Only a skier can appreciate the thrill you feel when you sit on the ski lift at the start of a day’s skiing and see the tiny people below crisscrossing the slope. You know that in just a few minutes, you will step off the lift and – unless a beginner skier has wiped out when getting off the seat – move to the slope and start skiing.
As you begin your day of skiing, you might be worried about your technique, or you might not. One technique that is up for endless debate is how wide apart your skis should be. Modern teaching methods favor a wider stance, but skiing with your feet together is back in vogue, at least for the puritans.
To ski with feet together, keep your knees together and skis parallel. Your weight stays on the uphill edge of both skis except in a turn and your shoulders face the valley. Check ski tips often to confirm parallel. Don’t lean back or squat too low. Keep your shoulders directly above knees and feet.
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My friend who learned to ski in Austria was told a million times: “Bend the knees” and “Face the valley.“ I will be sharing his story and experience throughout this article.
Bending the knees was easy enough, but facing the valley was terrifying at first because it was so counter-intuitive. However, facing your shoulders downhill will give you control, whereas turning your back will take you back uphill, and (if you carry enough momentum,) you can expect a wipe-out.
An Exercise To Help Feet To Stay Together While Skiing
- Stand with your skis slightly across the slope and edged towards the mountain to prevent sliding downhill.
- Remember to have your knees bent
- Face your shoulders to the valley
- Plant your downhill pole directly below your feet and have the uphill pole facing directly up the hill, with your uphill hand over your skis’ tips.
- Flatten your skis more and more until you can feel the point where the edges will no longer grip, and you would slide if you flattened them any further.
- Flatten your skis to the snow by tipping your skis off the edges and into a flat position. You will start sliding downhill. Instead of continuing downhill, allow the turn to become a full arc so that you complete the turn and are once again facing across the slope in the opposite direction.
- Don’t lift your skis, but pull the uphill foot back slightly as you make the turn, keeping both feet close, or the uphill ski will tend to push forward. Edge your skis once more when you have completed the turn, and you will now be facing the opposite direction. This means that if you just did a left turn, you will do a right turn next.
- Always plant your downhill pole correctly before setting off and make the next turn when ready.
Once this is done a few times, and you are confident, make the next turn, and instead of coming to a halt, move smoothly into the next turn. See how many turns you can do without edging to a stop once more.
Keep the turns small and slow at first. Once you gain confidence and skill, widen the arcs, which will increase your speed automatically. You have just conquered the single, two-footed release. This will lead to connected two-footed releases, slow brush carves, and more. Without the basics, the advanced moves are impossible.
How to Ski with Feet Together
The purpose of parallel skiing with your skis together is control. Speed, carving, stopping, and turning are all determined by how well you control your skis. To keep your skis together, your body must be balanced.
Too far forward, back, right, or left; having your knees too bent or your legs too straight will cause you to naturally widen your stance in an attempt to keep your balance.
Your ability to hold and maintain your weight above the appropriate edges will determine your level of control, or in other words, your ability to control the angle of the inside edge of your downhill ski and the outside edge of your uphill ski.
- Maintain a good relationship between your head, shoulders, hips, knees, and feet. Keep your shoulders directly above your knees and knees above your feet, in a straight line that runs at 90 degrees to your skis.
Arms and Shoulders
Regardless of the amount that you bend or straighten your legs, always hold a straight line from shoulders, through hips, and onward to your feet. Keep your hands – and thus ski pole handles – out in front of you, with your elbows bent less than 90 degrees.
In this way, your shoulders should never drift back to a point behind your knees. Keep your hips from moving laterally (left to right or the reverse) and centered on an imaginary line that runs from your spine to your downhill foot.
- Maintain your knees bent somewhere between 40 degrees and 90 degrees, preventing the spontaneous spreading of your skis that may occur if you squat too low or not enough. As you increase the bend angle, lean your shoulders forward and maintain centering over the knees.
- As your legs straighten, return your shoulders to a point back over your knees.
- Concentrate on keeping your knees together, perhaps even clamping a colorful handkerchief or similar between them. When your knees are close to one another, your feet remain close, as do your skis.
Without staring directly at your ski tips, glance at them every 20 or 30 seconds at first. This check will reassure you that you are still skiing on a parallel path, and this skill must be mastered before going off-piste.
Once you are skiing in powder, you will rarely see your ski tips unless you have a wipe-out, and a strong, narrow stance will prevent many accidents. Try not to panic when you first lose sight of your ski tips in powder and ensure that you can ski with your feet together before you get there.
Scuffing up the insides of your skis and boots is an indication that you’re parallel skiing correctly, but you don’t have to go to that extreme.
- Use your skis’ edges, always keeping your weight on the uphill edge of your skis, unless you are making a turn, in which case you need to allow your skis to flatten and drift around the curve. As you exit the turn, your weight returns to the uphill edges once again.
Keep your chest facing down the fall line (towards the valley) even when you’re skiing across the slope, as this will prevent the tendency to spread your legs as you lose your balance.
Even with all this said, nothing beats taking several lessons if you plan ever to be able to ski correctly. Regardless of your level of proficiency – unless you are an Instructor – if you have not already learned to ski with your feet together, lessons are vital. You can read more detail on whether ski lessons are worth it in our article, here.
You can easily learn the wrong way when following written instructions, even with the best will on earth. In contrast, a competent instructor will be able to watch your movements and make subtle adjustments accordingly. That might be the difference between a good technique and a great one.
Let’s look at both narrow and wide-stance arguments:
How Close Together Should Your Feet be?
