Rocker rules America, but Europe adapts at a slower pace

Reporting from the 2011 Interski Congress in St. Anton, Austria, SNEWS finds out that while rocker is the talk of America, in Europe it's still seen largely a technology only for niche products.
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Rocker ski and snowboard technology may be blowing up bigger than Elvis on the slopes of the U.S. right now, but one look around the 2011 Interski Congress and it appears as if the rest of the snowsports world is still dancing the waltz.

At St. Anton, Austria, site of the Interski international ski and snowboard instruction onvention being held from Jan. 15th to 22nd, 2011, there are 38 countries in attendance, but only three -- the U.S., Switzerland and France -- are skiing on rockered skis during their demonstrations. And only the U.S. is making a formal presentation about how deeply the rise of the new technology is expected to impact the sport.

“Here in Austria especially, despite all of the incredible terrain they have for freeriding, you’re still dealing with the deep heritage that these skiers have in racing and carving,” says Scott McGee, coach of the Professional Ski Instructors (PSIA) Nordic Team. McGee, who came over to Europe to tour and powder hound for one week before Interski, says while he’s certainly seeing fatter reverse-cambered skis on the off-piste, he doesn’t think they have had much -- if any -- impact on the instructor’s ranks.

“It’s certainly giving more access to the people who are interested in skiing powder and looking for new adventures,” McGee says. “And you walk by any shop and there are rockered skis in the windows. But you’re still not very likely to see them on the slopes.”

The PSIA-AASI presentation, titled: Teaching that Embraces the New Technology, is designed to showcase rocker, and how effectively the U.S. is utilizing it in their classes. While actively demonstrating the “slarve,” the kind of skidded carve that rocker makes so easy in powder and crud conditions, the Americans also want to stress how quickly it can get beginners and intermediates onto the upper slopes.

“It really has the potential to accelerate how we teach those classes,” says Alpine Team member Bobby Murphy, who is the director of the Vail SnowSports School. “While we may have to continue to be a little more remedial with the people who show up to classes on more traditional equipment, because rocker releases so quickly into a turn, it means our students are going to be able to feel more quickly the sensations that we’re trying to impart. I actually think that we’re looking at a scenario where the equipment has actually caught up to the way that we teach.”

But that doesn’t mean the Europeans are buying into it. Not yet. With so much of Interski based on making perfect rehearsed turns in hardpack situations, rocker still represents a kind of cultural leap that the Euros seem reluctant to embrace.

“You still see World Cup ski racing on the television here every weekend, and as far as how skiing is seen as sport in Europe, that’s not insignificant,” says John Armstrong, VP of PSIA-AASI international affairs. “There aren’t a lot of people going off-piste, or into what we’re now calling the sidecountry, because over here you can drop through three different mountainous weather zones before you get back to the safety and familiarity of groomed terrain. It’s a much bigger commitment.”

After being criticized by ski manufacturers in the past for not embracing shape skis quickly enough, many snowsports instructors are making sure to get out ahead of rocker technology as it takes off. Especially in light of all the press proclaiming that, like shape skis before, rocker makes it so easy to ski better, that skis might not need to take a class.

“Skis don’t teach people how to ski,” says Alpine Team member Dave Lyon. “So as more people start skiing and snowboarding on rockered boards, our message needs to be about improvement. We need to be active in showing people how to use the new gear for its ultimate performance.”

As to whether the European snowsports instruction community will ever embrace rocker, Alpine Team coach Rob Sogard says the U.S. Team is certainly going to do its part to give their instruction brethren a heads-up.

“It’s industry changing technology,” says Sogard. “Given that we have kind of a reputation for being innovators here at Interski over the years, how rocker is going to make that happen is a perfect message to come from us.”

-- Peter Kray

On Oct. 6, 2010, veteran journalist Peter Kray joined the SNEWS team and is now editor of the new SNEWS WinterSports channel. We trust you are enjoying the full offering of WinterSports news. Be sure to email your friends and let them know the best WinterSports news has arrived -- just in time for the winter season. Got WinterSports news? Send your WinterSports news to Kray at pkray@snewsnet.com. Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com to learn about posting your own news releases, or for any other questions or comments. We love to hear from our readers!

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