You’re first attracted by a ski’s topskin, how it appears in the hand.
But you live with the base, where the ski meets the snow.
Of all the clues to performance that can be gleaned by examining a pair of new skis plucked off the ski shop wall, perhaps the most significant reside in the ski’s baseline. In the olden days – i.e., over ten years ago – there wasn’t a lot of discussion about baseline. All skis were cambered – arched tip to tail – to one degree or another. Then early rise tips appeared on some high performance models and soon “rocker” was all the rage.
You might say we’re living in the Golden Age of Rocker. Just about every ski sold to every skier type has some tweak in the tip to lift the shovel – just ever so slightly or suddenly and severely – off the snow. Any model with a waist width over 90mm most likely also sports a gently elevated tail, so it won’t get hung up in off-trail terrain.
Pressing a pair of skis together at the midpoint will reveal to what extent the tip and tail are rockered; when the pressure is released, the gap that appears between the bases is what remains of the cambered area in the midsection. A fully rockered ski is essentially reverse cambered, with the arch underfoot inverted.
A double-rockered, camber-less ski will almost invariably feature a tapered tip and most likely sports a tapered tail, as well. A tapered tip moves its widest point down, towards the waist, before initiating the sidecut curvature that dictates turn shape. Thus the already rockered forebody is disconnected from the midsection both by the sidecut shape and the bottom’s baseline.
The reason this matters is because the opposite ends of the zero-rocker to endless-rocker spectrum serve two completely different skiing styles. In their natural elements, the most gifted freerider would have some issues on a FIS slalom, and putting a World Cup Downhiller on a fat, double-rockered baseline with heavily tapered tips and tails might be grounds for attempted homicide.
The same camber upon which the racer’s life depends for early connection to the top of the turn is of no use to the freerider who doesn’t need to hang onto 180cm of edge as much as he needs to pivot on a dime before straight-lining to the next kicker.
A study in contrasts: Lindsay Vonn seeks total connection with the snow; Tucker Fitzsimons is barely in contact with the planet.
The different requirements of solid, water-injected courses versus broken, mobile, wind-crusted natural snow are accentuated by speed. The end-to-end camber and exaggerated shape of a slalom ski, tuned to the exigencies of tightly-set, marble-hard racecourses, amount to a sentence of hard labor in wind-hammered chop. (Not that racers can’t ski brutal crud – not my point – racers are strong enough to ski through a moving lava field.)
By now, the Alert Reader may be wondering, what does camber do? Camber creates an arch the skier can compress; when the skier releases the pressure, the stored energy (mostly in the distorted fiberglass) tries to bring the structure back to home, ready to be compressed again. The released energy helps propel the racer along the turn trajectory and into the next turn.
So what does removing all camber do? It makes it possible to pivot without prejudice. The easiest way to decelerate without changing direction is to simply thrown ‘em sideways and tilt the downhill edge just enough to keep it from catching. It’s called a “power skid,” and it’s a move you need in hairball conditions.
Because fully rockered baselines remove the risks associated with burying a tip or catching an edge, they’ve allowed the power skid to be the foundational move for an entire sub-culture of skiers. Blend the power skid with straight-lining and you’re an instant freerider, no pricey, elitist lessons required.
The rockered-to-the-moon baseline allows the absence of technique to be its own technique. It also permits feats of athleticism that could not otherwise be contemplated. It’s even possible to carve on a reverse-camber baseline, stripped of every vestige of camber, like the Black Crows Daemon, by judicious use of edging and pressuring, yet the design is clearly meant not just to tolerate skidding, but to encourage it.
Love rocker or lament it, it’s become a permanent fixture of modern ski design. How it blends into the rest of the ski’s make-up has a lot to do with the ski’s on-hill strengths and weaknesses. The next time you pull a ski off the rack to inspect it, grab the pair and put them base-to-base. An inspection of the baseline won’t tell you everything about the ski, but along with other clues like tip and tail taper, it reveals a lot more than flexing it by hand will.
Of course, the only proper way to evaluate a ski is to take if for a test drive. To appreciate what any given baseline allows, you have to edge and pressure it. Realskiers.com is founded on the premise that on-snow testing, properly executed and evaluated, provides a reliable to guide to product performance for skiers looking for their next ski.
As you read this, the 2018 trade fair season is up and running, providing shop personnel the opportunity to try all of next year’s toys. This is my Christmas, and I can hardly wait.