Turning is something we all do when we ski. You may take it for granted or even do it unconsciously. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced skier, it’s useful to understand the different types of ski turns and how to master them.
The 7 types of ski turns are:
- Stem Christie
It’s extremely important to pick the right turn for the right situation. That’s why learning all 7 of them could kick your skiing skills up a level and majorly improve your confidence. Let’s learn when it is and isn’t appropriate to use these ski turns.
Turning is so important in skiing because it controls your speed, allows you to safely navigate the environment, and completes your chosen path down the mountain. Learning to properly turn is arguably the most critical part of learning to ski, and it doesn’t have to be hard to learn.
Turns allow us to feel in control while getting down the slope, but it’s up to us to decide which type to use. It’s not surprising that many people only use one or two types of turns, but it severely limits their skiing progression.
Depending on the situation, you may need to perform short sharp turns when darting through large blockades of skiers and trees, or long and wide carving turns on an empty piste. The decision to pick which is most suited at the time can only be learned through many years of practice.
Let’s discuss each one of the 7 turns in more detail so that next time you’re on the mountain, you’ll have a better idea of which turns work best for specific situations. You may learn a thing or two even if you’re an intermediate or advanced skier, as many people simply bypass a lot of these turns as they think they don’t need them.
Pizza, wedge, or snowplow. Whatever you call them, we’ve all used them at one time or another during our skiing journey. And no, not just while you’re a beginner!
The basics of a snowplow turn will have you center your weight in the middle of the skis and turn both skis slightly inward to form a triangle. By pushing out your heels and forming this triangle, you allow your skis to “plow” the snow away and form a build-up on the outside.
That buildup is what stops you in your tracks. If you want to turn, lean your weight onto your left or right leg depending on the direction of travel. Weight on the right leg to turn right, and on the left leg to turn left.
While this is an easy turn to understand, it can be very tough on your knees and quads if you aren’t used to it. Especially as a beginner if you aren’t used to skiing in the first place, snowplow turns are a quick way to tire you out. That’s why people quickly aim to graduate to a more advanced style of turning.
When Is A Snowplow Turn Used?
Contrary to popular belief, the snowplow turn is not only used by beginner skiers. In fact, depending on the terrain, even professional skiers may use it to transfer into a particularly difficult area when off-piste.
It’s also a turn that intermediate skiers will sometimes fall back on when the terrain they’re skiing is above their comfort zone or ability. It doesn’t help them get down any easier, but there’s a feeling of safety because it’s something they’re used to.
However, the most common place you’ll see the snowplow turn being used is of course on the beginner slopes. It’s the first turn everyone starts off with, and is a signature identifier of the amateur skier.
Next up we have the stem christie turn, though it’s not often referred to as a ‘stem christie’ nowadays and is likely referred to as just a ‘stem turn.’ It’s frequently used as a stepping stone into full-on parallel turns.
The way to initiate a stem christie turn is by continuing the snowplow we talked about above, but learning to traverse across the mountain with straight skis rather than a wedge-shaped stance. The key here is to roll your ankles towards the face of the mountain while you traverse and remember to keep your body stacked on top of your skis.
They’re somewhat similar to snowplow turns, but with the stem christie, you’re skiing parallel (traversing) across the slope. That makes things much easier for your muscles and joints, and so should be moved onto as quickly as possible.
When Is A Stem Christie Turn Used?
Stem christie turns are, more often than not, a completely natural progression for most people. However, they’re slightly more advanced than snowplow turns because of the traverse.
It’s a bit of an odd one out on this list because, unlike the others, it’s very rarely referred to nowadays. When beginner skiers are taught to snowplow, it can often take only a couple of hours to progress from snowplow to parallel turns. That means the actual time spent on the “stem christie” turn is very low.
This is the most widely used turn on the mountain, and the hallmark of an intermediate skier. This is the ski turn that could get you through any situation if it had to.Once you’ve learned how to do it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t figure it out quicker. All you have to do is spend a single run skiing in a snowplow stance to understand how fantastic the parallel turn really is.
The idea behind skiing a parallel turn is to ski the entire traverse and turn while keeping your skis perpendicular to each other. This dramatically reduces the strain, speeds you up because you’re on your edges, and allows you to be far more maneuverable than a snowplow.
To initiate a parallel turn, keep the majority of your weight on the downhill ski while traversing, and visualize a place to make your turn. Once you get to that place, release the pressure from your downhill ski and transfer the pressure over. The pressure should go from your downhill skill, to neutral (facing downhill), and downhill ski again (after the turn has been made).
Your uphill ski should skid around (if you’ve got your weight on the downhill ski), but it will take practice to get a feel for the right balance. It’s much easier to get a feel for it than to try and explain it.
The easiest way to get your head around parallel turns is to imagine the movement as a shift of weight. Center, left foot, center, right foot. When you are able to transfer your weight rapidly and read the mountain correctly, parallel turning will be easy. Of course, turning isn’t that robotic, but that’s the general idea your body will learn to adapt to after a lot of practice.
