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"SKIING IS A SLIDING SPORT":
by Bill Jones, Ski Instructor
Is it really true that men are from Mars and women from
Venus? Are they that far apart in their makeup?
A disclaimer and explanation on a delicate topic: Here is material on adult women--and adult men--written by a man. Yet much of what this male skier/writer knows about women skiing he has been taught by women skiers. Indeed, at some of the resorts where he has worked, women have been at the top of the skill ladder. And even the management ladder: women have been ski school directors and heads of ski patrols at several major ski areas. He wishes he could ski as well as some of the women he knows! Women can ski steeps, bumps, powder, gates, and all there is. An early recollection was watching a young teen girl racer, in a club at which the race team did not have the resources to separate the boys' and girls' training and event courses; this young girl consistently beat all the boys. His granddaughter at times has done the same, and his daughter has raced and she and her mother have both taught skiing. Yet there are differences between the topics "Men and Skiing" and "Women and Skiing". Clearly, to sort out these differences, generalities are made about the differences between the sexes, and resultant notions will not apply to all individuals. The generalities I report are based on my observations and understandings, and they may not match another's observations and understandings. Further, I am neither a medical professional nor a psychologist, and although some of these ideas have come from respected references and have been discussed with experts, they are still under development and presented for consideration only.
Women comprise the bulk of adult ski-lesson takers. It therefore behooves male ski instructors to pay attention to any gender differences. Female ski instructors should pay similar attention, for they may have learned dominantly from males, as there are many more male ski instructors than female. A number of factors that may enhance or limit one's physical capabilities are not readily apparent without specialized training.
Women tend to grasp the maneuvers of the entry-level lesson quicker than men. A theory is that the sports/activity culture in America differ for women and men, and that women gravitate more to dance, cheerleading, soccer, and gymnastics in which the foot is used in ways involving balance, tipping, and twisting. Men on the other hand are more likely to have football, baseball, basketball, and track events as their sports, and in these the foot is used more for purely power moves of support and pushoff. Of course in skiing we use the foot in precise and varied ways, and so many men must first learn how to finesse the foot and ankle before they can finesse the skis.
Women tend not to advance as fast as men once past the entry level. See below for possible reasons: the greater strength of men and their greater willingness to take risk probably allow men to improve their performance more once past the entry level.
Women are not as strong muscularly as men. This does not mean women cannot ski as well or better than men. It does mean they must use the mechanics of skiing more precisely and completely than men to reach full performance. Men on the other hand can use their strength to get the skis to do much of what they want even though their method is likely not as efficient as it could be and ultimately must be converted to one with greater finesse if they are to reach full potential. Possibly because of their greater strength, men are also able to ski faster in races than women, and the genders usually run separate course and are not ranked together. In The Great Race held in Truckee, California, the cross-country course is 30 kilometers (18.43 miles) and men and women race the same track; from 2001 to 2016, the men have always won, but not by much--by less than 4 minutes in 2011 over the 1 1/2 hour time. Thus it is sure that many of the better women finishers raced faster than many of the men finishers.
Women are stronger in their lower bodies; men are strong in both upper and lower. This may be another of the factors that leads to early greater success for women in skiing than men, as women may be more able to work their legs, ankles, and feet; while men may be more apt to first use their arms and shoulders, even though the skis aren't attached there and such use only diverts men from their need.
Women have a lower center-of-gravity than men. Probably this is a result of the greater strength women have in their lower bodies than in their uppers, and perhaps it is because of their larger pelvis sizes and shorter thigh-bones. The difference is not great but still could have an effect on the physics of skiing. Women carry proportionally more weight in their thighs and seats than men, and the length of the female thigh bone is often proportionally shorter than that of the male. Because women's centers of gravity are a little closer to their legs, and men's a little closer to their arms, it is theorized that women can proportionally effect more change to that central point by moving with their legs, while men are relatively more effective with their arms. The relatively shorter thigh of the female body would also allow more solid balance, but perhaps without the range of effect that could be gained by the male's greater leverage when repositioning the longer thigh bone.
