With fresh snow falling all week long over the 4,200 acres of intricate, steep terrain at Red Mountain, British Columbia, 30 ski companies gathered to showcase their top skis for 2019 before the 33 skiers who make up the Powder Union. With zero influence from attending brands, the Union spent a collective 1,500 hours determining the best women’s skis of the year found in the 2019 Buyer's Guide.
Some women's skis are identical in construction to the unisex model, which may appear in name or photo, yet available in different top sheets and in different lengths.
(Click on ski to skip down to review):
BLIZZARD Sheeva 10
4FRNT Hoji W
ICELANTIC Maiden 111
NORDICA Santa Ana 110
BLACK CROWS Atris Birdie
ARMADA Trace 108
ATOMIC Vantage 107 C W
SALOMON QST Stella 106
COALITION SNOW SOS
K2 Gottaluvit 105 TI
LINE Pandora 104
SEGO Gnarwhal 102
DYNASTAR Legend W 96
NORDICA Santa Ana 100
DPS Zelda 106
ICELANTIC Mystic 97
L: 156, 164, 172cm
Making its third consecutive appearance, the Blizzard Sheeva lineup has become a bonafide regular in our annual Buyer's Guide. For a number of women on the Powder Union, the Sheeva 10 was their top ski of the week.
A sturdy sandwich construction of pauwlonia, balsa, poplar, and beech make up the wood core of the Sheeva 10, a ski the Powder Union found it to be approachable and versatile¬-not to be confused with a beginner ski (though it does top out in a 172 length).
"For someone who wants to feel totally comfortable, the Blizzard Sheeva 10 is a great option," says Abigail Barronian, who's spread her past three winters through upstate New York, the PNW, and New Mexico's high alpine desert. "It’s a ski that can keep up with a hard-charging woman."
A Uni-Directional carbon layer integrated into the Sheeva 10 provides added stability on a rigid ski that is considerably light at 1620g (at 164 cm).
The torsional flex combined with an aggressive 16m-turn radius at 172 cm makes the Sheeva 10 maneuverable through the shoots, spines, tight trees and cliffs at Red Mountain.
"The Sheeva 10 is solid in everything," says Red Mountain local Christie Cunneyworth. "It charges, turns easily, and has amazing edge to edge response."
Rocker in the tip and tail help the ski float through the deep, even at 102mm underfoot, and the camber provides a solid platform underfoot when snow conditions are sparse.
L: 179, 187, 195cm
This is Eric Hjorleifson--the man, the myth, the legend, the ski. The skiing community has been blessed to have Hoji. He is a constant tinkerer and never tires of pushing skiing further than ever before. To do this, he needed a ski that coincided with his mission. The Hoji, a lighter, do-it-all weapon of choice, stays true to its creator's mission.
I found what could be the easiest and most predictable pivot point to turn initiation I've ever experienced. Stay centered on the ski and it almost symbiotically initiates the turn as soon as the thought crosses your mind. The ski profile is also versatile enough to dominate but realizes that the lesser weight of this ski does have a slight limit to it. Although the dampness-to-weight ratio is appreciated, it fought me when I tried to hip on the ground race carve it. But that's not what you are using this ski for 90 percent of the time so it's more than forgiven there.
All these aspects combine for a wonderful blend of a ski that rewards you for pushing it in the right way and this couldn't be more evident when keeping up with this ski's creator finding in and out pow stashes within the tight trees of Red Mountain Resort's The Chute Show off of Grey Mountain.
The final point is how versatile this ski is categorically. The ski industry is honing itself toward combining the best aspects of resort and backcountry skiing to create one setup to do both admirably. The Hoji comes closest to that blend for me with the bindings that we see out now with the Salomon Shift or the Marker Kingpin. Slap one of those on, find an AT boot that's stiff enough to push, and you have a setup with almost zero limitations of where you can take it.
L: 162, 169, 177cm
When you click into this ski, you're not just clicking into a tool, you're also clicking into a piece of art. That's a huge part of skiing a pair of Icelantics. All of the graphics are pieces of art by co-founder Travis Parr. But the art is just the first impression. By the end of the day, I got a full picture of the Maidens and the one-ski-quiver they are.
