One of the things that expert skiers have in common is that they can create supreme edge angles in the turn (like you see in the World Cup!). Why they would do that? To make the shortest radius carved turn possible. In a carved turn, the more edge angle you produce, the more the ski will bend, and the shorter the radius of the turn will be. Edge angle is the most important factor to determine how much a ski will bend. The load is secondary, and it is created mainly by the skier’s natural weight balancing on the ski. The amount of load depends primarily on the skier’s speed. advanced skiing
But first things first. What is edging? Edging is the ability to tip the ski on edge and adjust the angle between the base of the ski and the snow. In common words, it is tipping and un-tipping the skis. We edge the skis either to turn or to slow down (or both). Most recreational skiers change direction and slow down at the same time (skidded turns), but racers typically change direction without slowing down (carved turns). In a carved turn, the tail of the ski follows the tip in the exact path/groove. advanced skiing
When tipped on edge, the ski bends because of its “hourglass” shape. If you take one ski, lay it over flat, and then tip it, you’ll see that only the tips and tails touch the ground/snow, and the middle part of the ski is “in the air”. With the skier’s weight, the ski bends until the middle part touches the snow too. The higher the edge angle, the higher the amount of ski bending, and the tighter the turn radius. advanced skiing
Generating amazing angles correctly is about keeping always the balance over the outside ski during the turn. Balancing over the outside ski is the most efficient way to turn. It is important to note that, in order to generate outside ski pressure, we have to think in terms of BALANCE. We should balance mainly on the outside ski indirectly, that is by unweighting the inside ski. So we don’t push or step with the outside leg, we just balance on it, by flexing/unweighting the inside one.
The four most important elements for achieving that “full range carving turns” correctly are:
1) High speed (and/or steep slopes)
To turn with huge edge angles while keeping balance over the outside ski, high speed (or a steep pitch) is mandatory. We need the strong G-forces (centripetal force actually) generated by the high speed that move our balance out, to the outside ski. If you don’t have enough speed, and try to generate those big angles, you will end up with your balance over the inside ski… not good… so practice in a well-groomed not too crowded intermediate run where you feel comfortable with, so you can generate speed safely. advanced skiing
2) Hip-width stance
The stance (how wide the feet are apart) should be “hip-wide”. It is very important not to widen your stance width more than that. During a turn, the skis should have vertical separation, not horizontal… Horizontal separation is how wide the feet are apart. In a good athletic stance on skis, the distance your feet are apart should be no different than that when you’re standing, walking, running, or standing on your skis on a flat hill.
The vertical separation of your feet is the distance in height, one foot to the other. While skiing, vertical separation of the feet is constantly changing and is directly related to edge angles that are developed. Vertical separation is usually the greatest at or just after the apex of a turn when a skier is resisting the combined forces of gravity and centrifugal force. It’s at its least during the transition phase between turns.
A horizontal stance that is too narrow will limit balance, foot independence, and use of the inside ski. A horizontal stance that is too wide will cause a balance shift onto the inside foot and limit inclination. advanced skiing
When you shorten your inside leg, you move the skis away from each other, but at a vertical distance. If you make the mistake of separating your skis horizontally (“widen the stance”) and then crouch down to get the angles, you will end up having your balance over your inside ski, and that’s not good at all… in this situation, the inside ski will be right under you and your center of mass also known as the core of the body (which generally lies between the navel and the spine).
Also, you will have not parallel shins, with quite less edge angle in the inside ski compared to the outside one. (A.K.A. “A-frame”…)
Also, the “hip width” stance is the one that allows for faster and simultaneous feet rolling and edge changing during the transition. advanced skiing
3) Flexing or shortening of the inside leg/knee
To accomplish those great angles, the key is to shorten/collapse the inside leg by flexing the inside knee, while you are moving to the inside of the turn. Flexing the inside leg drags the hips both down and in. That’s the holy grail, flexing the inside knee deeply (bend it a lot). The more you shorten the inside leg, the more you’re going to “fall” or move to the inside of the turn and the more edge angle you’ll be creating. This “falling to the inside” happens naturally and passively by shortening the inside leg, we don’t push our body at all. It’s like a “free fall” of the body to the inside of the turn. In order to move our center of mass further inside the turn and achieve those angles, we have to deeply flex the inside leg in order to “get it out of the way” as well. If we don’t do that, the inside leg blocks the ability to move further inside.
The highest edge angle is achieved when you have (briefly) your inside hip touching or rubbing the snow. That happens at or after the fall line. This movement of progressively moving to the inside of the turn by shortening the inside leg is similar to what happens if you cut and shorten one leg of a standing ladder. The whole ladder is going to tip/move to that side…
Again, flexing the inside leg throughout the turn in a relatively narrow stance, generates a vertical separation of the skis (not horizontal, so please do not separate your legs). Take a look at the picture below of Ted Ligety (credits to Ron LeMaster). We can note that limbs are close together…
In ski racing nothing happens because it looks good, it’s all about performance…
Skiing is about balancing on one leg, the outside one. That’s the more efficient way of turning. The inside leg is relaxed and just comes along for the ride.
