(CNN) — For a long time, women's skis suffered from a phenomenon known as "pink it and shrink it": take a men's model, make it shorter (and softer) and give it a pastel topsheet.
In the late 1980s, K2 described its LTP as "a ladies' top performer, very flexible and smooth," while reassuring potential customers that "the graphics on the LTP are beautiful and coordinate extremely well with the latest colors and fashions."
And that company actually was a pioneer in the women's market! In the 1990s it even named a line, the T:9, after Title IX, a US law prohibiting sex discrimination.
"For several years we were the only company with skis designed from the ground up for women," says Adam Ruscitto, K2's product line manager.
Thankfully we've come a long way since. The offerings have improved and last season the best-selling ski in specialty shops was the Black Pearl from Blizzard -- the first time a women's ski had ever topped the overall list. Another first was when Head started using its proprietary material Graphene in its unisex line after introducing it in the Joy line for women (usually, innovations are R&D'ed for men's skis then applied to women's skis).
One of the reasons for this evolution is catering to a demographic with renewed importance to the industry.
"Overall there are far fewer skis sold internationally than there were 10 or 15 years ago," says Jackson Hogen, who works at a snowsports store in Reno, Nevada, and edits the review site Realskiers. "But one segment is responding: the recreational woman skier." "There are some women who don't take ownership of their outdoor experiences, so there needs to be a product line that attracts them," says Tricia Pugliese, who co-runs Pugski and works at a store at the Tahoe resort of Northstar.
"In a perfect world companies would be able to market according to what ski is best for the person, whether it's a small guy or a big woman.
"But we don't live in a perfect world so we need a market that says, 'This is a women's ski, it's going to be soft and easy for you to initiate a turn while you're learning. Then as you move up you can go to a stiffer ski that holds up stronger once you've initiated the turn.'"
More options and a refreshing irreverence
In Lake Tahoe, Jen Gurecki took matters into her own hands and three years ago introduced Coalition Snow, the only women's ski and snowboard manufacturer in the US.
"An expert woman could purchase a men's ski, but wouldn't you want to have more options?" Gurecki says. "You can also choose to support businesses that are overtly pro-women. All of that aside, we make f----ng good skis!"
Meanwhile, the big brands are doubling down. A year ago, Blizzard and its sister boot company, Tecnica, started the Women to Women project, which will unveil its debut collection next year.
"We've held multiple global women's focus groups, as well as done surveys and on-snow scientific research into the stance and balance point while on skis," says Leslie Baker-Brown, marketing manager at Blizzard.
Focus groups aside, a measure of refreshing irreverence remains in the industry. One of Armada's most popular skis is the JJ, and its women's version is called ... the VJJ.
"Armada was just having fun and guess what? Skiing is fun!," Pugliese says. "They ended up selling a lot of them, too."