The Best Women’s Frontside Skis of 2023
From early season laps to encouraging ladies to get comfortable on edge, these frontside tools with slimmer waists take skiing back to the fundamentals
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This article was first published by SkiMag.com.
Looking to slice up groomers, zip through bumps, and just generally get edgy with it? These frontside skis have the no-nonsense sidecut, construction, and turn radius you’re looking for.
Frontside skis are ideal for those who hang out on groomers more often than not, but want a ski that’s slightly more versatile than a traditional carving ski. Thanks to additional rocker profile, wider waists (usually between 80mm-90mm), and slightly lighter constructions, frontside skis let you venture into the moguls and trees next to the groomers, without sacrificing performance on hard snow.
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The best frontside skis hold an edge on hardpack and know a thing or two about carving, but they’ll also be there for you when you don’t make it out on the hill for first tracks on the ‘roy. The 10 women’s frontside skis listed below made the cut because they impressed the SKI Test crew with their willingness to straddle the slope markers and not only tackle perfect corduroy, but more variable terrain and snow conditions. In short: these skis were named the best women’s frontside skis of 2023 because they make cruising the frontside of the resort the most fun and exciting.
How We Test
We invited a crew of 27 industry professionals to descend on Sun Valley, Idaho in early March of 2022 to hop on more than 150 pairs of skis to determine the best of the best across five categories: frontside, all-mountain, all-mountain wide, powder, and backcountry. Fourteen skis were entered into the women’s frontside category and tested by a group of eight female testers who are advanced and expert skiers from across the country. These ladies were asked to ski multiple runs on each ski and provide written feedback on how each performed in nine different skill departments: Hard-Snow Integrity, Carving, Responsiveness, Quickness, Crud Performance, Playfulness, Stability at Speed, Forgiveness, and Versatility. Of the 14 women’s frontside skis tested, the following 10 skis impressed testers the most across the board, earning a high enough overall score to make the cut for this list of 2023’s best frontside skis for women.
Meet the Ski Testers
Age: 33 | Height: 5′8″ | Weight: 130 lbs.
Harkins grew up ski racing, starting on the icy slopes of New England and finishing at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She now lives in Park City, Utah and works as the Director of Marketing & Communications at the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team. Harkins has been testing skis since 2016 and has been a SKI gear tester for three seasons.
Age: 29 | Height: 5′6″ | Weight: 145 lbs.
Ghent grew up just outside of Vail, Colo., where her mom became the Alpine Director of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. She attended Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy for high school and joined the U.S. Ski Team in 2010 to race professionally for six years. She now lives in Utah and calls Park City Resort her home hill.
Age: 54 | Height: 5′4″ | Weight: 136 lbs.
Gibbons is the President and hardgoods buyer for Sturtevant’s, a legendary ski shop in Bellevue, Wash. She’s worked in the same shop for the past 20 years; safe to say, this lady knows skis. When she’s not in the ski shop, you’ll find her ripping up Crystal Mountain.
Reviews: The Best Women’s Frontside Skis of 2023
No. 1: Nordica Santa Ana 88 ($650)
Overall score: 8.15/10
Lengths (cm): 151, 158, 165, 172
Dimensions (mm): 119-88-107
Radius (m): 15
Pros: Carving, Stability at speed
Cons: Crud performance, Versatility
Reviewers across the board agreed that the Nordica Santa Ana 88 is the perfect ski for any woman on any mountain. Ex-racers and experts loved its desire to get on edge and arc turns, while intermediate skiers felt the ski’s stability and dependability made them heroes at all speeds and turn shapes. It takes little effort to tease the pop and play out of each turn, then quickly put that energy back into the next. The best part? No matter the conditions—fresh cord, soft snow, or crud—the ski matched the ability of the skier. The Santa Ana 88’s quick edge-to-edge transitions and solid edge grip inspires confidence while its playfulness makes you want to grin and giggle at the end of each run. “Hero ski!” exclaimed one tester. “Incredibly zippy and easy to drive, while maintaining stability. Cruise or charge: The choice is yours,” said tester and Jackson Hole local, Lily Krass.
No. 2: Rossignol Experience W 82 Ti ($800)
Overall score: 8.12/10
Lengths (cm): 151, 159, 167, 175
Dimensions (mm): 127-82-115
Radius (m): 13
Cons: Forgiveness, Crud performance
Rossignol showed up to the test this year, snagging two of the coveted top spots in the frontside category, including this star of the women’s test: the Experience W 82 Ti. With an innate desire to initiate turns and the perfect amount of metal to build your confidence throughout each arc, this ski is a dream on groomers, but it’s also surprisingly playful in the bumps and snow off-piste. It’s a ski that fits everyone’s style: It would be a great teaching tool for beginners and intermediates who are discovering carving edge angles, while advanced skiers will love how easy it is to tap into this ski’s power in any and all turn shapes. “This ski is a true groomer ski with excellent off-piste-capability. You can smear it, you can carve it, you can go fast or slow, and this ski will provide exactly what you want,” said tester and ex-U.S. Ski Teamer Abby Ghent.
