For some people, skiing is something the whole family can enjoy together over the holidays. For others (like us), skiing is life — all responsibilities get sidelined during winter months to spend every imaginable moment on the mountain. No matter which side you fall on, everyone can agree that skiing is a great way to make a few happy memories during the winter months. And using a set of skis that suits your abilities, style, and terrain preference can make or break your time on the slopes.
What to Look for in Skis
Skis have come a long way from being long, skinny, metal-infused planks. And we understand that to the untrained eye, buying skis can be quite overwhelming, due to the never-ending range of shapes, designs, and features, each boasting their own “unique” advantages. To help you be less intimidated and more informed, we’ll explain the most important factors to consider when shopping for women's skis.
All-mountain skis are made to roam the entire mountain, including groomed runs, moguls, and even powder. An all-mountain front ski has a thinner waist and is best for high speeds and hard carves on groomed terrain. An all-mountain back ski has a fatter waist, which helps this ski in unmaintained areas. Powder skis are the fattest of them all, and their best use is for first tracks in knee-deep snow. And those are just a few types.
Rocker and Camber
Camber is the upside-down arc underneath the center of the ski, which contacts the ground when you stand on the ski. Camber helps you initiate and finish turns, and it gives the ski a sense of energy. Rocker is the upturned portion of the ski at the tip and tail. A larger rocker in the front improves flotation on powder, but this reduces the proportion of ski that is in contact with the ground, which can decrease stability at high speeds and compromise power in turns.
The length you choose depends on many things, including experience level, terrain preference, height, and weight. Generally speaking, a heavier expert male skier will ride longer skis, while a lighter, less-experienced man of the same height will size down. Length should not be a guess, though — use this chart to figure out what dimensions suit you best.
A ski’s width is measured in millimeters at the widest part of the tip, the narrowest part of the waist, and the widest part of the tail (referred to as “tip-waist-tail”). Of these measurements, waist width is the most relevant, as it directly affects performance. Generally speaking, a narrower waist (under 90–95 millimeters) is best for frontside skiing, a wider waist (95–105 millimeters) is an all-mountain ski, and anything bigger (105 millimeters and above) thrives in unmaintained conditions. A ski that's too narrow won’t float well in powder, and a fat ski might be harder to manage on groomers, so it’s important to consider the trade-offs based on what type of terrain you frequent.
Note: The number in each product title below refers to the waist width (example: Armada's Edollo 98 has a waist width of 98 millimeters).
How We Chose Our Picks
2020 has been quite the wild ride thus far, and we think that a killer ski season leading into 2021 is the best chance at redemption. And though there is still some uncertainty about how resorts will operate within social distancing guidelines, both the Epic and Ikon passes — the two largest groups of mountains with season passes — plan to operate with some COVID-specific protocols to keep guests safe. And we couldn't be more excited that the lifts will be running this season.
To us, skiing is life. Seriously. We literally make zero weekend plans — other than skiing — for 4–5 months, so we never have to miss a powder day. And we hope you are just as stoked as us. So we've combined our obsession with skiing with our knowledge of the industry to provide you the most relevant information in hopes that you, too, will feel the stoke.
To compile this list of 2021's best skis for women skis, our editors thoroughly examined a wide variety. We carefully considered design, shape, construction, size, and style (duh). Some skis were selected based on positive firsthand testing experiences, and others were chosen based on hours of research on current technology, trends, and surveys of user reviews.
Best Women’s Skis:
Best Overall: Nordica Santa Ana 98 Skis 2021
Best Powder Ski: Black Crows Atris Birdie Skis 2021
Beast East-Coast Ski: Blizzard Black Pearl 82 Skis 2021
Best Resort Frontside Ski: Volkl Kenja 88 2021
Best Backcountry Ski: Icelantic Mystic 97 Skis 2021
Best All-Mountain Freestyle Ski: Armada ARW 96 Skis 2021
Best Budget Ski: Rossignol Smash 7 Skis With Bindings
Check out our picks for the best women's skis of 2020–2021, including beginner options for the learner, intermediate skis for the all-mountain explorer, and expert planks that can slay through the backcountry.
Pro: A true one-ski quiver
Con: Too wide for newcomers
Sure, it would be nice to have separate sets of skis for groomer and powder days, but we understand that's generally unreasonable. That's why Nordica made the Santa Ana — for ladies who shy away from nothing — regardless if you're blessed with freshies, just cruising the frontside with your crew, or stumble upon some “Unmarked Obstacles” signs.
But what’s so special here? Nordica’s “All-Mountain Rocker” profile gives it all away with the name — a smooth rocker at the tip and tail combines with 50% camber underfoot — the perfect combo to stay on top of fresh snow and be fearless on hardpack. Its 14-millimeter sidecut radius is shorter than many comparable skis, giving you better edge contact and allowing for shorter, quicker turns.
The Santa Ana is stronger than expected, with a lightweight balsa wood core that's sandwiched between a single layer of titanal. By cutting out a layer of metal and extending the wood core all the way to the edge of the tip and tail, these skis are lighter without sacrificing stability. Put simply, you can ski confidently without being pushed around when snow conditions are variable, but it won't feel like you're muscling around heavy metal planks, either.
We think Nordica's 98-millimeter Santa Ana is the just-right middle ground, delivering the all-mountain charger that you need for daily resort use if you live in a Western state with solid annual snowfall. It’s also offered in a 93-millimeter version for those who prefer a narrower waist. And new for this year is the Santa Ana “Free” ski, offered in big 104- and 110-millimeter versions for ladies who are blessed with deeper snow and prefer bowls over groomers.
