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Why using the term “turn” in teaching or learning skiing is inappropriate

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

Bob Trueman. Development Coach, Skiing

Recently I wrote a small piece on how to handle tough skiing situations and used the word “arcs”, where most folk would use the word “turn”. My insistence on using the word 'arc' raised an eyebrow or two, on the grounds that it was perhaps mere semantics or even nit-picking. Believe me, it isn't.

Every single ski instructor I have ever met only ever uses the word “turn(s)”. You are admonished to “Do turns”. Even worse, you are recommended by some to “Turn your skis”. “Do a turn left, or do a turn right”. It tells you nothing at all about what movements while in motion you need to make with your legs/feet/body ….

What on earth is it supposed to mean? Is that how skis work – by “turning” them? Is that a route to understanding, and to excellent skiing? No.

My Pupils' skiing experiences

All of my pupils are adult. New pupils on my week-long skiing courses are treated to 'grumpy Bob' if they refer to “turns”. I jokingly threaten to throw them off the hill if they ever mention the word. It has a salutary effect; it slowly changes their perceptions. Before writing this piece I asked some pupils what effect for them did my strange insistence bring about: was it beneficial in terms of their own skiing skill development.

Here is a couple of extracts that typify what they all said:

“Well, a turn suggests anything from a move of a few degrees to 360. Whereas an arc is only part of a circle. It is the shape the ski describes.”

“As a physicist, I’m sure if I had thought about it I would have realised that the snow is the thing causing the ski to describe an arc, - and I am not the force “doing a turn”, but your emphasis on understanding the mechanics brought it to my attention much more quickly. And improved my skiing that much more rapidly.”

But what is really happening?

An objection I have to use the lazy word “turn” is that it does not describe what happens. It tells you nothing about how a ski changes direction and carries you with it. It suggests that you do the “turn”. You can “turn” a lot of things – a quick buck; you can turn to the person on your left; you can turn a screwdriver; you can turn a triumph into a disaster. There is no end to the things you can turn.

But let's talk about skiing again. When you or an instructor refer to a “turn” in skiing, that is something you think you do. But it is not what happens.

A change of direction may occur, (it may not) but that is an outcome of things you do, and of things that happen at the interface of the snow and the ski – it is not what you do. If you haven't already, then buy my top-selling, incredibly inexpensive, and value-for-money book “Ski In Control” and look up chapter 16 where you'll find a more complete explanation. ( How do I do it at the price! )

If you think you do turns, you are highly likely to also think that in order to do it you will need to “turn your skis”. Let's substitute the word “pivot” for “turn” in this instance – it's more descriptive. There are times when pivoting your skis may be appropriate to achieving some outcome you desire. Somewhat regrettably it may, though not necessarily, induce a change of direction.

I say regrettably because if and when that happens it is likely to reinforce the idea in your head that you did it. You didn't. Only very indirectly did the rotation of your ski (your foot) induce a deflection of your ski. As explained in my book, an outside force deflected your skis, and because you are attached, you went with them. In a sense, they “turned” you, not the other way about.

Sometimes I allude to Tiger Woods and his golf. If you think you have seen Woods “do” a 300-yard drive, you are mistaken. What you have seen is Woods doing a complex of minute behaviours (many too difficult to observe) the outcome of which is a 300-yard drive.

Does my insistence matter? Yes, it does, because for so long as you retain useage of the word “turn”, and for so long as that affects your understanding, then it will in equal part inhibit your learning and hence your skiing skill development. My dislike of the word “turn” (in a skiing context) is not pedantry, nor semantic nit-picking – as my pupils above referred to indicate, it has had singular importance in helping them to become significantly better skiers.

What happens between skiing ”turns”?

Another issue of faulty perceptions about ski “turns” is the issue of what happens in between them. Probably when you were in the early stages of ski school you will have been told that there is this type of turn (say a “snowplough” one); later, if you are old enough, you may have been admonished to do a “stem christie”; and then if you are good boy or girl on the fourth day of your week you might be allowed to try a “parallel” “turn”.

All of this is rubbish but there isn't room here to explain – it's in my books. A problem that this out-dated, and regrettably still extant, process creates is the idea that you “do a turn”, then a little later on as you ski, you “do another turn”. This process is repeated.

What is not clarified is what happens between “turn” one, and “turn” two. Presumably something, but what? Unfortunately, it is commonly a straight line. This is a pity in many circumstances because skis accelerate when they are describing a straight line, and you may not particularly want to accelerate.

Let's say that a time of just 2 seconds passes between “turns” one and two. (Try counting them now, in your head - “one thousand, two thousand ...” ). If you are skiing at 15 mph, hardly excessive - about the speed you'd ride your bike - then in that 2 seconds you will traverse 44 feet – just under 15 yards. Fifteen yards of acceleration. Fifteen yards perhaps past the spot you intended to change direction. Downhill racers love it; they attempt to draw the straightest line down the mountain that they can.

Linked arcs

Finally, this leads us to a conclusion: since skis describe arcs and don't “do turns”, and arcs are segments of circles, then the objective for your skiing skill development is to make movements whilst in motion (our equivalent of Tiger Woods' minute behaviours) that lead to continuously linked (and rounded) arcs. Not “turns”.

Do email me if you want to continue this investigation or check out my FREE tutorials on YouTube.

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