Better short turns using hockey stopsBy Kevin Jordan PSIA Demo Team

Better short turns using hockey stops

By Kevin Jordan 

PSIA Demo Team

Short Turns

Short turns are one of the most useful turn types a skier can make. A great short turn can help you weave through crowds, ski steeper runs with control and give you confidence in the trees and bumps. However they are also one of the most difficult turns to master. This is no surprise when you take into consideration how quickly you need to turn your skis from side to side as well as coordinate the timing of pressure to the edges to make them grip! In this article I want to help you develop your skiing skills and improve your short turns using a drill called hockey stops.

Hockey stops for the win

My hockey stops won me a prize! Let me explain. Back in 2008 I tried out for selection into the PSIA demo team. The demo team represents the best ski instructors in the USA. There are a series of events you must go through that test your ability level in order to make this reputable PSIA demo team. The process is like a ninja warrior competition but for skiers. You are challenged with difficult tasks like one ski skiing or making perfect turns in hard refrozen snow that feels like skiing over a coral reef . Like ninja warrior, you need to go through qualifiers in order to get to the final round. It’s a tough process with a lot of skiers trying out for limited spots.

This story is set in January at one of the qualifying rounds in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. On the day of this event I discover that there is a bonus prize for the top skier. If I scored the highest I would take home a special edition belt buckle. If I wasn’t a bundle of nervous energy already, now I was buzzing. Yeehaa cowboy let’s do this!

We get underway performing different tasks like one ski skiing, poles behind your back short turns and dolphin turns. Finally we are taken to a steep groomed slope and must show off our best hockey stops. In my over hyped state and in an attempt to show the judges what I was made of, I took a ton of speed into my first hockey stop. I turned my skis 90 degrees and then hit the edges with all my might. A huge plume of snow got thrown out in front, creating a screen of cold smoke. No one below could see me any more. And thank goodness because I actually fell back into the hill! I had stopped but lost my balance. Hidden behind this camouflage of snow I quickly got up and did my best hockey stop attempt on the other side. This time I nailed the timing and balance with a clean crisp stop and pole plant. This must have been what the judges wanted to see (or couldnt quite see) because I won that cool belt buckle!

That year I didn’t make the PSIA demo team but I wanted to uphold my “belt buckle hockey stop” status. From that day forward I have continued to refine my hockey stops even further. Let’s take a look at how you can benefit from working on them too.

The Hockey Stop 

The Hockey Stop 

Teaches you precision with edging

What is a Hockey Stop?

A hockey stop is when the skier turns their legs quickly, then sets their edges with firm pressure to stop. It comes from Ice Hockey where players must stop quickly and change direction to follow the puck. The accuracy with balance and timing needs to be on point in order to execute such a fast stopping action. This is exactly why we’re going to use this drill to improve your skiing.

Stop with precision 

When I teach students a hockey stop, I get them to focus on being able to stop on a chosen point. If you picture a gymnast flipping off of a vault and landing completely still when they hit the mat, this accuracy is the same sort of ending we are aiming for in our hockey stops. It is always surprising for my students to discover just how hard this accurate stopping is! They keep sliding forward, lose their balance (like I did behind the cloud of snow) or keep skidding downhill. To perform a hockey STOP and actually STOP quickly, you must turn your skis fast and tip your lower legs rapidly to get the edges to grip. Composing your upper body like a gymnast is what you will need to practice as it helps the edges bite even better.

If your balance is a little too far forward or back you may find you keep moving. To help with improving your accuracy, try picking a spot on the snow. Like a ski track or pile of snow. Aim to stop on this exact spot with accuracy. Just like a gymnast aims to land after jumping off their equipment. I want to encourage you to keep practicing for at least 25 times each side. Pay attention to where the pressure is under your feet when you do achieve success and stop like a statue. I feel that I apply pressure evenly from the big toe to the heel. This makes the ski grip from tip to tail. 

