Now that over a quarter of the snowboarders on the mountain are women, it’s time the boards were designed for them¿and now they are. This season there has been an explosion of boards made for she-riders, and here is how it all happened:
Until ’94¿95 season, women have had little choice about their ride, especially if they were trying to find a narrow, light snowboard. And as the current trend of fat boards is played out, women riders will definitely appreciate the upsurge in available snowboards. Early sales reveal that retailers are very receptive to the idea of women’s boards, but it wasn’t always this way.
“At first I was very skeptical about women’s boards,” says Clove Bayne, manager of B.C. Surf & Sport in Boulder, Colorado. “We just ordered a few and sold out, so we ordered a lot more for this season. We think we’re going to do really well with them.”
The technical reasoning behind women’s snowboards is simple: women have smaller feet, may be lighter, and often have a narrower stance. Add that to the fact that women tend to be less destructive to their boards, and making a women’s board seems to be obvious. In spite of the differences, some doubt that these factors deem the current market response.
“There’s this urban legend that a woman’s center of gravity is two inches lower than a man’s,” says Burton Marketing Coordinator Dave Schriber. “That’s hokum. The board doesn’t know if you’re male or female.”
In the 80s, companies like Burton recognized the need for women’s boards. However, like any product, it wasn’t created until the demand was there. Burton was one of the first to address the issue of smaller people getting involved in snowboarding, beginning with the Micro Kelly in 1988.
“We didn’t call that board a women’s or kids’ board, because a lot of men who wanted a smaller board rode it,” say Schriber.
Then Burton made smaller boards that were labeled in the catalog “for children or women.” But even these weren’t classified as “women’s” snowboards. The closest Burton has gotten to the women’s market is with this seasons’ Shannon Dunn pro model, which Schriber claims is not necessarily only for women. “A signature model fits one person’s makeup, so that is different than our other models,” he explains. “But the last thing we’d like to see is stores with ‘for ladies only’ sections. That’s the exact opposite of our approach.”
Other companies, like Sims, may not agree with the Burton philosophy of integrating women’s goods. In the 1994¿95 season, Sims was the first company to launch a full-scale marketing campaign that touted its “First Women’s Pro Model.” With Shannon Dunn’s name attached to the board; huge yellow sunflowers; and a design that catered to smaller, lighter, more aggressive riders, the board definitely appealed to women.
While Sims may have been the first to successfully market a women’s model, it wasn’t the true “first” women’s board. In the early 90s Nitro had the Petra Mussig race board, and Checker Pig had the Lisa Vinciguerra freestyle board. But both boards were short-lived.
“Signature models weren’t promoted as heavily back then,” explains Chico Bukaovansky, assistant sales manager at Nitro. “And race boards really weren’t something you promoted. That’s just the way it was.”
Apparently, whether the board was a race board or not made little difference for marketing. Former Checker Pig rider Lisa Vinciguerra designed the first female freestyle board. It was sold for a season in Europe, but never saw daylight in the U.S. market.
“There were a few snowboards women helped design, but Sims was the first to push a woman’s board in the U.S.,” says Vinciguerra.
“The important thing about the Shannon is that it was designed by the girls who were going to ride it, and it wasn’t a mini-Palmer with flower graphics,” says Sims Marketing Director Gaylene Nagel. “That’s my fear for the future as the market grows, that companies will put different graphics on an existing board. In the past, letting women endorse a board was a token gesture. A female pro model was a big step someone had to take to see if the market was there.”
Nagel says when Sims designed the board two years ago, there were people within the company who questioned how well the board would do. Their reluctance was quickly shoved aside when the boards began selling quicker than they could be made. “We surpassed our estimated goal five times over,” she says.
Tara Krupka, owner of Beyond Waves in New Mexico, says the Dunn model was her best-selling signature board last year.
“I think the graphics and weight were a big draw for women,” she says. “I even had guys who were lift ops at the local mountain and rode every day in here buying them because the graphic had such a good vibe.”
Last season’s success with the Dunn model was evident everywhere. From Jason Evans competing in the pipe on a Dunn at the 1994 U.S. Open, to Vegas ’95, where numerous companies showing at SIA unwrapped signature and female-specific snowboards with graphics chosen and designed by women. It was as if the industry was ready to not only include women, but cater to their needs in both fashion and function. There were even companies like Pure, Daisy, and Goddess that promoted making only women’s boards.
“In skiing they have been making women’s skis for years; it’s only natural to follow the progression,” says co-owner of Pure, Michelle Barnas. “Take a guy and a girl who weigh the same. There will still be a difference in foot size, strength, body proportions, etc. … “
Barnas explains women-specific boards and gear is not a “feminist thing,” but a step toward helping women ride better.
Tony LaTour, owner of Daisy Snowboards agrees: “Everything is so fat right now, and a stiff camber may work for me at 182 pounds, but not for a woman at 130 or 140. And unisex is the worst. It’s just a mass-marketing lump sum. I think that women want their own thing.”
While some companies see women’s boards as a necessary product, others, like Burton, still don’t feel that creating such a broad distinction is important.
“If you look at a lot of women-specific products in skiing,” says Schriber, “you don’t see top-of-the-line women’s stuff screaming that fashion element. It looks the same as men’s stuff. What we are seeing right now is a lot of snowboard companies jumping on the bandwagon that have no function to them¿the trend is ‘hey look at me, I am a woman.’ But that will fall off with time.”
Missy Samiee, co-owner of Goddess Snowboards, might not agree. She describes her product as “designed by women with women in mind.”
“We don’t have guns or ugly graphics like a lot of guys’ boards. Ours are pastel colors with classic looks.” Samiee also talks about the functional aspect of the board. Wood-core, capped construction, a variety of sizes, and boards for different terrain are all part of the women’s board movement.
“Women want their own image, their own stuff,” says LaTour. “No one wants to be in the backseat.” Construction and marketing techniques aside, women’s boards are available and are being bought, which makes one point clear¿women are a considerable factor in the snowboard market. The products riders buy in the future, be it women-specific, unisex, or labeled any other way, will determine where the market will go. And once the current women’s goods hype wears off, the industry will probably find that women won’t be any less enthusiastic about snowboarding¿they’ll just keep demanding their own gear.