Dec/Jan 2004   



the mystique of
big turns

In my last issue, I put together a kind of early-season cheat sheet, or reminder, of ski-technical points to keep in mind at the start of the season. A few key Images to focus on as you rediscover your "ski legs" for the new season. One of the most important of those suggestions was to spend more time making large, long-radius turns than short ones. Why? What's the big deal about big turns?

There’s no question that big turns, long-radius carved turns, are more exciting and more important in modern skiing than they ever used to be. No doubt in my mind, either, that you will learn more, faster, if you stretch your turns out and become really comfortable riding the arc of a big turn before ever trying to make short turns. But just how big is big?

Your first task is to discover the natural turning radius of your skis. What’s the size of turn that has been predesigned into your skis, the size of turn that your skis will tend to make on their own? (To be technical, there’s more than one answer to this question because the more your skis are on edge, the tighter a turn they will carve. But even so, there is a sort of average, natural turn that depends totally on that ski’s geometry.)

To discover the natural turning radius of your skis, you really have to resist the temptation to twist your feet toward the new direction. Be prepared to go straight for a while before turning. Shift your weight to your upper ski (or conversely, ease your weight off your lower ski) and wait

That’s right, wait. Patience is definitely an expert skier’s virtue. Inevitably, your body will start to tilt gently downhill, all your weight on your top ski will press it into a curve, the ski will start to bend and arc, and as long as you stay there, balanced over that foot, that ski will keep turning. With no other input from you, your ski will follow its natural radius, or designed-in, curve. And you’ll discover that this curve is pretty big, bigger than you might have guessed.

Obviously, if the slope is steep, challenging, or scary, you’re not just going to stand there and wait for a turn to materialize. Many of the most interesting discoveries on skis simply have to be made on easy, wide-open, nonthreatening slopes. Spend some time cruising these wide-open slopes, tuning in to the ease and the pleasure of making very big arcs on the snow, letting these turns happen under a weighted foot instead of forcing them to happen by twisting your feet. In a long-radius turn, not only aren’t you working very hard, but you also have the time and the calm to notice how well your skis are working and to feel the ski itself begin to turn. And don’t be surprised that you won’t really pick up a lot of extra speed from the top of the slope to the bottom. As long as you stick with each turn and ride it all the way around, your speed should stay about the same. If you pick up speed from turn to turn, that’s a sure sign that you haven’t arced around far enough, that you are being impatient and forgetting to complete your turns.

So far we haven’t exactly broken new ground. In the early-season technical hint, I simply wanted to reinforce the importance of big long-radius turns.

Remember. You will learn more faster and build better, deeper habits if you don’t try to make short turns for a while. Most skiers, the average skiers you’ll see on any average slope, are indeed making turns that are too short, too quick. Of course, there are no absolute rules on a ski mountain. You can make your turns as short as you want to. But most skiers overpower their skis, making turns that are too short for their ability level; they treat each turn as a crisis and try to get it over with as soon as possible by cutting sharply around rather than enjoying the turn, savoring it, stretching it out, making it last. A good ski turn is a thing of beauty, and it should be savored. Long turns are your ticket to this splendid experience. Use them often.

But even so, your next step is to learn to adjust your turn to the terrain and, of course, that means shortening your turns. We'll take a closer look at the many options experts have to vary, control, and yes, to shorten the radius of their turns in the next issue.

 Dec/Jan 2004  
photos at top:
letting the ski find its own turning radius
photo © Linde Waidhofer
All contents of this web site
© Lito Tejada-Flores unless otherwise credited.