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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One more on Rockered skis?

I have heard all sorts of stuff on early rise and rockered skis.  Which are not the same thing.  More comments as well on fat skis. Not all of them informative.  Found the article below and thought it worth pasting in and repeating.

Rockered, fat skis have changed the game completely.  That isn't hype just a new act of life.
The new technology has opened up an immense amount of new terrain to skiers all the while making it easier to ski what use to be terrible conditions.  I know that all sounds like wishful thinking.  It's not.

I still have Rando and Mtneering skis that aren't going anywhere.  But I'll guarantee you will see and hear more on this subject if you spend any time on skis during the winter months.

If you think fat and rocker are "out there" check these puppies  out!

The Case for Fatter, Rockered Skis

by Jonathan Ellsworth

I spend a lot of days skiing on some fairly long (185-192cm), pretty wide (100-120mm) planks, and almost every time out these skis tend to draw responses from other skiers. Typically, the comments run something like: "man, those skis are huge, you must be a good skier to handle those things."

My reply: "Actually, these make skiing easier. And safer...."

After countless conversations like this, usually carried out on the chairlift, it appears that the case for wider, rockered skis still needs to be made. So here goes:

(1) In many conditions, fatter, rockered skis are easier to ski than conventionally shaped, skinnier skis (think waist widths of 65-85mm). This fact leads directly to the second point.

(2) Because these skis are easier to ski, they are easier to control, and improved control means safer skiing.

Skinny skis certainly have their place, it's just that this place is primarily in the Olympic games, for skiers wearing those skin tight body suits. To be fair, it can be fun to pull out a pair of 68mm bump skis and spend an afternoon running zipperlines. And I know a few skiers around New Mexico who enjoy their thin slalom skis on groomed runs when fresh snow hasn't been seen for days. (Personally, on days when I know I'll only be skiing bumps, I take out a non-rockered, 78mm ski.)

The problem, however, is that these skis work well only for their designated purposes - mogul runs and groomers - and often become terrible tools when used for other applications, like skiing powder, tracked powder, or chopped up heavy crud.

Skinny skis sink. Since they lack the surface area to float and to allow the tips to rise above or near the top of the snow, the skier is left with one of two options: ski fast, or ski in the backseat.

First option: Ski very fast. You'll need to ski fast enough to get the tips to plane above the snow (just as a water skier needs enough speed to get up out of the water). The problem is that a tool like this (skinny skis) that only works when it is skied really fast should only be used by advanced or expert skiers who are skilled enough and confident enough to shred terrain at mach-looney speeds. The irony, however, is that most of the skiers who are good enough to pull this off have already embraced the wider, rockered skis that are easier to ski, while many intermediate and beginner skiers are still struggling on their skinnier, outdated setups, unaware that their skis are making the sport very, very, difficult for them.

Second option: Get in the backseat. If you lack the confidence or the experience to ski fast, the only way to make it down the mountain is to lean back on your skis to prevent the tips from diving under the snow and catapulting you over the front of your skis. (Sounds like fun!) Of course, the problem here is that leaning back makes it very difficult to turn, since skis are designed to turn by applying forward pressure to the front edges of the ski. Even worse, weighting the tails of the ski forces the skis to rocket out from beneath you, pushing you even farther into the backseat and causing you to go even faster. (Super fun!) So now you are leaning way back, picking up more and more speed, and becoming less and less able to turn. (Gaining speed while losing control = Good times for sure!)

It seems pretty obvious that there is nothing especially fun or safe about the above scenario.

Wider skis provide the additional surface area to keep you from getting bogged down in deeper or heavier snow, allowing you to ski - and turn - at speeds within your comfort range. Rockered skis - skis with shovels, tips, and sometimes tails that begin to rise earlier than traditional skis (picture the legs of a rocking chair) - also diminish the likelihood of tip dive, allowing you to ski in a more centered or slightly forward position, still weighting the front of your skis and maintaining your ability to turn. These skis tend to get their tips caught or "hooked" less by grabby snow, further increasing your ability to turn when you want, and not when you don't - no more sudden crashes or face plants due to "catching an edge." (This is all starting to sound pretty good, no?)

