My skis dangled high above Paradise Bowl as we rode the Paradise Express Lift at Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR), and I stared up at Headwall: a vertical run that looked radically fun but way too intimidating for my skill level. I couldn’t comprehend dropping into that steep face anytime soon. “It’s my goal to one day ski that run,” I said to Krista Crabtree, who was sharing the lift with me. Crabtree is the director of the Eldora Women’s Program, which was founded close to four decades ago and is one of the longest-standing women’s ski programs in the U.S.

“How about today?” Crabtree responded, to which I laughed—and then realized she wasn’t kidding. “Yeah, you could do that today,” encouraged CBMR ski instructor Rachel Hartmann, who has worked at the mountain for seven years.

Their confidence gave me pause—after all, I was here to make progress on skiing skills. I was at CBMR as a participant in Elan Women’s Weekend, a new women’s ski program that Crabtree launched in spring 2018, and led again in March. Clearly, women’s-specific ski programs aren’t new, but they are evolving in exciting, fresh ways, and I wanted to be a part of it.

This all-ladies event combines top-notch coaching with gear testing next season’s skis. Crabtree’s motivation? To create hands-on opportunities for women to understand and hone their own “one-quiver” skis—meaning, a pair that smoothly charges down everything from steep corduroy to powder bowls and tree turns. “I want to teach women how to look under the hood of their cars. I want to help women know their ski equipment on a professional level, in order to empower them with knowledge and keep them from being taken advantage of on the retail floor,” explained Crabtree, who was inspired to develop this workshop after she tested the Elan Ripstick 94, which now totes seven national awards including the 2018 Freeskier editors’ pick.

“There are a bunch of female freeride skis in the market now, but it’s hard to find a really good, versatile, one-quiver ski to handle everything at your home mountain,” said Crabtree, who—beyond her impeccable ski form—has the equivalent of a PhD when it comes to analyzing women’s-specific ski equipment. After she ski-raced at Bates College and coached at Ski Club Vail, Crabtree was a SKI Magazine editor for eight years. In the late 1990s, when manufacturers introduced women’s-specific skis, Crabtree started directing the publication’s annual SKI Magazine Women’s Ski Test. That experience inspired her to spearhead the country’s first-ever, all-inclusive, ski-test program for women. She Skis, which was held at Vail Ski Resort in 2006, allowed any female—not just ski industry professionals—to demo sticks.

For the Elan Women’s Weekend clinic, Crabtree intentionally chose CBMR, in part for the gear-testing environment. The Ripstick is designed to juggle a broad mix of conditions, and this particular mountain boasts a broad spectrum of in-bound terrain—everything from tight gullies, traverses, and long chutes to extensive groomers—as well as variable snow conditions, which range from deep powder to wind-effected ridges or pine-protected slopes. Furthermore, the resort’s quantity of intermediate, advanced, and expert runs is ideal for helping to advance participants’ skills.

Skiers from across the country attended the workshop, and the camaraderie was apparent on the slopes. But each woman also had a personal motivation to improve their skills. Colorado Springs resident Kali Green, 33, drove 200 miles west to participate sans testing skis. She selected this workshop to sharpen her skills for the Haute Route, a classic ski tour that connects Chamonix-Mont Blanc in France and Zermatt in Switzerland, which she’ll complete this April, which is why she used her own skis. “I thought that the terrain at Crested Butte would be the most challenging in Colorado with the steeps and chutes. I wanted to become as comfortable as possible with being uncomfortable,” she said.

In contrast, Lafayette resident Laura Nelson, 38, was eager to test the Elan Ripstick 94, which was highly recommended to her by a retailer. “I wish I could go home with this ski—I’m ready to buy it,” she said.

As for myself? I wanted to learn how to link turns in steep terrain after a 17-year hiatus from skis. I tested the Elan 82 Interra Power Shift, and they made a huge difference in my comfort level, because they traversed precipitous slopes with ease and felt smooth on all types of terrain. But relating to other female skiers was just as important for my motivation and growth as using women’s specific gear. The peer encouragement and thoughtful coaching was infectious.

And yes, by the end of the day, I even took turns in Headwall.