First option: Ski very fast. You’ll need to ski fast enough to get the tips to plane above the snow (just as a water skier needs enough speed to get up out of the water). The problem is that a tool like this (skinny skis) that only works when it is skied really fast should only be used by advanced or expert skiers who are skilled enough and confident enough to shred terrain at mach-looney speeds.
The irony, however, is that most of the skiers who are good enough to pull this off have already embraced wider, rockered skis that are easier to ski, while many intermediate and beginner skiers are still struggling on their narrow, outdated setups, unaware that their skis are making the sport exceedingly difficult for them.
Second option: Get in the backseat. If you lack the confidence or the experience to ski fast, the only way to make it down the mountain in relatively deep snow is to lean back on your heels and weight the tails of your skis. This will prevent your tips from diving under the snow and catapulting you over the front of your skis—fun as that sounds.
Of course, the problem here is that leaning back makes it very difficult to turn, since skis are designed to turn by applying forward pressure to the front edges of the ski. Even worse, weighting the tails of the ski forces the skis to rocket out from beneath you, pushing you even farther into the backseat and causing you to go even faster. (Super fun!) So now you are leaning way back, picking up more and more speed, and becoming less and less able to turn. (Gaining speed while losing control = Good times for sure!)
It should be obvious that there is nothing especially fun or safe about the above scenario.
Wider skis provide the additional surface area to keep you from getting bogged down in deeper or heavier snow, allowing you to ski – and turn – at speeds within your comfort range.
Rockered skis – skis with shovels, tips, and sometimes tails that begin to rise up earlier than traditional skis (picture the legs of a rocking chair) – also diminish the likelihood of tip dive, allowing you to ski in a more centered or slightly forward position, still weighting the front of your skis and maintaining your ability to turn.
Rockered skis tend to get their tips caught or “hooked” less by grabby snow, further increasing your ability to turn when you want, and not when you don’t – no more sudden crashes or face plants due to “catching an edge.” (This is all starting to sound pretty good, no?)
But what about those times when it hasn’t snowed in forever?
In hardpack conditions, skinny will generally work better than fat. But these things are relative, and ski manufacturers have been increasingly dialing the hardpack performance of many fat skis.
Not too long ago, a 98mm waisted ski was about as fat as you could buy. Today, a 98mm is what we call a “mid-fat” or all mountain ski, and there are a number of skis in the 95-115mm width range that carve quite well (e.g., Rossignol Experience 98; Nordica Girish; DPS Wailer 112RP), and a number of 120+mm skis that carve well enough; you won’t mistake them for a 68mm race ski, but you can definitely have fun on them as you make your way on groomers back to the chairlift (e.g., the Armada AK JJ or the Black Diamond Megawatt).
If you have been a bit puzzled or intimidated by wider, rockered skis, don’t be. These ski shapes are not just some passing trend, they are key design improvements that have taken ski engineering to the next level. If you like to ski, you owe it to yourself to try some out. Snow conditions that you previously struggled through will become much less tricky. You will be able to ski faster and turn quicker, with more control and more confidence. And this is when skiing really gets fun.
Safer, easier, more fun. What more could you want?
In our next article in the GEAR 101 series, ROCKER 101, Marshal Olson is going to take the next step and explain all the relevant terms you need to know: rocker, early rise, camber, reverse camber, etc.