How To Parallel Ski With Ease (Epic Guide)
Mastering the parallel turn is every new skier's dream. From the humble christie stem (snowplow) to the lofty parallel turn is a thing of wonder. "How do they make it look so easy!" you might wonder. Well, you're in luck - I've written this guide for all new skiers who want to master their parallel skiing.
A parallel turn is when your skis stay aligned together during the full length of the turn - rather than form a beginner wedge shape. To parallel ski put more weight on the inside edge of the outside ski, roll your knees and lean into your turn while keeping your torso upright but slightly leaned into the turn.
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Read on for a detailed breakdown of everything you need to know - so you can learn how to ski parallel - without making these common mistakes.
Why Parallel Skiing Is Easier
Parallel skiing uses less energy than a wedged turn because both skis are moving in the same direction - with the edges of the skis tipped sideways which makes for a faster movement with less friction. When you make your first parallel turn it feels amazing and eventually, it feels very natural to ski in parallel.
There will come a point where suddenly everything all slots into place and that stubborn uphill ski finally follows through with almost no effort!
The parallel ski is all about the position of your body weight and the angle of your ski.
Once you have both in the right position and with a bit of practice, it will suddenly all click for you - I promise. After a few sessions, muscle memory will begin to develop and each movement will get easier and easier.
Do This Before Learning to Parallel Ski
Before learning to make your first parallel turn, you should be comfortable with skiing on green beginner slopes. You should know how to snowplough (christie stem) and turn left and right by putting more weight into one ski than the other.
You should be at the stage where you can turn right and left with a beginner wedge or stem turn. A wedged turn is halfway between a parallel turn and a snowplough turn.
You turn but with one of the skis pointing at an angle and both skis don't fully come together until the end of the turn. Once you're at this base level of experience then you can progress toward the parallel turn. Here's how to parallel ski for beginners:
How to Parallel Turn
Before starting the parallel turn, make sure you have the correct skier's stance. Assuming you are skiing sideways across the slope gradient - your weight should be across the middle of your downhill ski, your knees bent slightly with a very slight forward lean, and torso rotation facing down the slope.
For beginners, it's easier to learn to turn while you are skiing at speeds over 8-10mph (at least a jogger's pace).
2. Beginning the Turn
Upwards & Forwards Movement
To begin the turn extend your body upward by pushing up through your knees and lean forward in one smooth movement. As you do this shift your hips over towards your downhill ski and begin to lean downhill toward your turn.
This has the effect of loosening the edges of the ski so that it lies flat across the slope in preparation for the turn. Most beginners are nervous about the hill and lean back too much and don't fully commit to making the turn. This makes turning much more difficult and makes the skier more likely to fall.
Skis Drop to Facing Downhill
The ski tips will now begin to drop downwards to face the gradient. As the ski tips turn your weight should move over onto both skis. As you reach the point facing downhill your weight should transition to be evenly split across both skis. Both skis will now be flat and facing directly downhill for a few daunting moments.
Don't freeze at this point, commit to the turn or you will quickly build up a pace and lose confidence.
3. Changing Edges
Now it's time to change the angle of your skis' edges to follow through with the turn.
Move Your Weight Onto the Outside Ski
Focus on placing your weight onto the inside edge of the outside ski. If you're making a right turn, your outside ski is the left ski and vice versa.
As you move your weight onto this ski, allow your body to fall gently towards the inside of the turn, so that you're very gently leaning into the turn, using your upright torso as a counter-balance for your legs. Feel yourself leaning into the turn as you push down through that inside edge of the outer ski.
The more pressure you put on the inside edge the sharper the turn. While you don't want to make a sharp fast movement as a beginner, it's important for the turn that you put weight on this ski.
Lean Into the Turn
By pushing on this edge you are freeing up the outside edge and forcing all the friction to be gathered on this inside line of the outside ski. This friction on only one side of the ski is what causes the skis to turn, as you lean into the turn, the greater the weight on the inside edge and the more the skis turn you.