No. 3: Elan Wildcat 86 C Black Edition ($1,150)
Overall score: 7.89/10
Lengths (cm): 152, 158, 164, 170
Dimensions (mm): 127-86-113
Radius (m): 14.7
Pros: Carving, Quickness
Cons: Forgiveness, Crud performance
This feline of a ski lived up to its name. As soon as testers clicked into the binding, the Wildcat 86 C Black Edition attacked every turn on the mountain with its fierce carving ability. The ski vibrates with energy when it dives into every turn and performs at a variety of speeds and in every condition. This Wildcat is a great option for ripping up steep and icy pitches, but it also loves to play in three-day-old powder bumps and slush. Perhaps the best feature of this ski: You feel its energy without having to put a lot of muscle into each turn, making it a great entry-level groomer ski for beginners as well as advanced skier. “A beautiful carving tool that pulls you into a turn and sets railroad tracks for you,” said SKI editor Jenny Wiegand.
No. 4: Stöckli Nela 88 ($1,099)
Overall score: 7.77/10
Lengths (cm): 152, 160, 168
Dimensions (mm): 127-88-113
Radius (m): 15
Pros: Versatility, Responsiveness
Cons: Stability at speed, Carving
Year after year, Stöckli impresses with its Nela line of women’s skis, and this season is no different. The Nela 88 bombs down corduroy, crushes crud turns, and holds an edge at all speeds. But for all its power, its also surprisingly playful in the bumps and soft snow on the side of the trail thanks to its light, freeride-designed tip. This ski has the ability to coach intermediates up a level, gently pushing them into a carve and holding the turn, while more-advanced skiers could put the hammer down and really harness all of this ski’s energy. More of an all-mountain design than some of the other skis in the frontside category, the Nela 88 will get you from early morning hardpack turns to slashing afternoon chunder without batting an eye. “Recommended for anyone who wants a more versatile frontside tool that can tackle groomers, bumps, and crud,” said Wiegand.
No. 5: Völkl Kenja 88 ($700)
Overall score: 7.76/10
Lengths (cm): 149, 156, 163, 170
Dimensions (mm): 129-88-113
Radius (m): 14m
Pros: Hard-snow integrity, Stability at speed
Cons: Quickness, Playfulness
The Völkl Kenja 88 is a dependable ski with confidence-inspiring energy—if you commit to it. While it’s more energetic than past iterations, it’s still stiff and lacks some playfulness. However, on hardpack, you can put the pedal to the metal and trust it to hold you. It’s also intuitive when it comes to where and when to pressure the ski in every turn. Plus, its all-mountain shape makes the Kenja 88 feel surfy in the soft stuff, whereas other, more groomer-specific skis in this category tend to want to just stick to the corduroy. Beginner skiers may be outskied by the beefier Kenja 88, especially in the longer lengths, but intermediate to advanced skiers who want a stable ride will be pleased by its stability and dependability in variable terrain and conditions. Testers suggested sizing down from your usual preference, since the shorter length makes the ski a little more lively and forgiving. “It’s quite burly, but so stable. If you are willing to work for it, it’ll give you anything you want,” said Ghent.
No. 6: Blizzard Black Pearl 88 ($650)
Overall score: 7.54/10
Lengths (cm): 147, 153, 159, 165, 171, 177
Dimensions (mm): 128-88-110
Radius (m): 14
Pros: Stability at speed, Hard-snow integrity
Cons: Playfulness, Forgiveness
While the Blizzard Black Pearl 88 is a stiff ski, testers across the board still rave about its dependability and reassuring feel. It’s geared towards a stronger woman who can harness the power of each turn, but skiers of all abilities will enjoy this ski’s stability and backbone. Its dampness gives the ski the ability to rip smooth, giant slalom turns on groomers, but it’s not the easiest to maneuver off-piste and can feel a little heavy in the bumps. Overall, it’s a confidence-boosting ride—just make sure you’re actively driving each turn to tap into this ski’s full potential. “This is a great ski for those who can put some effort behind each turn,” said Utah-based tester and former ski racer Courtney Harkins. “If you’re not on your turn, it’ll ski you. But if you can put the hammer down, it’ll rock and roll.”
No. 7: Salomon Stance W 84 ($600)
Overall score: 7.34/10
Lengths: 151, 159, 167, 175
Pros: Carving, Versatility
Cons: Playfulness, Crud performance
Sturdy, powerful, and balanced, the Salomon Stance W 84 came ready to compete in the women’s frontside category of SKI test with its stability and versatility. Just a hair narrower than the rest of the skis in this category, but with the stiffer flex of a traditional carving ski, it does it all, from bumps and trees to on-piste arcs. Testers criticized its lack of personality, stating that it could use some additional liveliness and excitement, but applauded this ski’s easy turn initiation and willingness to cruise around the mountain. It would be a great ride for any ability level, but casual skiers heading out for a weekend cruise day will probably enjoy it most. “An approachable ski that can handle a bit of speed, with easy steering at medium to low speeds too,” said Krass. “Predictable, but not overly poppy or energetic, and invokes a sense of trust and confidence on-piste. Could cruise on this all day.”
