One of the main goals of skiing is to become a strong parallel skier. Moving from wedge skiing to parallel can be a straight forward process once we set ourselves up for success. Skiing while our skis and legs are parallel gives us access to a full range of benefits. Getting off the beginner slopes and on to the rest of the mountain can open up our eyes and make the adventure that much more enjoyable.
It’s an awesome feeling to ski with the entire family when we can all ski parallel and ski on the same runs.…
Why go from Wedge to Parallel?
Skiing while our skis are in a wedge provides stability and confidence when we’re just starting out. A wide base of support enables us to turn and stop on demand. Once the slope goes from Beginner to Intermediate or Advanced, then the wedge stance becomes less effective and frankly, more painful. Turning that wedge into a parallel platform provides us access to the entire mountain. Parallel skiing enables us to ski steeper, faster, and a variety of terrain throughout the entire mountain. The biomechanical principles are the same, but much more efficient while skiing parallel.
Reasons Skiers Stay in a Wedge
Sometimes the age of the skier will dictate what can actually be accomplished on the skis. One of the biomechanical principles relates to stability. Skiers starting out often create a wider stance (Wedge) to remain stable. Once we move away from a wedge or wide stance, we begin to utilize all our joints including the ankle, knee and hip. With children under the age of 6, this access to all the joints is difficult because they cannot articulate the lower joints as easily as a teen or adult. Bending the ankle is next to impossible. The solution for children under the age of 6 to remain stable and balanced is to bend their hip joint. Think about it, if we wish to remain balanced where our Center of Mass is over our base of support (feet), a child’s solution bends the hip joint only and produces a ‘sitting-back’ stance. It’s effective and they can turn their wedge in the direction they wish to go, but being centered over the feet is achieved by bending at the waist and putting the chest over the feet. It’s not the most efficient way to remain balanced once we begin going faster and steeper.
If we can’t bend the ankle joint and only rely on bending at the waist to remain ‘balanced’ and stable, then biomechanically, we are not utilizing all joints to remain centered.
Staying in a wedge can also stem from the ‘fear factor’. Beginners are generally apprehensive and cautious when it comes to speed and steepness of slope. The natural reaction of a beginner skier is to fear the potential speed by leaning UP hill or technically on the wrong foot. The leaning uphill tends to produce a sitting-back stance which compounds the effect of not being able to turn which in effect creates a more fearful situation because now they can’t turn as easily. Ouch!
Most beginner skiers feel that if they go into a wider stance or larger wedge, their fear factor will diminish. The mindset of a beginner is “the wider the wedge, the safer I’ll be”. A wider wedge is ok as long as the pivot point of the ski is under the foot and not the tip of the ski. An explanation of this is provided in “Solution#3.
Sometimes beginner skiers are trying to go from wedge shape skis to parallel skis but the turn shape is limiting their ability to do so. Some skiers control speed by going ‘across’ the hill and the turn shape is more of a “go across to slow down” and “quickly turn to start going the other way”… “Whewwww, made it!”
In other instances, the beginner turn shape is “Z-like” meaning the skier is not progressively turning with the lower joints to produce a “C-like” or round turn shape to control speed. A non-round turn shape has no rhythm or flow to the turn therefore the beginner skier struggles to move from wedge to parallel.
Reasons to Move into Parallel Skiing
The ability to explore
One of the main reasons and benefits to moving from a wedge stance to parallel is the opportunity to now ski the entire mountain. Most skiers in a wedge only experience the bottom half of the mountain. It’s not fun when you can’t ski in areas where other family members skied all day. Imagine the end of day family dinner discussion when obnocious uncle Drew goes on and on about how fun the powder was up on “rendezvous bowl” at Jackson Hole. We’re probably thinking about booking the ski lessons now?
Biomechanically, skiing while your skis and legs are parallel is an easier alignment of your joints. Imagine both feet turning at the same time and in the same direction to give you a grip and balance over the outside foot. Skiing parallel enables us to move more laterally inside the turn to increase edge angle and grip. Parallel skiing enables easier turning with the lower body to change turn shape and radius at will.
From an alignment point of view, it’s much easier on your joints and muscles. Just ask a snow plower/wedge skier how tired they are after skiing top to bottom all day?
