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How To Ski Narrow Trails (8 Top Tips)

Learning to ski comes with plenty of challenges. One of the most intimidating challenges is switching from a wide-open run to a narrow corridor. It can feel claustrophobic or like you are about to head right over the side. Luckily, there are plenty of tips for skiing narrow trails.

8 top tips for skiing narrow trails are:

  1. Start on wide trails
  2. Maintain proper posture
  3. Master proper ploughing technique
  4. Master edge control
  5. Learn narrow trail safety and etiquette
  6. Start with slow plough turns on narrow trails
  7. Use your poles
  8. Graduate to short active turns

Below, we go through each of these tips in more detail to ensure you have all the knowledge on paper to transition to narrow trails. Don’t forget that the best way to learn is to apply these tips to real-world situations! Without further ado, let’s get into our top tips for skiing narrow trails.

8 Top Tips For Skiing Narrow Trails

1. Start On Wide Trails

The best way to begin is on wide-open groomers. Mentally cut the run in half and begin to make your way down without crossing into the other half. This will give you plenty of space to make errors and see how it feels to force a quicker turn.

It can be helpful to count your turns out in seconds. Eventually, each turn should only be a two-second count at most. You can start on broad, flat trails and then work your way up to broad, steep trails.

2. Maintain The Proper Posture

When skiing, body posture is everything. Sitting too far back on your skis can quickly lead to disaster. Letting your arms flail around can cause you to turn where you don’t want to. When skiing, you should always have your weight centered with your hands out in front of you.

The upper part of your body should be calm and relaxed, with your core muscles engaged. Keep your upper body facing the direction you want to go. Focus on turning with your feet and legs as opposed to your shoulders.

Training

Proper posture can be challenging to maintain. It is helpful to train physically and be in good shape. Training through yoga or weightlifting can help you develop a strong core to keep your body from wiggling all over the place while trying new skills.

Don’t forget to train both legs and practice turning on both sides equally. It is very tempting to turn on your more muscular leg, but this will only harm your progress later.

Keep Your Eyes Forward

Your eyes should be alert, focused, and looking forward at what you plan to ski. Don’t focus on the ledge to your right or the embankment to the left, but instead focus on where you want to go.

It also is tempting to look down at what your skis are doing, but this can lead to your skis crossing and becoming tangled. The skis will follow where the eyes lead, so keep your head up and focus on where you want to go.

3. Master Proper Ploughing Technique

The plough is one of the first skills a new skier learns. However, many people don’t have proper form. A gliding plough can comfortably guide you into a lift line and is the first step to gaining speed control.

When attempting a plough, you should keep your upper body calm and centered over your hips. Next, shift onto your inside edges and point your toes slightly inward while sliding your heels away from each other. The further your heels slide apart, the closer you’ll come to a stop.

Plough Turns

If you keep your heels from sliding out completely, you can maintain a glide as you plough. Once you have mastered the gliding plough you can start adding turns. To turn, push harder into the inside edge of your right foot to go left and into the inside edge of your left foot to go right.

Perfecting your plough and your plough turns are essential for safely making it through narrow corridors where your only other option is to tuck through it. It is also a great way to enter a narrow trail from a wide trail until you get more comfortable with carving.

4. Master Edge Control

Edge control makes or breaks a skier. To ski narrow trails without the plough technique, you will have to become a master of your edges.

Side Slips

One way to do this is to practice side slips. Side slips are when you point your skis against the direction of travel and let your gravity pull you down the run while minimally using your edges.

If I could equate it to anything, it would be like scraping off the burnt parts of your toast. You don’t want to dig in because the force will cause you to break through the bread or – in the case of skiing – bounce and fall over your skis and down the mountain.

Instead, lightly apply your edges to get a feel for how much pressure causes you to slow or stop. This skill will help you learn how to use your edges to carve and completely flatten your ski to glide.

Hockey Stops

Another skill to practice to gain edge control is a hockey stop. Hockey stops are when you quickly turn your skis against the direction of travel and use the edge to come to a complete stop. If you jam on the edges too fast, you will bounce down the hill again. It takes practice and finesse to come to a controlled stop.

One helpful piece of advice I received while learning was to apply your edges early into the hockey stop and then less so as you become more perpendicular to the direction of travel. This will take off a large portion of your velocity without having it rebound back at you in the form of a bounce.

Once you master your edges, you might be ready to take these skills to the narrow trail. However, it is equally important to educate yourself on trail etiquette first.

5. Narrow Trail Safety And Etiquette

Before you take your honed skills to narrow trails, it is vital to know and abide by narrow trail etiquette to ensure your safety and the safety of others. Probably the most important thing to know before entering a narrow trail is the route.

A cat track can seem flat at the beginning and rapidly become a steep and curvy run that’s way above your skill level. Check trail maps or ask a more experienced skier what to expect. It’s always good to know where safe stopping places are or when the run opens back up.