Roll Your Knees
Roll both knees gently into the turn. Your knees should be slightly bent at all times and as you come into the turn roll both knees gently in the direction of your turn. Rolling the knee can be the trickiest part of learning to parallel ski.
One thing that helped me was to concentrate on keeping the inside ski very slightly in front of my outside ski - I've found this naturally bends your knee and allows you to roll into place much easier.
Inside Edge of the Outside Ski
Focusing your mind on this inside edge of the outside ski is the key to a successful parallel turn. Focus on that edge and lean into your turns and the rest will follow through.
4. Following Through
Hopefully, you have moved onto your edges and leaned into your turn and you're now moving through your turn radius.
The Uphill Ski
To have the uphill ski follow through in line with the downhill ski, you'll want to relax the weight over the ski whilst gently tilting the edge of the ski into the slope - to mirror the other ski.
Let Your Skis Slide
As you turn, your skis will naturally slide across the slope. The faster you're going the more your skis will travel vertically throughout your turn. The more you dig into your edges, the tighter the turning radius. The sharpest of all will lead to a hockey stop.
Over time and through muscle memory you can adapt your turning speed from smooth too aggressive with micro-movements in your edge control and shifting of body weight. As your skis turn on their edges they are releasing the energy of your momentum into friction causing the powder to spray.
The more you slide the more your turn will dissipate energy and slow you down (the primary goal of parallel skiing).
If you're exiting your turn with too much speed, then you can keep the weight on your downhill ski and turn gently uphill to reduce your speed. Using gravity as a brake.
Relax Your Edge
You can relax your weight over the inside edge and begin to adopt the skier's stance: shoulders pointed down the slope with your skis sliding across the slope in the direction of the turn. As you grow in confidence you will learn to time your parallel slides to slow you just enough for the next turn - without the need for uphill skiing.
Now that you've completed your turn, traverse across the slope at a constant speed and get into position for your next turn in the opposite direction.
It's all clicked into place and you've made your first parallel turn. Keep practicing and focus on that edge control. As you ski more and more your parallel turn will develop a better shape. Aim for a smooth S shape rather than a sharp Z shape.
After the first moments of elation come over you, you might be left with the sudden realization of how much more you have to learn and to reach silky smooth turns at speed.
Upwards & forwards Movement
Lean upwards and forwards to release your skis' edges in preparation to start your turn. Ensuring you do this before each turn will make your turns easier, tighter, and more fluid.
Skis Drop to Facing Downhill
Move your weight over to both skis as your skis tip down to face forwards.
Move Your Weight Onto the Outside Ski
Friction on the outside ski is what's turning you.
Lean Into the Turn
Gently lean into the turn while keeping your torso upright as a counter-balance. This puts more pressure on the outside ski and guides you through your radius.
Roll Your Knees
Make sure to gently roll your knees into the turn. Keep on the inside ski slightly ahead to naturally roll your knees into place.
Inside Edge of the Outside Ski
Focus your mind on the inside edge to create the friction to turn you.
The Uphill Ski
Keep your weight off this ski and tilt the edge into the slope to allow it to follow through and mirror the dominant ski.
Let Your Skis Slide
Get comfortable with the feel of your skis sliding sideways throughout the turn radius. The more you slide the more it will slow you down. Focus on a smooth S shape turn shape.
Relax Your Edge
As your turn comes to its natural end, relax the edges of the ski so you can traverse across the slope.
Keep your shoulders turned toward the slope in preparation for your next turn.
Sometimes words can only take you so far. Here is an 8-minute video walkthrough guiding you into your first parallel turn.
A) I Get Nervous Before the Turn
It's daunting hurling yourself down a steep hill, so practice your parallel turns on a wide shallow gradient with plenty of space. You need to be going at least a jogger's pace to make a turn as a beginner, but you don't need to be on a very steep gradient.
