How To Slow Down & Control Speed On Skis

by Simon Naylor | Updated: October 27th, 2022
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Learning to slow down and control your speed is the most important part of skiing, without these skills you can be a danger to yourself and others. So how do you slow down on skis? 

Skiers slow themselves by turning right or left in a sequence of parallel turns. For new skiers, the best way to slow down is to 1. adopt a pizza stance, 2. make a wedged turn, and 3. traverse sideways rather than directly downhill. The fastest way to slow down is to rotate your skis parallel into a hockey stop. 

New skiers won’t know how to parallel turn right away as it takes a week or more to build up to that level of skiing. The first thing you will need to learn on your first morning of skiing is how to pizza or snowplough.

Pizza / Snowplough

Photo by cotaro70s licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The snowplough is when you make a wedged pizza shape with your skis. By pushing out your skis to form a triangle, your skis create more friction with the snow and you begin to slow down.

You can use the snowplough to slow you while skiing or to make you come to a stop. The more you push out and dig into your inside edges, the greater the friction and the more you slow. If you the gradient is not too steep and you maintain this position you will eventually come to a stop.

To speed up again, bring your skis parallel or straight together – this will reduce the friction and make you glide faster across the snow. You can push into a snowplough and out again to control your speed across the slope.

I wouldn’t recommend that you ski snowplough on steep gradients for very long distances unless that is your only option.

The snowplough is the first thing every skier should learn and its most useful on shallow gradients or at the end of a ski run. For a more detailed breakdown read: How to snowplow or pizza

Because you’re not controlling your direction, it’s not a suitable stance for avoiding obstacles or moving dynamically across the slope. For that, you’ll need to learn the next item on my list

Wedged Turn

The next step on your way to parallel skiing, the wedged turn or snowplow turn is when you actively choose to go in one direction or another. By putting more pressure on the inside edge of one ski compared with the other, your ski will create more friction on the snow and rotate you.

  • To move right: put more weight on the inside edge of your left ski.
  • To move left: put more weight on the inside edge of your right ski.

Being able to turn is a pivotal part of any new skiers journey, it allows you to traverse across the slope. This allows you to move across the slope diagonally back and forth and move off the baby slopes.

skiing lines

By moving diagonally on the slope you have less momentum and pulling you forwards which naturally slows your skiing. To slow down more, make your movements closer to 90-degrees across the slope. If you need to slow down faster – you can point your skis uphill to dramatically slow yourself down  (just make sure you don’t fall backward).

If you want to ski faster, traverse at a steeper angle. As you move to steeper gradients, the wedged turn won’t be suitable. as you grow in confidence and progress you’ll get closer and closer to the promised parallel turn.

Parallel Turn 

ski parallel

The parallel turn is synonyms with skiing, and it’s the most sought-after goal of every new skier. Once you can parallel turn you’ll be able to tackle most slopes at your resort. Green and Blue marked slopes will be perfect for a new parallel skier, red runs as you develop confidence and black runs once you’ve mastered it. Learn more about the meaning of trail colors here. 

The parallel turn allows you to rotate your skis together at a full 90-degree angle to the gradient of the slope. This has the dual function of slowing you down and allowing you to smoothly traverse back and forth across the slope.

Once you can turn left and right, you will begin to link your turns with a sense of rhythm. Once you start doing this series of linked turns, you’re officially a parallel skier! You can control your speed at will, avoid obstacles and comfortably make your way down the slope.

See Also:  Can Skiers Cause an Avalanche? (Do's & Don'ts)

How to Parallel Turn

Before you start to parallel turn you should be comfortable making a wedged turn. To parallel turn, lean slightly forward in your boot with your torso rotated slightly downhill. Slightly lean into the turn and push your weight down into your outside or downhill ski.

Focus your weight on that inside edge, lean your hips into the turn and lean your upper torso to counter-balance yourself. Stay patient as you rotate through the turn and change direction.

parallel body position ski

For a detailed walkthrough of the entire process, with step by step instruction, read my free 4,500+ word handbook:  How To Parallel Ski: The ULTIMATE Beginners Guide.

The Hockey Stop or Parallel Stop

Once you can parallel ski you’ll also be able to hockey stop, which is the fastest way to slow you down while skiing. A hockey stop is like a parallel turn, but instead of following through with the turn, you make a much more abrupt and sharp movement, digging into your heels to create as much friction as possible. You can use a hockey stop to significantly reduce your speed and slow you down very fast.

ski stop

How NOT To Slow Yourself Down

There are a number of ways that can be harmful and ruin your day. Here’s what not do:

Don’t Reach Out to Grab Someone or Something

New skiers on their first few runs may be tempted to reach out and grab someone for support or to slow them down. You could seriously injure yourself or others if you try this, especially if you’re moving at any speed.

Don’t Use Your Poles

Poles aren’t designed to support your weight and they can be deadly if you try to poke them in the ground to slow yourself down. Not only can they ping back and hurt you, but the pole may very well buckle under the pressure.

Sticking the pole in the ground ahead of you, won’t slow you down but it will act as a spear. You can drag your poles to create some friction that will slow you a small amount.

Skiing in Different Snow Conditions

The type of snow you are skiing in will drastically affect your ski. The deep powder creates more friction and will slow you down much more than a typical groomed ski slope surface.

Ice patches or very hard compact snow will have less friction and your skiing will naturally be faster. You’ll need to make more turns to control your speed on compact snow.

Using Ski Wax to Control Your Glide

Waxing Ski

Just like the surface of the ground, the surface of your ski and the ski wax that is on your skis base can affect your speed. Downhill skiers use ski wax to improve their glide and to ski faster and more smoothly across the snow. A ski that is in need of wax will glide slower than one that is freshly waxed.

Most skiers use all-year wax which is suitable for a range of temperatures. Those who ski more often or in more extreme temperatures can make use of temperature-based ski wax. A harder wax that has a higher melting temperature is more suitable for colder weather (mid-season), whereas a softer wax is better for warmer weather (spring or early season).

For beginner skiers, the type of wax on your skis won’t make a major difference – but if you’re dusting off your grandpa’s skis – be sure to wax them. Learn more about how and when to wax your skis.

Final Thoughts

The three main ways to slow you down are the pizza stance, the wedged turn, and the parallel turn. To slow down fast use the hockey stop!

To be a competent skier, learn all methods and pick the style of slowing down to meet your needs. Make sure your boots are on nice and snug, as negative space in your boot will make controlling your skis more difficult.

Method of reducing speed on skisHow effective at slowing you down? 
Wedged TurnGood
Parallel TurnGreat
Hockey StopFastest

Go steady and enjoy the ride.

p.s If you’re going skiing, you’re going to fall a few times. Check out: How To Get Up After a Ski Fall, so you can be on your feet in no time.