If you have been a bit puzzled or intimidated by wider, rockered skis, don't be. These ski shapes are not just some passing trend, they are key design improvements that have taken ski engineering to the next level. If you like to ski, you owe it to yourself to try some out. Snow conditions that you previously struggled through will become much less tricky. You will be able to ski faster and turn quicker, with more control and more confidence. And this is when skiing really gets fun."

Jonathan Ellsworth does a great gear blog (along the lines of Cold Thistle reviews) @ Blister Gear Reviews and  retail ski sales and demo outlet, Whiteroom, where I found this article.

More here:



Bruno Schull said...

Hi Dane,

Great to see you branching out into skiing--I really enjoy the posts. I am a beginner/intermediate skier, curious about doing more. I can get down most runs on the mountain, have done plenty of easy ski tours, used my skis to approach some ice climbs and gullys, and so on. Basically, when the conditions are good, I do fine. When the conditions are bad...I fall every few meters! Especially with a heavy pack, climbing gear, and so on. Here's my question: Everything I read about long, fat, rocker skis seems to make sense--these appear to be the tools for off-piste down hill. But what about the "all-mountain" ski? The ski that you will skin in on, as well as ski down on? All my experience has been that shorter, thinner, lighter skis are much easier on the uphill...just simply maneuvering them through some steep uphill turns, for example. Also, last season I experimented with a range of skis in increasing widths, to get a feel for variety. Above a 95 mm waist it felt like I was riding two snowboards...I could not even roll the edges down to bite and had a hard time stopping! I am just not skilled enough to make those what should one look for in a good all-mountain ski for the down AND the up? Or is that an impossible question? Many thanks. Bruno.

Dane said...

Great question Bruno. Not sure I'm the guy to answer as I am about to make it complicated.

I split my skiing into three catagories. Skiing to climb..say ski over to the Chere Coulior, the Tacul or up and over le Droites for ice. I want light and short and a moderate side cut. A super lwt, and short Rando ski for sure. (160+/170cm here for both) A ski from the Midi to the summit of mt Blanc and back to the valley floor the same day? Likely short and with some decent side cut. Although some may not want as much side cut or as stiff as I prefer. A general mtn ski for that one. Slightly different animal than a pure rondo ski. Think Haute Route ski here. But they could easily over lap a bit. Mine don't.

To ski the Vallee Blanc or the other big glacier runs and lifts in the Chamonix area for fun not just survival? I want a wider and longer ski. Depending on what I am doing up to a 190 and 105 under foot. may be more depending on the snow conditions.

Boots make a huge difference. I don't see anything that is as climber friendly and that actually skis as well as the TLT series of boots from Dynafit. So far the TLT will turn every ski I am using and most importantly in any snow condition and any terrain.

A lot happening in the ski industry right now. Rockered skis, tech bindings and the lightest ski boot technology. And all are changing rapidly. But with out the new TLT boot technology I think much of the rest would be wasted. It would be on me anyway.

Point to be made. A pair of Spantiks on the best skis made, in the wrong size, shape or length makes for survival skiing. Add the right boot and you can get past a lot of mistakes on the ski choice.

Hope that helps some Bruno. If not ask again :) I seldom lack an opinion.

Dane said...

Forgot...I don't use rockered or wider (past 85) skis till I get to the "ski for fun" catagory. That may change but haven't seen anything in the pipeline.

Bruno Schull said...


Thanks for that information--That really helps. I thought I might be missing something, ie, that folks are using long, fat, rocker skis for approaches, climbs, and so on.

