Stop turning your skis. Start twisting them.

Put any fool on two planks and they’ll be able to head straight down a hill. Gravity ensures it. Skiing is all about turns though. And we should make turns for two reasons only; 

“We turn to change direction or to manage our speed via turn shape.”

A huge bonus is that those turns start to feel pretty damn good when done right. However, there is a great deal of confusion and debate of ‘how’ to turn our skis’.

In my last post, I used this picture from 1970 to illustrate the teaching method of ‘putting weight on one ski to turn’. Today, that method works (better) because of a ski’s side-cut. There was no side-cut back in 1970 yet skiers still turned when they leaned to one side. 

Snowplow Turn


Before sidecut, this technique still made skiers turn.


When we lean our upper body weight to one side, our lower body will usually compensate for the shift in balance by rolling our ankles and knees in (technically termed as knee angulation). Now our knee is actually a hinge joint which is very much like the hinge joints of a door. As such, it can only move in one plane and can’t roll in a circular motion like say our wrists. The most our knee joint can actually allow by itself is the bending of our lower leg up to the bum. 

Skier will turn due to hip or thigh rotation.

So how does our knee actually get into that angulated position then? There are two ways. The first is that we rotate our hips. The second is we rotate the thigh. Either rotation will not only roll the knee in, it will also apply a rotating force that will make a skier turn. So they were trying to make a skier turn from the hips or thighs by telling them to lean to one side! Pretty roundabout way to go about it.

Through my seasons teaching, I also discovered that the phrase ‘turn your skis’ meant very different things to different people. So I started to use a slightly more accurate term to describe what I wanted my students to feel; twist’ your skis.

Raise your skis with knees slightly bent.

The next time you’re sitting on a chairlift, raise your skis up but with knees slightly bent (because we never ski with fully straight legs). Now point your toes to the left and then the right. If both your butt cheeks stayed on the seat, you were using your thighs to twist your ski. If you raised a butt cheek, then you were using your hips to ‘turn’ your skis.

Thigh twisting: boots and bum stay in a similiar location.

Notice that if you used your thighs, your boots stayed in a similiar location. But if you used your hips, the boots moved positions.  When you’re skiing on snow, your skis are almost always on an edge. Like on the chairlift, turning with your hips will change the direction of your skis but that movement of your boots will break your edge grip. If you don’t have a sufficient edge grip, you can’t actually change direction, you’ll just skid sideways.

Hip turning: boots and bum move positions.

There are different cues people use to twist their skis with their thighs when skiing. Some think about pointing both their big toes in the direction they want to go. Others feel their shin against the front corner of their boots. And then there are the rare few that can actually feel their thigh bone (femur) turn within their hip joints. Most were former professional dancers or yoga/pilates instructors.

If you are using your thighs to twist, you will feel your shins against the front corner of your boots.


Whatever your cues are, remember to twist both legs equally. It doesn’t matter if you should be balanced more on the outside ski. Both skis are on a similar edge angle and will require the same twisting force (torque).
Feeling and knowing for certain whether you are using your thighs to twist your skis is generally not an easy sensation to acquire. Watching yourself ski on video can help greatly with this. I’ll go into how to best capture your skiing on video for analysis in a future post. 
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4 thoughts on “Stop turning your skis. Start twisting them.

  1. This description is so fascinating. I think I'll try this with my beginners this season while they are inside sitting and putting on their boots. And definitely on the chairlift. Thanks!

  2. To Anonymous,

    The sensation of feeling the front corner of your boots applies only when you are skiing. It can be very easy to get that sensation and not be twisting your thighs when you are stationary. You won't feel it on the chair lift as well because you're not in motion.

  3. Pingback: Tips for the Uninitiated to Powder Skiing | turnshape

  4. Definitely the best explanation of the centering process that I have ever read!
    An important part of the Transition Rotation Transfer technique which I am teaching.

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