As skiers change, so do skis
The cover of a ski magazine does not usually portray a typical day on the mountain.
Many ski manufacturers have finally come to realize that most skiers are not turning through untouched powder all the time.
In fact, a day at a mountain resort for most snowriders includes riding through tracked snow or along groomed runs for the majority of their visit.
Because of this, companies have recently toned back the design of their skis from extra-wide, fully rockered (rising up at the tail) for carving through fresh snow to more of a standard all-mountain ski built for a variety of conditions.
Jeremy Nelson, owner of Skjersaa's ski shop in Bend, says the latest technology is a tempering of the rockered movement that has dominated ski design the past several years. Many of this season's models are built to appeal more to the everyday skier. Some skiers, Nelson notes, have complained about a lack of control when trying to ski a groomed run on fat skis designed for powder.
"A fully rockered, super-wide ski is great if you're in the backcountry or in the powder all the time," Nelson says. "But it's not the most effective tool for skiing groomers (groomed runs). It's really good in new snow and untracked powder. But let's just be realistic, it's never really like that, unless you're out in the backcountry. By 9:15 a.m., everything's got tracks on it. And you have to ride a groomer either to get out to where you're going or to get back to where you're going. To have a ski that just feels like an elephant on ice skates is no fun."
The wider skis were not providing enough edge hold on the groomed snow, and thus, skiers felt out of control, Nelson explains.
Many of this year's ski models feature a reduction in the tail rocker and more side-cut for turning on harder snow. Some also have more conventional camber underfoot, meaning the skier is able to compress the skis more into the snow during turns, providing greater control.
"You've got to have that camber underfoot so you can really get the edge in and flex the ski a little bit," Nelson says. "Everybody got so excited about the fat skis and the rocker, and then it was like, wait a minute, this is not working though, because it's just too much."
The Armada TST is a new all-mountain ski — incorporating more standard camber and less rocker — that Nelson recommends.
The trend away from fully rockered style also translates to snowboards. Many new snowboard models have less exaggerated tips and offer more camber underneath the feet, the better for snowboarders to dig their edges into the snow.
The Burton Sherlock is a new snowboard model designed along those lines.
"Burton has really taken into account how a board flexes and what happens when that board is in a flexed position," Nelson says. "They had to find a way to keep the edge hold there, while simultaneously allowing the snowboard to float and maneuver better."
While snowboard boots have not changed significantly in recent years, a new trend in ski boots is to offer two different pairs of soles for the same boots: one sole designed for regular alpine bindings, and one for backcountry touring bindings that allow for a free heel.
One such boot is the Tecnica Cochise.
"You can just switch out the soles," Nelson says of the boots. "Basically, they're making boots more functional and multifaceted. The true touring (backcountry) aficionado is going to want different, lighter gear. But most people, if they're going to use it for both on-area (resorts) and touring, this stuff works fantastic."
Mark Morical is reporter at the The Bend Bulletin. Reach him at 541-383-0318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.