Ski At Quiter Times

When you are first attempting to ski narrow trails, it is best to do it during quieter times. Often, just before lunch or just before the mountain closes, narrow cat tracks will be filled with snowboarders and whole classrooms of ski school students. So, try instead to go during lunchtime or early in the morning.

Whether you are glide ploughing through the narrows or carving, be predictable!This is not the time to make erratic movements or carve at every whim. Riders behind you may need to predict your movements in order to get around you. You can return to skiing any way you want after you get out of the narrow corridor.

Don’t Turn Sharply

Veer in curved arcs instead of turning completely. Doing this will cause you to pick up speed, so it’s best to stick to plough turns if you are uncomfortable going fast. You always want to leave a little room on either side of your turns for others to pass.

Another reason to veer instead of completely turn is to keep you from turning into unexpected obstacles. Remember, your skis will go where your body points. Turning too sharply could result in hitting someone else, striking an embankment that could hide lightly covered rocks, or skiing off the edge of the trail.

At most ski resorts, skiing off the trail won’t result in injury or death,but climbing back up to the trail is as exhausting as it is embarrassing!

6. Start With Slow Plough Turns On Narrow Trails

Now that you know the etiquette and safety of narrow trails, it’s time to try it out on the slopes. When entering a narrow trail for the first time, start slow. Plough to almost a stop before entering the narrow corridor.

Even while plough turning the whole time, you will naturally pick up speed. This is because your turns are forced to be smaller and shorter. This is where counting the seconds of your turns that you practiced on the wide runs comes in. If you start to feel out of control, plough to a stop and begin again.The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll become.

7. Use Your Poles

Poles can be beneficial in making short and narrow turns. However, it’s best not to be too reliant on them from the start. Once you have mastered slow plough turns on narrow trails, you can use your poles to help you make your turns. To turn right, plant your left ski pole about 6 inches from the outside tip of your left ski.

As you continue forward, let gravity and the pole aid you in shifting your direction. To turn left, do the opposite. Plant your right pole about 6 inches from the outside tip of your right ski and watch as you shift to the left.

8. Graduate To Short Active Turns

Now it’s time to put everything together. You have mastered the plough turns and are ready for pole-assisted carves through a narrow corridor. Lean into your edges early on in your turns to keep each carve short. This can be very tiring, so don’t be afraid to switch back to plough turns if you become fatigued.

Introduce The Tuck

Another option for fighting fatigue is to tuck. I only recommend tucking if you are very comfortable with going fast and have excellent stopping control. Tucking is when you bend your knees, lean forward, and tuck your poles into your armpits.

Make sure that your poles don’t become skewers for the skiers behind you by keeping them parallel to your skis.Tucking will make you more aerodynamic and give your hips and upper body a break.

Each of the above tips can take years to conquer. Only after you have mastered all 8 tips stated above should you move on to more challenging terrain! But let’s discuss that in more detail.

Tree Skiing

Once you feel comfortable on the narrow trails and cat tracks of a ski resort, you can begin to transition into the trees. Tree skiing is one of the most fun and creative ways to ski, and often you can find the deepest powder in the trees. On days with low visibility, the trees can offer you a refuge from the fog and snow or get you away from crowded groomers.

The same tips for skiing narrow cat tracks still apply here, but now the cat track becomes ever-changing, and your turns will be as unpredictable as the forest. So, it is even more critical to look between the trees at where you want to go instead of at the trees you are trying to avoid.

Apply Narrow Trail Knowledge

Start in a widely spaced grove of trees before moving on to the tight gamble oaks or aspen trees. Know where you plan to enter the trees and where the proper exit is.Sometimes the forest can be misleading, and you can wind up at the bottom of a creek bed, having to hike your way out. If you are unsure of an area, follow a more advanced skier that knows the route.

Planting your poles in front of a tree you want to avoid is a helpful trick to turn you away from it but be sure to not plant your pole on the wrong side of the tree. If the trees are exceptionally tight, I would recommend taking the loops of your ski pole’s handles out just in case you wrap a pole around a branch or tree the wrong way.

Exercise Extra Caution

The most important advice I can offer for skiing trees is to stop when you feel like you are starting to get out of control. Hitting a tree is one of the leading causes of death in the skiing community.

Even at a slow pace hitting a tree can result in serious injury. Two seasons ago, I hit a tree branch going a little faster than I should have been and ended up breaking my wrist. So please, only ski in the trees if you have great edge control.

Steep And Narrow Trails

Once you have become an expert at cat tracks and narrow skiing areas, you can take your skills to the steep and narrow. At this level of skiing, each turn has a high impact and lasts less than one second.

