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BY DESIGN : Cool Customers : For years, the makers of snowboard apparel swore off girls, forcing them to wear guys' gear. Now, the women are ganging up with lines of their own .

November 23, 1995|BARBIE LUDOVISE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Imagine standing at the top of a mountain, a snowboard underfoot, a foot of fresh powder all around. You're ready to rip it up, only your pants are falling down--again.

That's because until recently they were made just for guys, forcing women who bought into snowboarding's anti-status look to duct-tape over the rolled-up waistbands and sleeves of men's extra-small sizes. Or perhaps improvise with a nice belt of twine.

Today, apparel companies created by and for women, from Bombshell and Cold as Ice to Deep and KURVZ, are leading the way in not only providing better fit but also a range of female-friendly options, from pants with drop-seat "bathroom zippers" to fleecy "lingerie." Colors that were once as flattering as coffee stains have been replaced by rich plums and powder blues, flowery prints, stripes and plaids.

Ski Industries America, a nonprofit trade organization of ski and snowboard manufacturers, reports that women make up 25% of the fast-growing snowboard market, and that figure is thought to be even higher in Southern California. Female boarders have their own quarterly magazine (Boston-based Fresh and Tasty), their own snowboard camps (Wild Women's) and even an annual girls-only bonding session for industry types ("Gathering of the Goddesses").

Outfitting them properly would seem obvious from the get-go.

It wasn't.

When Tracy Fong, owner-founder of Colorado-based Deep, showed her line of women's snowboard clothing at a Las Vegas ski and snowboard trade show two years ago, the response--from predominantly male buyers--was lukewarm. "People at that time were still thinking, 'Oh, girls don't need that,' " says Fong, 30, a Southern California native.

Jerris Greenblat, formerly a snowboard clothing designer for Sims, heard similar comments before she and Kathy Allison launched L.A.-based Bombshell in 1993. "People questioned whether [a women's-specific line] was necessary," Greenblat says. "They'd say, 'Don't you realize you're going after a market that's minuscule?' I'd say, 'Yeah, but it has potential.' "

Indeed. While industry estimates put the number of female snowboarders at only 400,000 nationwide, a 25% increase is expected next year. And Christy Deverian, a buyer for Newport Ski Co. in Newport Beach, says she expects women's snowboard apparel to be a hot seller this year. "We're buying more than ever," she says. "There are an awful lot of gals out there who are tired of looking like guys."

It's no surprise then that many companies that had done only men's gear have begun to notice women too. Swag, of Carlsbad, introduced a separate line called Prom. Snowboard giant Burton now boasts an "anatomically correct" women's division. Sims offers She. Haz-Mat, of Marina del Rey, created Belladonna, featuring waterproof satins and a look that a company representative described as "funky sexy." Others have incorporated big buttons, metallic fabrics and fake fur trim.

These design elements--along with ads showing female riders in prom dresses, swimming pools and bathtubs--are unsettling to some of the women's-only manufacturers. "Snowboarding isn't cute," Fong wrote in the trade journal SNOWboarding Business. "It is a technical sport that is physically demanding. . . . Now is not the time to dress [female boarders] up as paper dolls."

In contrast, Fong's no-nonsense apparel line is popular among hard-core, performance-conscious boarders. And Deep was the first to create snowboard lingerie: sports bras, tank tops and tights made from cozy fleece.

Acknowledging that the "snowboarder-as-snow-bunny element is out there," Ali Zacaroli of Ski Industries America says most female boarders put fit and quality before style: "They're out there riding and catching air and doing everything as powerful as the guys," she says, so durability and technical features count. (See related story, this page.)

Darcy Lee, 33-year-old owner-founder of Costa Mesa-based Cold as Ice, says that since women tend to get colder than men, her jackets include a thin fleece lining whereas others offer only a shell. She also adds a touch of fleece on the underside of collars so they're less scratchy when zipped up all the way. And women who hate feeling bundled up might appreciate the label's long-sleeved fleece half tops, designed to work under bib overalls.

As a UC Davis freshman, Kristin Roach chose snowboard apparel as the topic for a research project in her marketing class. "I was sick of having to compromise between women's ski wear, which didn't function properly, and men's snowboard wear, which didn't fit properly," Roach says. "I stood in the snow at Tahoe and asked women what they didn't like about their clothes. They said: 'These pants are way too long.' 'This jacket could be worn as a dress.' 'I look like a cow in these pants. . . .' "

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