To Camber or Not to Camber
Matt Sterbenz testing the 190cm Vital 100 Camber. Cascade Range, OR. Photo: Dave Reddick (@davidreddick)
Let’s Get Started: What is Ski Camber?
Camber - the degree to which a ski’s base arches away from the snowpack underfoot. If you hold two cambered skis base-to-base, you’ll see a small gap between the bases right in the center of the ski.
Reverse Camber - skis without any positive camber underfoot. If you hold two reverse camber skis together base-to-base, the bases will only touch underfoot, and gradually increase in distance from one another towards the tips and tails.
Rocker - Not to be confused with either term above, rocker refers to the way a modern ski’s tip and tail curve gently upwards away from the ground. Tip and tail rocker are present on both our Camber and Reverse Camber skis.
The Intention 108 Camber (top) and Reverse Camber (bottom). Both skis incorporate tip and tail rocker, but the two profiles differ underfoot.
“I’m picking up a WNDR Alpine ski in length X, but I can’t decide whether I should go for Camber or Reverse Camber. I typically ski at X, but will be going on a trip to X this season. Do I want agility, edge hold, or stability the most? And can I really ski a Reverse Camber ski hard in firm snow if it doesn’t dump while I’m in Europe?”
Have any of these questions crossed your mind?
We’ve been listening—so here's our in-depth guide to the classic camber dilemma:
How Different Are They Really?
Before you succumb to analysis paralysis, let us soothe your nerves:
Camber profile is a relatively subtle difference within our models. Camber vs. Reverse is not a drastic choice between chocolate or vanilla. You’ve already selected your dream ice cream cone—now you’re just figuring out what sprinkles you want. Choosing one over another won’t ruin your experience, but the perfect topping could take it to the next level…
In general, people describe Reverse Camber skis as having more of a “loose,” “playful,” or “quick-pivoting” personality. These skis are easy to slash around and enable their pilot to ski dynamically and impulsively. Remember, not all Reverse Camber skis are created equal - we designed ours subtly and tastefully, with just enough Reverse Camber underfoot to make them playful smearing machines that still have ample effective edge when you lay them over.
Camber often has skiers using adjectives like “energetic,” “stable,” or “connected.” A cambered ski will flex into a turn, absorbing some energy as it locks you into your arc, and will give that energy back as it rebounds out of the turn. Our cambered skis aren't boring piste skis by means - they just have a bit of positive camber underfoot to allow a bit of that rebound-y energy to come through.
In practice, most of us would probably be more effective on a GS course with a Camber ski, and have an easier time in tight trees and soft snow on the Reverse Camber version of the same ski.
"I've described my style of skiing as 'edge-heavy,' so I tend to choose Camber for that reason." - Melissa Gill, FOW
The single most critical part of your decision is knowing yourself. Think back to previous ski days—in or out of bounds—and indulge in the moments that brought you the most joy (feel free to pause and savor).
If you get the most excitement out of charging down the fall line, making a variety of large and small turns to control your speed and direction, then you’re very likely to enjoy a Reverse Camber ski. That profile will allow you to modulate and vary your turns with less deliberate set-up or forceful moves, because you’re not as locked in a particular turn radius.
If you’re someone with a background in ski racing, or simply a skier who derives lots of pleasure from deep carves at speed, then a bit of camber will squeeze the most smiles out of your day. Cambered skis will always feel snappy, efficient, and energetic, especially when you’re putting energy into them by pressuring the tips into a turn.
Inbounds or Out of Bounds
The next thing to consider as you select a ski profile is where you’ll most typically be skiing.
All of our skis are designed as hard charging, stable, and dependable backcountry tools. That said, many of us plan on doing some mixture of skinning, lift-accessed backcountry, and resort laps—all our skis are built for that too.
So, do you plan to ski the resort and trench groomers before venturing into backcountry terrain? In this case, you’ll be better served by the Camber version of the ski. The energy and bite that a cambered ski provides will enable better carving on the groomed and skier-compacted conditions you might find in a resort.
