Skiing In Control: How to Slow Yourself Down and Tips to Control Speed on Skis
Ski Expert Hunter R. explains the three ways you can slow yourself down while skiing so you're always able to stay in control of your speed.
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Woohoo! After all the anticipation and excitement leading up to your first day out, it’s finally happening—you are finally skiing!
You ride to the top of the lift, get off, and start making your way down the mountain.
Things are going well! So far so good. Okay, picking up some speed now, and wait...oh no, where are the brakes?! You want to slow down but you don’t know how.
Don’t let this be you!
And thankfully, since you’re here reading this, it won’t be.
Speed control is an important part of keeping yourself and others safe while skiing, and keeping everyone safe is an important part of having fun on the mountain!
So let’s talk about a few safe ways to slow down or stop when you are downhill skiing.
1. Pizza or Snowplow
This is one of the first skiing techniques any beginner skier will learn! You’ve probably heard the classic pizza vs. french fries analogy when it comes to skis, but basically, when using this method, you’ll position your ski tips together and keep the back of your skis far apart making the shape of your skis resemble a slice of pizza. The friction between your skis and the snow will slow you down. It’s an easy, effective way to reduce your speed, especially if you are a new skier or just getting back into the sport!
If you want to speed back up, move your skis to be in a parallel shape with each other (french fries, if you will), and this will get you gliding on the snow again. It can be a bit hard to control your direction when doing a full pizza, and it's hard on your legs to do a pizza for very long distances so once you feel comfortable with pizza as a backup option for slowing down, move on to the next option!
2. Wedged Turn
Turns are a great tool to utilize when trying to control your speed but also want a bit more control over your direction than the pizza/snowplow allows. During a wedge turn, you are not quite making a full V-shape with your skis, but you still have the tips closer together than the backs and have your weight on the inside edges of both skis. You are then going to use your weight distribution to control your direction.
To make this work, put more weight on whatever edge is opposite the direction you want to go. So, if you are turning left, your right ski has more weight than your left ski. If you are turning right, your left ski has more weight than your right ski. If you want to go slower, make your turns more perpendicular to the hill, if you want to go a bit faster, make your turns a bit more angled toward the bottom of the hill.
3. Parallel Turn Adjustments
Parallel turns are the classic ski turns that you see when you watch experienced skiers come down the hill—ankles and knees bent, leaning forward in their boots, arms up, and torso pointed towards the bottom of the hill. During a parallel turn, your skis are in a parallel position from each other, your weight will be mostly on the inside edge of your outside ski (or downhill ski if that's easier to visualize), your hips will be leaning into the turn, and you'll use your upper body to counterbalance yourself as you turn.
Let’s talk about how to utilize these turns to slow yourself down when you have gotten yourself going a bit too fast. The best way to do this is to adjust the turn length and turn shape, as well as the direction of your torso. If you want to slow down, point your skis and torso perpendicular to the hill and not toward the bottom of the hill. Make your turns a bit longer as well so you are traversing further across the mountain. Once you have slowed down enough, re-angle your body and skis toward the bottom of the hill again, and carry on! Tight turns make you go a bit faster, whereas long turns with more of an arc will make you go slower.
(Making a quick, parallel turn while digging your edges in will bring you to a complete stop, called a hockey stop or parallel stop!)
Disclaimer: make sure on this type of turn in particular that you are paying attention to other people on the slopes, making huge, wide turns in a crowded area can put you and other skiers in danger, so just make sure you are checking uphill to make sure the coast is clear before making your way across the slopes!
A Few More Things to Consider Regarding Speed
Different types of snow ski differently
Powder is slower than groomers, and groomers are slower than ice. Just because you have skied a run a few times doesn’t mean the conditions will always be the same, so make sure you are still paying attention.
Use the terrain!
It’s self-explanatory but steep slopes mean faster speeds, so use the terrain to help you with your speed control.
The best way to control your speed is preemptively
Avoid going very fast before you are comfortable with speed. Your friends would rather wait for you at the bottom of the ski hill because you are skiing safe but slow than wait for you in the waiting room at the ACL repair shop because you were trying to beat a speed record. Stay on more gentle slopes until you feel confident in your ability to execute these techniques! Once you are feeling good and in control of your skis, then transition to those steeper slopes.
Watch your form while falling
If you end up falling down (happens to all of us—beginner or expert!), try to fall uphill, and don’t try to get up until you have come to a complete stop.
So, if you feel like you are going to take a tumble, try to keep your body uphill from your skis. It minimizes the distance you will fall, prevents your body from getting in a contorted, injury-prone position, and minimizes your momentum so you won’t end up like that incredibly long fall scene in Hot Rod where he just keeps tumbling and falling forever and ever.
Coming to a complete stop before trying to get up is important in knee injury mitigation as well. Getting up too early can often mean one ski/leg is still going and the other one doesn’t have time to catch up. You will likely end up falling again and it increases your chances of ACL tearing!
Consider taking a lesson!
If you still find yourself struggling to slow down on the slopes, try taking a ski lesson! No matter what your skill level is, having a ski instructor can be very beneficial, and almost every resort offers some sort of lesson. Instructors can watch your form in real life and provide feedback. Speed control is an important base skill to have in order to progress into more advanced terrain such as bumps, moguls, off-trail skiing, black runs, and steeper slopes! There's no shame in taking a lesson. Even if you have been skiing for a while, getting professional feedback and instruction will always make you a better and more competent skier in the end!
A Few Things to Avoid...
Trying to grab something to stop you!
A tree, a sign, a friend...that’s not the move we want to make. Trees can break, tree wells are dangerous, and if you are going fast, slamming into a tree is not going to be good news. Signs? Same story! I have seen more people break arms, legs, you name it by running into obstacles such as signs or snowmakers than I can count on my ten fingers. Grabbing onto a friend, instructor, or another person will likely result in you pulling them down and hurting them as well as yourself.
Relying on your poles
That’s not what they are for! Best case, using them as a brake system at high speeds will hurt your wrists, but likely it would end up in a worse injury than just wrists.
Now that you have a good understanding of how to stay in control and at a safe speed while skiing, get off the internet, hit those slopes, and practice these methods! If you have any further questions or want to chat gear, hit up one of our Curated Ski Experts and we would be happy to help you out!