How To Ski Backwards or Switch

by Simon Naylor | Updated On: March 3rd, 2020
ski switch

We may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page.

I’ve just learned to ski forwards, why would I want to ski backward! You might be wondering. You’re right, skiing backward is not for everybody. So why ski backward? some skiers will relish the new challenge and learning to ski backward is a great way to set yourself up for more advanced tricks in the snow park.

Skiing backward is similar to skiing forward except you need to reverse your weight transfers and put one ski more forward than the other to open your hips and be able to look behind you to see where you’re going. Backward pizza only works at low speed and for effective turning, you’ll need to carve parallel and keep your skis closer together. Learning to ski backward is fun and a great base for learning 180 spins.

Also known as: Backward (US) / Backwards (UK) / Switch / Fakie 

Learning to ski backward

Here is a walkthrough tutorial of how to ski backward:

#1: Find a shallow open space

It’s important to find a shallow green / baby slope with lots of wide open space and fewer people. The more space you have to practice the less chance you have off skiing out of control of colliding with another skier.

⚠️ It’s easy to feel like a runaway train when you’re learning to ski backward, so wide open space is key.

#2: Get into the right position

Start by stopping with your skis parallel to the slope so your still and stationary. To start your skiing momentum swivel your weight and point the backs of your skis to face downward.

As you do this, put your feet shoulder widths apart and staggered so that one ski is more forward than the other. The heel of one boot should be just infront of the toe of the other boot. Being in this position allows your hips to open up so you can more easily look behind you to see where your skiing -- crucial for staying safe.

Turn your head and upper torso to look over your shoulder on your downhill ski side and switch the direction you look over your shoulder as you change direction on the mountain to give you the widest possible field of view.

Keep your knees slightly bent and flexed lightly forward over the front of your boots. Maintain a forward torso bend with your hands by your side and your ski poles pointing backward -- but don’t lean forward.

Many skiers make the mistake of trying to stand up too tall while skiing switch and it makes it much more difficult to see over your shoulder and stay balanced. When your lower your have a more stable center of gravity which will make it easier to learn and stay on your feet.

#3: From backward snowplough to wedged turns

On your first few practice runs, you’ll naturally fall into a backward snowplow or pizza so you get used to the feeling of moving backward. You can then develop this backward snowplow into wedged turns and finally into skiing fully parallel backward.

Skiing in a backward snowplow shape is only possible on very shallow slopes and it becomes difficult to impossible to stop in this stance when you pick up a bit more speed or move to slightly steep terrain -- so it’s best to progress into backward parallel turns as quickly as you can and get into the right habits. The best way to control your speed is to carve deeply in one direction. 

Learning to parallel ski backward is similar to the learning process of skiing forward. Your skis will start out in a wide wedge stance and then get closer and more aligned the more you practice.

For a visual rundown of this stance watch this video by Summit Ski school.

Improve your switch skiing

#4: Practice makes perfect

Clearly the more you practice the better you’ll get, but it will take practice over a ski season to develop the muscle memory to ski backward more naturally.

It’s easy to fall skiing backward while your learning so it’s best to stick to well-groomed pistes with soft powder rather than learning on hard packed or icy terrain. There’s no fun in cutting a ski trip short because of injury, so stay safe and consider of it more of a reason to wear a helmet.

Skiing switch at speed

As confidence grows and your skis are parallel you can begin to ski backward at speed. Here is a video demonstration of what that should look like from Ski Addiction.

The best skis for skiing backward

The shorter your skis, the easier it is to ski backward. That’s because there is less chance of the skis crossing an it’s easier to turn with a smaller turn radius.

Very short skis like ski boards or ski blades are also great for learning to ski backward and so are twin tip skis. Twin tips are skis with rounded tips that slant up at both ends of the ski and help to prevent the tails of the skis from getting caught up in the snow.

That said you can learn to ski backward on just about any skis and you don’t need to go out and buy or rent another pair.

twin tips

Bite-sized Re-cap

Common mistakes

How to fall without hurting yourself

no to fall back

Images from Stomp It Tutorials Youtube Video

The best way to all and not hurt yourself is to not try to catch yourself with all your weight on your elbow wrist or hand. Doing so can result in skiers thumb or where you reach out with your hand to stop your fall and the weight of the impact hits up and pushes your thumb outside of its normal range of motion (source).

fall on back

Images from Stomp It Tutorials Youtube Video

While you only have a very short time to react, the best thing to do is to try to evenly distribute your weight. You can do this by straightening your arms by your side -- so that they can take the brunt of the impact and protect your head.

I wrote a more detailed guide to falling properly on skis and how to get back up safely.

Benefits of learning to ski backward

When should I start to learn to ski backward?

I wouldn’t recommend learning to ski backward until you can confidently parallel ski and hockey stop. This will give you a good groundwork for being able to control your edges and feel your balance. Learning to ski backward too early may hinder your forward skiing progress -- although you’re unlikely to spend more time going backward unless you’re truly committed!

Final thoughts

Skiing backward is fun, but you’re likely to fall a few times as you learn. Try to avoid putting all the weight on your hands or elbows as you fall, but protect your head and distribute your weight. Stay safe, enjoy the challenge and breathe in that fresh mountain air.

 

Simon Naylor, the founder of New To Ski, started skiing in 2005. He has continued to practice his skills and wanted to share his journey and knowledge with other new skiers. He launched New To Ski in 2018 to help first-time skiers have more fun on the slopes and get out and explore the mountains safely.