Ever notice how the heads of men and women are often close to the same height when mixed genders are seated (because their torsos are about the same length), but how that changes when they stand? Also, see how the knee-height of all persons in this photo is about the same; the thigh-bone lengths differ markedly, however, and all the men have much longer thigh-bones than the women. (The women are 2nd and 4th from the left. The man who is third from left is an exception, with long lower legs.) Note, too, that the women have wider hips and closer knees
Women are generally shorter in height and lighter in weight than men. One source--presumably of anglo-saxons--shows that the average mature woman is about 135 pounds and 5' 3" tall; the average mature man is 165 pounds and 5' 7" tall. (In recent time, younger American women seem to be becoming taller as they mature, perhaps even more so than are younger American men.) Of course there are many variations. Because women are on average lighter and smaller than men, women generally need skis that are shorter and softer lengthwise so they can bend them as much as men can bend the models they need. If the average woman skis slower than the average man, the smaller forces she develops would also indicate the same need in ski design. For years, maybe even a century, ski gear was designed by men but to be used by all. Today, softer and shorter women's skis are available. The same is true for boots, with an added factor, discussed next.
Women have calf muscles that are longer than men's. Although there are many exceptions, the calf muscle usual for women (picture on left) tends to be long and extend down the back of the leg, even below the top of a standard ski boot. The typical male calf muscle (picture on right), however, is bunched up more in the upper half of the lower leg like a chicken's drumstick, and ends above the top of the standard ski boot. Now boots for women are being made taking this difference into account, with shorter heights of the boot and roomier cuff areas. Women no longer need to be told they have "fat" legs and to suffer calf-muscle cramps. Another option some women have used is to place a pad inside the boot to lift the heel, moving the leg forward and away from the restricting part of the rear cuff, as well as upward to get the calf muscle freed.
Women's hips are wider than men's. This is because the pelvic region of the female has a role in reproduction unlike that of the male, but how does this relate to skiing? Well, because of a wider pelvis, the leg thigh bones (femurs) are set proportionally farther apart on women than on men, yet when a woman bends her knees to lower her thighs, the thighs angle inward (called a Q angle) and in many cases cause the knees to come closer. Then below the knees, the lower legs may be vertical or tilted slightly outward, giving a so-called "knock-kneed" stance. There is much variation in individuals in their leg configurations, however, and analysis should be individual. Men can be knock-kneed and women can be bow-legged. Men on the other hand, are more likely to be more nearly straight-legged or even have the knees a bit apart in a "bow-legged" stance. Now, to understand the importance of this anatomical factor, we need to remember that in modern skiing the turn is initiated from a position standing on the uphill edge of the skis and then tipping the ankles with the body above following so the whole mass moves across the skis toward the new turn, usually from the uphill side of the skis to the downhill side. Psychologically this move is a hard one to do, yet is the heart of modern skiing. The knock-kneed person (more likely a female) would naturally develop more angle on the uphill ski edges at the ends of turns and therefore must move farther across the skis to effect tipping from the uphill edge engaged position to the downhill edge engaged position. The bow-legged person would have the opposite situation, not being able to get needed edge at the ends of turns but being able to tip the skis more easily to initiate a new turn. So this factor has both a downside and an upside for both genders, at least for those affected. A trained instructor's eye can give you an initial idea if you have an issue with your leg angles. Or use this "quick-and-dirty" method: Standing in your ski boots on a smooth and level spot and with your weight even on both feet, align the center of your boot toe against an outside corner, such as a square post's edge, filing cabinet edge, or doorway jamb. You can even use a ski pole positioned vertically for the upright line you need. Then, bending both ankles equally, let both knees press forward and see where the knee above the centered boot toe comes to the corner edge. Then repeat the test with the other leg, for most of us are not perfectly symmetrical. If the center of each knee comes to the corner edge, you're probably O.K., but if either knee's center is much off to either side when you bend it forward and you suspect that may affect your skiing, place footbeds made for your feet inside your ski boots and repeat the drill so the knee(s) hits on center. Some skiers add strips below their boots along the sides to change the tilt ot their legs. But it is best to see a boot alignment specialist. e-mail Bill Jones for a recommendation for a specialist to see in the Colorado area. Or look at www.bootfitters.com/find-shop: exits for info on picking a bootfitter in various areas. Google "platform angle lemaster" and/or view www.ronlemaster.com for more insight on this issue. This illustration (on the right) from LeMaster shows a platform angle at the bottom of the ski directly perpendicular to the line between the skier's center of mass and the foot; see how that must be accurate to keep the boot/ski system from sliding away from the point of engaging with the snow or digging into it excessively:
The female pelvis rotates more and more easily than that of the male. Do you suppose that's why hula and belly dancers are female? Of course, some might prefer to watch the female body rather than the male anyway, but this easier rotation of the female pelvis allows women more options in steering their skis with their legs, for once men have rotated their legs so far, their pelvis begins to turn, too, whereas a female can usually rotate the legs farther inside the hip joint of the pelvis, thereby steering the skis more effectively, before the pelvis begins to swing around. This can be seen in a ski exercise known as pivot slips, much like a hockey stop in which the hips are not rotated while the legs and skis turn underneath; women often outperform men in this maneuver, although general conditioning and flexibility also play a role.
