Good skiing requires constant movement throughout a turn and based the specific objectives, terrain and conditions, every turn is unique. This of course, makes timing pretty difficult to generalize and it would be impossible to describe every millisecond in time for every situation. That said, breaking the average turn into 3 distinct phases can help you determine the general timing of a new move that you're trying to add to your skiing.
Turn phases can also help with tactical decision making skiing in gates, trees or when adapting to terrain such moguls. Choosing time a specific part of a turn with a terrain feature can make all the difference!
- Phase #1
- Phase #2
- Phase #3
Release to Transition
The release, is the beginning of the ‘transition’ or 'edge change' where you start the process of moving from the end of one turn to the beginning of the next.
You need to release the working ski (usually the downhill one at this point) and topple, letting momentum carry your mass into the new turn. Your base of support is essentially knocked out from under your centre of mass and you're in a bit of a free fall until your new edges engage and create a platform on the other side.
The transition is the part of turn where the is little to no pressure on the skis and you feel that floating sensation that plays such a big part in the allure of skiing. It is typically paired with a pole plant.
Common Methods for Transitioning:
The Short Leg Long Leg Classic: Release the downhill ski by bending the downhill leg. This bending of the leg is typically combined with a lateral move to tip the ski and pressure moves from the inside of the arch to the outside of the foot (the pinky toe side). As the mass begins to topple the new outside leg simultaneously begins to extend and pressure moves from the outside of the foot towards the inside of the arch on route to engage the new outside ski.
Advantages: This is typically your smoothest transition from one set of edges to the next allowing for earlier edge engagement and a rounder turn shape.
Disadvantages: For specific turn shapes, especially off piste, you occasionally need to release the whole ski from the snow in order to transition. This method just releases the edges.
The Over-Steer / Counter Steering: Keep steering the skis across your momentum to the point where they ''trip you up'' or slow your feet down enough that your mass begins to topple. This is a similar concept to counter steering a motorcycle. It still requires the bending/extending of the short leg/long leg method for a smooth transition.
Advantages: Great at higher speeds or on steeper terrain where a completed turn is ideal. It can allow for quite high edge angles early in the arc.
Disadvantages: Can lead to loss of momentum if the situation isn't appropriate and isn't deal at lower speeds.
The Pop - A rapid extension of both legs almost like hopping off the snow to release the skis.
Advantages: Useful in certain situations where the skiers speed is too slow and the snow is too thick and heavy to release the skis by other means.
Disadvantages: Makes it impossible to engage edges early in the new turn and can make balance challenging often moving the mass back or the wrong direction into the new turn.
The Retraction: Both legs rapidly flex to release the skis from the snow.
Advantages: Similar idea to a pop for releasing the skis from the snow but allows for a much quicker transition, easier balance and earlier edge engagement than a pop. Very useful when adapting to terrain such as moguls, cruddy snow or on the steeps.
Disadvantages: Can sometimes cause the feet to displace and skip the top part of the turn.
The Pop Retraction: A quick half extension followed by a quick retraction.
Advantages: Can usually be used in place of a full pop when speed, terrain or conditions dictate its use. Excellent for creating a quick steering angle or short turn when speed control is the number one objective. It typically allows for better balance and control entering into the new turn than a full pop.
Disadvantages: Not ideal for early edge engagement.... but sometimes ya just gotta do it!
Pressuring the Tails: Moving the ass aft to engage the tails of the ski will often make the ski run straighter and is sometimes paired with the release of the edges to stop the ski from turning.
Creating the Platform
This phase of the turn typically happens as your skis redirect towards the fall line.
As you float through the transition you are momentarily at the mercy of your momentum. so in order begin creating a new arc you'll need to make yourself a platform to balance against by engaging the new outside ski with the snow and applying some pressure to it. This usually requires you to create some sort of steering angle and/or edge engagement.
Methods to Create a Platform
A combination of steering angle, edge engagement and pressure are all required to make the skis travel in an arc so in most cases there is a blend of these things happening.
Tip your skis on edge:
As your momentum is carried through from the transition your mass will end up inclined in top part of the new turn. This will create some natural edge angles to engage the skis.
More active edge engagement can be created at this point by turning the legs in the hip socket and pronating (or everting) the new outside foot.... sometimes referred to as 'knee angulation.' Typically there isn't enough upper and lower body separation yet at this point of the turn to create much hip angulation without active counter rotation. 'Hip dropping' in this way may be using full in a few very select situations when extreme edge angles are needed early but usually just locks up the joints and leaves you at the mercy of the side cut.
Twist your skis across your momentum:
If you exited the previous turn with some upper and lower body separation typically all you need to do at this point is let that separation unwind to pivot the skis across the direction of momentum.
In some extreme cases a more active twisting of the ski may be require through turning the legs in the hips sockets...
or in a pure carved turn the skis side cut acts like a built in steering angle and may eliminate the need for any twisting at all.
Extending the outside leg to add pressure:
As shown in the diagram below the centre of mass is taking a shortcut through the turn and the feet are taking the long way around. This means the legs (at least the outside one) will usually need to extend to maintain contact with the snow and create the much needed pressure at this point.
Loading and Shaping
Once a platform has been established for the skier to balance against. Typically as the skis are at or below the fall line more pressure begins to build and the skier has opportunity to really control the speed and direction of the rest of the turn.
The skier must decide on the appropriate blend of continued pivoting, edging and pressure control to achieve the desired outcome.
Options for Turn Control
Loading and Deflection:
A common objective in high performance skiing is to gradually add or resist the pressure building through the control phase to accelerate out of the turn and redirect the mass across the run. Often this involves increasing the edge angle through hip angulation as upper and lower body separation increases.... as well as standing strong and resisting with a fairly long outside leg.
The skier may choose reduce edge angle and add more pivot to skid the skis. This typically reduces or eliminates deflection across the run keeping a narrow corridor and can be effective for quickly reducing speed.
A combination of increased edge through angulation and increased steering angle through leg turning to gently decrease the speed down the hill and direct the mass across the hill.