Ski Turns: An Expert Guide To Ski Turn Types And Techniques
Unless you’re skiing untouched corduroy on morning groomers or a perfect blanket of fresh powder, no two ski turns are ever exactly the same. They all have similarities though; the elements that a beginner uses to turn on a bunny slope are the same as those which an expert uses to sweep a big arc down steep, big mountain terrain.
This one sounds obvious but let's take a minute to appreciate the two reasons we turn while skiing.
- Speed control; do you want to slow down, maintain speed, or speed up?
- Line/displacement; how much do you want to move across the hill, and which way do you want to be facing when you get there?
These goals guide what sort of turns we make to get down the mountain with control and fluidity.
How do we turn?
There are ultimately two ways we can make a ski change direction:
- Twisting; by pivoting part or all of your body, physically turn the ski. This gives the turn a skidded feel and the skis will be quick to slow down, but slow to move across the hill.
- Tipping; by leaning the skis onto the edge and standing with your weight in the middle, you bend the ski and put it on a curved path as if on rails. This gives the turn a carved feel and the skis will move across the hill quickly, but take time to slow down.
Every turn is made using a blend of these skills; no amount of twisting the ski will make you change direction unless an edge is at least slightly engaged in the snow. And it is virtually impossible to edge a modern ski without turning it across the line of your momentum.
The following turn types all blend twisting and tipping to different extents and at different points in a turn. Check out 'Hang'n'Bang' which really plays with this idea!
The 3 Phases of a turn
There are many ways to split a turn up and look at what happens. I like to simplify it to three phases:
- Into the fall line; from the start of the turn up to the moment you are travelling straight down the hill, all you are really doing is giving in to gravity. This means the top half of the turn shouldn’t involve a huge amount of muscular effort. You are very light on your feet, making this the easiest time to twist the skis and set the turn up.
- Out of the fall line; when you steer the skis back across the hill the other way, you start working against gravity. You will begin to feel heavier as the pressure builds, which makes the skis harder to pivot. Tipping the skis and using your edges effectively at this moment will have the most impact on your direction change.
- The Transition: The time between finishing one turn and starting the next. As a beginner, this is a period to reset; to fix any problems you’ve created in the previous turn so you can initiate the next from a centred stance. As you improve, this period becomes a time in which you use the momentum from the previous turn to initiate the next, allowing one turn to flow into another.
How you use your steering skills, and in which phase of the turn, will dictate how the skis move through the snow; affecting the speed and radius of the turn. There is no end to the different turns you can make, but they usually fall broadly into the following categories. These turns are ordered by the general progression that a skier will be making as they go from beginner to intermediate and advanced.
1. Snowplough Turns
Where it all began for the vast majority, snowplough turns are the simplest way to change direction on skis. Standing in a snowplough stance (or a wedge, or a pizza etc) the skis are already twisted across the direction of travel, and are already tipped up on edge, ready to be steered. It acts as a nice introduction to balancing on the outside ski, since it is purely the left ski that turns to the right here (and vice versa). The inside ski actually applies resistance to turning and acts as an impediment, but in doing so provides speed control to give you time to turn the skis before they run away down the hill.
From this stance you can make a turn either by twisting or tipping the outside ski more.
2. Stem/Christie Turns
This really is the best of both worlds if you are learning, snow plough and parallel. Start the turn in a snowplough to give you edge and steering right from the beginning, and the stability of the crutch-like downhill ski, preventing you from toppling too far. Once you get going, slide the inside ski into a parallel position. This will remove any resistance and allow the skis to run cleanly.
Most will 'match' the skis at the end of the turn. As your confidence builds, start to creep it up earlier in the arc until only the transition is done in a snowplough. Bringing the skis parallel higher up the arc encourages you to find balance on the outside ski earlier in the turn, as well as twisting the skis effectively at the start of the turn. When your skis are parallel out of the fall line, you can work on tipping them on edge more in the second half of the turn. We do this for direction change and for more speed.
3. Parallel Turns
The ability to transition between turns while keeping the skis parallel throughout the turn allows you to get creative with the turns you make. Parallel turns can be anything from skidded from start to finish, to leaving razor thin train tracks behind you. The majority of turns we make are somewhere in the middle. You can take the stem christie turns above and bring the 'ski matching' to the earliest stage in the turn to slowly build your confidence with parallel skiing.
4. Skidded Turns
By keeping the skis parallel, but also relatively flat, you can steer round turns down the hill while braking all the way. By keeping your hips over your feet and your balance on the outside ski, you can link parallel turns together rhythmically without ever letting them build too much speed or pressure. This is a common go-to move when it gets icy (How To Ski On Ice: 10 Steps For Skiing on Icy Slopes).