No. 8: Kästle DX85 W
Overall score: 7.3/10
Lengths (cm): 144, 152, 160, 168
Dimensions (mm): 126-85-109
Radius (m): 14.5
Pros: Carving, Quickness
Cons: Playfulness, Crud performance
Testers were polarized on this ski, but all said it was a solid groomer ripper that puts out what the skier puts into it. The Supershape e-Titan moves nicely from edge to edge, with beginners able to access its power, while confident intermediate to advanced skiers will garner energy out of each turn. However, the wider waist and stiff tip and tail gave it just one turn shape, and it doesn’t like to be off the corduroy, with a few testers stating that the skis feel like planks underfoot in crud and soft snow. But if you’re looking for an option that seeks out hardpack, consider this ride. “Pleasantly surprised by the smooth edge grip. Serious tool for a serious hard-snow skier,” said tester Peter Nestor, a Sun Valley local who knows a thing or two about hard and fast groomers.
No. 9: K2 Disruption 81Ti W ($950)
Overall score: 7.11/10
Lengths (cm): 146, 153, 160, 167
Dimensions (mm): 124-81-110
Radius (m): 14.8
Pros: Stability at speed, Carving
Cons: Playfulness, Crud performance
This season’s Disruption 81Ti W was a surprise for many testers who expected K2’s trademark easy-going style, but most enjoyed the stiffer, stable ride. Testers’ main critique was that the ski doesn’t exude much energy or play and that it’s hard to get it up to speed, but if you’re patient enough, it lays turns over nicely and crushes medium-sized arcs from the top to the bottom of the mountain. While many of the skis in the women’s frontside category have a penchant for playing in bumps and crud, the Disruption 81Ti W doesn’t love going off-piste, so testers recommend keeping it on the groomers. East Coast skiers, this would be a great addition to your quiver. “Thought it was going to be more bouncy and playful, given the tip shape,” said Outside gear editor Kelly Klein. “Instead, it’s a great ski for gaining confidence on the hardpack. It feels pretty stable and solid all around, but definitely takes effort to get going fast.”
No. 10: Dynastar E-Lite 8 ($850)
Overall score: 7.11/10
Lengths (cm): 149, 158, 166
Dimensions (mm): 124-75-109
Radius (m): 12
Pros: Quickness, Responsiveness
Cons: Versatility, Crud performance
The Dynastar E-Lite 8 is a fun little whip that likes to turn on a dime and arc short turns. It’s easy to ski and has plenty of snap and energy that doesn’t take that much work to tap into. Testers praised its stability and predictability, but did say that it lacks the hard-snow integrity of some of the other skis in the test, so keep it on soft groomers for the best performance. It would be a great ski for any beginner to intermediate skier looking to work on her turns and build her skills on the hardpack. “Pleasantly surprised with the stability on this fun, snappy, energetic ski,” said longtime SKI tester and president of Sturtevant’s ski shop in Bellevue, Wash., Tracy Gibbons. “Designed for those who like to ski on the groomers and make nice, fall-line carved turns.”
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best women’s frontside skis?
- Nordica Santa Ana 88
- Rossignol Experience W 82 Ti
- Elan Wildcat 86 C Black Edition
- Stöckli Nela 88
- Völkl Kenja 88
- Blizzard Black Pearl 88
- Salomon Stance W 84
- Kästle DX85 W
- K2 Disruption 81 Ti Alliance
- Dynastar E-Lite 8
What are frontside skis?
Do-it-all skis with middle-of-the-road waists (81mm-90mm), a more moderate rocker profile primarily in the tip, more camber underfoot, and a flatter tail. This kind of profile orients all-mountain narrow skis towards the frontside of the mountain, and these skis generally perform best on groomed terrain or in the bumps. While rockered tips add some versatility, these skis are not designed to be skied in deep powder.
What’s the difference between carving ski and frontside skis?
Carving skis give it away in the name: They’re designed to rip down groomed terrain. Think of them as race skis that were made more accessible to the everyday skier and everyday skiing. Frontside skis can be just as reliable on groomers and hardpack, even with a little added tip rocker. But because frontside skis are typically a little straighter from tip to tail with a slightly wider waist, they don’t have the same innate carving capabilities as carving skis. Where frontside skis win out is in the Versatility department—they’re designed to perform even off the groomers.
In short: Carving skis are the scalpels of skis, designed to be handled by an experienced hand and leave precise incisions on the snow. A frontside ski is more like a machete—it’s still sharp and effective but requires you to be far less precise in your cutting. Read more here.
What’s the difference between men’s and women’s skis?
In truth, most skis are unisex and not gender-specific. Many brands produce the ski with the exact same construction technologies for both genders, but often create two different top sheets to appeal to men vs. women. A handful of brands are making truly women’s-specific skis, where the ski takes a woman’s physique into account when building the ski. Men and women can ski on the same ski but may want to choose different lengths depending on their height and their skiing ability.