Whats the Deal with Rocker Skis? // Ski Technology
The Origins of Rocker Skis
Not since the introduction of parabolic skis has a piece of technology shaken up the ski industry quite like rocker has. When the concept of rocker was introduced to skis a little over 10 years ago, it was done so mostly by skiers themselves who modified their own skis to get better float in powder. This legion of skiers was lead by Shane McConkey who persuaded Volant to make the first commercially available rocker ski, the Spatula. Seeing the first run of Spatula's sell out was all it took for the idea to catch on. Just a few years later, McConkey was drafted by K2 Skis to help them re imagine their entire lineup. As soon as companies noticed that these new "bent up" skis were actually working, and attracting attention from ski manufacturers, they jumped right into the rocker ski craze.
Rocker Skis Mature
In just a short time, rocker technology went from a stupid idea that some ski bums had, to an essential part of any ski company's repertoire. Initially, rocker technology was reserved for powder skis. At the time, the big variables were how much rocker the ski had, and if the ski was fully rockered, or just tip rockered. The results were skis that were hilariously awkward. They were usually super fat, with more ski hovering above the snow than actually touching it. Soon enough though, companies began experimenting with several variables, bringing us the full spectrum of rocker skis that are available today.
Varying Degrees of Rocker Skis
Currently, there are several variables that go into making different types of rocker skis. Things like the amount of rise in the tip and tail, where the rocker starts, the curve of the rocker, the camber of the ski, and more, all work together to create very specific types of rocker. While every company has their own take and use for the technology, all of the rocker varieties can (for the most part) be grouped into two main categories.
The first type of rocker is what I call traditional rocker, and is what you normally imagine when you hear rocker. Fat skis with a lot of rise in the tip, and sometimes tails. Traditional rocker usually greatly reduces the ski's ability to perform on groomed trails, due to their wide waists and minimal contact with the snow. Skis like the Volkl Shiro have so much rocker that they'd be a ridiculous choice to use as your every day resort ski. Of course, on those days where you're chasing powder lap after lap, a traditionally rockered ski would be your weapon of choice. Personally, I wasn't convinced of the rocker craze until last winter when I had the chance to ski some untouched Idaho powder on the K2 Obsethed. Skiing through feet of fresh snow had never been so easy, and I immediately fell in love with rockered powder skis. The only way I can describe the feeling is by saying that I was literally floating down the mountain. I was at least a foot above the ground, and my skis never sank beneath the surface of the snow. Rockered powder skis aren't just hype. They really do make powder skiing effortless and immensely enjoyable.
The other type of rocker is more subtle, and is typically known as early rise. As companies continued to develop rocker, it became obvious that they didn't have to make the rise in the tip quite as extreme. The result was the development of a sub category known as early rise. Skis with early rise are usually most at home on the groomers, although some skis with this technology could also be classified as introductory powder skis. But what's the use point of putting early rise tips on carving skis? Well not only do you get a little extra float in the soft snow if you do decide to go off trail, but you also experience smoother turn initiation on trail. Think about the arc of a circle. This is essentially what the turn radius of a ski is. Now imagine putting a ski on it's edge that has early rise. It's simple to imagine that with the extra curve in the tip, the ski is going to want to start that arc much more willingly than a ski that's naturally straight. This makes early rise a great tool for increasing the versatility of a ski.
Take for instance a ski like the Rossignol Experience 98. Just a handful of years ago, a ski like this (98mm in the waist) would have been considered a strictly powder ski. Now, thanks to early rise in the ski's tip and tail, the Rossignol Experience 98 has a turn radius of only 19.9 meters. In short, this means the Experience 98 is equally capable of tearing up high speed groomers, as well as skiing through deep powder. The benefits of early rise are so great, that it is being incorporated into all types of skis these days, even beginner carving skis and junior skis.
Which Rocker Skis are Right for You?
It's important to note that in the world of skiing, there is really an infinite number of types of rocker. Every company has their own take on the technology, and uses different measurements and flex patterns to create what they imagine to be the best type of rocker for each ski. That said, knowing your style of skiing can greatly influence your search for the perfect ski. To help make the decision easier, I'm going to break rocker skis up into three categories. They are rocker powder skis, mid-fat rocker skis, and early rise skis. Again, I want to emphasize that rocker profiles come in all shapes and sizes, so these three categories should be treated as guidelines and not steadfast rules.
If you're looking for a fat powder ski that you'll take out only for the deepest days of the year, then you're looking for a rockered powder ski. From here, you have to make a decision regarding your style of back country skiing. For instance, do you prefer to search out natural hits and treat the backcountry like a playground? If so, you might consider looking for a softer powder ski with a lot of rocker in both the tip and tail. This will increase your ability to land switch in powder, as well as perform butters and presses across the tops of pillows. Some suggestions for skis like this might be the K2 Pettitor, Nordica Patron, or Volkl Shiro. Or, do you tend to ski gnarly chutes and ski off large drops? If this sounds more like you're style of skiing, then you're going to want to look for a powder ski that's a bit stiffer. Usually this genre of ski only has rocker in the tip, however you can certainly find stiff powder skis with tail rocker as well. A great example of a ski like this would be the Blizzard Bodacious, K2 Pon2oon or the Black Diamond Gigawatt skis.
The second category, mid-fat rocker skis, are a perfect choice for skiers who like to ski everywhere on the mountain. Skis in this category can hold an edge on groomers, dip off trail into the powder, and even take the occasional lap through the terrain park. Again, if you're in this category, it helps to know how you'll be using your skis. If you know you'll be taking runs through the terrain park, you might like a softer, twin tip ski with rocker or early rise. Some good choices for this type of ski would be the K2 Shreditor 102 or the Volkl Gotama. On the other hand, if you keep it pretty aggressive wherever you are on the mountain, you might consider a bit of a stiffer mid-fat rocker ski that won't start chattering when you're flying down the mountain. Some solid choices from this category would be the K2 Coomback, Nordica Helldorado, or the Blizzard Cochise.
The last category of rocker skis are the skis with early rise. This is probably the broadest category of rocker technology, as many brands put early rise on all types of skis, from Juniors to All Mountain Experts. Again, knowing your own personal riding style will help you choose the right ski from this group. If you already have a pair of fat rocker skis and are looking for an all mountain ripper with just a bit of early rise to smooth out your turns, then you're going to want something stiff. Fortunately, there are several options available, including the Volkl Mantra, Volkl Kendo, K2 A.M.P. Aftershock, or the Dynastar Cham 97. The list goes on for these types of skis though, so definitely take your time browsing the site, and if you're looking for a suggestion, feel free to call! Of course, there are also options for those who are a little more tame on their skis. For this type of skier, there are also numerous options available, as early rise encourages turn initiation. If you're looking for an intermediate or beginner level ski with early rise, check out the Blizzard Magnum 7.4, the Volkl RTM 75, or the Rossignol Experience 74!
Well there you have it, a complete summary of rocker skis and what the technology means to you. If you have been put off by the idea of rocker in the past, it's about time you suck it up and make the switch. I promise you won't regret it. No matter what type of skier you are, adding rocker to your skis will give you an added edge to your turns, and more versatility in your skiing. So whether you're a seasoned vet or a first timer, give rocker skis a try. You won't be disappointed!