You will come across one of these two notions, if not both, in the process of choosing a ski. Cambers and rockers often work together and it can be tricky to understand them. We're here to break this down for you and help you understand how they can affect the ski's demeanour.
In order to view the camber of a ski, make it sit flat on a flat surface (a table for instance) and look at it from the side. The curvature you see is what we call camber. There are 3 main types of cambers:
Classic camber or traditional camber:
The ski is in contact with the ground at its two ends (tip and tail) but it curves upward in its midsection. When you weigh on the ski, the camber flattens and it looks like the entire surface is in contact with the snow. It is. But there is more stress applied on the two ends (the contact points) due to the arcing and that makes the ski bites more aggressively in the snow. This is why piste-specific skis grip so well on hard snow. Also, when you're on the edge of the ski, your speed and your weight will make it bend upside down. The ski will draw an arc on the snow, this is how you carve. When you exit this turn, you will release your weight and the ski will push back to return in its original shape. This is what we call rebound or kick. The ski kicks out of turns and feels like it accelarates. It is handy when you're after performance, but it requires skills and control. This is why traditional cambers are more difficult to manage.
As its name suggests, the camber is flat from tip to tail. Sometimes called zero camber, the flat camber offers less grip than a traditional camber but it is more manoeuverable and offers a less hooky feel. Flat cambers are appreciated by freestylers. They are easy to play with, agile and provide enough stability to land a trick with confidence.
The reverse camber is also known as banana camber for the one very good reason. It looks like a banana. This means the only contact point of the ski with the snow is in the middle of the ski and both tips rise. It may remind you of water skis in their shape and again, there's a good reason for it. This shape maximises floatation which helps water skis to float and most importantly helps freeride skis to stay above powder surface. This type of camber delivers the ultimate manoeuverability in deep snow.
Ski rockers are all around and it's easy to get confused about what they are and their purpose. In fact, rockers are an evolution of regular ski tips, designed to cope with modern skiing techniques. The rocker is sometimes called early-rise rocker and is basically an earlier rise of the tip towards the binding. The ski has a more progressive profile.
The rockered section is not in contact with the snow (when skiing on hard snow) but it provides a wider platform when thrown on powder. The skis stay afloat naturally and the rockers help initiating turns effortlessly. All you have to do is tilt on an edge and let the ski work. Reverse cambers are more playful, easier to steer and more floaty. However, they are less grippy and less stable, hard snow and high speeds are not their cup of tea.
In order to adjust performance to every style, manufacturers play with cambers and rockers and mix them to boost the ski's abilities. Here is a brief overview about what's available on the market: