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New Season, New Toys

From rocker skis to green snowboards, it's time to check out winter's new gear

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This year, it's all about the curves.

When it comes to the season's latest skis, the curves can be found at the tips and tails of the latest rocker skis. In this case, "rocker" has more in common with a rocking chair than a leather-clad musician.

Slowly introduced over the last few seasons, rocker skis feature a higher rise at both the tips and tails, giving them a slightly bowed profile and, combined with broader width, make them ideal for powder skiing.

"People are loving it," said Megan Shellhorn at Greenwood's Ski Haus.

Chuck Cremer, hard goods manager at McU Sports, said the inspiration for the design came from waterskis, which are wider in the middle than they are at the ends. Over the past few years, various manufacturers have been playing around with the design, experimenting with how much curve to put at what point in the ski.

Now, most of the companies have reached some level of consensus, creating a range of rocker skis for different needs. Need a more versatile ski? Look for one with early rise in the tip, but little to none in the tail. Want to be able to pull some serious jumps in the terrain park, with the option to land backward? Look to the other end of the scale for something with lots of rise at both ends of the ski.

"They're making powder and crud so much easier than the traditional powder skis, but they still carve on the trail super well," Cremer said of the new rockers.

Nearly every ski manufacturer has come out with their own version of the rocker ski, including K2, Vogel and Solomon, but it's K2 that is coming out with a limited edition tribute ski for Shane McConkey, who died last year while BASE jumping and whose designs were the basis of the rocker ski. Proceeds from the 500 pairs of the numbered tribute ski will be donated to McConkey's family. McU Sports is the only retail location in the Boise area that will be selling the special ski.

Shellhorn also points to Armada's Alpha1 as being one that has proven popular since it's not as wide as some offerings and its light weight makes it more of an all-terrain ski than many other offerings.

Women-specific skis are also continuing to gain momentum, with more manufacturers expanding their offerings. Shellhorn said the industry is quickly approaching a 60/40 split between men's and women's skis, and the trend is not unnoticed.

"Women are responding to it," she said. "They appreciate the fact that they have more choices now."

This year, bindings are also getting a bit of an overhaul thanks to the Schizo from Marker. Like its split-personality name suggests, the binding allows skiers to move it up to 3 cm after it has been mounted, letting skiers customize their ride depending on the daily conditions or their mood.

Shellhorn added that the moveable style of binding is perfect for those who are still trying to figure out what works best for them on the hill.

For boots, the focus remains on fit and comfort, regardless of the discipline. Last year, Solomon introduced a custom shell for Alpine boots that allows the boot to be stretched just by the skier's foot without the need of a stretcher, making things far more customizable, Cremer said.

When it comes to board boots, Cremer said the industry is moving toward a boa-lacing system, which allows for easy, one-handed adjustment with a tight fit.

Snowboards themselves are continuing a trend that first saw light just a few years ago. Now, reverse camber boards are all the rage.

"Everyone was trying to buy or build [a reverse camber board]," said Evan Cecil, salesman at Newt and Harold's.

The board moves the contact points down the board, giving it the distinct appearance of a bird in flight when seen in profile. While Cecil said it's a matter of preference among riders, the reverse camber boards have been continually selling out.

Boards are also going increasingly green this year as well. One standout company is Lib Tech, which uses soy-based top sheets and sidewalls, low-VOC epoxy resin and renewable forest product for the cores, in addition to an impressive list of environmentally friendly manufacturing techniques.

Snowboard manufacturing is not good for the environment, Cecil said. "They're all petroleum-based products, but everyone's trying to lessen those impacts."

Nordic skate skis continue to get lighter, and Fischer has upped the ante this season with a new ski that reduces the swing weight via a keyhole. The RCS Carbon Lite Hole Ski has a large keyhole cutout in the tip of the ski, giving hard-core speed skiers a slight weight advantage.

"It's very important for some skiers," said Idaho Mountain Touring ski buyer Jared Rammell with a laugh.

Whether that hole in the tip makes a difference will probably depend on the perspective of the skier, but there will undoubtably be more than a few willing to test it out.

Of course, those who might not be able to afford new gear this season can always try their luck at scoring an early set of rocker skis at the Bogus Basin Ski Education Foundation's Ski Swap Friday, Nov. 6, and Saturday, Nov. 7, at Expo Idaho. For more information, see Picks on Page 20.

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