mountain, guided experience with female instructors and female-specific ski equipment demos.

“This event was reflective of the overall expanded female-specific offerings we are providing this year company-wide, and we hope that the welcoming environment helped ignite, renew or enrich the participants’ passion for snowsports,” said Kelly Ladyga, vice president of corporate communications for Vail Resorts.

In response to women’s ski instruction needs and desires, this winter Beaver Creek and Vail are offering female skiers many programs, including women’s specialty clinics, such as Kim Reichhelm’s Women’s Ski Adventures (Feb. 8-11; Vail), a women-only ski clinic taught by Reichhelm, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team and U.S. freeskiing champion; and Dynamic Skiing for Women Only (Jan. 25-28; Beaver Creek), a mind/body technique program created by internationally recognized sports and movement educator Margaret McIntyre.

The resorts are also hosting Demo Daze and new women’s-specific monthly workshops, which provide women with the opportunity to fine-tune their skills (Feb. 20 and March 5; Vail); and Women’s Social Tour, which provides a casual environment for women to take to the slopes with other like-minded women (Beaver Creek).

“I think the resorts are waking up to this whole market of women wanting to ski for themselves — not just be the family facilitator, or to be skiing in a competitive atmosphere with a partner, but really seeking out how to improve and express themselves and get their own satisfaction and enjoyment from this marvelous sport. Women’s programs support this,” said McIntyre, a Feldenkrais Guild-certified assistant trainer and practitioner, physiotherapist and certified ski instructor.

Using the Feldenkrais Method, a learning system that replaces old, redundant movement patterns with newer, more useful ones, McIntyre’s Dynamic Skiing for Women program incorporates techniques to directly enhance ski performance and confidence.

“I find women to be more open to this unusual type of learning,” McIntyre said. “They love the challenge, they are not feeling limited by their gender, and this women’s group tends to be a very supportive atmosphere that really facilitates learning and improvement.”

Limited to six female participants, Dynamic Skiing for Women uses McIntyre and two other female ski instructors in a format that becomes like a private lesson, but with the added benefit of being part of a small group of motivated women.

“I was looking for an opportunity and challenge to increase my skiing efficiency and found Margaret’s specialty in ‘awareness through movement,’ and the Feldenkrais application to skiing awesome,” said Wendy Evans, a recent Dynamic Skiing for Women participant.

Gender differences

Women and men have different learning styles and separate skill sets that can benefit each gender when learning to ski.

“Women like to have things explained to them in greater detail than men,” said Jeannie Thoren, a former competitor skier and creator of the Thoren Theory. “They ask the whys and the hows. Guys seem to approach things more with brute strength. They want to progress at a faster pace. Guys like more competition.”

Women have a tendency to adapt to beginner movements easily and pick up technique quicker, such as snowplowing, because the stance fits more naturally with their bodies. According to McIntyre, men often use their power and force to ski hard and fast but without a lot of finesse.

The most common problem women face when learning to ski is that they are looking to stay in control of their speed and don’t want to rush through the learning process.

“Women aren’t in such a hurry to challenge themselves on steeper runs until they feel sure about their abilities,” Thoren said. “They know better than to progress too quickly. Women instructors are often more in tune with this way of thinking than the guys.”

Thoren further emphasized that there are real benefits to segregating men and women during ski lessons.

“Let’s put it this way,” she said. “Four guys go to learn how to ski. One of them falls and the others spray him with snow and yell to him that he’s ‘buying at the end of the day,’ as they bomb down the hill. Four gals learn how to ski. One of them falls, and the others rush over to her to make sure she’s all right, brush the snow off her and wait until she’s got her breath and confidence back before they head down the hill.

“For women, (they look for) camaraderie, support and sharing ideas in more of a holistic and team approach to learning, which results in faster learning than a guy telling you what you are doing is wrong.”

Buying gear

Thoren’s knowledge of the female skier and how to outfit herself with the right equipment is based on more than 40 years of research, experience and collaborations between herself and her colleague Sharon Dale. Thoren’s “women are not small men” philosophy has garnered her high recognition in the ski industry (she was inducted into the 2015 National Ski Hall of Fame), especially for her game-changing creation of women’s equipment.

When it comes to buying skis, Jen Gurecki, CEO of Coalition Snow, pointed out that a women’s skis should match her interests and she should know the terrain and ski conditions before walking into that ski shop.

“Skis are designed for different types of terrain/conditions (park/pipe, backcountry, powder, etc.),” Gurecki said. “Graphics and price should always come secondary to the flex, length, width under foot and tip/tail width. You might end up paying more, but it will be well worth it to be on a ski that you love, rather than one that you can barely tolerate.”

Gurecki also suggested that women do their homework — spend time reading gear reviews and descriptions online to see what other women are saying about the skis. She said that within the research, women should compare models, consider the specs in relation to what they want to accomplish on the hill and, finally, demo the skis if they are unsure.

“Don’t dumb it down! Because you’re a woman, there’s a good chance that the guy selling you the skis is going to underestimate your ability,” she said. “Many women walk out of ski shops with skis that are too short and too soft. You deserve better.”

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