Remember to lean into the turn with your hip and position yourself slightly forward on your skis. The more you hold back the harder it will be. Go steady but commit to the turn.
B) I'm Turning but It Takes a Long Time
You are likely not putting enough pressure on that inside edge of the outside ski. Put more weight onto it and dig in through the inside of your foot - into that edge whilst leaning your hip into the turn. The more you lean and the more you dig into the edge the sharper your turning radius.
Remember the turn won't be instant so have some patience and trust that the turn will complete.
C) I 'Freeze' While Facing Downhill
Really focus on committing to the turn. No matter what, initiate the turn one step at a time. Focus on shifting your weight onto that outside ski to start it.
D) My Skis Aren't Listening to Me!
One reason for unresponsive skis is having your ski boots too loose. When there is too much negative space inside your ski boot - the movements you make will transfer more energy to internal movement than moving the ski.
Before hitting the slopes make sure your boots are properly fitted. A snug boot is essential for learning to parallel ski.
Read this article I wrote on the topic: How Tight Should Your Ski Boots Be?
E) I Fall Backward While Making the Turn
This is a common problem and can often happen when new skiers are scared of facing downhill and so don't commit into the turn. Put more weight onto the front of your skis and lean forward into the turn. Leaning back will cause you to slip and fall backward towards the mountain as the skis come out from under you.
F) I'm Going Too Fast Out of My Turns
Remember to slide through the turn and/or dig more into your inside edge. The more you slide the great the friction and the slower you'll come out of your turns. Enjoy that feeling of sliding through the turns. That's how you will dissipate your momentum.
G) My Uphill Ski Won't Follow Through
Shift your weight to your downhill ski and keep minimal pressure on this uphill ski. Tilt the edges so it follows the other ski parallel.
Many new skiers have too much weight on the uphill ski, which makes it very difficult to stay parallel.
Focus on doing everything right with your downhill ski first and the uphill ski will follow suit.
H) I Have to Lift One Ski Up to Make It Parallel
This often happens for skiers on steeper terrain, when they make a quick 1-2 and have to lift one ski to get it into line. Instead of pushing off the lower leg, feel the weight gently come on to it and letting the knee roll down slightly so the skis want to slide into the turn. Roll into the turn rather than pushing off into it.
Watch a video walkthrough on this problem here:
How to Use Your Ski Poles During the Parallel Turn
Up until now, I've not mentioned the poles, because you can parallel just fine without them. However, using your ski poles in your turn can be really helpful to improve your skiing.
In between turns you can add in a pole plant to create a natural rhythm for your turns. Just before your turn, reach out and dab a spot on the downhill where you're planning to make your turn.
The pole plant acts like a round-about for your skis and signals an upcoming turn.
Flick the pole on and off the snow but don't support any weight onto it. A well-timed pole plant will prepare you by making you lean forward and upwards into your next turn sequence.
- Keep your arms away from your body and upfront.
- Don't wave your poles - just a simple flick action onto the snow as you plant it and then release.
- Only plant your downhill pole to signal a turn.
If you're interested in learning more about technique across a range of different snow conditions from steep terrain to whiteout conditions, read my full beginners guide to pole planting.
Why Parallel Skiing Is Challenging
The difficult thing for beginners is that during a parallel turn your skis are closer together than in a snowplough or wedged turn. Because of this - the skier's area of balance is reduced and body movements and weight transfers have a greater effect on how the skis move.
With less area to balance, your movements have more of an effect on how the skis slide, angle and move.
Over time muscle memory will kick in and you will learn how your movements affect the movements of your skis.
Your Body Shape During the Turn
At first as you transition from the wedged turn to the parallel turn, your body position will be quite static and upright.
As you develop and grow more confidence you can begin to lean further into your turns, roll your knees further and develop a nice shape.
