This debate is spurred by a question I had from a long time skier in the shop the other day. He was perusing the ski wall when I approached him and he asked, “Do you have any skis that aren’t bent”? Not so long ago, if we looked at the shape of many of our current and hottest ski models we’d have said they were bent, flat, or had had their camber altered in such a way that they were rendered dead and useless and were retired.
In recent years, “rocker” has become one of the hot buzzwords in the ski industry such as shape was a few years earlier. But just like shape the term rocker is simply not all encompassing. First let’s define “camber” and “rocker.” Camber refers to a slight upward arch or curvature of a surface or beam and in ski construction designed to evenly distribute weight over the entire length of the ski thereby improving the amount of ski edge in contact with the snow surface. Now let’s look at rocker. As opposed to camber, rocker curves or bends the ski in the opposite direction of camber and in the case of a fully rockered or reversed camber ski, begins to resemble the curve on the legs of a rocking chair. To compare the two extremes think of standing on a ski with excessive camber, most of the pressure would be on the tips and tails of the ski with very little underfoot. On a ski with a lot of rocker we would have a lot of pressure underfoot and the tips and tails would have little to no contact with the snow surface.
Rocker originally surfaced in wide skis designed for soft snow. Many of these early models were fully rockered or had reverse camber. This rocker allowed the skis to plane or float in powder snow and revolutionized powder skiing. Soon, manufacturers were experimenting with rocker in all mountain skis and most recently even in race skis. The amount of rocker or camber varies with the intended use of the ski. Typically, more traditional camber and little to no rocker on hard snow and skis, more rocker for all mountain skis, and a lot of rocker or reverse camber on pure powder skis. For the largest category, all-mountain skis, the industry seems to be trending towards moderate rocker in the forebody of the ski, camber underfoot, and relatively flat tails. Of course rocker and camber alone cannot dictate how a ski will perform, other factors such as the overall shape or sidecut, as well as construction will play into this.
While volumes could be written on this subject and arguments made for and against all of these design concepts this article is simply an introduction to the basics. The bottom line is that all of this experimentation by the ski manufacturers has benefitted the skier greatly by introducing skis that are easier to ski and a whole lot more fun! We’ve got great early season skiing so stop by Sturtevant’s on Main or at Warm Springs and review some of the new models, or better yet get out and test some of these skis for yourself. Above all, smile and have fun!
Like many things in life, moderation is probably a good bet.