Lucking out with a 10-inch powder day, I was glad I had this freeride pow ski underfoot. The wide 146-millimeter shovel paired with the tip and tail rocker allowed for amazing floatation in the deep snow and felt easily maneuverable through the dense trees of Interior B.C. Transitioning from the dreamy steep deep lines to the moguled crud of the cat track, that's so typical of a pow day, the Maidens held their own and offered stability and plenty of stiffness to charge through the chunder unaffected.
The Fly-Weight core kept the ski light and the 2-millimeters of camber kept the ski playful and gave you the pop you wanted. Ranging in lengths from 162 to 177 centimeters means that ladies of all heights and shapes have a ski to shred. The Maiden can be your go-to skis on any day and they live up to their reputation as a "hard charging powslayer." Not only do these skis look good, but they enable you to dominate the mountain as well.
L: 161, 169, 177cm
In a head-to-head comparison between the Enforcer 110, which is the same as the women’s Santa Ana 110, and the Blizzard Rustler 11, both of which occupy the upper echelons of the big mountain freeride category, the Enforcer wins out as the faster, more aggressive option (not necessarily the better ski for everyone).
With two sheets of Titanal over a core of balsa and carbon, the Enforcer will be too much to handle for some skiers (the more forgiving Rustler has just one sheet of metal).
But in the hands of a capable driver, the Enforcer dominates in the steep and deep, pivots when needed, and shows no speed limit on hardpack.
L: 160.1, 169.1, 178.3cm
This fun, versatile ski has helped the Chamonix-born Black Crows brand soar rapidly across North America. Semi-cap construction, rocker in the tip and tail, camber, and a poplar core produce a lively vibe in just about any snow condition.
Aggressive skiers may experience tip deflection in the chunder, so it's best to just chill out and feel the flow. The unisex version, the Atris, is the same ski as the Atris Birdie (pictured) but in shorter lengths.
D: 134-108-126 mm
L: 164, 172, 180, 188 cm
R: 19m (@180 cm)
The Armada Trace (or the unisex Tracer) is the stick to take out on 98 percent of your days. A rockered tip and tail combined with traditional camber underfoot provides incredible flotation in soft snow and crud. It also has great edge hold and control on harder snow. This is a ski that's easy to find the sweet spot.
"It skis longer than you'd think," says Julie Brown. "It has a long effective edge and it's stable--but not heavy. The 172 was fast and sturdy, but I could pop it around tight turns in the trees really well. It's an all-around ski that I'd recommend to anyone, anywhere."
For the Tracer 108, and its women's version, the Trace, Armada chose a Hybrid Ultra-Lite Core, which blends a combination of lightweight woods and hardwood laminates underfoot. This kind of construction keeps the ski agile, without sacrificing its power. In addition to the profile of the Tracer, the directional layering of fiberglass makes for a sweet flex pattern and torsional rigidity for that great edge hold. At first, I thought the ski was going to be a bit pivoty, but after a couple turns I found it to be a flat-out hard-charging powder slayer.
D: 136-107-123 mm (@ 175 cm)
L: 159, 167, 175 cm
R: 17.4 m (@ 175 cm)
The Atomic Vantage 107 C W is not for the faint-hearted. With these on my feet, I felt like I could charge through anything. The purple-to-red fade on the top sheet made me feel sleek and powerful with a minimalist type design. Inside the ski, Atomic placed its new Prolite, a central layer of Titanium Tank Mesh, and additional reinforcement on each edge to create a lighter weight ski for women that instills confidence and strength in even the roughest conditions.
When I took the Vantage 107 C W out for a spin, I thought it handled well in the fresh and soft snow. The 136-millimeter tip and 107-millimeter waist give good floatation and a desire to slash through your turns. Traveling over to the mogul fields, the stiff tail could be a bit of a hindrance and I could feel myself catching on my turns when not executing them with precision. Coming out of the moguls and onto the groomers, I could feel what these skis excelled at, high speed, confident carving.
With a 17.4-meter turning radius, the Vantage handles like a GS ski and can make sure-fire sweeping turns on the corduroy while not sacrificing their agility elsewhere. But be warned, this is a ski that wants to move. It's not for the lazy days. These skis are made for an aggressive go-getter and will keep you on your toes and over your boots. If you like to be the first down the mountain, you've found the right instrument for you.