Up until this point, your wedged turns have not relied on your edges and the forces acting on your skis have been much less. Now that you're making your first few parallel turns, body position plays a much greater role in your skiing than it has done so previously.
Optimum Body Position
Adopting the correct body movement is key to a smooth and confident turn. Your weight is transferred through your body at an angle into the inside edge of your outside ski.
The more we lean the greater the friction on our dominant ski - assuming we are moving at speed.
While leaning our hips over into the direction of the turn we want to keep the torso more upright for a more balanced stance.
This allows us to keep the pressure on the edges without falling sideways into the mountain. Your knees and hips should be rolled into the turn as you push into your outside ski at an angle - while your upper body should be twisted to be towards a stable upright position.
Consciously adopting this stance as you come into your turns will push your weight onto the correct ski, forcing the skis to edge and turn you into the direction of your lean.
The more you practice and the more you learn to lean the greater your ability to turn at speed and with greater confidence.
Common Problems During the Lean
Some skies will have trouble with this body position at first as it's not a natural stance that you would have been likely to experience before. Here are some common problems to be aware of how to remedy them:
A) Not Rolling the Knees Far Enough
Rolling the knees can be difficult, one thing that I found really helped me was to focus on consciously keeping the uphill ski a few centimeters in front of the downhill ski. The action of putting it slightly ahead will naturally roll your knees into the turn.
B) Placing More Weight on the Uphill Ski
A common mistake is to put more weight on the uphill than the downhill ski. For an effective parallel turn, you want to do the exact opposite. There should be barely any weight on your uphill ski - just enough to turn the angle of the edge into the mountain.
C) Leaning Backward During the Turn
Keep your torso upright and slightly lean into the turn. You should be leaning slightly forward as any weight leaning back can lead to the skis coming up from under you. When you put your weight on the back of the skis leaning back, it's very easy to lose balance and completely destabilize the turn.
For the skis to effectively turn in the snow, the edges need to be in full contact with the snow. When you lean too far backward, the front of the skis become loose and no longer grips into the turn which can cause you to fall.
Body Exercises to Improve Your Parallel Turn
As we've learned, body movement is important for parallel skiing. At higher speeds this becomes crucial. You're using your leg muscles to turn your skis but you need to maintain strong core strength to keep your torso upright.
There are a number of warm-up exercises you can do before you hit the slopes to get your body more comfortable with the stance you adopt during a turn.
Body Rotation Exercise.
- Stand up straight with your feet apart hip width. Gently lean towards your right side and put your weight onto your right foot. After a while, it won't feel too comfortable as your obliques work hard to support you. ❌
- Now repeat the exercise, but this time rotate your shoulders 30 degrees to the right and lean gently lean over. Feel how much more stable your body is now. The tension is now more evenly distributed across the core of your body. ✅
A good skier always keeps his chest/shoulders facing down the hill. Technically your whole upper body shouldn't turn as you go down the hill. This forces you to really use your edges and use your weight and leg strength to dig your skis into the snow and force them to do the turning for you.
Samuel Legge, Lifelong skier.
Forward Rotation While Skiing
This is the forward rotation that you want to adopt while skiing with your upper body pointing slightly down towards the slope. This gives you a more stable base to support the weight and movement of your legs.
The amount of forward rotation depends on the speed of your turns and the size of your turn radius. On shallow gradients as your learning to ski parallel, your rotation only needs to be gentle.
The more you develop and the steeper the gradient you're on, the more you can rotate your torso to counter-balance the increased angles of your legs.
Start With Rounded Turns
Don't rush your turns as your learning. Go nice and steady as you get to grips with your edge control. Have patience through the turn and aim for a nice smooth S shape in the snow rather than a sharp Z shape.
Make your movements gradual and don't be afraid to point your skis downhill. You may find it easier to make smoother turns if you count to 4 during each turn. The counting combined with a leading pole plant into your turn will get you into the rhythm for a series of smooth relaxed turns.
How Far Apart Should Your Skis Be?
