Before rocker there was (and still is) camber.
Camber describes the shape of a traditional ski. Place one on a flat surface. It will rest on points near its tip and tail while its waist (midsection) arcs upward. This built-in arch is the camber of the ski.
Camber puts springiness and pop into a ski. It permits easy handling, responsive turning, powerful carving, stability and, due to ample edge contact with the snow, good grip on icy slopes. It remains a popular choice when skiing groomed slopes or on hardpack snow. Alternate terms for camber include standard alpine and positive camber.
Rocker was introduced in 2002 when the late Shane McConkey introduced the first commercial rockered ski, the Volant Spatula. The concept: Create a downhill ski that mimics the attributes of a water ski, enabling a skier to skim over a surface with minimized risk of snagging an edge. It was originally envisioned as a powder ski.
Rocker is essentially the opposite of camber, thus is also known as reverse camber or negative camber. The side profile of a rockered ski resembles the upturned rails of an old-school rocking chair. On a flat surface, the midsection of a rockered ski will rest on the ground while its tips and tails rise off the ground much earlier than they do on a cambered ski.
So what’s the better choice—rocker or camber? It’s not an either/or proposition. Many skis today use both underfoot camber and tip and tail rocker in their designs.
Rocker offers skiers several advantages:
Ski manufacturers gradually realized rocker could be combined with camber to address specific performance needs. Soon companies began putting their own individual spin on rocker technology.
Having lots of rocker options is a good thing. But trying to digest a lot of techy names for rocker can be daunting. So as new variations of rocker and rocker-camber combos emerge each season, the following observations might be helpful:
How to match a rocker design with your usual ski and terrain preference:
All-mountain and all-mountain wide: A popular combination is a rockered tip (for easier turning and good flotation for skiing off-piste in powder), cambered or flat midsection (providing some edge control) and possibly a flat or low-rise tail (for skiers eager to hold speed). Such skis may be categorized as rockered or hybrid skis; keep in mind that ski makers often have different takes on essentially the same design.
Powder: This is what rockered skis were originally created to address. Though many models are cambered underfoot, their classic rockered tips and tails are best for taking on deep powder. Reverse sidecut at the tip (i.e., a narrower shovel) maneuvers more easily and is less likely to snag an edge. Such skis do a good job floating on the top layer of powder; they turn quickly (handy when in trees) and stop swiftly. Downside: Don’t count on them to hold an edge consistently.
Shop REI’s selection of powder skis.
Twin tip/park/pipe/freestyle: A rockered ski offers more contact space in the ski’s midsection so sliding rails is easier. It creates a more stable landing platform and reduces the chance of catching an edge, too.
Shop REI’s selection of twin-tip skis.
Since rocker specs and terminology vary by ski manufacturer and from model to model, it’s best to shop for skis based on the terrain you’ll be skiing. Your REI sales specialist can guide you to specific ski models.
On REI.com, skis equipped with rocker at the tip and/or tail are called out in the “ski camber” section (under the Specs tab on each product page).
Shop REI’s selection of downhill skis.
By T.D. Wood
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Last updated: 04/11/2014
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