One of the skills that separates an average skier from an expert is properly incorporating the skis’ edges in a turn.
One look at an intermediate run, and you’re unlikely to see anyone carving down the hill on the edges of their skies like Lindsey Vonn on a downhill course. There will inevitably be a wide range of skill levels — from the “shoulder steerers,” who seem to believe that if their upper body is facing the right direction their skis will follow, to those who think they’re racing but are completely flat-footed through most of their turns. The majority of skiers on that slope will probably be somewhere in between, but may still not use their edges, opting instead for sliding or skidded turns.
It’s a little like fishtailing a car in a sharp turn — you may make the turn, it might be fun, but it won’t be the most efficient way around that bend. That’s not to say skidded turns don’t have their merit, but true carving in both skiing and snowboarding involves getting up on the edges of the skis or board at the beginning of a turn.
“The realm of the expert skier is what happens in the beginning of the turn,” longtime Copper ski instructor Jonathan Lawson said. “Most average skiers will twist their shoulders and upper body first, not their legs. A higher-skilled skier will use their legs first.”
As far as incorporating the edges, Lawson added that the typical intermediate skier may use them a little but not as early in the turn as they should.
“Most skiers move to their edges abruptly and usually at the end of the turn,” causing them to swing the tails of the skis around for a wider turn than the tips.
“The earlier you are able to tip your ski on edge, the more control you’ll have in a carved turn,” he said.
The best way to clean up a turn is with micro adjustments that start with the skis, as opposed to dramatic movements with the upper body. A skier should start with rolling his or her ankles toward the hill, letting the legs follow and lifting the skis on edge. One way to think about it is that the skier should be trying to gradually show someone downhill from them the writing on bottoms of the skis.
“I had a 6-year-old say it’s like playing the piano with your toes,” Lawson said.
It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as a downhill racer; even a slight move toward the edge of the ski will carve a turn more effectively.
“That’s where the advanced skier is more skilled than the intermediate skier,” Lawson explained.
A good drill to improve edging skills can be done on a flatter surface that will be less intimidating. Some instructors refer to it as doing railroad tracks. The drill simply involves shifting from edge to edge on each ski simultaneously — meaning trying to lift the toes on the outside edges of the skis to try to stand on the sides of the feet — while keeping upper body movement to a minimum, or having a “quiet” upper body. The more the skier lifts the outside edge of each ski and rolls the ankles toward the turn, the more dramatic the turn will be. Skiers can practice by progressively increasing what instructors call the “edge angle.”
Lawson also suggested introducing the skill by traversing a hill and only engaging the edge on the inside or uphill ski.
Getting truly comfortable with edging takes time and practice, and a real lesson couldn’t hurt.
Really aggressive edging will be on full display when the winter Olympics open in Sochi, Russia, later this week.
“When you watch the Olympics coming up, you’ll see the racers do whatever they can to get the fastest down the course,” Lawson said.
That may not be with perfect form, but you can bet they’ll have their skis up on edge.