For new skiers, you should aim to keep your skis hip-width apart from one another. You should be in a comfortable stance and your gait should feel both natural and comfortable.
A) Problem When Skis Are Too Close
During a snowplough or pizza stop your legs sit wider apart to create a V shape, creating friction with the inside edges to come to a stop. New skiers who have just learned the snowplough may be under the false assumption that this is the best way to initiate a turn.
Consequently - many new skiers will initiate their parallel turns with their skis being too far apart than they need to be. This causes a number of problems and makes learning to parallel turn much more difficult.
A wider stance makes turning harder because you have to shift your body weight further over to the inside ski to initiate the turn.
Skis that are too far apart makes edge control more difficult. During a turn you want both edges to mirror one another in their direction of tilt. If one ski is too far uphill then its angle will be flatter and it will catch the snow and slide at a different angle to the downhill ski.
This can have the effect of sending you off balance or causing you to fall. In a parallel turn, you want to keep your skis closer together where it's easier to control your edges and your body position over each ski.
B) Problem When Skis Are Too Far Apart
It's possible to over-compensate and have your skis too far apart which reduces your mobility and the space to roll your knees. When skis are too close together they can more easily tangle and criss-cross for new skiers.
It also makes changing edges more difficult as it reduces your center of gravity. More advanced forms of parallel skiing, like carving, rely on using your skis edges more and greater movement in the body. Without the space to roll your knees edge work become more difficult.
Key takeaway: Always aim for skis to be hip-width apart.
Why It's Easier to Parallel Turn at Speed
As I mentioned earlier you'll want to be going at least a joggers pace before making your first parallel turn. When you're new to the parallel turn, your edges and body position won't be fully utilized so your turning radius is likely to be quite large at first.
The slower you are going the less friction on your ski and the less they will react to your movements to kick-start the turn. At first, before you are confident on your edges you will need either more space or more pace to turn left and right.
It's for this reason that you wouldn't go straight into your first parallel turn before you start learning to snowplough turn. Start with these earlier beginner turns and transitioning up to a wedged turn and then towards a parallel turn.
Each stage gives you the building blocks to eventually reach the promised land of the parallel turn! Trust me, it's worth it.
Skiing on Steep Gradients
On steeper slopes parallel skiing becomes more advanced and requires the skier to fine tune their body movements and edge work to control their skis at speed. To turn at speed you need to control the mix between rotating the ski and edging the ski.
With short turns, it important that the upper body stays facing downhill. The legs and skis will be working underneath the body while the torso should remain still.
The key point with short and fast parallel turns is to develop a nice separation between the upper and lower body.
Let your legs make the sideways movements while your body follows the line in a stable and centered position.
Practice Drills for Short Fast Parallel Turns
A) Use Rollers
Skiing over rolling gradients allows you to exaggerate the movements through the turn. Retract your legs as your feet come up underneath you and then extend back down as you come into the trough.
Keep your body level and feel your legs moving up and down throughout the turn. This will get you used to ski while your legs move closer and further from your upper body at speed.
B) Ditch Your Poles
Keep your arms in front of you and practice without your poles. This will allow you to ski whilst keeping your torso in a more relaxed and upright position.
C) Purposeful Pole Plants
Once you have your poles back focus on making a purposeful pole plant position to signal your next turn. Pole planting before each turn will help you develop a rhythm with your body movements and lead to a smoother, more confident pattern of linked left and right turns.
More Short Turn Exercises
Skiing on Steep & Narrow Gradients
To ski steeper and narrower sections, you can't traverse the mountain between each turn as you would normally do. You'll want to rotate your skis through 180 degrees and use the edges of your skis only once your skis are parallel to the face of the mountain.
Edging the ski only slows you down while the ski is across the direction of travel.
For wider turns use your edges through more of the turn. For shorter turns, turn your skis and use the edges when they are parallel.
