Friday, April 5, 2013

Rocking Baldy in rocker skis

One last run


By ART BENTLEY

After years of skepticism about the claims of manufacturers promoting wide skis shaped like the defining parts of a rocking chair, I’ve come around. The rocker design rocks.

What convinced me was a day on the Volkl Gotama, a portly plank 130 millimeters wide at the tip, 123 at the tail, and 107 underfoot.

Last week, I took a pair all over Bald Mountain, the legendary hill, better known as Baldy, that has been attracting folks to Sun Valley, Idaho, since late 1939, shortly after Ernest Hemingway finished writing “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in Room 206 at the Sun Valley Lodge.

At first I was a trifle leery. This is a beefy board, and I was on the 178-centimeter version, 18 centimeters longer than the slalom skis I usually use.

However, Brad Wood in the ski shop at River Run assured me that due to the rocker design, the length would not be a drawback because the points at which the ski touches the snow are much closer to the boot heel and toe than on a cambered ski with its slight upward arch. Consequently, rocker skis can be tipped on edge much more quickly and easily.

Because I didn’t know what to expect from the Gotamas, I enrolled in College, the easiest run on Baldy, denoted by the green circle that usually marks terrain barely steep enough to induce motion. At Sun Valley, however, it’s not so easy skiing green. College tilts 19 degrees, which would easily rate the blue square of an intermediate run at many resorts.

I angled down the slope from the top. The snow was firm and fast, not supposedly the most favorable condition for full-rocker skis, whose element is deep, untracked powder. I gained speed quickly, easy on Baldy, which has no flat spots. I weighted the downhill edge of the uphill ski, and instantly the Volkls snapped around in a quick, tight and surprisingly effortless C-shaped arc that reminded me of another German name: Porsche.

I repeated the procedure, the result was the same, and my confidence soared. I let the skis go and started leaning into the turns as hard as I could. The Gotamas continued to perform with the same solid authority that makes this sport so addictive.

Five inches of snow had fallen the day before, covering a surface that remained solidly frozen where the groomers hadn’t ventured. Can-Can, a blue run of about 25 degrees, was bumpy and icy under the fresh snow. The skis couldn’t  have cared less. As long as I was positioned properly, they turned with the same sport-car precision.

Next I tried Flying Squirrel, a blue run groomed nightly. Here I noticed another trait of the full-rocker design. Whenever I wanted to slow the skis, all I had to do was press with my downhill heel, directing force to the tails. Immediately, the brakes were applied.

Later, I sampled untracked snow in one of Baldy’s eight bowls. Although the skis were scraping a gelid surface under the powder, I got a sense of how they perform in bottomless snow.

I also tried The Ski, scheduled by Scott Sports to hit the market before the beginning of the 2013-14 season. Designed to evoke nostalgia for the ski of the same name that mogul maniac Bobbie Burns of Sun Valley built and sold more than 30 years ago, the boards wear an updated version of the original livery: squares and rectangles of several colors on a background of black, white, blue or yellow, depending on length.

Narrower than the Gotamas and featuring forward rocker only, these skis are not quite as performance-oriented. Nor do they turn quite as tightly. Once on edge, however, they’re like carving knives on soft snow, they hold a line tenaciously on a firm surface, and they’re designed to handle everything a mountain can offer except, perhaps, outrageously deep powder.

I couldn’t resist trying the white version, 175 centimeters long. I bought a pair of its predecessors in 1984 and loved them. Unfortunately, after eight days, I broke a tip and, of course, my heart.  Given their resurrection, who knows what I’ll have to do?

Guest columnist Art Bentley from La Crescenta, Ca. visited Sun Valley March 18-25 and came away singing the praises of Baldy. He wrote a ski column from 1985-2009 for the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Ca. and has been free-lancing a ski column since 2009 for the San Bernardino (Ca.) Sun newspaper and Inland Valley Daily Bulletin of Ontario, Ca. He previously worked for daily newspapers in Texas and New Jersey, and was a United Press International staffer.




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