Parallel turns are turns where the skis always stay parallel to each other throughout each turn (ideally hip width apart). This is generally considered to be the point where proper skiing begins, as up until now all the turns have used the snowplough, which is rarely used as soon as you don't need it. The largest difference between parallel turns and the stem turn, is that because the snowplough is not used, as you turn through the fall line the skis do not brake at all, and you pick up a lot more speed than before. Therefore, to be ready for parallel turns, you have to be ready to go a bit faster.
The technique to making a parallel turn has many similarities with the stem turn. There are 3 main phases to a parallel turn, the initiation, the edge change, and the turn across and out of the fall line. As with the stem turn, to initiate a turn you still need to bring your weight evenly onto both skis and lean forwards, and to finish a turn you still need to put your weight over the outside ski, with your weight in the middle of the skis lengthways. However, there is the added phase of the edge change, and because parallel turns can be performed through a very wide range of speeds, there are also other effects and differences that need to be taken into account. Most of these differences stem from the fact that the skis stay parallel and closer together throughout the turn, so next we will look at how far apart your skis should be, and why they should be this far apart.
How Far Apart Should The Skis Be?
In a parallel turn your skis should be hip width apart, and should stay hip width apart throughout the turn. The reason hip width apart is the right distance, is because this makes both skis sit on the snow at the same angle, and it is also the most natural and comfortable position for your body, yet still allows for all the movement you need.
When most skiers start learning to parallel turn they will often have their skis considerably further apart than hip width. This gives them a bit more static/low speed balance as they have a wider stance, but it does make turning more difficult and slower because they have to move their body further to move their weight from over one ski to over the other. This is a trade off between balance and ease of turning, and is not ideal, but it does not matter too much in the early learning stages. What is important however, is not to have the skis too far apart, as this can cause problems. In parallel skiing both skis point in the same direction, which means both skis need to push into the snow with the same edge (either both right edges or both left edges). If the skis are brought too far apart, the downhill edge on the uphill/inside ski will catch in the snow as you slide sideways, tripping you up or sending you off balance, as shown in the diagram. In the snowplough we get away with having our legs wide apart, because we have the skis in a V-shape and only use the inside edges on the skis. This makes the snowplough stable because the skis are always traveling in a forwards direction, so that the snow always goes under the base of the ski and then hits the edges.
At the same time as not wanting to have the skis too far apart, we also don't want to have the skis too close together either. With the skis hip width apart there is enough movement in the knees to lean the knees over and bring the skis onto their edges more. If the skis are too close together, the knees are not able to move as much, decreasing the amount of edge control that is available. Being able to put the skis on their edges more is important for speed control, and vital for carving.
Parallel turning also differs from the stem turn in that, as we are always using the same edges on both skis (either both right or both left edges), there is a point where we have to change which edge is pushing into the snow on both skis at the same time. This never happened with the stem turn as the skis changed edges one at a time while initiating or taking away the snowplough. This edge change needs to be made as the skis stop sliding sideways and are traveling straight forwards, before the skis start sliding sideways in the other direction. Unless making an extremely slow turn this point will always be before the skis point down the fall line, due to your initial momentum (as explained in using resistance). It is important to change the edges at this point or the wrong edges will catch in the snow, and stop the sideways movement dead (as explained here in edge effects), which will generally knock you over. Although this sounds a bit daunting you will generally find that you do this naturally at the correct time anyway, and it is not something to worry about.
Speed and Balance
Another side effect of having the skis close together and pointing in the same direction, is how much your balance changes with speed. With your skis parallel and hip width apart, you have less balance at lower speeds than in the snowplough position, as you have to keep your weight within a smaller area. To have more balance you need to use the reactions from the skis to help you, which requires going a bit faster. Just like riding a bike, if you go too slowly it is hard to balance, but as soon as you go a bit faster, small movements can have a larger effect, and make it much easier to keep your balance.
Unfortunately, through the first 2 phases of a parallel turn, you are unable to use the skis reactions to help much with keeping your balance. This is because getting a reaction from the skis comes from putting pressure on the ski edges, and the first 2 phases are about decreasing edge pressure, letting the skis drop, and releasing the edges from the snow so that the edges on the other side of the skis can be engaged. It is only after the edges are changed that you are able to push on the outside ski and get a reaction to help keep your balance. Therefore, speed does not only affect how much balance you have during the last phase of a turn by determining what kind of reaction you can get from the outside ski, but also how long the first 2 phases of the turn last, where you have less balance. If you are travelling reasonably fast you will be able to change the edges and get a reaction from the outside ski almost immediately, making the reduced balance phases of a turn very short, and even the initial lean forwards barely needed. However if you are not going so fast, it will take longer for the skis to drop, and come into a position where the edges can be changed. At lower speeds on a steeper slope, the skis tips will drop relatively quickly, reducing the time it takes until you can change the edges, and your speed will increase quickly giving you enough speed to get a stronger reaction from the outside ski to keep your balance with in the last phase of the turn. However on a flatter slope at lower speeds, not only does it take a lot longer for the ski tips to drop down the slope, your speed also doesn't increase so much through the turn, this means you have a much longer time with reduced balance, and weaker reactions from the skis in the last phase of the turn to use to regain your balance with. Because of this, parallel turning is actually more difficult at slower speeds on a flatter slope, which are exactly the conditions that beginners tend to prefer. Therefore it is best to attempt parallel turning when you are good and confident enough to ski at a medium pace, and are starting to feel you want to be leaning into the turns a bit.
