WHY YOU CAN’T GET HIGHER EDGE ANGLES IN YOUR SKIINGAnd is it really what you should be seeking?


And is it really what you should be seeking?

Author: Tom Gellie

A lot of skiers tell me their goal is to get their hip to the snow in a carved turn. This is a great goal and one I personally pursued for a long time until I achieved it. It took a long time and a lot of practice working on all aspects of my skiing. It was frustrating at times when I didn’t have the right snow conditions or the wide open ski runs to practice. But even when I did have the perfect snow conditions I still found it difficult to get into that really low position. Until I realised I was not focused on moving DOWN!



Moving down not just across

In this post id like to discuss one idea that may help you increase your edge angle as well as help you understand a little more about why and when to use a higher edge angled turn.

So here is the concept straight up. You are probably not focused on moving straight down enough. Instead many skiers keep tipping sideways as thats what it feels like when you first learn to edge. There is a point in carved turns where it feels more difficult or scary to achieve greater edge angles. To keep it simple in this post I will say roughly beyond about 45-50 degrees edge angle to the slope. Many skiers are stuck with this as their average max edge angle. And I think part of this has to do with a change in where they should focus on moving to keep progressively adding edge angle. 

Perhaps you've noticed in video of yourself "ripping" down the groomers and feeling like you're just inches from the ground you see it's actually much further away. You're barely tipped over at all. Why is this? Is it a matter of fear? Is it a lack of strength? What other factors could be at play? Well in my experience of  teaching thousands of skiers, both in person and online, I have found this concept of DOWN is one thing that is missing.  

Two ways to make a ski turn tighter

You need to understand that there are two main ingredients to make a ski turn tighter. For simplicity I’m assuming that there is some grip against the edges in both cases. Lets look at those and also a blend:

  1. You twist or rotate the skis which will always result in some sort of “skidding” (not always a bad thing).

  2. You tip the ski over onto higher and higher edge angles so it can bend more.  This is called progressive edging. See picture to see this in action.

  3. Progressive edging can be combined with twisting to give you a bit of both. And the degree to how much you blend the two can be infinite. I mention this because I find many skiers believe that they must either carve a turn from start to finish or steer a turn from start to finish. Expert skiers are always playing with the blend of steering and carving based on the situation. For example on a steep black groomed run I may opt to make the first third of the turn with progressive edging and steering combined. Then complete the rest of the turn using only progressive edging.  

Twisting vs tipping

Twisting the skis is a great way to change the turn shape and necessary in certain situations. Like a short turn and on steeper terrain.  You can help control your speed through the ski creating more friction on the snow as you help turn it. So not just the overall shape or finishing across the hill is what controls speed but the amount of friction or skidding used. This could be thought of as similar to holding on your bike brakes as you turn. 

Tipping the skis over to higher edge angles requires the skier to resist twisting or turning the skis. This is really hard and not intuitive. You need to trust that just tipping the skis will actually turn you. And as you saw above the skis dont bend and turn you much until they really get tipped over. The benefit of trying to make a turn using predominantly edging is that you can conserve momentum and feel the exhilarating feeling of carving. For me it is the feeling of higher forces around a turn, just like a roller coaster that makes me want to keep doing it. There are functional reasons for carving too like a smoother ride because the ski cuts forward through snow  instead of sideways. 

And why does a ski turn tighter the more it’s tipped over on edge? It's because of the parabolic shape of the skis. The hourglass shape allows you to bend the ski but only when it is really tipped over! Look at the photo to see how little the ski bends at roughly 45 degrees to the slope. Notice how much more the ski bends on the right side image when the skiers leg is tipped over to around 60 degrees vs about 40 degrees on the left. Also note the ski tracks left with a higher edge angled ski. So to really feel the ski bend you need higher angles which means you also need higher speeds to hold you from falling over.

Try an exercise for progressive edging without needing to ski fast!

The in-rigger drill is a great drill I use to teach students about how tipping a ski over more and more helps them feel how it turns more and more! Videos like this and more available to Big Picture Skiing members. 

High edge angles are not the goal every turn

I want you to realise two things at this stage. While higher edge angle turns are really fun and look “cool” their functionality has a certain place: 

  1. Higher edge angles will give you more control of your turn shape at higher speeds and on steeper slopes. I see many people making the mistake of trying for maximum edge angles on easy/moderate slopes and when they are not skiing fast enough to need it. This ends up creating balance issues and a skier that never learns to ski adaptively based on terrain. If you see A-framing or sitting back these can be indicators you are “over skiing the terrain”. I personally only use higher edge angles on steeper blue runs (red runs in Europe) and black runs. I have learnt to read a slope before I ski it and already know how much edge angle I would use. 

