How to Carve a Turn on Skis

Craving some carving? Ski expert Abe F. walks you through the process and the possible mistakes you might be making so that you can hit the hill with confidence.

Photo by Petr Sevcovic
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Carving turns into fresh groomed snow is among the most satisfying feelings a person can experience on two skis, but for a lot of folks, this is an elusive sensation. There’s so much that goes into perfect parallel turns, and they require plenty of practice, but with a few main ideas to focus on, you can start turning in the right direction (pun intended!)

What is Carving?

Carving turns is one of the most important skiing techniques because it’s versatile and efficient. You’ve probably seen experts at your local hill on carving skis, moving gracefully back and forth across the slope, skis way up on edge, and tracing consistent, parallel, S-shaped tracks into the snow as they go down. That’s carving—and it’s a beautiful thing.

Carved turns are different from skidded turns or hop turns, which are less efficient ways of turning that can be useful in specialized situations, such as skiing moguls.

A male skier turns sharply
Photo by Visit Almaty

How to Do It

If you’re an intermediate skier or above, you probably have a decent stance and know a bit about getting your skis on edge. You can probably just skip ahead. But beginners, start here.

Stance

Like most aspects of skiing, carving turns requires starting from a good stance. Your skis should be about shoulder-width apart and parallel. Your shins should be pressed forward into the tongues of your boots. Your knees should be slightly bent and your hands and upper body weight should be forward.

First Turn

Start on gentle terrain—preferably groomed—where you feel comfortable going straight downhill without getting too much speed. It can’t be totally flat or super-shallow, because you need some momentum to get turning.

Once you’ve got some speed and you feel comfortable in your stance, it’s time to make some turns. Let’s start with a left. Use your ankles to lean the ski edges on their left. As your ankles lean toward the left, bend your knees and allow them to swing out to the left. Above the knee, your thighs should be coming back slightly toward the center so that your waist can stay closer to home.

Your upper body should be loose and leaned into the turn a bit, but you should keep it still and somewhat centered above your hips. Feel the edges of your skis engage with the snow and pull you in a gentle, curved path toward the left. Modern carving skis with a good side cut will help the ski come around without requiring a ton of effort.

Turning Back

Now before you’ve turned so far that you’ve become perpendicular to the fall line, extend your legs and pull your knees back under you while having your ankles return the skis to a flattened position. Neither edge of the skis should be touching at this point. Essentially you want to come back to your starting stance—but for just a moment. Advanced skiers move through this position as smoothly as possible, never pausing on the flattened ski, and instead just touching them flat momentarily as they rock from edge to edge.

Pro tip: If you’re just beginning, it’s okay to pause on flat skis to prepare yourself for the next turn!

Once you’re ready, lean those ankles to the right, bend your knees and swing them outward, while maintaining a nice “center-right” waist and upper body position. Feel the edges of your skis bite at the beginning of the turn and bring you to the right. Extend your legs and pull your knees and feet back to the center to end the turn and prepare for the next one.

A skier in an orange jacket and red pants carves a turn in the snow
See how this skier's lower legs are more horizontal and their upper legs are more vertical. This allows them to get the skis on edge while keeping their hips and upper body relatively centered. Photo by Volker Meyer

Throughout the carving process keep these things in mind:

  • Keep your knees bent while your skis are on edge.
  • Extend your legs as your skis come flat.
  • Bend them again as you lean into your next turn.
  • The outside ski takes most of the pressure during a turn, while the inside ski adds stability and control.
  • Keep a lot of pressure on the front of your skis.
  • Make sure you have good sharp edges.
  • Make sure to keep your weight forward throughout the turn!

Pitfalls to Avoid as You Advance

Once you’ve gotten the basics down and you’re making solid turns on moderate slopes, there are a few common mistakes that happen on more challenging terrain and prevent many skiers from getting to that next level, even after years of skiing.

Getting in the Back Seat

Turning on steeper slopes at high speeds generates a lot of g-force, and if you’re not careful they’ll force you into leaning too far back. A lot of beginners struggle with this habit at first, think they have it beat, only for it to come back when they get into steeper stuff. If your feet are out in front of you and your weight is on your heels as you finish a turn, then you’ll have a lot of trouble initiating the next turn. To fight this, you better…

Keep your Hands Forward!

It seems simple, but it’s easy to forget. As I was learning to ski, my dad would follow behind and shout “hands forward!” over and over. If you don’t have access to a loud and encouraging ski buddy, you’ll have to remind yourself.

Out of Sync Skis

Because the outside ski takes more force during a turn than the inside ski, skiers start to think about them differently. And while the two skis have different roles on right and left turns, they must stay parallel and in sync. Focus on initiating turns with both skis simultaneously. Don’t allow the outside ski to take a head start, even though that might feel comfortable sometimes. Don’t lift the inside ski off the snow either, even though that might feel comfortable sometimes. These habits make individual turns feel less threatening on steep slopes, but they cause a loss of control and balance at the end of the turn, making it impossible to continue carving well all the way down the hill.

A skier turns in deep snow and kicks up a cloud of powder
This guy is probably having a blast, and you can get away with it in powder, but for optimal carving he is too far back and his hands are all over the place. Photo by Christian ter Maat

More Aggressive Edging

Once you’re confident carving your way down all kinds of slopes, it can be fun to get more aggressive. It's time to really perform a true carve. Increasing your edge angles and quickly reversing your direction of travel with grace and fluidity will make you feel like a pro. To do this you're going to have to do a bit more with your upper body. Earlier I talked about the importance of maintaining a still and relatively centered upper body, but we’ve all seen the baddest ski racers out there getting their upper bodies laid out almost horizontally to the hill while their skis are way on edge. So what gives?

To make sharp turns at high speeds, expert skiers need to get their skis on more extreme edge angles. This creates tons of outward pressure, so maintaining a “centered” balance requires more inward lean. As you work on making aggressive turns, allow your feet to get farther outside of your center line while your hips lean farther inward. Try to keep your upper body directly above your hips. As you go from turn to turn don’t pause at all when your skis are flat. This gives you constant control over the ski and moves the least amount of snow by reducing skidding. This increases your overall efficiency.

Your upper body needs to come back toward the center as your skis flatten and your knees extend. If you flatten the ski and try to initiate the next turn while your upper body is too far out to one side, it’ll be very hard to stay upright.

A skier carves a turn while leaning far into it
This is excellent form. Skis are way up on edge, legs are almost horizontal, hips are leaned way in, body is centered above the hips, hands are forward. Photo by Emma Paillex

Have Fun!

Pure Carving is a true joy when done properly and it’s well worth the practice and effort required to get good at it. Make sure to stretch out those legs before you get going, strive for consistent, gradual improvement, and always remember, “hands forward!”

If you have any questions or are looking for the right gear to focus your skiing on carving, please feel free to reach out to me or one of my fellow Ski experts here at Curated for free advice and gear recommendations.

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Written By
Abe F
Ski Expert
Two years of volunteer experience as an adaptive skiing instructor, Level 1 avalanche certification, and a lifetime of experience out on the hill!
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