Most skiers however, don't go instantly from stem turns with a large snowplough to parallel turns with their skis hip width apart. They generally make a slow transition into a parallel turn by making the snowplough used in stem turns smaller and smaller, until the skis end up parallel throughout the whole turn. This enables them to start by practising on flater slopes at slower speeds, and build gradually towards steeper slopes at higher speeds.
As parallel turns are generally used at higher speeds than the stem turn, the forces that the skis produce while turning are also greater. Parallel skiing at higher speeds will be the first time that the turning forces have been large enough to lean over and noticeably bring our body away from over the skis. We still put our weight onto the outside ski as before, but now it gets transferred through the body at an angle. The diagram on the right shows the forces when leaning over. The amount we lean over will change depending on our speed, and how much the skis are pushing sideways on the snow. When leaning over in turns, we keep the upper body more upright than the legs for a more adaptable stance that is good for edge pressure changes, and transfers our weight more efficiently.
Walk Through Explanation
Below is a walk through explanation of how to make a parallel turn, assuming that we start from skiing across the slope from left to right, standing in the correct traversing stance with our skis parallel.
From traversing across the slope, we initiate the turn by leaning forwards, bringing our weight evenly onto both skis, and straightening our legs slightly. Leaning forwards and bringing our weight onto both skis makes the ski tips drop down the slope, while extending the legs slightly decreases the pressure on the ski edges, letting the skis turn around more easily. As you initiate the turn the tips of the skis will fall down the slope, and your speed will increase until the skis are not sliding slideways at all any more, and are travelling straight forwards. The turn initiation should be made in one fluid movement, and ideally by the time you have reached the position with your weight forwards, over both skis and the legs extended slightly, the skis will be travelling straight forwards ready for you to finish off the turn. However depending the movement you make and factors like your initial speed, the steepness of the slope, and edge pressure, it can take longer for the skis to reach the point where they are travelling straight forwards. In this instance you need to keep this position and your balance until the skis have dropped enough and you are travelling straight along the skis. Once the skis are travelling straight, you transfer your weight onto the right ski (lateral weight distribution), and bring your weight back to the middle of the skis lengthways (longitudinal weight distribution) with your knees more bent again. By doing this you change the edges on the skis automatically and make yourself turn through the fall line and start to come across the slope in the other direction. Keeping your weight on the outside ski, you change your stance as you come around the turn so that your upper body is always angled slightly down the slope as explained in the stance section. As you turn out of the fall line you also have to bring our body weight slightly forwards as well, this is because when the skis were pointing straight down the slope, the steepness of the slope meant our position had to be further back to keep our weight over the middle of the skis lengthways. As soon as we start turning sideways across the slope the skis effectively start to flatten off, and we need to bring our weight forwards to keep it over the middle of the skis. Once we have come across the fall line to the direction we want to continue in, we adjust our weight distribution between our skis a bit, so that we keep the desired angle going across the slope (lateral weight distribution). This brings us to the same situation as we started with but in the other direction, so to make the next turn we just have to do the same again but the other way around.
The two graphics below show the major steps of a parallel turn from 2 different angles, with arrows to show where the weight is in each position.
Parallel Turns Animation
In the animation below the 3D skier does 2 parallel turns, one in each direction. Notice how the skier brings his weight back to the middle of the skis and across to the outside ski, to finish the turn off.
Please note as soon as we get to this stage in skiing, the learning process slows down and we need a lot more practice to improve and move on to trying other skiing manoeuvres/styles. Also from here on all styles of skiing use parallel turns, although they are tailored to different conditions, or styles.
There are also techniques where we unweight the skis as we come round a turn, so that the skis turn more easily and make the turn quicker. Sections on these will be added in the future.
- Leaning back - In parallel turns your body needs to be brought forwards and backwards, but it always stays over the middle of the skis, or further forwards. Your centre of gravity should never come further back than the middle of your feet.
- Hesitating for too long while changing edges - The longer it takes for you to change edges and finish off the turn, the faster you will go in the meantime. You need to commit to the edge change before your speed frightens you from making the decision.
- Not leaning forwards enough to start the turn - The more you lean forward to initiate the turn the quicker the first stage of the turn will be. Although it can be scary to lean down the slope, if you do not lean forwards enough you can pick up more speed than you wanted, which can frighten you from actually making the turn.
- Having the skis too far apart - As explained earlier, if the skis are too far apart you have to make a larger movement, which makes turning more difficult and take longer, and if the skis are really far apart the uphill ski will catch in the snow causing you problems.
- Not leaning on the outside ski enough at the end of the turn - The more you lean on the outside ski at the end of the turn, the quicker you will come back to sideways. Therefore it is important to really lean on the outside ski if you want to come around the turn quickly.
- Pushing on the edges too hard - Although we want to push on the edges to keep our balance, we also want to skis to be able to slide nicely sideways as this enables turns to be a lot quicker and smaller. Therefore we shouldn't push on the edges so hard that they dont want to slide sideways.
More general common mistakes can be found in the Common Mistakes page of the Learning to Ski section.
- Make a gradual change from the stem turn to the parallel turn on a gentil slope until you are more confident, then slowly progress onto steeper and steeper slopes. If you try and go too steep too soon, often fear brings the snowplough from the stem turn back, and you will be left not actually making parallel turns.
- Taking ski lessons will introduce you to skiing exercises based on how people learn to ski in real life, so that you learn to parallel turn with the correct technique.
On to the Hockey Stop section.