By Dan Balkin, HoliMont Snowsports School
You might be, especially if you have skis that are more than two years old. The “rocker” we refer to is from the latest evolution in ski design. Gentle reader: You may now roll your eyes and sigh. Yes, you have every right to believe this is another marketing gimmick. It’s not.
In the snowsports world, there are certain skiers in Ellicottville who have “street cred,” but let’s call it “slope cred.” One such skier is Bruce Heine. Bruce is a race coach, a fully certified PSIA instructor, and a noted competitor on the local NAR (Niagara Adult Racing) circuit. Bruce is a HoliMont member who can be found ripping elegantly powerful turns down Greer Hill, or hanging in the Phoenix Room, where his son Dylan is one of our adaptive skiers. Most tellingly, Bruce is often seen skiing HoliMont’s most challenging slopes with Dylan and Mike Higgins, Dylan’s instructor and devoted friend. You get the picture.
To be sure, Bruce has little room for improvement as a Dad. But when one of the smoothest, most elegant, and efficient skiers on the slopes looks even better, I take notice. Last season, I spent portions of chairlift rides craning my neck backwards to watch Bruce as he made a series of perfect round arcs on groomed snow, ice, bumps, or crud — just about anything short of skiing on porcelain. I made inquiries. How are you doing this? Bruce, with his customary modesty, offered me some answers.
But before we go there, we must digress. At the end of the ski day, we all place our skis base–to–base, lock our skis together and trudge toward home. If you have a pair of rockered skis and press them together, the tips of the skis will bulge slightly outward, as if they are bent upwards — hence the term rocker. Imagine a pair of water skis. They are rockered significantly more at the tip and the tail than traditional snow skis.
And that is the argument that famed extreme skier Scott Schmidt made to his ski company sponsor. He presented the idea that if snow skis were more akin to water skis they would be much more user friendly on ski slopes. In other words, if rockered tips on water skis were effective in absorbing lake motorboat wakes and natural waves, why would the same rockered tips not help absorb the undulating surface of ski slopes?
They ignored him. Undeterred, Schmidt grabbed a pair of water skis, sliced them in half, mounted alpine ski bindings on each half and went extreme skiing on steep, gnarly slopes. He enlisted a fellow extreme skier to film the results — and the scales fell from the manufactures eyes.
It was immediately evident from the video that rockered skis floated and danced in conditions where non-rockered skis floundered. This tangled tale leads us back to Bruce Heine. Last season, I asked Bruce to tell me what he thought of rockered skis. The following are my back-of-the-envelope notes:
1. “Probably the most significant change in technology since the advent of shaped skis.”
2. “Rockered skis make one feel like you can ‘hover’ over your skis because they initiate so easily.”
3. “The ‘rocker’ allows the skier to feel the sensation of carving without a lot of effort. The ski is already bent, or pre-flexed, into a turn shape.”
4. “Bad Company was a brilliant live band in 1975.” (OK, Bruce did not say that, but it was nonetheless true.)
5. “When it’s piley or lumpy, you don’t even feel it.”
This year, I bought my first pair of rockered skis. I wholeheartedly agree with everything Bruce had to say. In short, shaped skis were the first real revolution in ski design in the past 20 years. Now, we also have shaped skis that are wider and rockered. These three innovations now work in unison to make skiing easier and more fun for the huddled masses.