Lake Tahoe skiing: Carving like an Olympian means getting up on edges
The carved turn is one of a skiing’s most graceful maneuvers — getting up high enough on edges to show the mountain below the brand logos on the bottom of the skis.
Look at a postcard, watch a ski movie, pick up a magazine and you’ll see it. Olympic-caliber downhill skiers like a Lindsey Vonn or a Ted Ligety alternate from edge to edge so fast and with such a rhythm that the bottoms of their skis barley touch the ground.
But while some skiers make it look easy, the truth is it’s one of skiing’s toughest skills to master.
With that in mind, we spoke with longtime pro ski instructor and Professional Ski Instructors of America certified instructor examiner Phillip Anderson and certified instructor trainer Johnathan Lawson to get some tips on refining edging skills.
“Edging has to be in every turn to a degree,” Anderson said, describing the wide range of ability levels on a given slope. “We’re always edging from when we start with a wedge.”
But while every skier uses his or her edges in some capacity, among beginner and intermediate skiers it’s often more for stopping, Lawson explained.
“Most people think of edging as a way to throw on the brakes,” he said, like a hockey stop or a snowplow/pizza wedge. “Watch a racer. Those folks use their edges in a very different way.”
Rather than using edges to turn, a lot of intermediate skiers also skid their turns by rotating ankles instead of rolling them.
“You want to take it from the ground up,” Anderson said of proper form. “Tip from the ankles to the hips.”
Further explaining the proper motion, Lawson added, “The ski is an extension of your foot. Imagine your big toe being your inside edge and your little toe being your outside edge.”
Proper carving motion starts with rolling the ankles rather than rotating them. A true carve involves constantly rolling from edge to edge.
And while leaning the knees into the turn is part of the motion, Anderson said a carve should be more based in the ankles and quads. The movement should also be the same in both feet. Skiers often roll the outside ski more than the inside ski.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
The train track or railroad drill is a great way to practice playing with edge control. As with incorporating any new skill it’s best to select appropriate terrain to suit your skill level. Even high-level skills can be practiced on easy slopes.
“Never practice new skills on terrain that is challenging to you,” Anderson said.
Lawson agreed. “Being on an easier run is essential. If you’re practicing for the first time on challenging terrain, the skier will become defensive,” he said.
For this drill a skier should choose relatively low angled terrain that he or she fills comfortable skiing straight down.
With skis pointed downhill gradually roll the ankles and legs back and forth. The motion allows edges to engage and will make smooth S-shapes like a train track weaving through a valley.
Ripping down a hill with a true carve isn’t for everyone though.
“It’s a high skilled move,” Anderson said. “Not everyone has to carve to have fun.”
Full carving also isn’t appropriate for all conditions. True edge-to-edge carving is meant primarily for groomers, downhill racing and hard packed conditions.
For bumps deep snow and intermediate skiers there’s the blended turn — a carved turn with more of a skid at the peak of the turn.
“For the average skier, a good solid blended turn is great,” Anderson said, further explaining it’s more appropriate for a range of conditions. “With a blended turn you have a lot more (terrain) options. It’s a combination between rotary and edging skills.”
With a blended turn, a skier should still use their edges. But instead of relying solely on edges, he or she should rotate their ankles to slide through a turn.
Blended turns also have a less aggressive edge angle — you’re not necessarily showing the mountain the bottoms of your skis.
This technique is appropriate for intermediate skiers and moguls and less groomed snow.
“You don’t have to carve to be a good skier,” Anderson said.
Incorporating more efficient turning and edging skills will lead to less fatigue, which can extend a day on the slopes and reduce injury.
“Your day will last longer and you’ll have more versatility on where to go,” Anderson said.
Remember, while these pointers may help, a lesson can never hurt. Having someone — even a friend — observe you may point out a simple mistake you didn’t even realize you were making.
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Several Truckee-Tahoe skiers will vie for Olympic medals next month.