New ski technology: blending the old with the new

Posted By: The Ski Channel on November 17, 2009 9:33 am

While it hasn’t even been a year since the shocking and untimely death of ski legend Shane McConkey, it seems the many years  McConkey spent working to convince his sponsors to incorporate his once-radical ideas into their product line, may not have fallen on deaf ears. In fact, the industry is listening, big time.

Currently the ski industry is undergoing the most significant technological change since the introduction of parabolic shape skis more then a decade ago. It seems that nearly every major ski company will offer at least one model this season that utilizes McConkey’s visionary-like views on the future of skis, “camber” and “rocker.”

Many skiers and boarders may have only briefly heard these often perplexing terms in places such as the local shop, or while heading up the gondola. However, not that many people actually understand this technology, and the amazing benefits they can provide in the right conditions.

For decades, your average pair of skis have relied on the concept of camber. Camber describes the minor upward bend commonly found between the tip and tail on a ski, a curve that peaks beneath the binding, and becomes increasingly visible when a pair of ski bases are pressed together. The purpose of this design is to allow for greater edge control, and greater acceleration when initiating a turn. The skier’s body weight naturally forces the bend into a flattened position, and the skier is hardly the wiser.

The opposite technology of this idea is known as “rocker,” and it is largely responsible for the endless amounts of hoots and hollers heard these days from powder enthusiasts alike. Rocker, also known as “reverse camber” in some skier circles, is distinguished with the raising of the tips and tails on a ski. While the K2 Darkside proves that rockering both the tip and tail isn’t always required, most models follow this pattern.

The purpose of this rocker technology allows a skier to effectively float while skiing in powder. While the rockered design decreases edge contact on hard pack, and thus limits the ski once in-bounds on a groomer, the majority of riders are picking these skis up to supplement their daily pair of wood planks.

However, given these contrasting technologies, it had to be assumed that sooner or later someone was going to merge the two ideas together. Enter Rossignol, or more specifically, the Rossignol S7. Introduced only last season, the skis have already developed a cult-like following as they not only are rockered in the tip and tail, but feature a traditional camber bend.

The result is a ski that absolutely slays the powder, but can still hold its own when skiing hard pack on the way to the lift. The ski quickly sold out last year, and is on pace to do so again this season despite increased volumes in production. Long story short, grab a pair while you can.

It’s not just powder skis that have played around with rocker technology, as even park skis are experimenting with the new shape. Armada Skis, launched years ago with the help of X-Games Medalist Tanner Hall, introduced the “Alpha” line last year.

“Rocker opens up a whole new spectrum of angles on take-offs and butters, while variable side-cut ensures plenty of stability on landing and between features,” says Armada about their line of Alpha skis.

Clearly, ski companies have come a long way towards adopting some of Shane McConkey’s progressive ideas on ski technology. Times sure have certainly changed, as it was just a few years ago when McConkey took a pair of water skis (they were reverse camber) into deep powder in order to get the industry’s attention. Personally, I’m just happy that the idea has now caught fire, as skiers everywhere can now honor the memory of such a great man every time they click into their new skis.