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 with the turns 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 many other aspects that can be added to the turns which we have not come across so far. Most of these new aspects stem from the fact that the skis stay parallel and closer together throughout a 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 ski to ski. 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 use 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 is 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. Having the skis hip width apart leaves enough room for movement to be able to roll the knees so that the skis come onto their edges, which is very important when we what to dig the edges in to slow down, and for carving. If the skis are too close together there is not enough room for this movement in the knees.
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 simultaniously change from pushing on the edges on one side of the skis to pushing on the edges on the other side of the skis. 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 travel 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 easier parallel turns are to make when you are going a bit faster. With your skis parallel and hip width apart, you have less balance than in the snowplough position, as you have to keep your weight within a smaller area. This means that to have the same amount of balance as with the snowplough you need rely on the reactions from the skis to help you, which was not really necessary with the snowplough. A bit like riding a bike, as soon as you ski a bit faster, small movements can have a larger effect, and create larger reactions from the skis, which makes it 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 relies on pushing on the ski edges more or less, and the first 2 phases are about decreasing edge pressure, letting the skis drop, and then changing the edges. 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 you have to keep your balance through the first 2 phases. 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 this balancing phase of a turn very short, and even the initial lean forwards barely needed. However if you are not going so fast, after leaning forwards you need to wait either until your speed increases enough to change the edges and push on the outside ski, or until you are pointing down the fall line and you need to turn back across the slope in the other direction. At lower speeds on a steeper slope your speed will increase quickly and it will not be long before you can get a good reaction from the outside ski, but on a flatter slope, not only does your speed not increase so quickly, but it also takes longer for the ski tips to fall towards the fall line. This means that you need to keep your balance for a lot longer during these phases, than you would with a turn either on a steeper slope, or at higher speed. This shows that parallel turning is actually more difficult at slower speeds on a flatter slope, which are exactly the conditions that beginners tend to prefer. Because of this parallel turning is better to be attempted 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 turn 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 turning deals with increased speeds from the stem turn, the forces that the skis produce while turning are greater as well. When parallel turning at higher speeds it will be the first time that the turning forces have been great enough to noticeably bring our weight 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 into the snow. When leaning over in turns, we keep the body more upright than the legs to keep a more adaptable stance, and transfer the weight more efficiently. The shoulders are also kept flat to the skis, from the point where we change the edges on our skis, to the point where the skis point down the fall line, from which the shoulders then stay at the same angle as the angle between the ski tips into the traverse position.
Walk Through Explanation
Below is a walk through explanation to make a parallel turn, assuming that we start from going across the slope from left to right, standing in the correct stance with our skis parallel.
From traversing across the slope, when we want to start the turn we start to bring our weight evenly onto both skis and lean forwards so that the skis tips start to fall to the left into the fall line. While we do this we need to make sure the ski edges are not pushing too hard into the snow, allowing the skis to slide and turn, as with stem turns. As the front of the skis drop down the slope our speed increases and our sideways sliding decreases, we keep letting the tips of the skis drop until we reach the point where the skis come to sliding straight forwards. How long it takes to reach this point depends on many factors, including initial speed, steepness of the slope, amount of forwards lean and pressure on the edges. Once we are travelling straight along the skis, we then put our weight onto the right ski (lateral weight distribution), and bring our weight back to the middle of the skis lengthways (longitudinal weight distribution), by doing this we change the edges on the skis automatically and make ourselves turn through the fall line and start to come across the slope in the other direction. Keeping our weight on the outside ski, we change our stance as we come around the turn so that our body is always angled towards the fall line as explained in the stance section. As we turn out of the fall line we 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 the body's weight needs to be brought forwards and backwards, but it always stays over the middle of the skis, or further forwards. The body's weight should never come behind the balls 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 it 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 new 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.