Ski Whisperer: Are Rockers Mythic 'Silver Bullets?'
Some of this will be familiar to some readers, but it is worth repeating and may be, in fact, among the most important equipment advice we can offer in this or any other season.
Most of the ski industry is using the term "rocker" to describe anything that deviates from traditional camber. A myriad of proprietary labels like resort rocker, all mountain rocker, powder rocker, adaptive rocker, natural rocker, free ride rocker and on and on are being bandied about. At realskiers.com we daily encounter the confusion this mishmash of labels is creating.
Fortunately for large segments of the skiing population, many of these “rockers” really aren’t true rockers at all, at least by our definition.
The notion that a single description can cover the wide range of design differences between, say, minimal tip rise such as in some modern World Cup GS skis and a reverse camber, negative sidecut model like the DPS Lotus is misleading at best.
Realskiers.com defines 3 camber profile families, each with distinctly different on snow performance. Companies have gifted us with at least five hundred—that’s 500!—models, many of which vary one from another but slightly so it’s not surprising that they have collectively come up with a stew of in-house rocker designations. Marketing run amuck?
We keep it simple.
Skis with negative or little camber and markedly rockered tips and tails, what some call powder rockers (or, less kindly, barrel staves), we designate simply as rockers. They almost could work on a rocking chair. These are most effective in deep snow. In fact, they are really fun in deep snow.
Skis with highly rockered tips that are also traditionally cambered, what some companies call 'park rocker' or 'resort rocker', we designate as early rise, as we do skis with traditional camber, flat tails and some modest tip rise. Skis like this handle crud and other bumpy features well, retain good carving ability and are as a rule less technically demanding than skis with traditional camber. These skis have profiles that somewhat resemble runners on a sled.
They are the most versatile and serve resort-based recreational skiers best.
Skis with neither of the above design characteristics are designated traditional camber skis. The profile roughly resembles an inverted leaf spring.
These are the most technical skis, including—but not limited to—most race skis and twin tips like SkiLogik’s Ullr’s Chariot. These skis deliver the highest level of performance on ice, groomed and hard snow and are the wise choice for honing technical ability, including carving skills.
Leaving aside performance differences, the question is “Are 'rockers'—by whatever name— silver bullet solutions for better skiing? Are they sure cures for technical plateaus?
There are no silver bullets.
Manufacturers, media and many retailers would love you to believe that this or that ski, boot or binding will by itself up your game; will, alone, improve your skills. "Buy this ski," goes the myth, "and you'll be a better skier."
We know of no ski that can improve anyone’s skills. Some skis do facilitate learning and we identify them in the reviews at realskiers.com. However, a large number of skis actually render skiers less technically capable—rockers on groomed or hard snow being the glaring example. They ski 'short' and with raised tip and tail tend not to hook up as strongly as traditional skis profiles. Their wide waist widths erases some of the worst effects of inefficient or imprecise technique. The illusion is that the skier is skiing better. He or she is generally not.
Good training skis allow already-present skills to blossom and enhance skill development.
What is really going on is that the ski "gets out of the way", allowing the skier's honestly earned skill to emerge or for new skills to develop more rapidly, but the only way to actually improve ability is through training and practice, what we call coaching and mileage. To quote our old friend Jerry Warren, an icon of modern teaching, "Practice makes permanent; perfect practice makes perfect."
We urge skiers to avoid succumbing to Silver Bullet Syndrome and find objective, expert assistance in determining what kind of ski would be best, especially if getting better is high on the to do list.
Let's end this with maybe most irresponsible sentence uttered in ski shops and forums:
"You need this ski. It will make you ski better.”
Easier? Absolutely. Rockers render deep snow skiing less daunting than it would be on, say, traditional camber technical skis and open previously inaccessible terrain to less than elite-level skiers.
Early rise models help reduce performance barriers on groomed snow and in bumps, moderate powder and crud.
But better? Only a good learning tool can facilitate genuine improvement and even then only under the guidance of an effective ski teacher.
If you hear "makes you ski better" or "everybody needs this ski", we recommend that you head for the door!
Bottom line: There are no bad skis, but there are plenty of wrong skis for any individual.
For more on this or almost anything technical in skiing, please visit realskiers.com.
Until next time,
Have Fun, Don’t Fall!
Follow Ski Whisperer Peter Keelty realskiers.com.