Ski tips: Engage the edges of your skis

Sebastian Foltz
A skier gets up on edge to carve a groomer at Copper Mountain Resort. Engaging the edges of skis in order to initiate a turn is often an under used skill for intermediate skiers. Less advanced skiers tend to rotate the ankles instead of rolling them.
Tripp Fay / Copper Mountain |

Skiing is hard. Any beginner will tell you that. There is a lot to think about. And much like a golfer’s swing, a skier’s stance can have any number of flaws. If minor, those flaws may just make you feel tired faster; if they’re major, they could lead to injury.

Like improving in any sport, it’s good to focus on one skill at a time. With that in mind we talked this week with longtime ski instructor and current Copper Mountain Ski and Ride School supervisor Jonathan Lawson about one of skiing’s underdeveloped skill sets — using the edges of the skis.

“Most people think of edging as a way to throw on the brakes,” Lawson said, like a hockey stop. “Watch a racer. Those folks use their edges in a very different way.”

Think of almost any photo of an Alpine racer like Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin or Ted Ligety. It’s likely that you’ll be able to read the brand logo on the bottom of their skis, because they’re that far up on their edges and always moving from one edge to the other.

The more you roll onto the edge of a ski, the more you’ll feel it engage.

But look at any given ski resort slope and you’re likely to see skiers sliding around flat on their skis — same with snowboarders.

“When you’re not using your edges, it’s like having your car in neutral,” Lawson said.

There’s a reason the edges of skis look a little like the bottoms of ice skates; that’s where the steering really happens.

And while a lot of skiers use their edges to some degree, it’s often just at the end of turns, when they should be using them throughout. Especially with today’s shaped skis, you get much more performance when you lay your skis down on edge for a hard carve.

Correct form means always switching from one edge to the other.

“The ski is an extension of your foot,” Lawson said, and in turn also your legs and hips. “Imagine your big toe being your inside edge and your little toe being your outside edge.”

Turns should involve constantly shifting between those two toes, with each toe in between rolling across the ground like fingers across a keyboard.

Rolling both feet at the same time is key; there’s a reason it’s called a parallel turn. Legs, ankles and hips should always be in sync.

When done right and the ski has a chance to do its thing, turns get much more precise. Also, you won’t tire as quickly because of the more efficient movement.

Go Drill Yourself

Lawson suggested two ways to get a better feel for using your skis’ edges. And as with any drill, he said, it’s best to do them on a slope well below your ability level. In fact, most instructors will tell you that you can learn pretty advanced skills on relatively flat terrain.

“Being on an easier run is essential,” Lawson said. “If you’re practicing for the first time on challenging terrain, the skier will become defensive.”

The Crazy Leg Drill: On a low-angle slope or cat track, try moving just one ski from edge to edge while keeping the other flat. This movement will give you a feel for the edge of the ski engaging and starting to turn. It’s also easier to focus on what the rest of the leg is doing. Start by doing it with one leg, then switch to the other. The goal is to isolate each leg and get a feel for the movements. This drill is also a good first-run warm-up for any level skier.

The Railroad Track Drill: The next progression is to do the same drill but with both legs at the same time — again on a relatively flat surface. The key here is to have both legs in sync. Ankles, knees and legs should all be flexing and rolling at the same time, with a little more pressure on the ski on the outside of the turn. Some people have a tendency to lean into turns. That’s not efficient. Shoulders and upper body should also stay “quiet” and facing downhill, while the hips and legs and ankles do the turning.

The more you roll onto the edge of a ski, the more you’ll feel it engage. Adding more edge angle and rolling from one side to another eventually leads to linked carved turns.

While these pointers may help, a lesson can never hurt. Having someone — even a friend — observe you; he or she may point out a simple mistake you didn’t even realize you were making.

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