As well as flexing, the inside leg must tip to the inside of the turn to get the edge angles. The inside ski tipping leads the tipping of the outside ski (and not the other way around!). If you try to tip the skis with the outside ski first, you get the “A-Frame” problem mentioned above, because the inside leg does not follow the outside one. So in order to have similar edge angles on both skis, it is key to have parallel shins. Take a look at Allie Resnick from the US Ski Team demonstrating this beautiful SL turn. Note the similar edge angles on both skis:
Regarding leg activity, in high-level skiing, we focus (or pay attention) more on the inside leg work, than the outside one. While skiing down the slope, we focus mainly on flexing and tipping the inside leg, and that’s how we, indirectly (and almost automatically), get angles and pressure on the outside ski. While skiing, the inside leg is much more active than the outside. Speaking in terms of balance, to go from outside foot to outside foot during the turns, we have to work mainly with each inside leg. So high-level skiing is all about inside leg active performance. advanced skiing
The focus is on the inside half of the body that creates the major movements. This way gives you perfect balance on the outside ski, which is still the dominant balancing foot.
The outside leg is the dominant regarding balance/weight, but not in terms of movement. In skiing, the inside leg does a much more active work than the outside one.
Key aspect: In the first third of the turn we move our whole body to the inside, called “inclination” to create edge angles early. This early inclination starts from tipping the feet, ankles and knees to the inside, and not from the hips! See “park and ride” below…
4) Upper body angulation
Angulation happens mostly in the second part of the turn and involves making angles with the body, created primarily at the hip. In high-level skiing, we need to move the upper body to the outside of the turn, strongly. The more you do this, the more outside ski pressure you’re going to get This is another key aspect. It helps to try to “lift” the inside shoulder up, or even better, try to “lift” the inside hip up (AKA “hip hike“). When you see an advanced skier, it seems that the torso stays “still” from one turn to the other, since the upper body does not appear to move. This can confuse the observer, as it is actually quite the opposite. To generate upper body angulation, you need to actively move your torso to the side, to the outside of the turn. The more you tip your skis inside, the more you have to side crunch with your torso (bring the ribs to the hips). It is crucial to train and strengthen those muscles involved, in the gym.
In the snow, practice it by exaggerating (a whole lot) the exercises that improve that skill specifically. There are a lot, but the “Scholpy Drill” is one of the best. Erik Schlopy former Olimpian and actual U.S. Ski Team Coach. advanced skiing
To help develop upper body angulation, you need to counter-rotate with your torso as well. Turn/rotate your torso opposite to the direction of the skis. This allows for better edge hold and greater upper body angulation angles. Start the counter as soon as you start the turn. You’ll note that upper body angulation will be easier to perform. In fact, upper body angulation and counter go always in tandem. advanced skiing
That said, it is important to differentiate that short or Slalom turns require a lot of counter-rotation (upper-body always stable facing the valley), but long or Giant Slalom turns require less counter-rotation. advanced skiing
Counter-rotation of the upper body was first developed by the Austrian instructors in the 1930s, as oppossed to the “French” school that, at that time, used rotation of the whole body as a unit or block. This French technique involved starting with a slow counter-rotation of the upper-body (as a sort of a wind-up) and fllowed by a quick rotation of the whole body into the turn. By the way, this technique described in the written ski teaching manual “Ski Français” by Emile Allais in 1936, involved teaching beginner skiers to ski parallel without the use of wedge or stem christie turns.
So in high-level skiing, we look for “UPPER-LOWER BODY SEPARATION“: the legs and feet are tipping and turning one way and the upper body is tipping and turning the other way, for a complete separation (lateral separation + rotational separation).
Key concept: It is very important to note that angulation happens mostly in the second half of the turn, and always after some amount of inclination that needs to happen at the beginning. If we start the turn already “angulated”, we block our hips and limit the amount of edge angle generated, creating the famous and not good “park and ride” style (see at the end of this post).
Take a look at this next image, an excellent photo montage of Ted Ligety on a GS turn. We can see the strong inclination (whole body tipping in) in the first two frames. After that, upper body angulation starts and gets really extreme towards the end of the turn (last frame), as Ted Ligety (AKA “Mr. GS“) has us used to see on his beautiful skiing… This is actually the front cover of one of the best ski technique books ever written. I strongly recommend all passionate skiers to read it. Thanks Ron LeMaster for this masterpiece!!! advanced skiing
In the next picture, Jett Seymour from the US Ski Team is showing extreme counter-rotation of the upper body or typically referred to as just “counter”. Note how the upper body is pointed in a different direction than the legs. advanced skiing
In order to start a turn effectively, we need to move our Center of Mass forward to bend or balance over the shovel of the skis. We must start the turn by engaging the tip of the ski, so “getting to the front of the ski” at initiation.
Skiing, unlike majority of sports, is a super counterintuitive activity and you have to work against basic instincts (like self-preservation) to get better at it. In order to get pressure on the front part of the ski (shovel) and successfully initiate a turn, we need to move our Center of Mass forward at the begining (“high C”) of the turn. This means, for example in the steeps, to “face the danger” and “dive into the abyss”. Leaning downhill goes against all common sense. That’s counterintuitive, but mandatory for good skiing.
