RealSkiers: Is Rocker The New Cap Ski?
If you don’t have the time to read the long-form answer to the question posed in the title to this entry, I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version: yes and no.
If you want to read much longer reflections on the subject of rocker and its role in ski construction, we suggest you browse the library of information available at realskiers.com. If you’d like to entertain the idea for a few minutes now, please proceed to the next paragraph for a short sermon inspired by a watershed event in recent ski history.
In November of 1989, Salomon summoned every living member of the international ski press corps to the unveiling of their new ski line. To put the event in context, Salomon’s most recent new product launches, in alpine boots, cross-country boot/binding systems and a little company making metal “woods” named Taylor Made, had been wildly successful. Now the brand with the Midas touch had laid its hands on the ski sector. The market was ready to believe.
Called It ‘Monocoque’
The linchpin feature of the new Salomon skis was a construction they christened “monocoque,” as it consisted of a single shell wrapping the top of the ski edge to edge, eliminating the classic square sidewall. Almost simultaneously, Volant presented the same sort of shell construction, only fashioned from steel, and Elan debuted a “monoblock” ski built along the same lines as the Salomon monocoque. The generic term that emerged to embrace all skis without separate sidewalls was “cap” construction.
Within two years of the Salomon/Volant/Elan technology trifecta, every ski brand in the world had to re-tool or risk sudden irrelevance. Because every manufacturer had to salvage what they could from their existing production lines, “cap” skis were concocted in laminate molds and pressed on top of torsion boxes as well as being formed from single-piece shells. In some instances, the “cap” was merely a decorative resin poured over a virtually finished ski to make it look like it had a structural topsheet.
Fast forward a decade to the next tectonic shift in “ski market geology” which, in a uniquely Gallic twist of self-inflicted fate, Salomon and confrere Rossignol initially utterly underestimated. Shaped skis with deep sidecuts would come to dominate the design discussion, leaving suddenly outflanked French factories protesting vainly that shape was just a fad.
As ski makers fiddled with dimensions, they found there was a growing market for fatter skis, fueled by films that showed what amazing exploits a new generation of adventure athletes could perform on the new gear. Nobody cared anymore what the ski sidewall looked like. The cap ski craze had run its course.
Golden Age Of Rocker
Now, in the 21st century, we are living in the Golden Age of Rocker. It’s almost impossible to find a ski that isn’t tweaked upwards at the tip. Even skis with very, very little splay in the forebody will write “ROCKER” in large letters on the topskin to signal that they’re members of the club.
To describe how their skis work, ski marketers have to illustrate the amount of ski that will be in contact with the earth during straight running (often 50 – 70 percent), compared to how much edge will find snow when the ski is properly tipped (all of it!). The idea of perpetual edge contact, which had been the Holy Grail of the recently demised carving craze, seems as quaint as a one-piece suit.
As was the case with cap skis, brands have found all sorts of ways of achieving a rockered baseline, creating a rich diversity of profiles and behaviors. Some manufacturers use rocker, along with other technologies, to essentially separate the forebody from the rest of the ski so it acts as a terrain buffer and little else. Tails aren’t immune from the treatment either, as they too can be bent and have their ends tucked in to further reduce their role in any cross-hill trajectory.
Other iterations of rocker treat its application as if it were an exotic perfume; one drop behind each shovel is all that’s required to refine the relationship between ski and snow. This mini-rocker is usually described as “early rise,” just enough lift to keep a pressured tip from diving but not enough to lose edge contact when the ski is tipped and bent.
Another way of characterizing the behavior of an early rise baseline is to call it “invisible rocker,” as it never calls attention to itself. The skier can simply ski “normally” and the slight rise in the tip will make it all feel easier.
Easier Or Better?
Please note that making one’s downhill experience easier does not necessarily mean that the skier is getting better. “Easier” is the path to immediate gratification, which is naturally quite attractive, while “better” entails the cultivation of a few skills that can open up the entire mountain to exploration. We shall return to this subject in future posts.
Back to the subject at hand, will today’s virtual universality of rocker suffer the same fate as the once ubiquitous cap ski? The answer is yes, provided that one takes into account what actually became of the monocoque construction.
In fact, it survived the shaped ski and fat ski eruptions that overshadowed it and soldiers on to this day. It plays a part in countless models that use a half-cap construction or some combination of a shell and square sidewall together. You’ll find it throughout women’s ski collections and of course the monocoque remains a wheelhouse technology for Salomon.
I see a similar future for rocker. It will become a commonplace component in its early rise incarnation and will remain de rigeur for full-on powder skis. It will appear here and there in everyone’s line, but won’t be the centerpiece of the conversation. If, for no other reason than because everything in Nature is cyclical, there will be a resurgence in carving and the tools that make this skill attainable.
For now, rocker is king. Long live the King!
Just be aware; if past is prologue, the King shall not reign forever.