This debate has raged for longer than I can remember, but since skiing is an open-skills sport with regularly changing terrain and conditions, there is no single answer. Much like the various religions, folk seem to choose a side and stick to it regardless of evidence to the contrary.
Skiers’ opinions range from skiing with skis and boots showing scuff marks from rubbing, to skiing along with skis wider than their shoulders, and everything in between.
The Narrow-Track Stance
People who vote for a narrow stance generally do not suggest skiing with your feet and skis jammed together. On skis, most people want to retain the independence of both legs and feet, and this includes movement and shock absorption. Thus, a comfortable stance with the skis parallel and fairly close together, though not necessarily touching, is recommended.
A narrow stance on skis is created by easing the lighter ski (the one with less weight in the turn) inward toward the weighted turning ski. It takes practice to get to this automatic adjustment of your stance on skis. Begin by actively pulling that uphill ski (or light heel) toward the weighted ski when you turn (pull your right ski in as you turn right, etc.)
(Wide-track skiing is characterized by having an even weight mass on both skis).
As a narrow-track skier, you will find it easier to shift your weight from ski to ski in the turns, and your skis will have a smoother ride in both bumps and powder. This weight shift is done smoothly with a minimum of fuss, which is why the discipline is so attractive to watch.
Consider this: Stand with your ankles together and lean first to the left, then to the right. Your weight is shifted comfortably, but it takes a lot more effort to shift the weight if you stand with your ankles wide apart.
Some ski instructors have cut corners and become impatient or plain ol’ lazy. They seek out instant success, and of course, the faster they get students out on the slopes, the better their stats look. From the first day at ski school, instructors teach their students to spread the skis in a wide-track stance.
This teaching starts with the snow-plow (or pizza slice) and is the most practical way of getting a student going but then students are actively encouraged to develop a wide stance since they will fall over less. Perfectly correct…at first. Not the best advice as the skier starts to tackle more difficult terrain – moguls and powder in particular.
Instead of spreading your skis as a sort of security blanket, take the time to develop an efficient narrow stance on skis, shifting your weight from one foot to the other. Developing strong balance rather than relying on a wide, clumsy stance will pay off handsomely.
Be careful to avoid going so narrow that your feet lock together. If you are skiing in powder or on moguls, you need to consider both skis as a single unit, and a narrow stance will help you float in powdery snow and make tight turns around the bumps.
The Wide-Track Stance
When shaped skis were introduced to the skiing world, our skiing stances changed, causing our feet to spread apart and requiring around 60 percent of the pressure on the downhill ski and the balance on the uphill ski. Unlike European instructors, North American instructors and coaches constantly yelled for students to “Widen that stance.”
Since shaped skis have bulbous ends on front and rear, it stands to reason that skiing with your feet together was no longer an option, and many skiers adapted, but the die-hards scoured bargain basements for old-style ‘straight’ skis
Part of the shaped-ski technique revolution was to crouch more, keep your hips low, and move them forward and through the turn.
Skiing is cyclical, and while times have changed, so has ski shape. If you’re on skis that are wider underfoot than 10cm, bringing your feet together while standing tall in transition will result in far smoother turns, a lot more control, and noticeably less weariness.
When your feet are spread apart in a more wide-track stance, you may have experienced those jelly legs as you finish your turns, usually with the inside leg wobbling most. This stance is inefficient and can also cause tiredness after a reasonably short time.
With shaped skis on-piste, you are more stable with a wider stance and can engage both edges equally.
With skiers who prefer a narrow stance with their feet together, combining both skis creates one stable platform from which to work. As you stand taller, you have the leverage to take advantage of the entire surface area under your body.
Skiing with your feet close together and avoiding squatting, reduces weariness, and provides a lot of control, but remember to bring your feet together at the end of the turn for smoother turns.
For “old school” skiers like my friend, here is the best news of all: it’s finally ‘cool’ again to ski with your feet together.
Some skiers, of course, have no interest whatsoever in the debate and desire only to ski rather than talk about skiing. However, as one experienced skier puts it: “It depends on the terrain, your comfort level, and the speed you are looking to ski at.”
He continues, “I ski with my boots rubbing at pretty much every turn and treat each turn as if it was a mogul.”
A narrow stance in the moguls allows both skis to travel through the troughs more easily and help agility and mobility. It provides better float in powdery snow and ensures that both skis track evenly through the same snow conditions. (Not one ski in a trough and one out of it)
“If I am racing,” he continues, “I change to a far wider stance to force my edges down on the turns and thus dig in. In powdery snow, I return to a narrow stance because I need to float more. Choosing a narrow stance in the trees is a good idea too, to reduce the risk of ski tips catching stumps and rocks, etc.”
In racing turns, the distance between the skis appears fairly large, but the width of stance relative to the pelvis remains constant. This is because the inside leg has bent at the knee as the skier moves further inside the turn. As such, the distance between the skis will increase, but the stance width is unchanged. The knees remain close, but the feet are further apart.
Narrow stances are not an old-fashioned method but rather a necessary skill for most terrains, and a wide stance is not a new idea but an option that evolved with ski designs.
It’s clear that everyone has their own opinion, and different things work for different people. Rather than perpetuate this debate, perhaps we simply need to hit the snow for a week or two and get rid of our frustrations…
Faster speeds, bigger turns, and harder snow usually favor a wider stance.
Softer snow, quick short turns, or moguls tend to favor a narrower stance.
Wider = stability
Narrower = Mobility
For elegance and style, and for control around moguls and through powder, there is nothing to beat skiing with your feet together. Downhill racers may widen the gap between skis as they fly around turns, but the stance width remains constant, so they still look terrific as they bomb down.