It may take multiple days of practice to get consistent with stopping on the spot. Don’t be discouraged keep at it! We need to feel into this exercise and learn what helps us stop with accuracy. By refining this skill it will translate into having greater control with our speed and direction of our short turns. 

Turning your skis quickly

Lets now focus on being able to turn your skis quickly. This skill will help you vary the size of your short turns. For instance a really quick short turn to dodge and weave between tight trees. At this stage we will be doing our hockey stops in a narrow corridor. I use the edge of a ski run to create one side of the corridor and imagine a wall for the other.  About one cat track width wide. This constrains us into having to make quicker rotations of our skis. You are measuring your success at this stage by these two goals:

  • Staying within the corridor 

  • Stopping with gymnast like form with a solid stable core

Practice in a corridor
Practice in a corridor

Practice in a corridor

Add the pole plant

The final touch to the hockey stop drill is adding the pole plant. There are two critical things about the pole plant:

  1. The timing of when you plant the pole.

  2. Using the pole plant action to drive your weight into the downhill ski edge.

Timing of the pole plant

The pole should ideally plant just after your edges have stopped you. This will teach you to rely on your feet to provide the balance and stopping power as opposed to the pole plant. If you plant the pole too early it can get in your way and even trip you up. By waiting a split second longer the he pole plant will then help us with point two, driving more pressure to the downhill ski edge.

Pole plant helps pressure the downhill ski

You may notice in the photo how there is an angle in Tom’s body between the lower body and upper body. This is hip angulation and helps him direct his upper body weight into the downhill ski to make the edge dig in and grip. I coach people to reach the pole plant far downhill to help exaggerate this feeling. You may even begin to feel a pole vaulting  feeling as the downhill edge really bites. If your uphill ski comes off the snow, this is a good sign you are starting to get it.

Remember how I told you about falling uphill after blasting a heap of snow in my hockey stop? If I had focused on this pole plant reach downhill I would have fixed my balance problem and stayed upright. Don’t forget to work on this critical piece as it will also help you link your short turns. 

Need more details on pole use?

Checkout the BPS videos on pole use. These videos require a Big Picture Skiing membership to watch.

Beat of the short turn

Time to take these new skills into some actual short turns now! To begin with just make a short turn rhythm you are comfortable with. And instead of stopping each time by turning your skis 90 degrees, just turn them enough to control speed and redirect you. Now for the fun part. Using a metronome.

A metronome is used by musicians to help keep the tempo of a song, fast or slow. Tom Gellie suggested I play with a metronome to challenge different rhythms of short turn and let him know what I discovered. I found that my sweet spot is 82 beats per minute (BPM) and that my upper limit is around 92 BPM. After that my form starts to get a bit loose! When I go down to 68 BPM I start feeling like it’s not really a short turn anymore. 

I suggest you download a free metronome app on your smartphone and test some different beats for yourself. It is a great external cue to help you bring together the timing of your skills. How far can you push the tempo and still keep your skis together? If you have Carv you can use the metronome mode to challenge your accuracy with keeping to the beat. 

Kevin skiing to the beat

Kevin skiing to the beat

Take the belt buckle title!

Using the hockey stop is a great way to train your short turns. I love this drill for its ability to transform the end of the turn. It will make your turns feel “snappier” and you will have more fun doing them. The work you put in will lead to you feeling more confident in tighter spaces and give you control on steeper runs. I encourage you to take a long term approach to your skiing and see what happens after working on your short turns for a winter or two. Perhaps one day you will challenge me for the “Hockey Stops Belt Buckle Title”!

For a deeper dive on the hockey stop progression check out the video “Better Short Turns Using Hockey Stops” on Big Picture Skiing.


Kevin Jordan

Kevin Jordan is a two-time member of the PSIA-AASI National Alpine Team, a trainer with the Aspen Snowmass Ski and Snowboard School, an alpine examiner for PSIA-AASI-Rocky Mountain, and a member of theBig Picture Skiing community and Academy.

Progression for short turns and more

Check out the full short turn progression lesson from Big Picture Skiing. There are progressions for carving, advanced moguls and the perfect parallel turn too.