Tough and pink

Playful fashion and hardcore snow sports come together at PowderDivas

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— If you're going to ski on a pair of pink butterfly camo boards - like Head's "The Wild Thang," Wendy Allen thinks you might as well go all out. Complete your outfit with a white and pink parka by Orage, pink goggles by Oakley and a pink helmet by Boeri or Giro.

Allen would be happy to set you up in pink. She is the manager of PowderDivas ski shop in Ski Time Square - Steamboat's first snow sports shop that is just for women.

And don't make fun of pink gear - aggressive skiing and a playful fashion sense are no longer mutually exclusive, Allen said. She speaks with authority - Allen was a longtime freestyle skiing coach with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

With the exception of the availability of ski rentals for the entire family, PowderDivas is all about women's equipment designed for the way they ride the mountain. Women's skis, for example, have a different flex pattern designed to deliver a sweet spot for the way female physiques pressure a ski.

"Women don't like to be talked down to, and women in this town know what they want," Allen said. "You should see my ski rack."

Allen was first hired by Christy Sports more than a dozen years ago, when she worked in the SportStalker location in Gondola Square.

PowderDivas is a member of the Christy Sports regional chain with more than 40 stores in the Rocky Mountains and executive offices based in Steamboat. PowderDivas represents a complete makeover of the Ski Time Square SportStalker operated by Christy Sports.

However, management at Christy Sports is emphasizing PowderDivas as a separate brand.

"We don't want PowderDivas to be known as a Christy Sports store," Area Manager Chuck O'Connell said. Bob Dapper, director of mountain operations for Christy Sports, agreed.

"This store is about being able to make course changes in order to meet the demands of the marketplace," he said.

Increasingly, women skiers and riders are seeking equipment designed specifically to allow a woman's body to achieve maximum performance.

Allen said women's skis typically have the waist (narrowest spot in the sidecut) positioned farther forward on the ski. Women's skis are just as torsionally stiff as men's models, but they're typically softer longitudinally. Those design factors take into account shorter leg bones and lower body mass.

"Fifteen years ago the manufacturers put out maybe eight models of unisex skis, and one was identified as a women's ski. But the only difference was its cosmetics," Dapper said.

So, aren't skis and parkas in matching colors the most common put-down used to tease women skiers and riders?

Not any longer, Dapper insists. In today's market, matching colors and patterns are the epitome of style, and ski fashions that once were mocked now are sought after.

"Now it's wild graphics that are matching," Dapper said. "It's almost a goof on what used to be called 'matching.'"

PowderDivas displays merchandise on three levels. The first floor is devoted to skiing hard goods, the second floor is for freeriders and snowboarders and the third floor is the rental shop.

At first glance, Christy Sports' decision to reposition its store in Ski Time Square appears designed to take advantage of a notable trend in the ski and snowboard industries.

A recent article in the Denver Post cited a survey conducted by Leisure Trends Group that suggests spending by women on snow sport-related hard goods and soft goods (equipment and clothing) is growing much faster than spending by males. In fact, the survey concluded that spending by men in the last five seasons actually has declined by several points while spending by women grew by nearly 65 percent. At the same time, the relative number of women taking part in skiing and snowboarding increased.

Dapper said he sees sales to women outpacing those to men in some store locations and in some merchandise categories. But the reverse is also true in other categories.

"When it comes to statistics, you've got to recognize that the (East and West) coasts skew the numbers," Dapper said.

The national trends driven by consumers in large cities in the East and West don't necessarily reflect what is happening in Steamboat, Park City and Aspen.

As a general rule, Dapper said, trends in equipment and technology flow out to the coasts from the mountain towns, while fashion trends filter into the Rockies from urban markets.

Despite the peculiarities of resort markets, everything Dapper needed to know to lead him to reposition his Ski Time Square store in Steamboat was contained in sales reports. They confirm that the wholesale orders his stores place for women's products sell very well at retail - even pink butterfly camouflage skis.

PowderDivas celebrated its first day last week. The store, across Ski Time Square from the Thunderhead Lodge, is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. Mid-winter hours will be from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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