20-30 years ago, skis had one shape, what we refer to as camber. When you placed a ski on the ground with no pressure, you’d see that two areas, one near the tip and one near the tail, touched the ground. The center of the ski, in most cases, would not make contact with the snow when unweighted. That still exists and remains quite common today, but a new ski shape was introduced in the early 2000s, and though most of our readers probably already know what rocker is and how it’s different, we thought it might be useful to make a little guide.
The origin of rocker comes from the legendary Shane McConkey, when he introduced the feature with the iconic Volant Spatula. In short, they were the first of the modern powder ski, designed to mimic the feel of water skis while cruising over snow. I encourage you to take a walk through history and read Shane’s ‘Mental Floss’ article explaining the Spatula (you can that find here) but that’s enough history for now.
We’ve already discussed what camber looks like, so what is it good for? There’s a reason ski racers continue to rely on skis with camber before using anything else. The design provides better edge control and more springiness on harder snow as a result of a more consistent pressure across the whole ski created by an athlete’s weight. If you’re planning to ski groomers and harder snow, or if you’re planning to ski almost only on the east coast, camber will give you more control over your turns and at higher speeds on groomers and harder snow.
Shape wise, rocker is essentially the opposite of camber (this is why you might see it referred to as “reverse-camber”, they’re the same thing). Instead of the ski making contact with the ground at the tip and tail, the ski makes contact with the ground underfoot, and that’s about it. As Evo points out, all skis will create this banana-like-shape when pushed into a turn, but giving skis that rocker shape means there’s less of a pressure requirement in turns. These skis float in deeper snow and allow for much more nimble turning. If you’re planning to ski powder, chunky snow, or essentially anything that isn’t groomed, rocker will probably be the direction you want to head.
There are skis and snowboards that fall somewhere in between these two features (like the Atomic Bent Chetler 120s, with a 30% tip rocker, 40% camber, and 30% tail rocker) , and there are skis and snowboards that are completely flat. But, for general ease, camber is best for groomers and harder snow, while rocker is best for deeper snow and less consistent snow. At the end of the day, it will always be up to personal preference. I highly recommend demoing skis and talking to employees at your local ski shop to figure out exactly what will work best for you!