5. Carved Turns
Carving is a complex progression covered elsewhere, but the basic principle is covered here. If a skier rolls their feet, ankles and knees into a turn, this motion tips the skis over at the top of the arc. Modern skis have a radius along this edge which guides the ski around in the arc - cutting into the snow. The only real twisting of the skis happens naturally; gravity, the shape of the ski, and the unwinding of your body from the previous turn will guide the skis into the fall line, with very little effort on your behalf. You will accelerate rapidly down the hill, leading to a lot of pressure to deal with coming out of the fall line. If you can manage that pressure, you will change direction quickly and be boosted back across the hill.
This is one of the best feelings in skiing and when done well can be maximised so the turning generates huge force, control and power with very little effort.
Skidding, carving or anything in between will make a consistent turn and leave a round track in the snow. There are times, though, when that is not ideal. Sometimes, we want to skip ahead to a different part of the arc and start steering from there. For this you need to turn the skis, and prepare the body for this moment, before you engage the edges in the snow and find grip:
As you get better at weighting and unweighting the skis, choosing your moment to engage them, you can get very playful and creative with your turns. The hang'n'bang turn plays with a mix of sliding then a sharp edge engagement to 'lock in' a carving turn.
- At the start of a turn, unweight the skis as you would in a pivot slip.
- Turn the skis into the fall line, without edging them. You should skid across and down the hill like a rally car (gravity will naturally pull you down a little bit, but you are not helping this.) Try to set up balance over the outside ski here so you're ready for the next stage.
- Engage the edge of the skis as you would in a carved turn. You should feel them hook up and bite the snow; taking you from travelling sideways across the hill to forwards in an aggressive carved turn.
This style of delay turn is great for highlighting the different ways to steer; you are just twisting the skis in the first phase (like the pivot slip), then tipping and gripping in the second phase. You can reduce the length of time of the drift phase and put together the race stivot you see in World Cup GS racing.
Steering: making actual turns
We don’t often get the space to make a pure carved turn, and often we don't want to make a purely skidded turn. Most turns involve a blend of both skills. Intermediate skiers should aim to find enough grip to leave a narrow track in the snow, but not so much that you can’t continue to turn the ski yourself. Advanced skiers might want to find higher edge angles so that, when you lock the ski on edge, it will steer back across the hill without moving too far down it. Check out Tomas Michals' 4 steps to increase your turn edge angle if you want to refine your carved turns.
7. Hop Turns
Along narrow chutes and ledges, there's not enough space to make a round turn. We need to jump the skis to the end of the turn to keep some sort of fluidity and rhythm.
- Practice in wider runs before putting it to work in a chute.
- Jump by pressing the feet into the ground, not dragging the body away from it.
- Wherever the skis land in the turn, your body needs to be in the corresponding position, so you can handle the pressure that comes with edging the skis.
As you refine these turns, play with the ability to unweight and pivot the skis, without leaving the ground. On very icy pitches, we don’t want the skis running through the first half of the turn, as they will pick up speed. However, we also don’t want to land heavily on the ice. You will gain confidence by making these moves smoothly and without too much disruption of your mass.
8a. Pivot Slips/Braquage
Pivot slips are used to encourage a strong leg turning effort. It is a valuable exercise to build confidence in your ability to manage on tighter runs and control your ski rotation in different turn types.
These count as a 'half turn'; you will be rotating your legs beneath you, but you won't be changing direction.
- Start in a skidded turn and unweight the skis.
- Turn the skis through a full rotation (close to 180 degrees) before 'landing' back on them as you slide forward.
- Repeat time after time, trying to avoid being deflected sideways.
Balancing on the outside ski without edging it for direction change will give you a lot more options on difficult runs.
Carv Tip: Improve your pivot slips
The Carv digital ski coaching app uses live data from the thin insole in your ski boot to help you master these turn types (pivot slips, parallel turns and carving). Carv's drills use live feedback to help you hear exactly what you should be doing, as you ski.
In the case of the pivot slip drill, you are scored you on your rotation, pressure and balance on every turn you ski. Over time, your rotation will get stronger as you improve your lower body rotation. To keep you improving, the Carv pivot slip drill gets harder as you get better, requiring more rotation, more centered balance and more precise edge control, so you can really master this drill.
The opposite of a pivot-slip; you will not turn, but you will change direction!
• Start in a snowplough sliding straight down the hill.
• Increase the edge angle of one ski by rolling the foot and leg so the ankle and knee tip inside.
• Keep the other leg soft, and keep the other ski in a snowplough.
• You should start to half-carve/half-drift sideways while facing straight down.
As well as being a new experience, and great fun, crabwalk will help hone the finer movements needed to edge and flatten the skis, without having to move your mass.
Get out and experiment!
Don’t make the same turns everywhere you go. Changing the radius, speed, and feel of the skis in the snow will turn you into a creative and versatile skier. A short turn needs a lot of twisting of the ski, but it doesn’t have to be skidded. A big turn allows you to carve, but you can still control the speed.
Master this and the mountain truly becomes your playground!