The most common mistake when first learning parallel turns is feeling as though you’ve lost control and need to fall over (or gracefully sit down on your traverse, depending on how fast you were going). This is completely understandable, but you’re urged to keep your posture centered. It’s going to take some time to get used to and realize that you’re in control.
When Is A Parallel Turn Used?
As previously mentioned, the parallel turn is the most common ski turn you’re going to see on the mountain. As such, it can be seen on the beginner runs, all the way up to blacks.
If you’ve ever tried skiing before, you know the first few runs (or holidays) can be an extremely tough experience. In part, that’s due to the limitations of the snowplow. When you couple the mental stress of feeling like you can’t stop, with the physical burden the wedge turn takes on you, it’s not a pleasant experience.
Most people consider the parallel turn to be the time when they can properly ski. It’s a turn that allows you to explore all parts of the mountain, both on and off-piste depending on your level. If nothing else, you should always learn how to do the parallel turn before you make a decision on whether skiing is something you enjoy doing.
A lot of casual skiers stop at parallel turns because they can take you anywhere on the mountain if you learn them well enough. Think of them as a 4X4 car. However, carve turns are by far the best choice when it comes to skiing on a steep, icy, or open piste. If you love skiing as fast as you can, these are the turns you need to learn next. The great thing is, they’re extremely easy to learn.
The first thing you need to learn about carve turns is that the main idea is to always keep the inside edges of your skis on the snow. Not only does this dramatically increase your speed, but it also makes it far easier to stop. Therefore, in certain situations, it’s actually the safest way to ski.
To initiate a carving turn, start by traversing across the mountain (the closer to the fall line the better), and then roll your ankles, and then your knees in the direction you’re headed. Keep your body stacked above your skis at all times and keep your hands out in front of you. Do not pole plant.
It’s similar to parallel turns but it does have some differences. The downhill ski still needs a lot of pressure, but this time, the inside ski also needs to work its edge into the snow.The best way to achieve this is to proactively role the inside ankles to initiate contact with the edge. Most of us are lazy skiers, especially during parallel, so you should feel it when your inside edge works.
If you’ve done it right, your skis shouldn’t skid or slide around each turn, but instead, you should feel as though you’re being catapulted into the next turn. It’s more physically intensive if you’re trying to push yourself as hard as possible, but it can be quite relaxing if you’re just skiing casually.
When Is A Carve Turn Used?
Carve turns are used exclusively on piste. They’re most useful if it’s icy, hard-packed, steep, or freshly groomed. That’s because, as we’ve just discussed, both edges are hard at work for the entirety of the turn, not just the turn itself.
Ski racing is another place where carve turning is the only option. At those kinds of speeds, the skis they use have to be extremely rigid and heavy to deal with the forces. Luckily for you, it’s possible to carve on just about any ski, though the thinner they are, the easier it is to switch from edge to edge.
There are some places where using carve turns is pointless. For instance, powder, slush, and the majority of off-piste terrain will all require a different technique to conquer. Wide-open pistes are where carving is in a league of its own.
Now we are getting into the extremely niche areas of ski turns. The next three turns we’ll be looking at are only used in a handful of situations, all of which beginners would not find particularly useful.
Jump turns are a type of turn where the skier “pops” out of one turn, straight into another. This is often without any traversing but can be adapted to fit any situation. For instance, you may only have to jump into a right-hand turn once to navigate a tricky section.
To initiate a jump turn, you first need to practice jumping on your skis. You can do this while moving slowly or staying still, the choice is up to you. Remember, when jumping with your skis on, all of the energy comes from your legs. Don’t be tempted to bend at the waist.
Once you’re confident with that, head out onto a piste within your comfort zone. A blue run should do nicely for a lot of people. Stand with your hips facing downhill, and your skis pointed across the mountain. Plant your pole below your skis, jump, and swing your skis around to face the opposite direction. You should be no more than a meter below where you started.
You’re going to find this whole process far easier if you learn to build up the basics on a relatively gentle slope before heading out onto something steep. With a turn as “aggressive” as this, getting the basics right is more important than ever. That means stacking your body over the center of your skis and learning to adapt your posture and stance when the incline shifts on a steep slope.
If your boot flex is too stiff and you aren’t able to stay in control of it, this will affect your ability to make these turns. If that’s the case, your other options are to ski more aggressively, or perhaps a better idea, go to a boot fitting shop and ask them if your boots are suitable.
When Is A Jump Turn Used?
This isn’t the kind of turn you’ll find being widely used on your yearly ski holiday, unless you all charge off-piste every day – if that’s the case then go you! The jump turn is used to navigate tricky sections, mainly narrow or off-piste. For instance, couloirs, awkward terrain, and chutes. Sometimes there are situations where you cannot traverse, and so your only option is to use a jump turn.