Women are in general not as strong risk-takers as men. Like so many of these comparisons, this one has two sides. Because skiing is a risk-taking activity, women may at first shy from trying new maneuvers or advancing to more challenging terrain. But this gives them a better opportunity to learn the needed skills well rather than "getting ahead of oneself" on the learning ladder and then having to relearn the proper moves. Women often need more coaxing to try new situations than men and are more likely than men to sooner reach a level of challenge beyond which they would rather not proceed.
Women are sometimes apt to back off their skill level so others, particularly men, seem better. This one is just too complicated to comment about, and of course will not apply to all women, especially competitive women. Could this be a manifestation of the cultural or biological role women have been said to be attributed with to support and nurture others? I do recall one lady, however, who was progressing well in her skiing skills until her male companion showed up and then she could hardly do anything on skis.
Women are more likely to want to ski and/or learn with only with their own gender. This has led to all-women's classes at many ski areas, and there are also some all-men's classes. Some experiments in children's education have shown that not only do the genders do better even at an early age when separate, but also like the experience better. I know some women, however, who prefer to ski with men feeling they will be more challenged--and want that.
Women are more likely to think a temporary failure is their "fault"; men that some external factor failed them. Of course, neither attitude is necessarily correct. In learning to ski, we simply fail until we succeed and follow the Nike footwear example of "Just Do It", although with a proper nod to self-preservation.
Women may be more affected by cold. I have not generally noticed this except for one condition that occurs in some women (this factor also occurs in men but less often): Raynauds's Disease. In this the blood vessels of the hands and feet constrict inordinately in cold weather, even in mildly cold conditions sometimes, and these extremities may even turn blue. If you have this condition, seek medical advice on how to handle it. If it occurs and you hadn't known of the problem, warm up your hands or feet and/or go inside to get warm. Medications are available for the condition.
There are important differences in how men and women ski and learn to ski, but Women can ski at least as well as Men and Men can ski at least as well as Women. It has already been noted that women (as well as men) occupy ski school director and ski patrol posts at some of America's biggest resorts and are commonly found among the top skiers and instructors at a given resort. Another indication of the lack of gender bias in skiing is the following test: ski instructors were given photographs of both men and women racers in world-class training but in which gender could not be told from clothing, hair, or body form. The instructors were asked to identify who were the men and who were the women--based solely on technique. The instructors could not do it. There was more variation in technique among the men as a group and among the women as a group than there was between the men group and the women group!
Cam women ski? Watch this YouTube video and you decide: exits.
WOMEN SKI: Everything You Need to Know to Really Enjoy Skiing, by Claudia Carbone. World Leisure Corporation, Boston, MA. 1994.
SKIING: A Woman's Guide, by M. Loring. Ragged Mountain Press, McGraw-Hill: Camden, ME. 2000.
Can women ski? See the gal in the picture at right and you decide.
IS A SLIDING SPORT"--a skiing web manual: Skiing
Manual Contents Why Read
This Skiing Web Manual That First Skiing Lesson
A Little Skiing History
Motion in Skiing
Conventional Skiing Wisdoms
Skier Excuses Fear in
Conditioning for Skiing How Skis
Equipment and Technique
to Develop Balance on Skis
A Skiing Turn
Simplified The Final Skiing Skill:
pressure management Tactics for Terrains and Snow
Textures and Racing Skiing Tips and Tales--a potpourii
Exercises for Developing Skiing Skills
Children and Skiing Age and Skiing
GENDER & SKIING
Culture & Skiing Skiing
Ethics and Slope Survival Slope Safety
Skiing Environment Videos and Apps Glossary Acknowledgements
SkiMyBest Website Contents