Or is your new ski the ticket to a route less traveled? For natural and diverse backcountry snow conditions, a Reverse Camber profile is likely the way to go. Effortless pivoting will keep you centered and ready to attack your next turn with fewer snagged tips and more overall fluidity.
The Reverse Camber Reason 120 takes the path less traveled. Esplanade Range, BC. FOW: Pep Fujas // Photo: Jack Dawe (@wjackdawe)
Terrain Choice and Snowpack
What kind of terrain do you primarily ski? Seeking out pillows to slash and bowls of fresh pow? Dense trees? Technical, high alpine couloirs? Big days hunting spring corn?
If you’re lucky enough to be in the pillow lines and pow camp, the float and agility of a Reverse Camber profile will serve you well whenever quick and subtle movements are essential. Laying the ski over into a turn or making micro-adjustments while setting up for an air has never been more intuitive.
During a high pressure spell last year, our local snowpack became both sun and wind affected. For these conditions, Pep reached for the Reverse Camber Vital 100 and utilized it to its fullest - navigating between obstacles and skiing artfully over variable snow surfaces. Wasatch Range, UT. FOW: Pep Fujas // Photo: WNDR Alpine (@wndr_alpine)
If you’re thinking about checking off big, technical descents late into the season, the versatility and agility of a Reverse Camber ski will also support your objectives. This is especially true for missions where you can expect unpredictable and variable snow in steep terrain—for many of us, these conditions represent the majority of our ski tours. On a Reverse Camber ski, you’ll be able to engage the edges when you need to carve and speed check, but you’ll also be able to transition between turns with a greater degree of fluidity. Two or three hop turns can be replaced by one extended sideslip or scrubbed turn, covering more ground with less energy.
One notable exception to this rule: ice and boilerplate. And to be clear—we’re not talking about chalk, or morning corn, or any other kind of firm but skiable snow here. We’re talking about surfaces where even the best-tuned edges will struggle to find purchase, where you’re more focused on surviving than linking beautiful turns. The bite provided by a cambered ski will have a literal edge in those (hopefully rare, but sometimes crucial) scenarios.
Another place where you’ll feel the benefits of a cambered ski is spring skiing in open terrain. Meadows and big aprons with consistent snow can allow you to carve through corn like it’s a groomer. Load up the ski into a big GS turn, and feel it release out of every turn, propelling you forward.
Carving down the wide open flank of Mt. Jefferson, Wyatt Roscoe makes a great case for the Vital 100 Camber. Cascade Range, OR. Photo: Andy Cochrane (@andrewfitts)
Ski Width vs. Camber Profile
As spring approaches, many of us reach for a narrower ski to support bigger missions on firmer snow. How does the waist width of a ski affect how we think about camber profile?
Within the industry wider skis are more often favored in reverse camber for soft snow conditions, and narrower skis with positive camber for firm snow. If you’re resort-focused this is a fair rule of thumb. But in backcountry terrain and snowpack, the distinction gets more nuanced.
For example, with our narrower Vital 100, we most often grab the Reverse Camber version for pure touring in the natural snowpack of Utah’s Wasatch Range. Edge grip is already readily accessible with a 100mm waist width, and the Reverse Camber adds an extra dose of agility. The Camber version of the Vital 100 is our call for 50/50 skiing or firm snow resort laps.
East vs. West
Another way to dissect the camber question is from a geographical perspective. Are you spritzing though champagne in the Rockies, or maybe slithering in the deep maritime snowpack of the PNW? You’ll likely be skiing more compliant snow on average, and probably have more fun on a soft snow-focused ski like the Reverse Camber Intention 108 or Reason 120–though you should consider your terrain priorities, as noted above.
Alternatively, the more time you spend shredding the “Iced Coast,” the more likely you are to enjoy a little camber underfoot. You’ll be skiing playfully through powder when it dumps, but served with increased grip when fickle boot-top freshies leave you edging on the bed surface.
Nate Trachte enjoys the East aboard a cambered Intention. Adirondack Range, NY. Photo: Nick Zachara (@niklas_zach)
The better we know you, the better advice we can give. If you’re still undecided, check out our Ski Finder for personalized recommendations, or hit us up!