Camber and sidecut are two important characteristics of alpine skis that manufacturers experiment with these days. Sidecut, for example, helps skis turn. In the past three decades, we've all seen the variations on that theme, especially skis with huge tips and tails and narrow waists. It was the first revolution in ski design to help people ski better. This particular season, manufacturers seem to have dialed backed from extremely wide tips and tails and have put more moderately shaped skis on the market. But who knows what sidecut they'll pursue next year. Ski design in general is highly influenced by what is working on the World Cup racing circuit. What works for the gold medalists at the Peongchang Olympics will probably make its way to the market next year. The point is that manufacturers are always tweaking ski design to find out what their customers like and what works best.
Same is true of camber. The traditional alpine ski has a positive camber that is convex relative to the snow, as I said in a previous blog. In other words, the center of the ski bows up away from the snow until you step on it. Positive camber keeps the ski flat on the snow when you step on it. It gives the ski springiness, stability, and edge contact. Positive camber has been the traditional design going back centuries.
But at the turn of this century, someone figured out that both neutral and negative camber would be great in powder. And it is: the ski floats over the snow easier and it turns better because it has less edge contact.
So about fifteen years ago, ski manufacturers started building negative and neutral camber into on-piste and all-mountain skis, as well as powder skis. It's called rocker. Skis can have a rockered tip or a rockered tail or both. How does it help skiers ski better?
Say your new skis are 168cm long, but with a rockered tip of 15cm and a rockered tail of 10cm. Your new skis ski as if they were 143cm, or 25cm shorter. The shorter edge length touching the snow makes turning easier. But the tip and tail are ready to maintain snow contact so you don't sacrifice stability. You can feel more comfortable on ungroomed slopes and you can duck into the powder stash off-piste and trust that your skis will work to your advantage.
My powder skis built around 2006 actually have a positive camber, just not as much as my all-mountain skis. They are wood only construction and very soft, so they ride over several feet of powder with ease. And because they are so wide, at 108cm under foot, they are incredibly easy to edge.
But this is not a perfect world. The down side is that they have no dampening in them and they chatter like crazy on a groomed slope. You can hear me coming from miles off. And if you are in front of me, you might begin to think that I'm out to get you it's that loud. And hours after I am done skiing, my feet are still vibrating from the ride.
When I'm observing from the chairlift at various resorts over the years, I've seen the guys heading downhill on their rockered banana skis, so called because their tips and tails are bent up a lot on a groomed slope. But on a nicely groomed slope, those highly rockered banana skis make control harder because powder skis were meant to be skied in at least 6-8 inches of powder, not 2, and certainly not on groomed. So these guys are hanging on for dear life as they make their way to the lift. It's not necessarily the skis either. You can ski poorly on powder skis and have a great time in the stash--that's the point.
The good news is that manufacturers are experimenting with so much variety in rocker combinations that they are working on minimizing the cons of this ski design. Rockered skis are much improved over the first attempts. And guys like our current club president who have bought rockered all-mountain skis this year are really satisfied with them. If you are in the market for new skis, please read up and demo them to find the ski that is right and comfortable for you.