Best Powder Ski
Pro: Float like an angel in the fluffy stuff
Con: Frontside performance suffers
When you’re the type of woman who never misses a chance for freshies — whether that’s being first in line on a powder day, hiking out of bounds for some hard-earned sidecountry stashes, and generally always seeking something bigger and badder — Black Crows Atris Birdie should be a frontrunner in your search for the perfect set of sticks.
The Atris Birdie 108 is the female-specific version of the "unisex" Atris, with a shape that begs you to jump off the deep end. The Birdie is slightly lighter and softer, making it easy to maneuver with less force, thus leaving you more gas in the tank to go the distance from dawn to dusk. They have a dual rocker profile that is super easy to maneuver, with a tip that rises progressively to stay on top of deep snow without sacrificing stability in turns. This rocker shape lends nicely to a classic camber underfoot, which provides solid ground contact and stability without sacrificing powder float and performance.
Put simply, these are a storm chaser's weapon of choice. And we will join you in praying that the snow gods deliver this year more than ever before. Because we all need an outlet in 2021.
Best East Coast Ski
Pro: Grips and carves ice, powers through slush
Con: Too stiff for beginners
When you grow up skiing on the East Coast, icy slopes are the norm. Even though you aren't blessed with the same dry, fluffy snowfall that Utah and Colorado sees, you still have gobs of fun racing on slick, hard, unforgiving slopes. And to do so successfully, you'll need a ski built for the job, such as this set from Blizzard.
What differentiates this ski from others in this list — thus making it an “East Coast ski” —are the thinner waist and stiffer flex. The Black Pearl 82s have a greater amount of camber and narrower 82-millimeter waist that is easier to roll from edge to edge, so you spend less time searching for grip and more time laying down massive carves. It’s a much firmer ski than others, too, which is ideal for ripping fast on hard-pack and stable in chopped-up afternoon crud, but is not terrific for powder or parks.
This ski from Blizzard delivers the just-right combination of edge grip, responsiveness, quick maneuverability, and stability. It's the perfect set for advanced skiers in warmer climates who like to ride hard, fast, and in control (of course).
Best Resort Frontside Ski
Pro: Strong performance nearly anywhere, anytime
Con: Not very playful
Volkl's Kenja 88 is capable in pretty much every situation, but won’t blow your mind in any one area. So if consistency and predictability is what you're after, this is your ski. The Kenja has built an excellent reputation for holding high speeds while making big carves on groomed runs, but can handle the occasional trip through the trees, and won't get bogged down in heavy afternoon slush. Such versatility makes the Kenja a great option on the thinner end of the do-it-all ski spectrum.
Vok Kenja, while a bit softer than previous years, is still on the stiffer side when compared to other all-mountain skis. It's geared toward more advanced skiers, but they're the perfect choice for midlevel gals who are working toward perfecting their craft and want to grow into their skis. Even though a 88-millimeter waist may seem narrow for the goods in the back bowls, the Kenja's slight tip rocker offsets its width, providing just enough float to ski the whole mountain. It's an especially good choice for anyone who favors the front of the mountain and is learning to mix in some tricks and switch on the low.
Best Backcountry Ski
Pro: Super lightweight
Con: Not a daily ski
For the ladies who will spend all day skinning uphill just to find that one perfect line, a ski designed specifically for backcountry use is a serious game-changer. Icelantic's Mystic series, now with a wider 107-millimeter waist, is super lightweight to make your uphill journey less exhausting, helping you save energy so you can rage that massive, powder-y line you worked so hard to find.
The secret to weight-saving here is the core made of 100% Paulownia wood — a sustainably sourced wood that is lighter, more dampening, and stronger than others. The result is Icelantic's Feather Weight Core — a backcountry skier's dream, with a total individual ski weight of just over 3.5 pounds. These planks are handmade in Denver, and come with a 2-year no-questions-asked warranty. And true to Icelantic fashion, the Mystics are a real piece of artwork when laid side by side, just like the rest of their collection has been since the company started in 2005.
Best All-Mountain Freestyle Ski
Pro: Great for the entire resort
Con: Not very forgiving
The ARW 96 is Armada's most versatile ski, making it one of our favorite all-mountain freestyle skis and Armada's most popular. It’s capable of high-velocity charging on hardpack, ripping quick twists through aspen groves, and landing switch in powder stashes with style.
These twin tip skis feature AR Freestyle Rocker — rocker in the tip and tail with camber underfoot — which improves float, style, and fun, whether you're cruising through pine groves or landing switch off 15-foot booters. The turning radius is medium, so these skis are solid for big super-g-style turns and short, showboat-y carves through the trees. Underneath, these skis feature the S7 Base — a fast, durable, and low maintenance material that won't need to be tuned every time you hear some cringe-worthy crunching.
The poplar ash 100%-wood core provides a symmetrical medium flex throughout the ski, which means these are best for ladies who turn the whole mountain into their park and playground.
For intermediate to advanced skiers who need one ski that's playful for butters and rails, jibs and rails, bold enough for bombing groomers, and floaty in shin-deep pow, the midsize ARW 96 should be a frontrunner.
Best Budget Ski
Pros: Inexpensive and well-rounded
Con: Bindings are only for lighter skiers
Just learning how to ski? Spend less time on your backside, fretting over specific techniques, and more time fine-tuning your craft with a sub-$400 ski that makes learning easier than ever. This pair even comes with bindings, so you're one step closer to good times, with fewer tough choices to be made.
What makes the Smash 7 so easy to ride is what Rossignol calls its "centered sidecut" — a short, deep sidecut radius practically initiates turns for you, so there's less thought and effort required to get the ski on edge and maintain grip throughout the turn. It also has a bit more of a modern design than most beginner-type skis. Its versatile, all-mountain rocker-camber profile can handle variable terrain, but really excels on the groomed stuff.
Learn quickly and keep up with the rest of your wolfpack with this new smash-hit from Rossignol.
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