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Skiing Basics: How to Turn on Skis

2 Turning Techniques to Ski Like a Pro

Fresh pow, camaraderie, and challenge all make skiing magical. However, one thing stands out among the rest: the ski turn. The moment when gravity, skis, and your body’s movement combine in a fluid motion is akin to sticking a dyno climbing move or casting the perfect fly. However, unlike those activities, turning on skis is easily repeatable, limited only by your fitness and the length of the slope.

Learning how to turn on skis may be one of the first things you learn, but mastering grace and efficiency benefits skiers of all levels. The reward is less fatigue and a reduced chance of injury—meaning more time on the mountain.

Parallel Turning vs. Ski Carving

Whether making parallel turns (also called skid turns) or carving, the intention is to change the direction you’re headed. The difference between these two types of turns is how they’re accomplished. In a parallel turn (also called a skidding turn), your skis spend more time sideways than in a carving turn, where the back of the ski follows the line taken by the front of the ski. This gives skidding turns the benefit of helping control speed.

How to Parallel Turn While Skiing

Parallel turns are the natural progression from “pizza to French fries.” Consequently, this is the way most of us learn how to turn on skis. Your skis remain parallel to each other throughout the turn. Making parallel ski turns is often looked down on by carving crusaders, but it’s a handy skill to have, especially when skiing in steep, narrow, and icy terrain.

Initiating a Parallel Turn: To initiate a parallel ski turn, lean forward into your boots and shifting your weight to the inside edge of your downhill ski. This movement will bring the skis into a downhill position, at which point you should distribute your weight evenly between both skis. When your skis are travelling straight downhill with their bases flat on the snow, you’re in the fall line and ready for an edge change.

Changing Edges: Travelling through the fall line is one of the most nerve-wracking aspects of parallel ski turns for newer skiers. Since the skis are pointing downhill, speed comes quickly. The longer you take to change edges, the faster you’ll go. With the turn initiated, bring your outside ski onto its inner edge and push on it while leaning forward and bending your knees to reduce the extended position. This movement will take you through the fall line.

Completing the Turn: Once you’ve changed edges, your skis are now traveling across the slope rather than down it. Allowing your skis to slide sideways allows you to scrub any extra speed—this action is why parallel turns are often called slipping and skidding turns. Traverse the slope by weighting the downhill ski while in a forward-leaning position. Continue in this position until it’s time to make another turn and repeat the aforementioned steps on the other side.

Tip: Parallel skiing is simply moving your weight from one ski to another, making sure the same edge of both skis is engaged with the snow. Push hard on the inside edge of your right ski and you’ll go left. Push hard on the inside edge of your left ski and you’ll go right.

How to Carve While Skiing

Ripping down the mountain with edges engaged, brand logos showing on the bottom of your skis, and laying a trench on your favorite trail is the stuff ski dreams are made of. When ski carving, the tail of the ski follows the tip of the ski, displacing minimal snow and making it the fastest, most efficient way to descend the mountain. It’s the turn of choice for ski racers.

Initiating Ski Carving: With both skis pointing down the fall line, initiate carving turns by rolling your knees and ankles so the skis’ edges dig into the snow and steer you across the slope—engaging the left edges to go left and the right edges to go right. It’s critical that you really lean into the carve and put your skis on edge, otherwise they’ll slide or skid.

Establishing Proper Position: The more force you exert while carving ski turns, the more your ski flexes and the better edge you have to turn with. Put simply: the faster you go, the easier it is to carve. Your hips, thighs, knees, and ankles are all valuable in applying as much force as possible to the skis through the ski turn, but you’ll want to keep your upper body in a more upright position to make turning easier.

Ski Carving: Finish your carve by rolling your knees and ankles upright, lifting the edges from the snow. Roll your knees and ankles in the opposite direction and transfer your weight to the outside ski, pressuring it to engage its edge. Repeat, as necessary.

Ski Carving Tip: Learning how to carve ski is challenging. Practice makes perfect. An ideal practice slope is a wide run with some pitch—speed helps in initiating turns—and a consistent surface, such as a groomed run.

Mastering your turning skills can be rewarding for skiers of all levels—a new skier can get the same satisfaction from a crisply executed wedge turn as a World Cup racer screaming through gates. We all can benefit from improving how we turn on skis, whether it’s precise parallel ski turns or laying down quintessential carving.

A former child model, Tim Peck spent a portion of his youth gracing the pages of Sunday paper advertisements for many now-defunct department stores. Living responsibility/rent-free with his parents into his thirties, Tim pursued climbing, skiing, and biking while accumulating an impressive amount of time in the mountains (and gear). Relentlessly pursuing the dream, Tim’s modest life ambitions are to ski all 12 months of the year, to climb 5.12, and to live in a van.