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Many new skiers who have a history of ice skating or playing hockey might be wondering if this will give them an advantage. Will knowing how to skate improve your ability to control your skis and learn to ski faster?
The short answer is YES, being able to ice skate or play ice hockey will make it EASIER to learn to ski. You’ll pick it up faster because you’ll have greater edge control and a more tuned balance reflex. You’re knowledge of the hockey stop and digging into your edges will transfer directly to the skiing hockey stop and your ability to parallel turn.
The Hockey Stop – From Skates to Skis ⛸⛷
The ability to balance on a skate is very similar to the ability to balance on a ski. When you watch a skier skate and a skater skate, it’s the same moves and same balance patterns.
The most obvious things that skiing has with ice skating is the hockey stop (figure skaters tend to have even more control of their edges).
The hockey stop on ice is a sharp 90-degree turn with both skates as you dig through the heel and inside edge of the outside skate.
On skis, the hockey stop is very similar, and you pivot your skis 90 degrees and dig in through the same inside edge of the outside ski.
Hockey stopping on skis feels similar and you adopt the same style of stance.
The time it takes to stop on skis is a second or two longer than on ice skates – depending on how hard you use your edges and the speed you wish to stop.
On skis, the slide through the hockey stop feels different as you slide across the softer snow – which makes for a slower stop that requires you to balance for longer.
On skates, the edges are much more defined in the hard ice and the parallel slide is never more than a few centimeters and is done in less than a second.
If you love whipping up ice on your skates, then you’ll love how big a cloud of fresh powder you can create on skis!
Check out these two videos to see the differences and similarities in action between a hockey stop on ice skate and on skis.
The Hockey Stop & Learning to Ski
When you first get on the slopes, learning to hockey stop shouldn’t be first on your list.
You need to be moving at speed and comfortable with the basics of skiing before you should attempt your first hockey stop.
You want to get a feel of your skis and how to balance on them first.
Start by learning to snowplough or pizza stop and sliding down a shallow gradient.
Once you are working on your wedged or snowplough turns you can then begin to practice on your hockey stops at the end of a sequence.
Having these basic skills in place will give you more chance of succeeding and provide a useful basis to progress.
Difference between Parallel Skiing and Hockey Stop
A parallel turn is similar to a hockey stop, except that rather than abruptly coming to a stop, you slide through the radius of the turn and continue to traverse the slope.
The trick to a good parallel turn is to lean into the turn, roll your knees and dig through your heels as you would in a hockey stop, but release the edge and come out of the turn with some energy behind you.
Once you begin to link left and right parallel turns, you are then learning to parallel ski.
Skaters who move to skiing, often view parallel turns as successive hockey stops – which has its pros and cons.
The cons are that it leads you to develop a sharp Z shape pattern to your skiing, rather than a more enjoyable and smooth S shape.
The pros are that you can learn to execute fast parallel turns at speed and on steep gradients, much faster than a non-skater.
Problems transitioning from skates to skis.
The major difference between skates and skis is the length of your blade!
Putting on skis can often feel like wearing two planks of wood on either foot.
Skis and ski boots are also 10x heavier – although you don’t lift your skis while skiing (unless your cross-country skiing) like you do during skating.
With gravity on your side providing the force of momentum, you only need to shift your body weight and move onto different edges to ski.
Unlike in skating where movement requires you to push out your thighs or lift each skate during turns.
It can be tempting to do a crossover on your skis before you realize how long they are.
I learned how to skate and ski a few winters ago and tried to do a crossover on skis while getting off the lift once…it went about how you’d expect.
Jollygreen311 on Transition from Ice Skating to
Not only can you not do crossovers on skis, but you also have to be more mindful of the direction of your feet and how this affects the direction of your skis.
Small movements in your feet make for much more exaggerated movements through the length of your ski, and it can be tricky at first to not get yourself in a tangle.
Mind you, this is not a problem just for skaters or hockey players – almost all new skiers will struggle with keeping their skis uncrossed in the first few minutes or hours of their skiing adventure.
P.S Read this before you go skiing: How To Get Up After a Ski Fall
Don’t mistake your skating history as a free pass to hit the red slopes on your first day on the slopes.
Skiing can be dangerous and there are plenty more objects to hit.
Yes! I was a competitive figure skater my whole childhood and I went skiing for the first time when I was 20. I had no problem at all… as a matter of fact I felt too comfortable and decided to go off of small jumps. Big mistake… rolled down the mountain a couple times.
J Hatfield, Professional Figure Skater
Go steady, build on your skills and only go down the color trail that you’re comfortable with.
Balancing on long skis as you fly downhill on snow is different to skating across flat ice.
How long does it take to learn to ski if you can ice skate?
Having a background in ice skating as a figure skater or playing hockey will definitely give you an edge! pun intended
That’s not to say it’s going to be a walk in the park, but based on my experience it should make it 10-30% easier for you to learn to ski than it would a person of equal ability that has never skated before.
For a more detailed breakdown of how long it takes to learn to ski, read my article: How Long Does it Take to Learn to Ski? – which walks through the different stages of skiing.
Whilst it might take a new skier 15-20 days before they can hockey stop, a skater will be able to pick this up within 10 days or less.
Because of a skaters ability to control their edge as they come into a parallel turn and greater abilities in balance control, a skater will learn to parallel ski faster than a non-skater.
Skiing to me came fairly naturally having played roller hockey growing up and transitioning to ice hockey in high school. I consider myself a fairly strong skater favoring my right side over my left but able to hockey stop on a dime both ways. In my opinion you will have no problem picking up skiing if you know how to hockey stop on one side fairly well compared to the other.
Bernie275, Transition from Ice Skating to Skiing?
Just like in hockey, you will have a weak side and a dominant side.
Stopping on one side will be much easier than the opposite direction.
It took me about twice as long to feel as comfortable stopping on my weak side as it did on my strong side.
Now my ability to stop and turn left and right are pretty equal and it makes skiing much more enjoyable.
Some tips on stopping on your weak side on skis here.
The main difference between skaters and non-skaters is perhaps confidence. Skates know that if they commit to the turn or the stop and adopt the right stance it will WORK!
Non-skaters are often more timid and it takes them more courage and time skiing before they develop the same level of confidence to rotate their skis 90 degrees at speed.
Main benefits of being able to skate while learning to ski
The hockey stop provide an essential link to skiing, there are a number of key ways in which they overlap:
Skaters have experience balancing on the edges of a small blade and this does transfer to feeling more confident balancing on the edges of skis on snow.
Not only for learning to hockey stop, but also for parallel skiing and learning to feel the edges of the skis for more advanced movements like carving.
Skaters have more experience moving at speed and so will be more comfortable moving on skis at speed.
Skiing gets faster the steeper you go and so there does come a point where even skaters must learn to adapt to the increased speed.
The hockey stance and the skier’s stance although not the same are similar in that your knees are bent and your butt is low.
Adopting this position is much more intuitive and natural for hockey players and makes them better skiers out of the gates.
New skiers often don’t bend their knees enough and they have a tendency to lean backward over their skis – which isn’t conducive for a proper technique.
If you can already skate, skiing will be easier to learn. You’ll feel more confident stopping at speed and you will likely learn to hockey stop and parallel ski faster than a non-skater.
That said the dynamics and feel of skiing is different and you’ll still be a beginner with much to learn.
You don’t need to take skiing lessons but you WILL benefit immensely from them and it will set you up for the proper technique and allow you to progress much faster.