Ski Carving: The Secret To Carving Ski Turns

Ski carving is hard to beat - not just in terms of the high speeds you accrue but also the exhilaration, control and skill involved. Ski carving technique requires the skier to increase the edge angle of the ski so that those sharp sides are slicing through the snow, like ice skates on an ice rink. Here is an Ongosa Instructor's guide on how to carve on skis.

Published on Thu 28 Mar, 2019

Learning How To Ski, But Think Ski Carving is Out of Reach? 

Never fear, all you need to do is develop good ski carving technique step-by-step by engaging in specific ski carving exercises, as we have helpfully laid out below. All elements are heavily in play here - from ski stance and balance to a strong core and a gung-ho attitude. 

But why bother? Surely a speedy flat-skied parallel will suffice?

Well for one thing, carving ski turns are the key stepping stone to racing. But another more important reason to develop good ski carving is safety. If you’ve ever seen a skier smashing down the slopes too fast with no control or consideration of other skiers, then they’re missing the key building blocks to a good carving turn technique which maintains safety at speed.

As with most skills there are different levels - with carving ski turns there is a difference between medium radius turns and pure carving, when you no longer need to turn your legs to move the ski. Once the skis are on that pure edge, they turn simply through their shape against the snow and you can then just fly. But more on that later.

Firstly, you want to be skiing a comfortable parallel on at least a red slope, ensuring you’re technique is fully parallel and you are consistently deploying the pressure on that outside ski.

Book a lesson with an instructor, who will assess where you may need to improve before turning to ski carving technique. If you’re ready to go, you can get cruising around blue and red slopes, getting up that speed, to warm up before your instructor introduces you to some ski carving exercises.

Ski Carving Technique - What’s the Secret?

We ideally want to be ski carving on blue to black pistes. If you’re new to carving, ideal conditions would be soft, chalky snow as opposed to sheet ice or slush. The basic mechanics of ski carving begins with more speed than normal. If we’re going too slow, we’ll end up like a coin rolling on its side, eventually losing momentum and toppling sideways. So a decent speed is crucial for our balance. We will begin by edging those skis, progressively more and more, and then work on the crossover, where pressure and weight changes skis from turn-to-turn.

Ski Carving: How to Edge

To get more edge you need to tip the ski, showing more of the ski’s base.

To begin with we are going to be focusing on the end part of the turn when we feel the most forces. (Often people feel this is where they need to break to regain control after the fall line). Employing a high edge angle at the end of the turn helps us deal with pressure at higher speeds and help maintain grip so we aren’t skidding round like a car on ice.

This isn’t simply a matter of tipping your legs sideways so your skis tip. Body position is crucial too.

Ski Carving Exercise: To begin with, just standing on your skis, imagine you are perching the side of your bottom on a bar stool, towards the inside of your turn radius. So if you’re turning right, that’s the right side, and if you’re turning left that’s your left side. As a result you can create a higher edge angle.

Here you will notice that you could easily tip off balance into the inside of your turn. After all, there is no actual bar stool propping us up. So this is where maintaining balance and pressure over the outside ski comes in. Angulate your upper body away from the inside of the turn radius by imagining your pectoral going towards your outside pinky toe.  

Ski Carving Exercise: To help you with that correct body position and stance, there is a very useful exercise that instructors love called ‘swords.’ 

As you sit on that bar stool and tip those skis towards the inside, hold both of your poles straight out to the side with straight arms. (Make sure there is plenty of room on the piste.) From here you are going to drag both the poles out to the side and along the ground, keeping the pole tips on the snow.

It is impossible to do this exercise if you are not angulating your body to the outside away from the tipped skis. Swords also helps maintain that lower centre of mass, which will become crucial as we edge more and more towards pure carve turns.

Ski Carving: Progressive Edging

Next step is learning how to monitor your grip throughout the whole circumference of the turn. The last thing you want is any skidding. We’re going to start progressively edging the skis from much earlier on.

To progressively edge more and more throughout the turn, you start by tipping the skis with you ankles. Then you begin to tip the skis with your ankles and knees. Finally, as you may guess, you’re edging the skis with the ankles, knees and the hips.

Ski Carving Exercise: At the start of the turn imagine that your boots are full of water, and you are beginning to pour a little bit out of the boots onto the snow by just using your ankles.

As we go further into the turn we need to increase the edge angle to maintain grip, so you pour even more water out using both your ankles and knee.

Finally to maintain grip when we need the highest edge ankle in the turn, we are pouring most of the water out of the boot, using the ankle, knee and hip, perching was that bum cheek against the bar stool.

Keep up the leg rotation whilst developing the technique. There are different elements in play and it’s best to concentrate on one at a time until it becomes automatic. So nail each exercise before you move on to the next.

Ski Carving: The Crossover

The idea of a crossover is to manage pressure at the end of the turn and transfer that pressure into the start of the next turn. We want to efficiently and smoothly manage the power and energy as we make the change.

The crossover is the transition from one turn to the next and we want to complete it as quick as possible without losing speed.

As you’ve seen from diagrams above, we are getting pretty low during the turn radius. But we can’t stay there forever. At some point we need to recentre to move over in the other direction for the next turn.

Instead of popping up towards the sky at this point, we’re going to move forwards toward the tips of our skis in the direction of the next turn.

Why? It’s far less distance for our body to travel, it maintains a low centre of gravity and keeps us streamline to safely capitalise on speed. This also creates early edge grip for the next turn and we change sides quickly.

Ski Carving Exercise: From the last turn, imagine there is a door on your outside ski side. You want to close that door with the side of your body, leading with your hips.

We only begin to develop this efficient crossover motion after all previous exercises have been completed on blue terrain and they feel comfortable and automatic. If you’re at this stage then a good idea would be varying the terrain to red and black and practising if possible in different snow conditions.

Ski Carving: Common Mistakes

Banking: This is when you use your body weight for momentum to force the turn instead of using your muscles. It’s lazy and unsecure. Often banking manifests with the hips and bum dipping below towards the snow, like dropping an anchor at speed to turn a boat.

Falling Into The Inside Ski: Banking also risks falling into the inside ski, where the pressure is leant towards the piste, easily offsetting the balance that keeps us upright while we’re tipped on those edges. You will never be able to create higher edge angles if there is any pressure on the inside ski.

Turning With The Body: Another mistake that is also very common to parallel skiing is turning using shoulders and the body as opposed to turning those leg muscles.

Leg Rotation: Although we are using the edge angle to create a turn shape, we still need to use both legs to help change direction. We don’t want the ski to rail, which is just when the edge is used to turn like a boat tipping through the water - that’s pure carve turns and we are not quite there yet. 

Ski Carving Exercise: To help with leg rotation, take the skis off, put your hands on your hips and keeping those hip bones pointing straight ahead, try walking in small steps forward to the right then to the left. With the hips facing forward, the direction change can only come from turning your legs in your hip sockets and using your quads.

How to Carve on Skis: Recap of Key Elements

Compact core and aligned upper body

Strong leg rotation

Pressure on the outside ski

Edging progressively with ankles then knees then hips

Avoid banking or twisting the hips

Good crossover technique

Then you’re ready for pure carve turns where no leg rotation is required to turn the skis!

Need help with your ski carving? Ongosa find and book the best ski lessons for you. You can see all your options in one place and enjoy expert advice, at no additional cost. Start your search for ski lessons here.

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