What is Carving on Skis?

by Simon Knott | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

Some guys seem to make clean, fast corners without any effort. How do they do that? It's like their skis are attached to rails. That's why those turns are carved, slicing down into the snow for stability.

As the technology of skis improved for competitive downhill skiers it was discovered that by manufacturing skis with a sidecut or slimmer waist the skis would corner more effectively. The skier’s weight flexes the entire edge of the ski into the snow, which makes the ski into an arc shape, which then defines the curve of the turn. Carved turns are only made on the edges of the skis and there is no skidding as in parallel turning. With less friction, the skier goes faster but can still maintain control with more frequent and tighter turns.

Ski Carving

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Introduction to Carving

The progress of any technology rarely occurs in a smooth curve and the same can be said for ski technology. Often existing wisdom persists until an inventor thinks in a radically new way and creates a quantum leap forward. Ski technology started to progress faster from the 60s onward. Skiing was growing as a mainstream recreation and so manufacturers could afford to spend more on research and development to keep ahead of the competition. Ski racing has always been at the cutting edge of skiing technology and most of the innovations for mainstream skiing have been ideas transferred from racing.

In the mid-60s, the first fully plastic ski boots were a game-changer. They are attached to the ski securely and the metal-levered buckles ensured the foot and ankle were restrained. In comparison to leather boots, the plastic boot enabled the skier to transfer power much more effectively through his legs to the skis and maintain better control too. At the same time the safety mechanism, which allowed the boot to break away from the ski in the event of an accident saved many broken ankles.

Ski brakes were another safety innovation of the 70s that quickly stopped skis that had been lost in a fall. While in 1979, standardization in the form of German DIN standards created a level playing field where any supplier in the world will understand what you are looking for.

History of Carving including Ski Development

Photo by Ashley Pollak licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

In the late 80s, snowboarding achieved mainstream appeal and it became obvious to experienced skiers just how easy it was to execute perfectly carved turns on a snowboard without skidding the edge round. The time was ripe for the technology to be transferred to skis.

At around the same time engineers at the manufacturer, Elan Skis of Slovenia, experimented with giant-slalom racers’ skis. They found that by cutting deeper side cuts into each ski they could achieve a much tighter and more fluid turning radius. The shape of the ski became vital, and the degree of the side cut governs the curvature of the ski.

With further innovation, the engineers added a wide shoulder and tail. At first, this new design got some funny, looks but the performance on the runs soon wiped the smiles off their faces. The SCX (Side Cut Extreme) was born, and now most downhill skis carry a similar profile.

So, what exactly is Carving?

Normally when you make a parallel turn there is some element of skidding as the rear of the skis breaks away and pushes snow out of the way. This isn’t a particularly efficient way of cornering, and it will slow your progress.


With carving the ski edges cut firmly into the snow from top to tail and the skis don’t skid at all. Consequently, your speed won’t be reduced as much as with a parallel turn, and you maintain better control. As pressure is applied to the skis they bend and even the thinner, middle, side cut section of the ski cuts into the snow. This forms the skis into a neat arc shape, which helps to cleanly finish the turn.

With carving, it can be helpful to imagine the skis are on rails, where they follow a smooth turn without breaking away from the snow at any point. In fact, if you look at the snow after a skier has carved past, you will see the tracks in the snow looking as if something on rails has gone past.

Little energy is wasted in a carved turn, partly because only a small section of the ski is in contact with the snow and additionally no snow needs to be physically pushed out of the way, which causes frictional resistance and consequential lost momentum. Competitive skiers routinely use carved turns because they are easy to control, and you lose little speed during execution. If you watch someone carving you will see that no snow is thrown up during each turn.

The Techniques of Carving and How it Works

Initiating a carve turn is best done when you are facing straight downhill. In this position, you will have more momentum to carry the turn through once started. If you are starting a left turn you must roll your knees to the left to force your skis up onto the left edges (vice versa for a right turn). It is the edges of the skis that create the turn. If you can feel your skis sliding over the surface of the snow, then you are not leaning over far enough.

  • Following the Carve Turn through

Once you are underway in the turn you will see the full length of your skis’ edges are engaged with the snow and they are the only thing that is making you turn. By building confidence with practice, you will be able to push harder against the skis and lean further into the turn making it tighter. As you gather speed this maneuver becomes easier and more controllable.

  • The Carving Position

When carving the upper body is maintained in an upright stance, while the legs are more bent than in a parallel turn. As you lean into a turn most of the bodyweight should be transferred to the middle of the outer ski. With less movement of the upper body, it becomes more fluid and rhythmic to change from a left turn to a right turn. The shoulders are positioned square in the direction of the skis. As you practice moving your body weight around on the outer ski you will find the inner ski is carrying very little weight and you can in fact lift it up while making a turn with all the weight on the outer ski.

When can you Carve?

The ideal snow for carving should be soft enough to enable your edges to really bite into the snow but at the same time, the snow needs to give enough support so that the ski doesn’t slide across the surface.

If the surface of the run is icy it is difficult to carve because you need a lot of force to make the ski edges bite into the ice. It can be done but you need plenty of space with no other people around to practice. Conversely, if it has been snowing and the run hasn’t been groomed then the soft snow won’t be able to offer enough support to the skis and they will consequently float across it.

By its nature carving will make you go faster down the runs. So, when you are starting out practice on steeper blues, where you will be able to improve your technique without any runaway speeds.

Sharpening your Edges

Photo by Jon Wick licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ensuring you have sharp edges on your skis will help considerably in carve turns. The ski will be able to slice through the snow with much less friction giving you better speed. During everyday use, it is easy to develop nicks and scratches on your edges, which although small will have a cumulative effect in slowing you down. If you plan on really working at your carving it is well worth investing in getting your edges sharpened the next time you get them waxed. There are kits available to sharpen your own skis but for the minimal cost best to get a professional in a ski shop to do a thorough job.