L: 159, 167, 174cm
Solid, swift, stable, strong. The women of Powder Week agree: Salomon's fleet-footed, hard-charging QST Stella 106 crushes.
The QST Stella has the same wood-core construction as the unisex QST, a beloved stallion in the Powder Union stable, but is available in lengths as short as 159. This season, the big update to the QST collections is a basalt layer added under the core, to reduce chatter and increase smoothness. Plus, Salomon's C/FX³, a woven blend of carbon and flax, now debuts as a full-blown edge-to-edge layer, where in previous QST models, it was an insert into the poplar core.
C/FX³ is a proprietary blend developed to capitalize on carbon fiber's lightweight strength, with a bit of added dampness courtesy of the flax. So basically, smooth just got svelte. A full-ski Titanal insert brings the heat to this energetic, aggressive, dual-rockered ski. Clocking in with a 106 waist and 1,740 grams per ski, it's the fattest option in the women's QST collection.
"Fucking wicked!" says Jess Leahy, a Revelstoke artist who joined the Powder Union this year. "It was way beefed up ski like a men's ski. Finally!"
Wydaho local Michelle Nichelson noted that, with a long effective, edge, she had to work a little harder in the tight trees. Still, she says she put the Stella to the test in all the terrain Red had to offer, and, across the board, "it dominated."
On a powder day, as I surfed down a deep, steep couloir, ducked into tight tree stands, and sidestepped to prime lines, I knew the Stella and I would be fast friends. They pivoted and floated so seamlessly I didn't give them a second thought.
"Not one point was off," says Abigail Barronian, whose daily driver is the 2017-18 version of the ski. So go ahead. Pop, lock, and drop it.
D: 126-105-120 mm
L: 157, 166, 173, 180 cm
R: 25 m (@173 cm)
Coalition Snow is a women's ski company. What does that mean? Women make the skis for women to ski them. But that doesn't mean men can't ski them, too. A ski is a ski is a ski. There's nothing in the guts that makes Coalition's skis gendered. Their brand is about messaging. To every woman who loves the snow, Coalition is looking right at you and making skis for you.
The SOS is Coalition's flagship ski. Its sidecut is the tried-and-true rocker tip and tail with camber underfoot. The birch wood core packs a stiff punch, but only as much as you really need to give the mountain all you've got. The SOS's might be a tad skinny for my taste on the deepest days (if you're looking for something fatter, check out their Abyss). But these checked all the boxes for a legit all-mountain ski: fast, good edgehold, medium torsional rigidity, versatile, responsive, and a middle-of-the-road turning radius.
I got lucky and got to take the SOS's out on a beautiful powder morning. I chased Jess Leahey, an artist from Revelstoke, through the untracked, smokey snow in the woods. When we caught up with each other, all we could do was explode with laughter. I could hardly contain the joy. Skiing with other women is absolutely the best. And that's why I love Coalition and all that they stand for.
D: 137-105-121 mm
L: 156, 163, 170, 177 cm
R: 16m (@170 cm)
Reinvented from K2, the Gottaluvit 105 Ti is reliable ski ideal for a strong but less aggressive skier who likes to keep in on piste in the resort but occasionally ventures into the bowls or dances along the edge of the trees.
New Nano BIOkonic technology developed for women's specific skis evens out the bell curve of the ski's stiffness profile as it relates to the more forward mountain point, allowing the driver to max out on hard pack or take the Gottaluvit 105 Ti through the bumps and chunder.
All-terrain rocker allowed the Powder Union to get playful with their powder turns when 16 inches of snow fell overnight at Red Mountain. I found the Gottaluvit105 Ti easy to roll over and arc big, wide turns, but struggled to thread it through the tight trees off the Motherlode Chair.
Overall, the Powder Union found this ski springy and lightweight with high energy, thanks to its aspen and paulownia wood makeup. A metal laminate gives it added structure and durability. If you're a skier looking to comfortably bump to from a lower intermediate ski to something more substantial, the Gottaluvit 105 Ti is a ski to consider.
"The construction of the Gottaluvit makes it agile and fun to hit bumps and carve turns in powder and on groomers," says Driggs, Idaho-dweller Michelle Nicholson. "I could take it anywhere any day, but I would have sized down for a tight-tree mountain like Red."