  2. You shouldn’t be looking to always use higher edge angles to tighten your turns or shape your turns. This is because high edge angles are also used to help the skier balance against higher forces. I’ll say this another way. You will need higher edge angles as a result of skiing at higher speeds and trying to make tighter turns. Take away speed in a turn and you dont need the higher angles. Still skiing fast but not trying to make tighter turns? You dont need high edge angles. If you are not ready to experience a lot more G-Force then keeping speed under control using some steering of the ski and creating some friction with slight skidding is much easier to manage. I have worked a lot on refining my steering skills to the point the untrained eye often cant see that I’m not carving certain parts of a turn. Smooth steering skills are actually harder to master than carving in my opinion. So consider also working on this side of your skiing.

Short turns on steep terrain

Short turns on steep terrain

Working on feeling and embracing the down

Perhaps you now realise you want to try and work on this down motion to drive higher edge angles beyond 50 degrees. I suggest you try the dryland exercise that is coming up. The tilting further part is really quite scary because you are moving further away from your base of support. You need to trust your skis will keep gripping (TIP: make sure the edges are freshly tuned!) and also be ok with the fact you might fall over a few times.

Outside of skiing there are not many positive outcomes that result from you deliberately falling. However bigger edge angles in skiing require you to trust in this falling sensation part in order to continue tilting your skis to bend them. In order to help comprehend this change in motion going more towards falling try this.

Visualise your ski pole  standing upright then falling over. The first half of falling the handle of the pole (like your head) moves mostly sideways with a little bit of down. The second half of that fall, the handle accelerates more down than sideways. You are experiencing similar motions to the ski pole. The first part feeling relatively slower to tilt, the second half of moving inside the turn is faster as gravity is able to pull you to earth more easily. Closer to free falling. Which is why this part feels the best but is the scariest and hardest to do!

Using padded ground to help practice the down feeling for edging 

Using padded ground to help practice the down feeling for edging 

practice at home

Find some padded ground or even use a low sofa to practice the sideways and then DOWN. See demo video below these steps.

  1. Stand in an athletic position.

  2. Visualise yourself skiing and then start to tilt your legs and create pretend edge angles for skiing.

  3. Notice there is a point where you need to let gravity take over and just let it pull you down onto the padded ground or sofa.

  4. Repeat many times over so you can try and get used to letting go and gravity polling you down.

  5. Keep practicing and refine your ski stance. Try and hold good form in your arms and upper body.

You can practice this same exercise on snow too but try and find some really soft snow to do it in so you don’t bruise yourself dropping onto your hips. I highly recommend doing the dryland version first. 

Common problem when getting lower

At this point I will point out a common mistake people make as they work on this "lowering" sensation. Because we sense "getting lower" mostly through where our head is in space people will try to get lower by bending at the hips to "feel lower". Your head drops and changes its position but the skis do not tilt further. Be mindful of this trap. You may also try to "feel lower" by bending both legs. Your outside leg isn't really bending at all.  Yes your inside leg bends to allow your body to get lower but it can be difficult to distinguish bending only one leg. Many people when trying this bend both legs like in a squat as this is the only other relatable movement they have to work from. It is also due to the fact I pointed out earlier; you will be lowering/toppling quickly because gravity can pull you down more easily and your brain thinks "there is nothing ready to support us if we keep going! So let's just bend forward to feel lower."

The skier in black and white is an example of this.

Strong outside leg, soft inside leg

You must trust there are supporting turning forces as you tilt coming from the ski turning sharper. Invisible physics forces that are the same forces holding up Grand Prix motor bike riders and skate boarders riding a bowl. So pay attention to your outside leg. Keep it straight and strong. Your inside leg is the one you must let go of and allow to bend. Like you are doing a single leg squat. The In rigger drill I highlighted earlier is the best drill I know for helping this.

Advanced skiers you could try a variation on the crab walk drill to help you work on your edging.

Part of the comprehensive Big Picture Skiing video library available to  Big Picture Skiing members. 

Enjoy the process and manage expectations 

There are several other factors you need to consider in order for this edging past 50 degrees to work out well for you. More than this blog article can cover. Factors like fore and aft balance, speed, radius of the ski, etc. I cover all of these with detailed videos in the video library as well as encourage you to work on other exercises and drills to help give you the right feelings. There is an app version too so you can download videos for offline viewing.

I hope that this article has helped you perceive what you might be searching to feel for with your body in motion when carving at higher edge angles. Also it may have been surprising to see how little the ski actually bends even at around 45 degrees. Perhaps it will give you incentive to try and push the speed and edge angles a little more.  Get to the point where you really feel the ski flex! It's an addictive rush of adrenaline when you get it right. If you liked this article and are interested in learning more about skiing from my perspective I have a library of ski technique videos on everything from bumps to carving. All aimed to make you a better skier. Enjoy your turns. 

Written by Tom Gellie

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