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In Kimberly, B.C., locals plant their old skis beside the highway. The fence gets longer every year. (Bruce Kirkby)
In Kimberly, B.C., locals plant their old skis beside the highway. The fence gets longer every year. (Bruce Kirkby)

Ski gear: There’s always something better to strap on your feet Add to ...

Before I insist that “rocker” (the latest revolution in modern ski design) matters – and can make a immense difference to your enjoyment of the white stuff, especially in less-than-ideal conditions – I must first explain that I spent eight seasons skiing on a pair of boards hauled from a Swiss dumpster.

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Really, how could I resist? Sure, the edges were rusty and the bases delaminating, but they sported fluorescent graphics, and in the early nineties this meant they were probably darn good. As a dishwasher in the alpine village of Saas Fee, Switzerland, without two pennies to rub together, the decision was easy. After glancing around to ensure no one was watching, I yanked them from the dustbin and sprinted home. A bit of epoxy and sandpaper were all the skis needed. The next day they rode with me to the summit. Within minutes, a huge grin spread across my face.

Okay, they were narrow, unusually stiff and arrow straight – everything today’s skis aren’t – but for eight years, from the Alps to the Canadian Coast Range, through backcountry storms and icy groomers, those skis served me well. Which leads to a critical disclaimer: It is easy, in this age of hyper-aggressive marketing, to convince ourselves that somehow our gear – new skis, a different bike, a sturdier tent – will make all the difference. And so we buy, buy, buy, when all we really need to do is find the time to get outside, where we discover, again and again, that skiing (or biking, or camping) is always fun, no matter what equipment we have.

But … back to those dumpster skis. As the years passed, I noticed the skis of companions, and those riding lifts beside me, began to morph at an extraordinary rate. First the tips and tails widened, the advent of so-called parabolics, claiming to make turns snappier and easier. Then the whole darn ski started fattening; tip, waist and tail wider than my two misery sticks put together.

Thus began the era of “fat skis,” when anyone buying new boards was inevitably disappointed, because no matter how enormous their brand new planks seemed, the next season always brought something fatter.

About this time a friend took mercy, and presented me with a stunning pair of new skis, wide as a dinner plate with lots of sidecut (parabolic shape). (Ironically, my friend worked in the warranty department for a major ski manufacturer, and had retrieved these skis from the garbage. Seriously.)

As one living in the West and skiing mostly powder, I can say without reservation that those new skis changed everything. With lots of width, they floated more easily, and with lots of shape, they turned more easily. As an entrenched intermediate skier, my confidence and ability grew in bounds. Days on snow, essentially, involved a lot less effort and a lot more fun.

Of course, owning the latest equipment means one thing: Soon it will be old and passé. In the years since my new “garbage skis” arrived, I have watched the latest offerings grow ever fatter and lighter than mine. I remained unflinchingly content. Until last winter.

That’s when the latest revolution in ski design exploded into the mainstream. You may not have seen rockered skis yet, but spend any time at a ski hill, and you will. They look ridiculous; tip and tail bending up like a banana underfoot. But make no mistake, they are a game changer. Without getting too technical, rockered skis make everything easier; highly manoeuvrable and very forgiving, they are superb in both powder and variable conditions. They aren’t just for experts, either. Even a touch of rocker offers great benefits to the novice.

Which brings me to something hard for an entrenched ski-curmudgeon to admit: If you are a skier, and don’t yet own a pair of fat, rockered (or semi-rockered) skis, you will. One day, you will.

Don’t think of the rocker-fad as rampant commercialism; part of that never-ending avalanche of slightly modified gear that magazines and websites insist you simply must own. No, frame this instead in terms of fun. You should never let anything get in the way of having fun – and that includes your skis. Ski design has reached another tipping point.

Of course you could wait a few years, keeping your eyes on dumpsters. Rockered boards will inevitably be showing up there, although you might have to wrestle me for them.

 

SKI WITH THESE

Rocker skis curve upward at the ends and downward in the middle: Picture a banana on its back. The design floats better in soft snow and makes turning easier. Here are a few options for those considering testing the rockered waters.

Rossignol S3 Lighter and livelier that the classic S7s (which brought rocker to the mainstream), the S3 is a nimble ski that works as well on hard-packed groomers as it will in deep powder. $585; mec.ca

Black Diamond Carbon Megawatt Skiers know an ounce underfoot equates to a pound in the backpack. With carbon stringers and a wood core, these light-yet-ultrawide skis are unbeatable in soft snow. $770; mec.ca

Handcrafted skis Think 100-per-cent custom skis are out of reach? Think again! Fill in an online form, choose graphics (or supply your own), and soon your very own Canadian-made (and surprisingly affordable) skis will be on the way. Starting at $675; bigbendskis.com

 

Follow on Twitter: @magicwillhappen

 

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