You bring up an interesting point about ski stiffness. I have found that for my skiing, I do like stiffer skis in general. Is there any way to approximately judge the stiffness of a ski without riding it? Is the weight of a ski a semi-reliable indicator of stiffness? For example, I like some of the profiles of the skis in the BD "efecient" series, but I am worried that they might be too light for me.

OK, thanks again. Bruno.

Dane said...

No worries Bruno. The weight of a ski has very little or nothing to do with how stiff a ski is. Two types of stiffness as well. Side to side and front to back.

One of the better ways I think to pick out skis is find folks that are useing them the same way as you intend to and ask questions.

Here is my example.

I took two pairs of skis and boots to ski in to the alps last winter. And I have skied a long time and can turn most skis on any terrain. But I went to the Alps to climb not ski. Knowing full well one must ski to climb there in winter. I just didn't know enough about the kind of skiing required. Nothing here in the North America like it really. I skied a lot. But I coudl have skied and climbed even more with a better selected set of ski gear. I took the wrong boots, the wrong bindings mounted on the wrong skis and only one pair of the right skis. I then skied more after I got home while working than I did in Chamonix on vacation. I'm still using only one pair of skis from that list which should tell you something. I won't make that mistake again next winter. But it took a lot of work on my part to source the gear I needed and lots of questions. Plus some serious cash to get what I know will make the skiing and more importantly the climbing much easier for me next winter.

Most any ski will turn left and right if the skier is up to it. You can buy really light weight skis in any flavor it just takes more money. I'll admit to almost doubled the price of a new pair of skis by dropping just over a half a pound per pair buying carbon.

But I have mtn skis that weigh 6# total for the skis and bindings!

Much of the old rules of thumb to measure a ski has gone out the window. Soft snow skis use to be "soft", Hard snow skis used to be "stiff". Now it is time to do your home work :)

Happy to give you a place to start looking. Send me a private email if you like.

Thomas Hornsby said...

Here is a fun video from a guy who has had one of the largest impacts on powder skis, and rockered tech.

I personally love their skis (Line skis), I have two pairs, and if I had a money tree I would have a few more.

Dane summed up the three categories of skiing to the T (ski-climb, ski-BC, or ski to ski), and I agree with everything he says. Sadly there is no good way imo to test a ski's stiffness without actually seeing the ski. That way you can flex it, and see how it bends. I am a lighter guy 140lbs, but I love my stiff skis. I grew up skiing on the east coast, so I learnt how to ski "bad" conditions before learning about any other conditions. If you want to truly become a better skier spend a week skiing in ME, or NH in Feb, and learn how to ski chop and ice. haha.

One thing to consider with the ski stiffness is that if you will be taking the ski out into the BC with a big pack, get a slightly stiffer ski because you will weigh more with all your gear. But, I also agree with Dane don't try survival skiing with a rockered ski on ice with a huge pack it won't work.

The ski I ski in all conditions and in the BC is 100mm underfoot.

Dane said...

Great video Thomas, thank you!

That whole ice thing? I once spent a dry winter that was defined by an early rain event. I spent the rest of the winter patroling and working on boiler plate. Probably learned more about skiing that winter than I had previous or since. At some point I actually started to enjoy it. But that could have just been spring arriving ;)

Thomas Hornsby said...

During all my years growing up I had a poster of Jackson Hole on my wall, as it is the dream of almost any skier to go there. It finally happened and I went for a few days in late March (few years back now); except it was one of their driest winters and they had no new snow in over two weeks. It was boilerplate. I was out skiing most of the younger patrollers as they had only rarely encountered conditions like that- but sadly to me it was just another day on ice.

The day I drove out of town.... 30+ inches fell. So another time I will have to experience JHMR on a powder day.

Another thing which people probably do not utilize enough is demo-ing skis at a resort. Before dropping $$$$$$ spend a fraction of that and demo a few pairs, get the feel of a wide ski, an early rise ski, a stiff ski. Well worth the time, and since more than likely the guys renting you the skis are not employed by the company who makes the ski, you will get an honest opinion about the ski.