Easy Solutions to become a Parallel Skier
“Why didn’t I take that coaching session much earlier in the season. I would have been a much better parallel skier by now….”
1. Terrain Choice
One of the easiest ways to set ourselves up for success is by choosing the correct terrain. So many skiers who are in a wedge stance choose the wrong steepness to start out. By choosing a moderate slope and attempting a doable turn shape, we can progress much faster. Too steep = too much sitting back because of the fear-factor.
- “Minimum terrain, maximum speed
- NOT “Maximum Terrain, Minimum Speed”
2. Turn Shape
Remember we were chatting about “Z-Like” turn shapes? One easy solution for moving from wedge to parallel is to try to make your turn shapes ROUND. We do this by continuously turning with our lower body. A continuous movement of the lower joints in a turning and tilting/untilting manner. Turning with the lower body is the beginning sign of good ‘separation” (Upper and Lower Body moving independently from one another). Once we have separation where our lower body is turning and upper body remains stable, we then can begin to manage the forces acting on the skis more efficiently.
3. Size of Wedge or Width of Stance
By simple going from wide wedge shape stance to a ‘closer together’ stance, we begin to ski in a ‘sloppy’ parallel. This enables us to turn both feet at the same time in a parallel fashion. Two skis running in the same direction will enable the skier to feel balanced over the foot and begin to turn both feet at the same time = parallel.
4. Drill – Side Slip
Begin by choosing the appropriate moderate slope to try this. Stand facing the side of the hill and looking diagonally down the hill. Begin the drill by not moving and allowing that your skis have a ‘grip’ on the snow. To release the grip and begin ‘sliding’, we tilt our lower joints in the direction we want to start moving. For example, take your knees and begin moving in the diagonal direction (45degrees for example). This will flatten or release your skis and the sliding begins. Then, once you’re sliding, begin progressively to tilt your knees INTO the hill or back towards where your skis are pointing. This will enable your skis to go from flat sliding to tilted grip. Repeat this process of sliding and then gripping to get the feeling of how you’re side-slipping down the hill. The entire time, your skis should be pointed at the side of the hill, not down the hill. This is a great way to feel both feet doing the same thing at the same time while remaining parallel.
5. Drill – Hockey Stop
A hockey-stop on skis is similar to the Side-Slipping, but the intention is to get a feel for both feet turning underneath you simultaneously and then coming to a stop (hockey-stop). The actual stop teaches us how to turn with the lower body AND balance over the outside ski to come to a stop. It’s an effective drill to turn with lower body and use all joints to balance.
6. Drill – Hops / Jumps
This drill is simply a way to feel all joints working in unison. The ankle, knee and hip joints are engaged at the same time to enable us to hop or jump while traveling on the snow. Try doing this while wedge skiing. Try doing this while parallel skiing. If you can jump while gliding on the snow, you will improve your balance and ability to ski parallel.
7. Drill – Garlands
8. Drill – Windshield Wipers (Braquage)
This is a method to develop skiers turning both feet underneath them while the upper body remains stationary. Intermediate to expert skiers have the ability to turn with the lower body and this drill can fine tune the ability to turn the femur inside the hip joint to feel that lower body independence. Similar to the hockey stop this encourages and highlights the lower body turning effort and also use of all joints to maintain balance. Focus on drifting on the downhill ski.
Start by going straight down the fall-line on a moderate slope and then with both feet in wider than should width stance, begin to steer both feet from left to right like a windshield wiper on your car. The goal is to remain sliding down the fall-line without gripping the snow. It’s a side-slipping drill but practicing it both ways/directions. Success will be easier with a moderate slope (not flat, and not super steep)
Another term for this is “braquage”. It’s all about the sliding. Our weight remains over the outside or downhill ski.
Whether you’re just starting out or part of the national demo team, skiing should be shared, experienced and enjoyed no matter your level.
- Why go from Wedge to Parallel?
- Reasons people stay in wedge
- Turn shape
- Reasons to move into Parallel Skiing
- Ability to explore
- Easier Biomechanics
- Terrain Choice
- Turn Shape
- Adjust Wedge Size
- Ski Drills – Side Slip
- Ski Drills – Hockey Stop
- Ski Drills – Hops / Jumping
- Ski Drills – Garlands
- Ski Drills – Braquage
- Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance
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