How to Control Your Speed While SkiingPublished on 09/27/2022 · 8 min readSpeed control is a necessary skill for keeping yourself and others safe on the slopes! Ski Expert Gunnar O. gives some tips for controlling your speed.
Photo by Glade Optics
Skiing can be a freeing and fun experience. Cruising down a slope with the cold mountain air blowing in your face or spraying snow from turn to turn while flexing your skis through the carve and popping from edge-to-edge is a feeling so many of us skiers crave. But keeping your speed under control, especially while you prepare for more challenging terrain, can be one of the biggest hurdles new skiers can face when progressing as a skier.
To truly control your speed while skiing, it is best to invest in quality gear with a proper fit, choose a proper area to learn your skills, and progress your technique before your terrain. Let’s examine the speed control best practices.
First and foremost, when attempting to progress as a skier, it is always crucial to make sure you are properly geared up. Having the proper ski equipment keeps you in control, protected, and ultimately safer as you progress as a skier.
I highly recommend a helmet and goggles every day that you ski. These are just as important for newer skis as it is for experts. A helmet will not only keep you safe in the event of a loss of control, but it will also keep you safe from other skiers on the hill who may not be in control themselves. Goggles will help keep snow spray out of your eyes and ensure that you maintain visibility at all times.
For warmth, a warm jacket and ski pants with proper layers are crucial. Avoid cotton layers under your outerwear and instead, try synthetics or wool. Wear gloves; gloves keep your fingers warm, but they also protect your hands in the event of a crash. Ensure that you properly tuck everything in and that your skin will not get exposed in the event of a crash.
Proper Fitting Boots
To truly level up as a skier, proper fitting ski boots are a must! It’s very common for newer skiers to start skiing in boots that are too big to control their skis effectively. New skiers often compare their ski boot fit to that of their street shoes and buy too big of a boot as a result. Boots that are too big are not conducive to control and often leave the skier feeling like they are unable to turn their skis correctly.
The Right Skis
For skis, they should be properly-sized skis to your skill level. Skis that are too short can feel squirrely and tend to lack stability at higher speeds whereas skis that are too long can be too hard to turn and control. You should also find the proper type of skis for the given snow conditions and terrain. Also, the ski width should be narrow enough for you to comfortably transfer from edge to edge. Ski control comes from edge contact with the snow, getting on too wide of a ski too early in your progression as a skier can lead to a loss of control. Lastly, the flex and profile of the ski should fit your skill level as skis that are too stiff or have too much rocker are often harder to control for beginner skiers.
Ski poles are a great tool for more advanced skiers, but if you are still learning the fundamentals and you haven't moved onto parallel turns without a lot of crashing, leaving the poles behind can be a safer move to start.
Learning how to control your speed takes time and practice. In skiing, if you do not learn proper techniques and instead make mistakes as you attempt to learn yourself, you can cause injury to yourself or others. Starting with a proper setting and professional instruction for that particular setting is a great place to learn the fundamentals.
Start with terrain you are comfortable with. Level up your skill first, not the terrain. It is easy to speed up on skis and requires much less skill than slowing down, so never over terrain yourself. Oftentimes, it can feel as if we are doing ourselves a disservice by practicing on easy terrain such as the bunny hill. However, this is a great place to do drills and practice skills that will benefit your ski control as you get into more challenging terrain later on.
When practicing new skills on skis, it is best to stick to groomed, flat terrain. You want a trail that has enough downhill to provide momentum but isn’t too great that it will be challenging for you to control your speed. You should avoid powder and moguls and instead look for a groomed slope of soft snow. The snow surfaces should be hard enough that it doesn’t accumulate on your skis but soft enough that they will not hurt in the event of a fall.
It is always best to learn skiing techniques through a ski lesson with a certified ski instructor at a ski resort. They will make sure that you are learning at a rate that is appropriate for your skill level and that the exercises and terrain are not going to do you a disfavor. Too many skiers try to progress too fast and develop bad skiing habits as a result.
Technique is crucial in skiing and is the final factor to ensure proper speed control. Speed control varies greatly by terrain, and techniques that work in flatter terrain will not directly translate to steep terrain. Because of this, it is critical to learn each technique in terrain that doesn’t require it before attempting on a steeper slope.
The snowplow—or pizza—technique is a fundamental move in skiing that allows you to stop your momentum as you go down the hill. Most skiers who have taken a lesson have learned this basic posture and how it can be used to control speed. However, the snowplow becomes less effective as the slope steepens; this is where the wedged turn comes in handy.
The wedge turn—also known as the snowplow turn—involves maintaining a snowplow position while descending down the slope and weighing one leg more than the other. As a result, your skis will turn from pointing directly down the slope to pointing perpendicular with it. Doing so will allow you to stop your speed entirely. From here, you can weight the other leg, which will cause you to gain momentum and turn back down the slope, eventually perpendicular with it facing the other direction.
Wedge Christie Turn
The Wedge Christie is the next level up of a wedge turn. In this maneuver, you will start your wedge turn as normal, but near the end of the turn, you will allow your skis to return to parallel. Before entering the next turn, return to the snowplow to reduce speed and increase control. This is a precursor to the parallel turn.
The parallel turn is a turn in which the skier keeps their skis in parallel throughout the length of the turn and speed is controlled by the skier's approach angle to the slope as opposed to a snowplow. Parallel turns are accomplished by bending your knees, flexing your ankles, and keeping your torso centered and your weight forward. By reducing the time when your skis are pointed down the slope and instead keeping them pointed perpendicular to the slope, you will increase your ski control.
A skid turn is similar to a parallel turn, but at the end of the turn, the skier skids their skis at the exit of the turn. By keeping your skis flat and skidding them, you create more friction with the snow and reduce your speed. This is a super helpful technique for skiers and is a crucial step that needs to be learned before attempting harder terrain.
The carved turn is an advanced technique where the skier angles the skis in a turn so the skis edges are the primary point of contact with the snow. Carved turns generally are used when the skier is hoping to maintain speed, rather than reduce speed, but this is a great technique to learn to enhance your ski control.
The hockey stop is a variation of the skid turn above, but instead of continuing to the next turn, the skier stops completely. This is done by first feathering your skis into a skid. When you are properly skidding, that is moving down the slope but with your ski tips pointed perpendicular to the slope, you can engage your edges. This will cause you to stop abruptly and also produce a spray of snow as a result. Not only is this an effective way to stop on a steeper slope, but it is a great way to spray your friends.
Hit the Slopes!
Once you have solidified your gear choices, chosen the right area for skill development, and practiced techniques until you are confident of your execution, you can hit the slopes! As always, be tentative when trying harder terrain, and always trust your skill level before you try to ski harder terrain. If you follow all of these steps thoroughly and keep practicing with a certified ski instructor, you should be controlling your speed in more difficult terrain in no time. If you need help finding any proper gear or need help in assessing any proper techniques for the slopes, you can always reach out to a Curated Ski Expert.