Vail’s ‘rocker’ revolution
Vail, CO Colorado
Every 15 years or so, skiing technology experiences a revelation that changes everything. It’s often something that appears strange at first, but after a period of trial and error, becomes the industry standard. This is the year of the rocker.
Ski makers have incorporated camber into ski design since 1850 in Norway. The concave shape against the snow distributes weight evenly across the length of the ski, which provides for better stability and subsequent energy out of the turn. It was a brilliant concept.
More than 100 years later, the late Shane McConkey, who lost his life due to a parachute complication while performing a ski base jump in Italy last year, was among the pioneers of what is becoming a “rocker” revolution.
Most industry insiders agree that the incorporation of reverse camber – or a convex shape against the snow – is no longer a novelty. In one way or another, your next pair of skis will probably be a rocker.
Quite simply, rockers make it easier to ski variable snow conditions, which translates into you skiing better.
Less simply, the banana-shaped, reverse camber concept, originally designed for better flotation and minimal resistance in powder, also offers easier turn initiation, which allows fatter skis to turn like skinnier skis.
But there is a drawback to the reverse camber skis. While full rockers float better and turn easier than traditional camber skis, the aforementioned stability we’ve enjoyed since 1850 was lost.
Solution: Why choose when you can have both?
The ski industry has not agreed on a name for this latest batch of skis, which feature traditional camber under-foot and reverse camber in the tip and often the tail.
For the purpose of this story, we’ll refer to it as early rise, but pop rocker, shovel rocker, all-mountain rocker and cam-rock are some of the terms you might have heard as well. Call it what you’d like, these skis all have four things in common: stability, float-ability, turn-ability, as well as a solid put-a-smile-on-your-face ability.
“The rocker is still in its infancy – or has been until probably this year,” said Andy Hare, director of product and promotions for Nordica USA. “Like with shaped skis, when those first came out, there was such an evolution. People are realizing, OK, rocker definitely has a place in the market.”
One attribute that makes this new breed of rocker so awesome is a smaller turn radius, that is, the ability for the ski to turn faster and easier. Rockers are allowing skiers of all levels to use a fatter ski, which means more float and more fun in the soft stuff.
The fatness of a ski is measured in millimeters under-foot. The range is about 75- to 140-millimeters for normal recreational purposes.
“Two years ago, if you were skiing something 130 (mm) underfoot, you’d better be a damn good skier,” Hare said. “Now you’re bringing that technology to people that would never be able to handle something like that.”
Similarly, the adventurous intermediate/aspiring expert skier – a guy who enjoys exploring a variety of snow conditions, but doesn’t get out on the hill more than 20 days per year – is now being placed on a ski between 90 and 100 millimeters underfoot.
“People are saying, I’m going to be able to ski the groomers on the front side of Vail, and if I want to go hit up China Bowl and slice through the fresh like an expert, I can do that too,” Hare said.
Nordica offers the early-rise Enforcer and the more feminine Nemesis, which, depending on length, are suitable for experts and aspiring experts alike.
Along the same lines, Atomic introduced the early-rise Access this year, which is 100-millimeter underfoot with traditional camber through the tail.
Jake Strassburger, product and marketing coordinator for Atomic USA, said a few years ago you would never have thought to put the advanced-intermediate skier on a 100-millimeter ski; however, that’s quickly becoming the trend.
The Access is being offered in a great range of lengths, between 151 and 191 centimeters, thus catering to a great range of skiers. The shorter skis provide a smaller turn radius, enabling the skier to turn across the fall line even quicker.
“In addition to benefits in powder, the rocker in its various evolutions has made skis way easier to ski,” Strassburger said. “It’s definitely here to stay.”
If you think you’re too old to rock out, think again. The rocker shape is particularly advantageous to senior skiers, who sometimes require the most encouragement when new technology is introduced.
Buzz Schleper, owner of Buzz’s Ski Shop in Vail Village is not an old guy, but he isn’t young either. Suffice it to say he has a grandson, as well as a daughter who has competed at the Olympics four times.
He said the rocker is the next step in the progression of making skiing easier – as significant as going from a straight ski to a shaped ski.
“Skiing 50 years ago, people had to reach their arm up and ski on the longest possible ski. If people had really thought about it back then, they wouldn’t have gone so long,” Schleper said. “The long skis made it difficult. Dropping to a short ski made it easier. Then shaped skis made it easier again, and now the rocker phase has made it the easiest yet.”
You can catch Schleper up on the hill ripping his rockers – a Rossignol S3 in soft snow and a K2 Hell Bent on the really deep days.
As an early leader of the rocker revolution, it’s not surprising that K2 is now the first major ski company to rocker its entire ski line.
“Shane McConkey was the driver of development for rocker technology at K2 from concept to completion,” Vice President of Global Marketing Jeff Mechura said. “In 2004, Shane had a lot of ideas about the future of modern ski designs. As it turned out, one of them was not so far out there.”
K2 offers five different types of rockers – something for every skier type. With the right combination of camber and flex tailored to the individual’s needs and desires, there is no downside to the rocker, only benefits, he said.
But K2 is probably best known for its powder version: The Pontoon, which is pretty much the closest thing to a full reverse camber ski, and the most extreme type of rocker. The tip has the most elevation, with more than 50 percent of the ski’s running surface rockered. The camber region still exists underfoot to ensure edge-hold on firmer conditions. But make no mistake, these babies were made to float.
“The future is rocker,” Mechura said. “It is the biggest advancement in ski philosophy and design since shaped skis were introduced in the mid ’90s.”
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