Corbett’s couloir is probably the most famous place where it’s almost impossible not to make a jump turn unless you jump straight into it. But if you’re skiing that, you probably aren’t reading this article!
Popping in and out of a turn, to a lesser degree than this jump turn, is something you’ll also find useful in powder skiing. It’s less pronounced than it is while navigating extremely narrow areas, but the movement of your legs is worth keeping in mind.
There are quite a few different ways to initiate a kick turn, and a lot of that depends on your flexibility. For the purposes of simplicity, we are going to learn the most common way to perform a kick turn and why you would need it in the first place.
As you get to the position you want to turn on (let’s pretend you’re turning left) while using your poles to keep steady, lift your left ski up until its tail touches the snow and its tip is pointing to the sky. With your left leg straight in front of you, allow the ski to rotate from the tail, and the tip (and your foot) should fall to the left-hand side to meet your other foot.
You should now have one ski facing left, and the other directly below it facing right. It’s not the most comfortable of positions, but it’s exactly where you should be at the moment. Now put all of your weight on the left ski and lift your right ski around to meet it.
That last part will take a bit of strength and flexibility, so make sure you’ve trained hard in the gyms before the season starts. If everything has gone well, you should now be facing to the left, ready to continue your tour.
When Is A Kick Turn Used?
Kick turns are perhaps the most specialist of all the ski turns on this list. You’ll only be using them in one situation, and that’s ski touring. There’s very little need to learn these if you aren’t thinking about touring in the future. Especially as your boots will normally only be attached from the toe end with touring skis (when climbing) which makes it easier to accomplish.
However, if you aren’t constantly starving to move forward with your skiing, you’re never going to improve. Attempting this with normal skis and on a normal piste won’t help you navigate it in any way (unless you need to turn around quickly), but it may help you improve your balance and ski posture while transferring the weight from ski to ski during the turn.
To learn the Pivot or Braquage turn, you first need to understand what the fall line is. The fall line is the quickest, most direct route down the slope. Draw a line from where you are, straight down the slope, and that’s your fall line.
First, position your skis perpendicular to the fall line, and make sure you have very strong edge control. Place your downhill pole below you and rest a little bit of weight on it. Next, rotate your legs, lean over your feet, and begin to achieve neutral pressure on both skis as they face downhill. Quickly pivot your skis to face perpendicularly across the mountain in the opposite direction.
Do not rotate your hips or upper body during the beginning half of the turn. They should stay in posture, centered over your skis at all times. Take your time learning this ski turn as it can be extremely useful in certain situations.
When Is A Pivot Turn Used?
Pivot turns are used in a similar way to jump turns, only in a less technical environment. So, while you will see them being used off-piste, you’ll also see them being used on-piste, especially in narrow or crowded areas where a skier wants to control their speed.
It may help to think of the pivot turn as a glorified side slip. Many advanced intermediate skiers will use this turn to navigate sections of the mountain they believe are out of their skill level, but not so advanced that they have to side slip. Though it has specific uses all across the mountain, it’s a fallback that lots of skiers use when they struggle.
While this technically isn’t a way to practice ski turns, it’s a very good way to visualize it in your mind. Plus, skiing is sadly not an activity you can do year-round, which means making the most of the off-season.
It’s also a great idea to download any videos that give you a good example of the turn you’re practicing. It’s not uncommon for someone to watch a video in the morning and have forgotten it by the time they’re up the mountain, so download it and bring it with you! It may sound a bit silly, but downloading a ski video that gives examples of turns is a great way to make the most of your practice.
The building blocks for all of these ski turns are exactly the same: good form. By running ski drills designed to concentrate on and improve your form, you’ll notice benefits in every part of your skiing. You might feel silly if you consider yourself an advanced skier who is now skiing a blue run with your hands on your knees, but those are the most crucial runs you can do.
Some of these turns seriously test your ability to stack (position your bones and body structure over the center of your skis). You have to be able to quickly re-adjust your form to accommodate for the terrain or else you’ll quickly become off-balance and feel out of control.
Practice Each Turn On The Right Slope
Though it’s important to get the basics down on a gentle slope, you should also practice each turn on the terrain it’s meant for. That might mean stepping out of your comfort zone. If you’re doing that safely, then it’s a great thing to do!
If you’re unsure, take someone who has experience skiing that kind of terrain and watch them ski it. Follow their tracks and learn from someone who is better than you. Or even better, get an instructor to teach you.
If you really want to learn these 7 ski turns in the best possible way, there is absolutely no substitute for a ski instructor. They will be able to watch you ski, correct your mistakes, and show you a (hopefully) near-perfect example of the turn you’re trying to learn.
So many people ski for decades without realizing there are more turns in skiing than the parallel and the wedge. While there’s nothing wrong with sticking to what you know, you can access so much more of the mountain with confidence if you spend some time learning these other ski turns.