Jump Turns

When confronted with turns that require this much speed, most skiers rely on jump turns. Jump turns are when a run is so steep gravity pulls you down the mountain in an almost free fall.At this point, you no longer carve from one edge to the other but instead jump between the two. This takes a tremendous amount of edge control and the physical strength only reserved for expert skiers.

An expert skier may find themselves in a place where even jump turns are impossible. The rocky and narrow chutes of big mountain skiing are a perfect example of this. In these places, the only option is to point the skis downhill and let gravity take you until a carving opportunity reintroduces itself. Skiers at this level are truly impressive, and if you can make it to this level, I commend you!

Narrow Trails On Nordic Skis

Nordic skis, or as cross-country skis they’re more commonly known, have some significant differences from their alpine counterparts. In a lot of ways it’s like trying to compare a road bike to a mountain bike.

Cross country skis have to be able to work across all types of terrain,whether that be uphill, downhill, or across the side of a hill.While many of the principles for skiing narrow trails apply to both alpine skiing and Nordic skiing, there are some important things to know.

Nordic Equipment

Nordic skis are much lighter and narrower than alpine skis for them to more easily ascend mountains. Because of this, they end up being a little less stable than alpine skis. A positive factor of Nordic gear is that the boots and bindings are also much lighter. Unlike the hard and stiff alpine boots, Nordic boots are soft, almost like a heavy-duty hiking boot.

The binding is only attached at the toe so that the heel is free to move around. This flexibility makes it easier to walk and hike uphill. The most challenging aspect of Nordic skis is that they do not have curved metal edges.The lack of curved edges means that they cannot carve like an alpine ski and will feel edgeless.

Flat Narrow Trails On Nordic Skis

Nordic skis can bring you to some of the most incredible and raw beauty that the backcountry has to offer. Most of the time you will have to deal with a hill or two, but sometimes a creek bed or a single track through a meadow can provide you with beauty without having to navigate your skis’ edges (or lack thereof).

Much like ice skating, Nordic skiing on flat, narrow trails involves sliding your skis forward while keeping them parallel to each other. However, unlike ice skating, you won’t pick up much speed unless you put in an extreme effort. This type of skiing is almost a hybrid between ice skating and snowshoeing. You can control the level of intensity from that of a light walk to that of a brisk jog.

Uphill Narrow Trails On Nordic Skis

Unlike alpine skis, Nordic skis can cruise up hills, but that’s not to say that cruising uphill is easy. There is a specific technique to master to prevent fatigue or slipping backward.It is a bit easier to tackle uphill grades with a wide-open trail because you can use a backward plough technique to climb up a hill at any speed.

The backward plough is when your heels come together instead of your toes to stop you from slipping backward. You still use the inside edge of your skis, but your front tips are wide and far away from each other, contrary to the forward plow.

When the trail becomes narrow, you lose the option to keep your skis wide and instead must employ an extended double glide. To begin this type of glide, you must first gain momentum before encountering the hill.

Extensions

Once at the base of the hill, you can start your extensions. Bend the knee of your frontward gliding ski just as you are losing momentum. Then, extend your bent knee and hop onto your left ski, while continuing the gliding motion.

You will want to do this very quickly to keep as much forward momentum as possible. It can be very tiring if you don’t get the timing just right. Gliding this way takes a lot of muscle control and practice, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right the first time.

Downhill Narrow Trails On Nordic Skis

Going downhill on Nordic skis is difficult due to the lack of curved edges. When I was first learning, I would straight-line and fall every time I got to the bottom of a hill. For me, the learning curve was more challenging than alpine skiing. Starting slow is your biggest ally.

Start your descent from a stopped position. A light gliding plough at the top of the hill can help, but the lack of edges will make any ploughing difficult after gravity takes over. Also, because of the narrowness of the trail, skid turns will be tricky and will most likely hurt more than they help.

Body Posture On Nordic Skis

The best course of action is to bend your knees with your center of gravity balanced over your hips. Keep your hands in front of you and straight-line to the bottom.

Your skis will naturally slow down as the entire surface area of your ski comes into contact with the snow, but if it is a particularly steep hill, you will have excess speed at the bottom of the hill.

Step Turns On Nordic Skis

With Nordic skiing, the only way to manage the speed at the bottom of the hill is with step turns. This is because Nordic skis do not have edges to carve with. So, instead you have to pick up your skis and make choppy little steps to the left or right, depending on how much space you have on either side.

As you step, the tail of your skis will come together to briefly form a “V” before quickly bringing your outside ski to meet your inside ski. Most times, it will take a few steps to get you down to a manageable speed again. However, step turning to one side and then switching to the other direction is sometimes necessary for extremely narrow trail situations.

Final Thoughts

Narrow trail skiing can be one of the most intimidating hurdles to conquer as a skier. The best thing you can do is prepare your skills on wide-open groomers, graduate to narrow trails when you are completely ready, and keep your upper body calm and relaxed with your hands in front of you and your eyes focused on the route ahead.