A new ERA on the mountain | AspenTimes.com

A new ERA on the mountain

Jeanne McGovern

“We’re going to talk very little and ski a whole lot,” women’s ski guru Kim Reichhelm tells the group gathered at the top of Aspen Mountain. The women nod in agreement, click into their skis and begin the first of many screaming runs down Aspen Mountain. Ladies Day is under way.Hosted by Aspen Sports in early December, Ladies Day was all about women, from skiing and equipment to clothes and cocktails. It was a perfectly feminine blend of “girls just want to have fun” and serious skiing, pampering and tech talk.

“We know the important role women play in the market, so we decided to take a whole day and make it all about the ladies,” explained Ron Morehead, manager of Aspen Sports on the Cooper Avenue mall, where all of the day’s off-mountain events took place. “Women make up a lot of our customer base, plus they’re the mothers of the next generation of skiers. And more often than not, these days, they control the purse strings.”Market forcesA tour of Aspen’s and Snowmass Village’s other ski shops seems to support Morehead’s assertion. From Pomeroy Sports to Incline and Christy Sports to Breeze, gender-specific gear is a hot commodity in both retail sales and rentals.

“Putting people on the right equipment can make or break their skiing experience,” said Rob Small, manager of Stefan Kaelin’s rental shop. “For women, that means making sure their boots fit properly and that the skis they are using fit their body and ability.”Fortunately, today, there are a lot of really great, women-specific skis out there.”In fact, most every major ski manufacturer – K2, Volkl, Salomon and Atomic among others – now carries a line of equipment for women. The reasons are simple, according to Reichhelm, a U.S. Ski Team veteran, two-time World Extreme Skiing Champion and founder of a traveling women’s ski camp.We are not men. We are not built like men, nor do we ski like them, she said. But that doesnt mean we need girlie skis. We need skis that work for women.Reichhelm is part of the K2 Alliance, a group of five women who helped design and test K2s T:Nine womens line of skis, which includes the Phat Luv, Burnin Luv, One Luv, True Luv, Sweet Luv and First Luv.Aspen Sports set up its Ladies Day participants with demo skis from the K2 line and the women took notice.So nice … really a perfect ski, said one member of the morning group, a bunch of advanced skiers with a seemingly good understanding of what makes for a good pair of boards.Now Im going to have to get a pair, joked another skier, just before swapping out her One Luvs for a friends Burnin Luvs. (I skied on a pair of sweet, 167-centimeter One Luvs and fell in love, and Ive rarely had a good first day on a new pair of skis.) K2 makes womens skis for women skiers. Theyre not watered-down versions of the unisex skis, theyre specifically tested, chosen and constructed to work with womens bodies, notes the companys website.Each manufacturer will argue that they address certain concerns of women skiers, but generally speaking, womens skis factor in a womans lighter weight, lower center of gravity and need for a slightly more forward binding position. Ski boots are similarly tailored to accommodate a womans wider calf, slimmer foot, narrower sole, heel and ankle.You go, girlsThe trend in gender-specific ski marketing goes deeper than skis, boots and bindings, however. Women-only ski clinics and classes are everywhere. Just try a Google search tens of thousands of hits.Theres Reichhelms Womens Ski Adventures, held in alpine locales from Zermatt, Switzerland, to Portillo, Chile, to Steamboat Springs and Crested Butte. Vail has Her Turn clinics. In Breckenridge, an entire week is devoted to women skiers and boarders. And at the Aspen Skiing Co., Womens Edge clinics are designed and taught by specially certified female pros. (Nearly every Colorado ski resort offers a womens program; most started about 10 years ago, although Telluride launched its first women-only event more than two decades ago.) Women-only classes can be a really great motivator people can let down their guard a little, have some fun, said Mary Woulfe, a Skico instructor who has led womens clinics and was part of Aspen Sports Ladies Day. So often they help women break through to a new level in their skiing.The same holds true for snowboarders. Its great to get a group of women together with similar goals, then learn, ride and laugh together. Its a fun environment for learning, and the group really gets close and helps to encourage each individual, said local snowboard pro Susan Muenchen upon the launch of the Skicos women-only snowboard clinics.And its not just about the on-snow stuff, noted Jennifer Poline, an on-again, off-again skier from California, who was visiting the Roaring Fork Valley during Aspen Sports Ladies Day. Aside from skiing, many womens clinics add on yoga or other special programs, as well as social events and technical seminars.Learning to ski is great, of course. But when you can wrap that into an entire days activities, its even better you know, the camaraderie, confidence-building, Poline said.The aprs-ski activities at Aspen Sports included a boot-fitting clinic, massages, champagne and more.The last 30 years of my life I have skied more than 100 days a year, Reichhelm said. The only thing I love more than skiing is sharing it with other people. And when that can happen in a comfortable, fun and relaxed environmental, all the better.Because after all, there isnt a better sport in the world.Jeanne McGoverns e-mail address is jmcgovern@aspentimes.com