D: 137-104-121 mm
L: 158, 165, 172 cm
R: 16 m
Do you ever get girl crushes? Like, how does some chick happen to be smart, and effortlessly good at skiing, and still able, somehow, to pull off hats? That's how I feel about Jackson Hole locdog and TGR skier Hadley Hammer, and Line must feel the same because they turned to her to help design the new, updated Pandora collection, their women's freeride skis.
The 104--a new size and shape in the range--is her go-to stick, and she says she skies in any conditions. An all-wood Aspenlite™ core keeps it light and nimble, while tip-to-tail carbon filaments, which they call Magic Fingers, give it stability without adding weight. At 104 underfoot, with a 16-meter turn radius, testers found it versatile and capable in a variety of turn shapes and terrain.
"Great all mountain ski, does everything well," says Canadian crusher Jess Leahey, who also called it a "crud charmer." Some testers found it skittery on groomers and at high speeds, so if you're railing GS turns it might not be your daily driver, but for intermediate to advanced skiers who tackle a range of conditions and want to crush like Hadley, the Pandora is a solid ski to help you step up, especially if you're searching out soft snow and floaty turns.
"This is a surfy, playful pow ski," says tester Abigail Barronian. "It's not super damp, but the tip rocker keeps it rising above the mess." Plus its sparkly, green, marbleized top sheet, which is made of a material that sheds snow, stands out for being feminine without being overly girly. Crush-worthy on the rack and on your feet.
L: 157, 165, 171, 176cm
One word... FUN. The Gnarwhal 102 is an amazing all-around ski that loves to carve but also reacts when you need it to in tight situations. Edge to edge, this ski gives back so much energy it's almost silly. It loves to go fast and is stable and incredibly smooth at high speeds.
Maneuvering through variable conditions and obstacles at any speed felt effortless. The early rise tip, 3-millimeters of camber underfoot and flat, soft rockered tail allowed for easily initiated and powerful turns. The further I pushed them, the more power I felt. They railed when I wanted them to but were buttery where I needed it, allowing me to turn on a dime and ditch speed quickly--a dream in the trees.
The light poplar core, coupled with a rubber dampening system and thick and beefy sidewall construction make for an extremely low-vibration ride which made ripping at high speeds extremely stable and fun. I found them to be floaty in moderately deep powder, considering they aren’t super fat in the waist. Granted, I am quite light so that probably doesn't hurt.
As far as the top sheet goes, the textured polyamide prevents snow from sticking to them so they stay nice and light, and the beveled sidewalls prevent chipping. I think the playfulness and colors of the graphics embrace the fun of skiing, graphics are important to me, I can't help it!
Overall, the Gnarwhal 102's were so easy to ski, they felt like my own the second I got on them, more fun than work, my favorite kind of ski. Although no ski can cover the entire range of conditions, the Gnarwhal 102 does a pretty bang-up job of it. As an advanced/expert skier who spends a lot of time in the bumpy trees and ripping high-speed groomers, I would definitely choose them as everyday resort sticks.
A fantastic option if you don’t want to slog your 116-centimeter waisted beasts around the hill 24/7! That being said, I might reach for my fatter skis on a really deep day.
D: 132-96-112 mm
L: 158, 165, 171, 178 cm
R: 15 m (@178 cm)
Thank God for ski companies that have been in the business for more than 50 years and know how to make a fine ski. Because my legs would have been toast, otherwise. Caput. Nada. Noodles. Useless. Especially on the afternoon I followed Rachael Burks on a powder hunt, I gave thanks for the Legend W 96. I mean, have you tried to keep up with a bunch of hooting and hollering pro skiers on a steep-ass mountain in powder, with trees? For a regular human like me, it's a lot of huffing and puffing. It's also the most fun ever.
The Legend X96 and its sister are stable skis made with a paulownia wood core, a long effective edge, and just the right amount of tip and tail rocker to make it easy to swish through deep snow and pop around trees. They were fast and carved well, and with a five-point sidecut, their turn shape was versatile.
I felt confident making quick turns in steep terrain above cliffs, but I could also open them up when the trees cleared. They swiveled easily on the trails through the trees and kept pace on the cat track back to the lift. Even at 96 underfoot, they felt like a ski I could get on day after day, no matter the snow conditions.
Revelstoke artist Jess Leahey agreed. "I charged on this ski and it held all the power I could muster all over the mountain."