So, CONTROL is all about good turn initiation, that is achieved by counter-intuitive movements. Good turn initiation means achieving “capital C” letter turn shape. Good round turns directly relate to speed control.
If we happen to be in the backseat, and unable to load the shovel at the start of the turn, we end up with Z-shaped turns, with poor speed control. In this wrong type of turn we do all the edging and pressure all at once and late in the turn. Snow spraying off the skis is directly downhill, the line of descent is striaght down the fall line with almost no lateral offset of the skier. advanced skiing
That’s why we look to pressure our shins against the tongue of the boots. But that’s only at the beginning of the turn. While the turn develops, the norm is that our CM moves backward and we end up finishing the turn with our balance over our heels and tails of the skis. At the feet level, the balance point moves from the ball of the foot at the beginning of the turn, back to the heels, at the end. That’s what happens naturally. In order to start a new turn again, we have to move our CM forward again, and so on.
Skiing is all about balancing while in motion. Skiing is the ultimate balancing act. The focus in skiing is to stay in blalance into the future! In order to keep fore-aft balance, we need to have our center of mass over the base of support (our feet).
High-level skiing requires a lot of attitude and self-confidence. That “aggressive” mindset (and eventually, aggressive skiing) is absolutely necessary to be able to “get to the front of the skis” on the steep pitches. To “move forward into the abyss”, in order to load/bend the shovel of the new outside ski and make good turns. Both intensity and “aggressiveness” while skiing are very important, and sometimes it’s what it takes for a seasoned skier to reach the next level. So go for it! Like in almost all aspects in life, attitude is everythig!
Surface and equipment
As well, it is important to mention that we need a hard surface (hard-packed snow), sharp edges, and relatively stiff skis to be able to “hold an edge” while performing those angles. Binding riser plates (AKA “lifters“) help a lot developing high edge angles because they create more leverage. This lifters are pieces of material between skis and bindings that elevate boots farther off the skis and snow. They also allow the skier to hold a steeper edge angle without encountering “boot out“. Boot out occurs when the side of the boot hits the snow, causing the ski to get knocked off edge.
Regarding base surface If the snow is soft, we could end up disengaging the outside ski off the snow during the turn (“to lose the outside ski”, particularly in the second part). If we lose the support of the outside ski, what happens is that all the balance (or pressure) moves strongly and abruptly to the (otherwise unloaded) inside ski. It then makes the inside ski bend violently and carve a very short radius path. Next, it is usual that we get thrown away with a 180 degrees’ air twist and falling over our backs, with the associated dangerous whiplash. That’s a pretty common way of crashing for advanced skiers. advanced skiing
This video is an example of this type of crash experienced by French World Cup racer Thomas Fanara during a race:
In the proper turn (figure 1), the skis (i.e. my base of support) are relatively far from my center of mass… and both shins are parallel, with similar edge angles in both skis. The inside boot is almost touching the outside leg (knee)… so my stance is actually narrow (“hip width”). The separation of one ski over the other is only vertical. Yet, because both legs are tipped to the inside, it “looks” like I would be using a wide stance, but that’s not true. It’s the exact opposite. You can see the strong upper body angulation as well. Also, we can say that my balance is predominantly over my outside ski because it is much more bent than the inside ski. advanced skiing
P.S. you can also see my face with tightly clenched teeth because of the strong G-forces I’m experiencing (and trying to withstand) in that high-speed high edge angle carved turn.
Generating those amazing angles while keeping dominant outside ski pressure is a very advanced skill. That’s why the River Radamus (a young US Ski Team athlete) #hipdragchallenge he did on Instagram was so successful and a beauty to watch… advanced skiing
Edge angle develops progressively, increasing continuously from the edge change until 2/3 of the turn, where it is the highest. Then starts to decrease for transitioning to the next turn. So edge angle is not static throughout the turn. That’s a typical error among intermediate skiers, that develop all the edge angle at once at the beginning of the turn, and then remain static the rest of it. They create angles by actively pushing themselves to the inside of the turn (instead of the correct way which is “free falling” of the body to the inside by shortening the inside leg). It’s called “hip dumping” or “park and ride” style.
Hip dumping: is when the hip puts the ski on edge rather than foot tipping. They just throw the hips in to create edge angles.
Park and ride: when the skier builds all angles, in the lower and upper body, at the beginning of the turn and just rides the skis statically around the rest of the turn. Take a look at the next picture… advanced skiing
“Hip dumping” mistake
Here is is another mistake, trying to generate big angles by crouching down over the inside ski:
Observe that his balance is mainly on their inside ski, which is right under his center of mass. His base of support (skis) is too close to the center of mass. He has different edge angles in both skis, and the stance is too wide (legs are too far apart). Look at the horizontal separation of both legs. The inside boot is quite far from the outside leg. Although funny, not good at all… advanced skiing
Give it a try to the tips we discussed in this post, so you can break off the plateau and get to that next level… advanced skiing
See you on the slopes!