Parallel Skiing vs. Carving

I have been strapping up my ski boots and locking into my bindings since I was a little boy. For a lot of people winter means cold and miserable, but for me it means great days on the mountain skiing some gnarly terrain!

In my twenty years skiing, I’ve seen a lot of skiers shredding down mountains using all different types of turning styles, but the two that stand out are parallel skiing and carving.

The main difference between parallel skiing and carving is that in parallel skiing your skis stay parallel to each other the entire time where carving means you are turning completely on your edges. Carving is essentially a more advanced version of parallel skiing that lets you turn while retaining as much speed as possible.

Differences Between Parallel Skiing and Carving

In my skiing career, I’ve used and still use both styles to make turns down the mountain. There are pros and cons to each style and these vary with skill and terrain, but before we get into all that let’s take a closer look at each form of turning!

Parallel Skiing

Parallel skiing technique skis just like it sounds. In order to parallel ski you need to keep your skis parallel which is much easier said than done, but any skier who takes the time to learn the technique will be shredding in no time.

The first part to successful parallel skiing is keeping your feet at hip-width. This helps your ski edges stay on the same level plane and puts your body in a really comfortable position. When your skis get wider turning becomes a lot more difficult, but it slows you down.

Remember pizza slicing when you were learning how to ski? You went slower and the same principle applies to parallel skiing. The closer your skis are to hip width, the faster you will go!

Be careful to not bring your skis to close together though because this decreases your knee mobility which makes turning a lot tougher. Turning your skis is your steering wheel for a safe trip down the mountain so stick with hip width and you’ll have an epic day on the trails.

In parallel skiing, we start slightly edging to make turns. When we start carving the edging becomes a little more intense, but successful parallel skiing is the first step to more advanced methods.

When you turn, your skis are always pushing on the same edge. When you use parallel skiing, your skis will slightly slide on the snow when you’re making turns, but this definitely helps control your speed. In order to make an edge change your skis will need to be flat before you get up on your edges again and this creates the natural turn progression down the mountain.

Parallel skiing is best when we become comfortable skiing at a decent pace and our upper bodies play a huge role in this process. When you turn, you’ll want your upper body staying calm and balanced. Picture your upper body maintaining the place where your legs should be if you were standing straight up. Keep your upper body relaxed and perpendicular to the mountain and you’ll get comfortable with this technique in no time.

Pros

  • It’s a great first step to learning how to carve.
  • It can be used on any terrain.
  • It’s the foundation of every other advanced turn in the sport.
  • It teaches balance and confidence which is necessary when moving away from the snowplow technique.

Cons

  • While it can be used on every type of terrain, it’s not the best in all cases.
  • It’s not the best technique for combining speed and control.

Carving

I would describe carving as a much more intense version of parallel skiing. If you have ever watched a professional downhill race and studied the skiers, you’ll see that they are getting really low and digging into the snow with their edges. They are utilizing carving to fly down the mountain.

If you’re looking for speed, carving technique is the way to go to get down the mountain as fast as possible. When you’re carving, your skis will not slide at all when making a turn. This is because your edges are digging in so hard that you’re literally “carving” your way down the mountain.

Modern skis are built for carving and really do most of the work for you on the mountain. You just need to be able to transfer your weight and trust your ability which comes with more and more experience on the slopes.

If you go to a ski shop, you’ll see skis that almost look like an hourglass where the tip and tail is really rounded. These are the skis that designers have built to make carving possible for skiers of all abilities. Because of the ski shape, they edge along an arc shape with makes for pretty turns and epic runs.

Carving skis do a lot of the turning work, but they still need you to initiate the movement. To start a carving turn, keep your skis at hip width just like the parallel turn.

The best way to start a turn is by rolling your knees over the ski which helps get you up on your edges. This always feels uncomfortable at first, but a huge mistake that people make is not rolling their knees enough which causes their skis to slide. When your skis slide while carving turning becomes very uncomfortable.

A good rule of thumb is that when you’re feeling slightly uncomfortable roll those knees over a little more and that will lead to a great turn. The pros are rolling their knees so much that they’re hips are almost touching the snow so don’t be afraid to push outside of your comfort zone!

The outside ski of the turn is your best friend and you should apply more pressure to it than your inside ski. More advanced skiers use their inside foot in the turn, but it shouldn’t be your first thought when learning how to carve.

When turning, transfer the majority of your weight to the middle of the outside ski and that will create some sharp carves down the slope.

Pros

  • The most efficient way to turn in skiing.
  • It’s the turning style that produces the fastest speed.
  • The skis help create the turn once you get on your edge.
  • You don’t slide on the snow.

Cons

  • Unlike parallel skiing, it’s not always possible depending on the conditions.
  • You need carving skis to properly carve (Most skis are designed this way so this probably won’t be too big of an issue)
  • You need to sharpen your ski edges frequently.
  • If you’re not comfortable with basic parallel skiing, carving isn’t a technique that you can confidently try.

So when should you use each technique?

The first thing I would say is that you can’t carve before you learn how to properly parallel ski and get comfortable getting up on your edges.

Parallel skiing is the foundation of every other turn in the sport so never forget that when you’re working on the basics! Once you conquer parallel skiing and advance to carving, you won’t always be able to utilize this technique on the mountain.

For the typical skier, carving works best when the snow is soft enough for their ski to dig into the snow. Ice is not a carver’s best friend because it’s tough to edge through the ice and not slide. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but when I see ice I personally change my game plan up and utilize parallel skiing for more control on the slopes.

Parallel skiing can always be used, and some great skiers never even attempt to carve.

My biggest advice as someone who has been skiing their whole life is to get great at the basics and everything else will grow from there. I go skiing and some days I chose to not push as hard and utilize parallel skiing, but there will be other days where I’m shredding with my friends and really want to fly down the mountain so I carve.

When you get good at parallel skiing, carving will almost come naturally because parallel turns are the foundation of the carve.