Burks found the stash. It was on a shoulder that swooped down and around a bunch of finger-like cliffs. The trees got taller as the terrain got steeper. She smoked me, but I traced her tracks and followed the bright sound of her laugh. When I caught up, my chest was heaving, my legs were burning, and all I wanted was more, more, more.
L: 153, 161, 169, 177cm
New for 2019, Nordica trimmed the fat on two of their most popular models to bring skiers the slimmer Enforcer 100 and the women's specific Santa Ana 100.
Whatever your color preference, the Santa Ana 100 is a hearty and stable ski that requires effort to ignite but is fast, responsive, and easy to maneuver in bumps and narrow glades thanks to a longer effective edge than the 110.
Early rise tip and tail rocker with traditional camber underfoot help this narrower waist ski stay on top of powder, but the Union preferred this ski for railing turns on groomers and charging through hard pack.
Clare Menzel says she thoroughly enjoyed this ski on firmer conditions and called it a good all-around ski for her mountain of Whitefish especially in variable conditions or for transitioning in and out of powder stashes.
D: 133-106-122 mm
L: 168, 178, 185 cm
R: 18 m (@178 cm)
Over the years, DPS has experimented with innovative shapes (the Spoon) and ultralight carbon construction. The addition of the Wailer to their lineup allows users to have a go-to choice, if a full quiver isn't realistic or necessary for their needs. I'm always intrigued by tip shape and how much impact this can have on the overall performance and feel of a ski.
The Wailer 106 has a noticeable taper to it, which allows the ski to knife through the snow and instill confidence (I always feel more comfortable when I'm not worried about the tip unexpectedly diving). DPS refers to this tapering of the sidecut at the contact point as Paddle Tech. The Wailer 106 is best suited for soft snow with a frequent helping of variable conditions thrown your way.
In terms of construction, it's offered in three different builds: Alchemist (pre-preg carbon and Aspen), Tour1 (pre-preg carbon and fiberglass), and the Foundation (unidirectional carbon with Bamboo and Poplar). The obvious differences in the three are weight, liveliness, and price point. Smooth transitions into a turn and subtle release from the arc are the name of the game for this ski.
Their proprietary Chassis shaping is dubbed as a "mathematically scaled blueprint" combining flex, sidecut, and overall dimensions. This ski takes steady aim at being a one-ski quiver. It's robust enough to spin inbounds laps day after day, but the Alchemist build means you don't have to sacrifice weight on the skin track. DPS proudly crafts their skis at their factory in Salt Lake City, Utah.
L: 171, 178, 185cm
R: 21 m (@178cm)
Icelantic's Natural 101 is as amazing as the people that run the Colorado-based indie company. It is the perfect blend of hard-charging and playful in a light, durable package.
When picking a touring ski I look for something that will do everything well because you never know what you are going to get into. The 132-millimeter shovel combined with the rocker throughout the first 31 centimeters of the ski float the Natural 101 effortlessly through the pow and keep you above the snow on those deep days skinning to the top of your favorite backcountry line.
The 5-millimeters of camber paired with Icelantic's sustainably sourced, ultra-light Ochroma Core make for awesome edge grip and that extra little bit of energy when you load the ski up and want to blast into that next turn. Last but not least, the perfect amount of tail rocker is what sets this ski apart. The tail locks in and really carves a turn when you need it to, but it also releases and slarves when you want to grease the skinniest of couloirs.
You can tell tons of thought went into this ski. The unique tail shape makes putting on and taking off your skins a breeze, while also being able to set an anchor if you are getting extra rowdy. The durability of the top sheet is second to none, it reminds me of those giant jawbreakers from my childhood, the kind you would lick until your tongue bled, and would take you weeks to finish, these skis will last.
The graphic is also perfect for a backcountry ski. The lighter colors help fight off UV rays that would generally ice up a black touring ski. This paired with a sweet mystical bird drawn by co-founder Travis Parr make for cool summer garage art or something to stare at if you ate one too many Scooby Snacks.
Bottom line is these skis were the best skis I clicked my boots into all week. They ski amazing in any terrain on the resort or deep in the backcountry. With the new touring bindings skiing as well on the resort as they do off you should ski a ski that does the same. The icing on the cake is these skis are designed and handmade in the USA by skiers who love what they do and truly care about the sustainability of skiing.