The more you rotate your ankles and dig into the edges the more friction and the more it will slow your speed. Keep your torso upright and facing predominantly downhill. Here is a great run-through of the three different approaches to skiing steeps by ski instructor Giles Lewis:
How Long Does It Take to Parallel Ski?
Don't get frustrated if you're not parallel turning in your first few days. While some maverick beginners might be parallel turning on their second day.
For most new skiers it will be about 10-20+ days of skiing before you get to the stage where your skis are staying parallel.
If you're interested in seeing how long it takes most people to get to each stage of skiing - I wrote a whole article here: How Long Does it Take to Learn to Ski? The SIMPLE answer.
Can You Learn to Parallel to Ski in a Day?
If your completely new skier then you won't pick it up in a day. If you have skied before and can make some beginner turns already - then it would be possible to learn to parallel ski in one day.
It takes most people at least a few days of practice to develop the muscle memory and get a feel of the subtle movements that go into edge control.
The Fastest Way to Learn to Ski Parallel?
The quickest way to learn to ski parallel is to take ski lessons from an instructor. A 1-1 private lesson is going to give you the best results. That's not to say you can't learn on your own or with a friend. Both can work depending on your ability to learn and how good your friends are at teaching!
If you're unsure whether you want to take ski lessons, give this a read: Why You (Don’t) Need Lessons to Ski. Unbiased Pros Vs Cons.
Parallel Skiing Vs Carving
Carving is a more advanced & highly efficient form of skiing where you turn solely on the very edges of your skis in rapid high-speed movements.
With carving the edges of the skis cut so much into the snow that the skis do not slide, but instead move along the length of the edge.
Because modern skis are curved into an hourglass shape, as you carve the skis flex and move you into your turn. Carving is performed at higher speeds than parallel skiing and the skier's speed is not slowed down as much - due to their being less friction. While carving the skier is momentarily traversing left and right rather than dissipating energy through skidding on the snow.
As you develop your parallel turns and begin to rely more on your edges there will be points where you will likely alternative between carving and sliding.
If you interested in learning more about curving check this out:
How to Stop on Skis
While learning to ski parallel is a crucial part of every skier's journey, so is having the ability to come to a safe stop fast anywhere on the mountain. You never know what obstacles or surprises are coming your way so being able to stop quickly and effectively is crucial to advancing as a skier.
While learning to ski you will be familiar with the snowplough or pizza stop where you push out your skis and create friction with the inside edges to slow your descent. As you've probably figured out the pizza stop only works effectively on shallow gradients or to slow your speed.
To really come to a stop you need to master the parallel stop (also known as the hockey stop).
Mastering the Hockey Stop
The hockey stop is hard like a parallel turn, but instead of slowly turning your edges to turn, you quickly rotate your body for maximum friction and force. An effective hockey stop is a safe and practical way to stop at speed and as you're learning to parallel ski - you should be always be practicing your stop throughout the day.
The hockey stop or parallel stop is the fastest and most effective way to avoid obstacles, collisions and protect yourself at speed. To hockey stop you pivot your skis 90 degrees and lean into your inside edges. The more you lean into your edges the faster your stop.
At first it's best to practice on shallow gradients and at a relatively slow to medium pace. It takes many days of practice to develop muscle memory and feeling of balancing on your edges without falling forward or backward. (it helps if you can ice skate or play hockey)
Over time and through practice, you will get a more precise feel of how it feels to balance on your edges through the stop. It's important to keep swapping sides and get comfortable stopping on your weaker side as well as your dominant side. You won't always have the luxury of choosing and being able to confidently stop whenever you want makes for a more fulfilling and safe skiing experience.
For a full walkthrough of the technique check out my full guide to hockey stop.
As with any complex skill, there are many ways to learn and teach parallel skiing. Whilst there are a few different schools of thought - there's only so much you can read and watch before you need to hit the slopes and try out what you've learned. As they say: practice makes perfect.