An Ode to Rock Skis

Rachel Cohen points it straight toward winter with her trusty rock skis in tow. [Photo] Tyler Cohen

My favorite skis right now, the first pair I’ll reach for this season and those that I’ll keep going back to for much of the winter, didn’t win a 2021 Editors’ Choice Award. You won’t find them in this year’s Gear Guide or at your local shop or likely anywhere online. And even if you did find them, I doubt you’d consider spending the money. Because they’re 10 years old; an original pair of rocket-red Voilé Chargers. They’re my rock skis.

Voilé launched the Charger in 2010, and I’m pretty sure we called it a game changer in that year’s Gear Guide. They measured a broad 112 mm underfoot, a middle-of-the-road width at the time in its 181 cm length. And while a skier of my compact stature would predictably struggle to thread a ski of that size between Vermont’s snug hardwoods, I’ve found its heavily rockered tip and tail make it delightfully surfable.

They’re my favorite for how they ski, for how the tips float through fresh snow or heavy snow or unfilled water bars or whatever brambles poke through October’s thin snowpack. They make crummy conditions fun. With edges dulled by time and bases long void of wax, there’s nothing sharp to catch or hang up; the ride is easygoing and smooth. Patient. Forgiving.

For how well they ski, they’re an unsightly mess. Both tails are delaminating from being shoved into muddy trailhead snowbanks dozens of times too many. The bases are gouged and carved like an old farmhouse’s wooden floors. And they’ve held at least four pairs of bindings, with the filled holes with mismatched plugs to show for it.

They’re also my favorite for what they ski. Long dispossessed of flawless bases, they’re eager to be raked across thinly covered rocks and through grass and leaves that will only add to their patina. It’s a freeing feeling, to not be worried about coreshots or blown edges. And there’s freedom in skiing before the season should really begin or well after its ended; before the snowpack is thick and after it’s begun to melt, patchy and mixed with mud. Rock skis offer freedom to ski whatever, whenever, wherever.

Mostly, they’re my favorite for what they have skied. Each time I click in, I’m reminded of the places I’ve been on these Chargers. Of following Glen Plake around the Eastern Sierra, dropping into a hallway of limestone on freeheel bindings. Of being so puckered in Chamonix with Andreas Fransson that my sweaty palms soaked through my gloves. Of November storms that plastered the not-yet-opened resorts with enough snow to make it seem like midwinter. When I skin on these skis later this month or early next month or whenever the first coating of snow falls across our mountains, memories of these skis’ heyday and their long, beautiful retirement will rush back. Someday, when the tails delaminate too close to the bindings or I catastrophically blow an edge, I’ll write an obituary for these Voilé Chargers. They won’t have been taken from this world too soon, but they will be remembered for a long, healthy life. They’ll be survived by many, many others in the quiver, maybe one of which will achieve the same loved-past-its-prime status. They’ll be gone but never, ever forgotten.

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  1. John Hadden says:

    Love it! I too have a valued pair of rock skis (well several actually depending on what kind of skiing, ’cause ya know, nordic…) I’m always saddened on the day of catastrophic failure of a trusted pair of rock skis, and I retire them with honor to the overhead racks in my garage (much to my wife’s chagrin…) But I am consoled by the fact that the next rock ski candidate in my quiver is already lined up for action.

  2. Music to my ears! Skiing in the Midwest, especially da YooPee, one needs rock skis. My go-to setup is a pair of the gold Volkl Gotamas (the kind before Volkl went all goofy with the full-rocker thing) and yes, Buddha is long gone. Old 22 designs tele bindings with stiffy springs allow these monsters to handle anything from pow to, well, rocks. They’ve had more ptex added than was there originally…but they go anywhere, don’t demand much attention and always take care of the old guy riding them! I’ve got newer fancier stuff, but when the going gets tough (or rocky, or icy), the Gotamas shine!!

  3. Terry Patterson says:

    Hey Tyler, strong work on describing your beloved and true Voile Chargers. I too, have a pair of the rocket red babies, mounted with freeheel Tele bindings. I like to ski them early in the season in Idaho when the snow is at low tide or picking lines in little gullies holding snow or shaded aspects in the Aspen. It’s not about speed or depth or angle early in the season, it’s about playing and being out there. And yes, memories do trickle back to the places we’ve been and the friends we shared the days with.

    Thanks for rekindling the stoke!


  4. Rock on Rachel. Nice to see a tele connect on your rockers.

  5. Mark Thomasson says:

    All skis in Scotland are Rock Skis!

  6. Nice!
    Just getting ready to take my k2 World Piste out freeheeling on what i hope to be our last early season rock day here in CO.

  7. Kathleen Cohen says:

    I never thought of those “rock skis” (belonging to someone you know) this way. Of course they bring back great memories. Guess I’ll let them continue to occupy space in the storage closet. Thanks for the new perspective on what I previously referred to as clutter!

  8. TheWoodsman says:

    Rock skis ROCK! Back in the 1980s my 10-year-old-brother and I hopped on a triple lift with a bearded, wool-wearing telemarker. He lifted his 3-pin mounted skis for a sec to reposition himself and the bases revealed a spider-web of p-tex stretching from tip to tail. My little brother stammered “What’s that all over your skis??”. The telemarker looked amused, gently tugged on his beard and gazed upon the lift-side rock-strewn couloirs. Then slowly, thoughtfully, replied “It’s a map of where I’ve been, and where you don’t want to go”.

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