It was probably a couple of weeks ago now, during that week long storm cycle that was all hyped up and supposed to bring us huge amounts of snow (not quite!). We had a few of us at a resort gettin’ some freshies. We all came rolling out of the trees and into the lift line when this guy looks down at my skis and goes “Wow, looks like you need a trip to the ski shop!” As I turned to him, all he got was goggles and a grin as wide as those goggles and the only two words I could get out, “rocker dude!”
What he was seeing was the tip and tail of my skis not touching the snow the way they should on a traditional ski. And to his credit they do look like they are broken or badly bent.
It wasn’t more than 5 or 7 years ago that when someone walked into the shop with a pair of skis that holding them base to base if there was any space between the skis just down from the tip, we would have told that poor sad person their skis were bent and should probably be added to the ski fence in the backyard. There is a chance they could be bent back straight, (they even made special bending jigs for this purpose although we would just stick the tip under one of the benches and give it a good ole heave ho in the opposite direction, sometimes it worked!)
Along comes our recently departed friend Shane McConkey with his Volant Spatula. I can’t say for sure when that first happened, 7 or 8 years ago maybe, but he started something.
So what is this rocker stuff? When you look at a ski sitting on the snow, a traditional ski with no weight on it would only touch the snow at the tip and tail with a little space under the binding not touching at all. This is camber and along with side cut is what helps a ski turn more easily on packed snow. But according to Shane, when you put that ski in deep snow, it is that same camber making the ski want to nose dive because it couldn’t flatten or even reverse bend easily enough to push the tip up for more than a second or two so we have to do that porpoise thing to make them work. His idea was to build that arc into the ski.
At first this concept seemed weird, actually it still does, but now every ski company is building some sort of rockered or early tip rise ski and there are many variations. Everything from fully rockered skis that look like barrel staves almost, where there is no flat section at all, to the more common style with a flat section under foot but the tip and tail both arc up to some degree farther towards the center of the ski. This does two things. First the ski has a smooth and comfortable “float” to it no matter how deep or weird the snow is. Second the ski is already arcing for the turn and it just lets the ski do it, where ever, whenever you want. You can point the ski instantly where you need it, you can just put it sideways instantly in deep snow, they will smear and slash more like a water ski or surfboard. I have to say it feels pretty amazing.
Another variation on this theme is the early rise tip. This ski can have some amount of regular camber or it can just be flat, but the tip of the ski will sit up off the snow anywhere from 20 to 40 cm back from the tip. What this does is give you a ski with plenty of surface for powder and a tip that just wants to float, but when you are on packed snow it skis shorter and more like a regular ski. This is where most of the really rockered skis suffer, when you come out of the fluff and onto not so fluff, they can be a handful and not much fun. It is for that reason that this needs to be a second or even third ski in your quiver, they just aren’t the do everything ski, yet. There is no doubt that if this trend continues and the technology evolves and our technique continues to evolve, a ski like this could become the standard all mountain ski. Also it is working well enough that snowboards are doing the same stuff. But if you spend most of your days riding the groomers there is no reason for this broken bent weird ski for you.
I bet that guy in the lift line thought I was really into Sammy Hagar!