The REAL reason Skis have Camber?

by Simon Knott | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

When you lie a ski flat on the ground the middle section is raised of the ground. Why is this? Surely they would be easier to use if they were just flat? Let's see why not.

What are rockers at the front and tail of a ski? For many years it was discovered that manufacturing a ski with a raised profile in the center or camber helped to make the ski more versatile. As technology progressed it was later discovered that an opposite technology, rockers, created benefits for the skier, especially in deep and powdered snow. These two technologies have combined and been extended to snowboards to create numerous combinations, which are effective in a variety of conditions.

ski camber

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When you place a ski with positive or traditional camber on a flat surface the only part of the ski which touches the surface is at the front tip and the tail. However, the middle section of the ski has been manufactured so it arches slightly into the air away from the surface. This raised midsection is called the camber. Traditionally cambered skis are designed for use on groomed runs and packed snow.

Photo by Sebastian Werner licensed under CC BY 2.0

Using a camber design like this has several advantages:

  • The arch puts elasticity and spring into the construction of the ski
  • It promotes easy handling and stability
  • The ski edge has good contact with the snow, so the ski is more responsive in turns and effective in carving

There are numerous variations of camber and the styling of the tip and tail of skis. These variations all achieve slightly different goals, which make them suited to different types of skiing. The hybridization of these variations usually achieves positive benefits, but these are often played off against detrimental consequences.

Different Types of Camber

1. Positive Camber or Traditional Camber

The front end and the tail of the skis are in contact with the snow, but the midsection is arched slightly away from the snow surface. When a skier stands on the skis his weight flattens the camber into the snow surface. This helps the ski to grip on packed snow and maximizes the contact of the ski edge during turns. It follows that the longer the midsection camber is the better the ski will be for skiing packed runs.

Ski Camber Pros:

  • A more powerful ability to carve turns
  • Better control when carving
  • Better stability through turns
  • Improved edge hold and grip
  • More responsive edge engagement when turning with forward pressure
  • Improved traction at high speeds on hard and groomed runs

Ski Camber Cons:

  • In powder, the ski edge hunts for a firm surface, at the bottom of the snowpack. This can be challenging for the more inexperienced skier
  • The skier needs a precise technique in bumps(moguls) and close trees

As ski technology improved over the years ski rockers were the next quantum jump in improvements. The first rocker ski was introduced in 2002 as a ski for powder predominantly, which had the aim of mimicking the best attributes of a water ski where it could cleanly skim the water surface without catching an edge.

Camber skis and rocker skis have the opposite appearance. A camber ski will have each end of the ski (top and tail) touching the snow while the central camber section is raised above the surface of the snow. With a ski with a rocker at the front and back the midsection of the ski will be touching the snow surface, while the raised rockers at either end will be above the snow.

2. Tip Rocker

When a ski is manufactured so the tip starts to rise before the end of the side-cut it is called a tip rocker or early rise tip. The beginning of the rise is before the real ski tip starts.

Tip rockers are manufactured to achieve different results:

  • A more exaggerated rocker shape assists the ski to continually float over the powder as the ski moves forwards. It is the shape of the rocker which continually pushes the snow away and under it while riding up over it at the same time. However, this beneficial adaptation to powder skiing is at the cost of performance on the runs. On a groomed run with the same skis less of the ski edge cuts into the snow surface when the skis are either flat or at smaller angles making them less controllable.
  • A less exaggerated tip rocker improves maneuverability when changing from one edge to the other on packed snow, without detrimentally affecting performance during hard turns.

This gives greater versatility where the skis are easy to handle on the run, while still offering good performance during tighter turns.

Overall, the longer and higher the tip rocker section is the better the ski will perform in powder but will offer less performance on packed snow. Often the best compromise is a lower tip rocker, which offers good performance in both powder and on runs.

Tip Rocker Pros:

  • Improved ability to float in soft or variable snow (eg. crusty, choppy snow)
  • More controllable when starting turns
  • Improved balance for better control of skis
  • Enables long skis to be maneuvered like short skis
  • Less wearing on your legs when skiing in deeper snow
  • Ski touring (skinning uphill) is easier and more controllable

Tip Rocker Cons:

  • The tip of the ski can be prone to vibrations
  • The skis can be less easy to control on groomed runs and hard-pack snow

3. Tail Rocker

A tail rocker is identical to a tip rocker except it is at the rear of the ski. The aim of the table is to make skiing backward in powder much easier and more controllable. As with the tip rockers, the longer and higher the tail rocker is the better it will perform in powder but the worse it will perform on hard-packed snow. The tail rocker also improves skiing forwards because the tail rocker stops the ski from sinking so deeply into the powder.

Tail Rocker Pros:

  • Good for deep powder
  • Enables easy pivoting
  • Easier to initiate a turn in soft or deep snow

Tail Rocker Cons:

  • Less tracking stability in long turns
  • Need to use more force when turning
  • Loss of stability and edge grip on packed snow

4. Flat Camber

A flat camber on a ski means the midsection is not raised at all and is completely flat along the entire length of the ski. Without the shape of a traditional camber ski, the edges are not actively pushed down into the snow surface when skiing, however, the edges are in contact with the snow enabling maneuverability. So generally, a flat camber ski won’t have as much edge grip as a traditionally cambered one. Consequently, flat cambered skis are generally used for skiing in powder. In more technical applications such as freestyle skiing, flat camber skis are often preferable as the decreased edge pressure makes turning and maneuverability easier.

Flat Camber Pros:

  • The skis offer a stable ride, making them good for beginners
  • Easier for crossing obstacles eg a fallen log or a rail
  • Improved edge control makes for better maneuverability in tight spaces, such as trees

Flat Camber Cons:

  • Easy to catch an edge
  • Most of the ski is in contact with the snow, so more friction and less speed

What Ski Camber is the best for me?

The technology that goes into the design and manufacture of skis is very complex. There are a huge number of variables that need to be considered when making a choice. The type of skiing and the conditions are paramount, are you going to be skiing on groomed runs or on powder, is the powder among trees or open?

As with the camber of the ski, other design considerations include the length and width of the ski, the side-cut, and the stiffness of the ski, which is a product of the composite layers used in manufacture.

As a rule, when buying skis camber should be thought of as a good thing as it creates more pros than cons. Camber gives more edge control, as well as versatility. This means you have more control over your skis when making turns and also gives you the ability to transfer power through your legs and skis onto the snow surface. With the edges of the ski defining a path in the snow you will also have better stability, especially when skiing at higher speeds, traversing runs, or skiing over patches of ice.

If you are going to be regularly skiing in deep powder it may well be worth adding a tip rocker to your ski choice to make it more versatile. With this combination, you will have a good level of edge control when on hard-packed snow, while the tip rocker will aid with stability and turning ability in deep snow conditions. If you are going to be skiing in predominantly deep snow conditions, then adding a tail rocker will improve turning and general maneuverability.

In terms of camber and rockers, snowboards can be modified during manufacture in much the same way.

Photo by Christine Rondeau licensed under CC BY 2.0