Getting off your rocker on the slopes

WHEN the late daredevil skier and base jumper Shane McConkey strapped his bindings to waterskis and set off down the mountain, it wasn’t expected that he’d cause a revolution in ski technology. But McConkey realised that the curvier, scooped camber of the waterskis gave him greater control when haring down the deep, soft snow drifts of uncharted mountainsides.

To help his fat skis float above the powder, he bent the ski the “wrong way” so that the tail and tips turned up – and the rocker ski (like the bottom of a rocking chair) was born. Unlike flatter traditional skis, which actually rise in the middle at the bindings, the rising front or back and central dip of rockers offers more control – particularly in off-piste conditions – by having less aggressive contact with the snow.

Nearly a decade later, McConkey’s been proved absolutely right. In fact, the various rocker shapes are gradually taking over the ski market. K2 – a major ski manufacturer – has this year put rocker features on all of its skis, from powder boards to piste planks.

Mark Jones, the Ski Club of Great Britain’s technical expert and ski tester, says that while there are huge variations, the most common designs of the new breed of skis are the nose rocker, tail rocker and reverse camber.

The nose rocker – which accentuates the elevation at the front of the ski, and is also known as the “early rise tip” – allows skiers to be more centred on the ski, with less risk of the tips catching in tricky conditions. It’s an alternative to the fatter ski traditionally used for off-pisteing, and means you don’t have to make so much of a balancing adjustment to your skiing style when heading off the beaten track.

“It does what it says on the tin and raises the ski earlier through the fore body,” says Jones. “It’s normally matched up to a traditional or flat cambered ski, so this allows it to still feel stable at speed.”

Another variation is the tail rocker – a lifted tail which is always paired with a nose rocker, meaning that the front and back are pointing upwards.

“It stops the tail from catching through the end of the turn, makes pivoting and steering even easier and lets you slash out those turns in the deep stuff,” says Jones.

And then, for the full works, there is the reverse camber – in which the entire ski follows the shape of a curve.

“Reverse camber means it is bent the wrong way through the whole length of the ski,” says Jones. “This shape allows you to smear and surf above the powder and pivot and ditch speed in an instant. In essence it’s the ultimate hit in deep powder, but on piste – forget it.”

Nevertheless, Jones says that rocker-style skis that are designed for piste skiing too are appearing in increasing numbers. While the shape was traditionally for deep powder, new all-mountain skis – a hybrid of piste skis and front-and-back rockers – can take you anywhere.

“We are now starting to get skis that are built for strong carving on the piste, with a traditional sidecut (where a piste ski gets thinner in the middle) but also raised nose and tails to allow them to rip around in the back country. These hybrid options are possibly the future of skiing.”

Mark Jones is director/ coach for performance training group ICE – www.icesi.org