It took just one chairlift ride. By the time I skated away from the double toward the treeless saddle and a colorful group of fellow shredders, I was smitten. Silverton Mountain—tucked into Colorado’s rugged and romantic San Juans—has this effect on people. Despite growing up six hours away, I’d never skied the area, which has a single lift that deposits riders beside a sweeping bowl ringed by toothy peaks. It’s backcountry with a boost: everyone carries a shovel, beacon, and probe, and unless you booked a heli, you’re boot-packing to the best runs. And I’m a sucker for a good boot-pack.
The trip was made even more enchanting by the fact that nearly every skier on the mountain was a woman. Experts from across the U.S. had come for the Sisters’ Meeting in the Mountains, a steep-skiing party begun ten years ago by Silverton cofounder Jen Brill. The Sisters’ gathering now draws more than 80 skiers, and it illustrates an often overlooked dynamic: female participation is on the rise. The number of women skiers has grown 12 percent since 2013, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
All the best skiers I know are women, and the Silvy fest was more (unneeded) evidence that there’s a strong community of lady shredders in mountain towns. Which is why I’m baffled that so many gear companies seem to have missed the memo. Our female ski testers unanimously complained about women-specific models that had been lightened and softened to the point of riding like overcooked noodles. For the women’s backcountry kit, we chose a unisex ski over the female version. Outside, of course, is guilty of marginalizing the stuff, too. This is our first Buyer’s Guide that hasn’t cordoned off the women’s gear in the back, for instance. No longer. In the months ahead, we’ll also be launching an online gear column for women, aimed at being useful and candid, and you can expect to see more women’s pages in future print issues. In the end, the gear matters a lot less than the community, but it also makes a powerful turn on a rugged slope in southwestern Colorado that much funner. So please, gear manufacturers: design equipment that can keep up.