Women's gear, up first
Blizzard's Women2Women summit gathers skiers to talk about how to improve women's ski design. And it's working.
A podiatrist, an Olympic racer, a mechanical engineer, and a ski-shop owner slide onto a chairlift, all wearing the same skis. It’s not a bad joke, it’s a gear test. Between them, they have two slightly different versions of Blizzard’s Black Pearl 88 ski as they slide off the top of Deer Valley’s Sterling Express and rip down the lift line. The testers put the skis through the paces: short turns, then long edgy ones, fast groomers, then chunky crud, noting the minor amount of tip chatter in the slightly lighter of the two skis and the force necessary to get the heavier version up on edge—it feels more sluggish until it’s engaged. Then they take laps on equivalent skis from other brands to see how they compare. The test is the on-snow portion of Blizzard’s fourth-annual Women2Women summit, held most recently in early December.
The Blizzard Black Pearl 88 has won accolades from every American ski-media entity, including Outside. It’s the bestselling women’s ski in the world and has been for the past three seasons. “It’s the GOAT [greatest of all time] of women’s skis,” says Claire Brown, the publisher of Ski Racing Media, who is also in Deer Valley, Utah, for the test.
So how do you get the GOAT? If the Black Pearl is any measure, it’s by getting women together to talk about what products they want and why, and then obsessively testing and engineering those skis into being.
Focusing on what female athletes are looking for, rather than building a women’s equivalent of men’s models, is rare, but if the Black Pearl is any indicator, it’s paying off, and Blizzard is trying to keep perfecting it. “The Salomon X Scream is probably the bestselling unisex ski of all time, that or the Rossi 4,” says Jed Duke, Blizzard’s director of product, who is turning screws and adjusting bindings at the bottom of the lift while listening to tester feedback about turning radii and nervous tips. “But the Black Pearl is close.”
The day before, in a house up the road from the resort, Women2Women kicked off with a flurry of PowerPoints and a pile of women on the couch cracking jokes and dorking out about ski length and sidecut. The brains behind the summit is Leslie Baker-Brown, Blizzard-Tecnica’s director of marketing. She began working for the brand in the late eighties, following a competitive ski-racing career. But after three decades, she felt like Blizzard was missing the mark on a lot of the reasons why women ski and what they want. “I wanted to see more of a 360-degree approach to what women in skiing needed so that product, inspiration, and personal needs were being met,” she says.
Baker-Brown decided to bring together a range of skiers to give feedback on products and the ways they were being marketed. She pulled in former racers and coaches, who understand high-level performance, as well as boot fitters and shop workers, who see what people are asking for (and being pushed toward) in ski shops and could speak to the casual-skier experience.
The focus group initially talked about skiing in general, including frustrations they’d seen women encounter when looking to buy skis. Ski instructors, like Jen Scott of Utah’s Alta Lodge, talked about fear and confidence and how equipment plays into both. Retailers, like hard-goods buyer Tracy Gibbons, shared details about what people buy and how women have historically been pushed toward shorter skis. They all discussed why and how women’s skis should be different.
But the group agreed that none of that matters if the skis don’t deliver. The idea of the right ski weight—balanced and stable, but not too heavy—kept coming up. Then the discussion got more granular: How would different lengths make the Black Pearl more accessible? Should Blizzard change the width by a millimeter next year? Would that make its skis more versatile?
The Blizzard engineers were there taking notes and explaining their past decisions. “When we provide the engineers the right brief, they can kick out the right thing on the first try, but the brief is super critical—the feedback is super critical,” Duke says.
The group emphasized that women aren’t one homogenous block of humans who all ski the same way (shocking!), so the biggest benefit of the Women2Women program has been building options that aren’t shrunken or pink or mocked-up versions of what men think women want.
“Developing skis that are constructed by size has been pretty monumental to improving the performance of women’s skis,” Baker-Brown says of some of Blizzard’s specific accomplishments. The company is introducing a new waist width of the Black Pearl, and it has already redesigned ski molds to account for women’s lower centers of gravity and smaller feet, which change the way they pressure and turn a ski. “By providing real input from a variety of real women to the product team, we’ve made them better product developers. On the community side, seeing this spirit come to life outside of our internal team has been really fulfilling. Women skiers love connecting with other women skiers. We see it in every way we bring them together.”