Parallel Skiing: The Ultimate Guide

Last Updated on March 25, 2021 by James

Parallel skiing is often seen as one of the yardsticks that ski ability is measured against. It’s important for a reason, so in this article we are going to provide everything you need to know about how to ski parallel.

Perfecting your basic parallel turns is an important part of skiing. Correct technique at this stage is a necessary stepping-stone to skiing more advanced terrain and improved performance.

Throughout this guide, we will give you the most honest technical advice direct from the ski teaching source. We aim to cut through the noise and focus on the facts.

What Is Parallel Skiing?

Parallel skiing is the ability to perform all aspects of skiing with your skis side-by-side (or parallel).

When people refer to ‘skiing parallel’, they are usually referring to the ability to perform turns and stop while keeping the skis side-by-side (aka: parallel turns).

When people say they can parallel ski, they are usually referring to the ability to turn and stop with their skis remaining parallel throughout.

Skier Parallel Skiing
Parallel Skiing Involves Keeping Your Skis Side-By-Side

Why Is Parallel Skiing Effective?

Parallel skiing is about more than just looking good!

When compared with snow plough turns, skiing parallel has multiple advantages that prove to make your skiing more effective, efficient and controlled.

Shorter Turn Radius

Skiing parallel will allow you to produce a significantly shorter turn radius than a snow plough turn.

When skiing in a snow plough, weight on the inside ski is blocking the path of the outside (turning) ski. This means that the skis are slower to initiate a turn.

The weight from your inside ski is removed when skiing parallel, allowing the outside ski to turn without being impeded. This leads to a shorter (and quicker) turn.

Less time spent facing down the slope, using short turn, allows for better speed control. Once you can better control speed, you have the ability to ski more challenging terrain.

Parallel Skier Turning
Skiing Parallel Allows You To Have A Tighter Turn Shape

Less Tiring

Skiing in snow plough is tiring.

Snow plough skiing is designed to cause resistance, allowing beginner skiers to control their speed (among other things). However, constantly skiing against resistance can cause your muscles to quickly fatigue.

Parallel skiing keeps your ski’s pointing in the direction of travel at all times. This removes the resistance caused by the plough shape.

Faster Stopping

Using a snow plough to stop is not always effective, especially when the terrain gets steeper. In fact, once you’re away from the beginner areas, it’s often only possible to stop by turning across the slope.

However, parallel skiing offers a much quicker way to stop. The ‘hockey stop’ (parallel stop).

Unlike with a snow plough, stopping with your skis parallel is quick and effective.

Parallel Skier Performing A Hockey Stop
Parallel Stopping Is Certainly Effective

Better Ski Edge Grip

Using a snow plough limits the amount of edge angle you can gain from the ski.

Due to the body position of a snow plough shape, your legs do not have the ability to create angle (and therefore grip) on the skis.

Skiing parallel releases your legs to tilt and gain more edge angle on the skis. This in turn allows you to improve grip on the snow, resulting in improved control of speed and line.

How To Parallel Turn (Explanation)

First, we are going to walk through the technique involved in completing a basic parallel turn.

Basic parallel turns are suitable for anyone from parallel beginners up to advanced skiers who want to perfect their technique.

Ski Skiing Parallel Down The Ski Slope
Everyone Needs Basic Parallel Turns

Initiate The Turn

You will approach the turn facing across the slope. When coming across the slope, your weight will be on the ski furthest down the hill.

When you’re ready to initiate the turn, the first step will be to transfer your weight onto the new turning ski (currently uphill). In order to transfer your weight, you will need to extend upwards onto the new turning ski (outside ski).

When extending upwards, make sure you extend onto the front (or balls) of your feet. This will help to keep you balanced over the centre of the ski and moving down the slope.

Parallel Turn Initiation
Extend Into The First Section Of Your Turn

When you extend upwards, your centre of mass (and hips) will come across the skis, allowing you to balance on the new turning ski.

As your centre of mass comes across to the new turning ski, it will naturally begin to turn. With the weight removed from the inside ski, it can be steered to follow the path of the outside (turning) ski.

You will have reached the middle of the turn once you’re facing down the hill. At this stage, you should be at full upward extension.

Control Through The Middle Of The Turn

Progressing around the arc of the turn, you will reach the point of maximum extension when you are facing down the slope. This is the middle of the turn.

Once you reach the middle of the turn, it’s time to start flexing down onto the outside ski.

When you begin to flex downwards, you will notice that the outside ski will begin to gain some edge grip. This is due to the angle created on the ski’s, allowing the inside edge of the outside ski to ‘stick’ to the snow.

At this point, you should feel the skis begin to take you around a natural turn arc.

Parallel Ski Turn
Begin To Flex Downwards And Achieve Some Edge Grip

Complete The Turn

Once you have started to flex downwards, you will come into the final section of the turn. You will notice that you carry the most speed during the turn completion stage.

Maintain your balance on the outside ski and allow the skis to progress around the turn.

At this stage, you might notice that your body comes further inside the arc of the turn. This is natural and allows the skis to gain more edge grip. However, weight must be maintained predominantly on the outside ski.

Once the turn is complete, you will finish facing across the hill. At this point, you should be fully flexed onto the downhill ski.

With the turn now complete, you can start extending onto your new turning ski to begin the next turn.

Skiing Parallel Turn
Upper Body Might Come Inside The Arc During Parallel Turn Completion

How To Parallel Turn (Step-By-Step)

  1. Initiate the turn. Extending upwards onto the outside ski completes this first step. At this stage, your centre of mass will start to move over the new turning ski.
  2. Both skis start to turn. Your outside ski will begin to turn naturally due to the added pressure. Your un-weighted inside ski can be steered around the turn, matching the path of the outside ski.
  3. Facing down the slope. You have now reached the middle of the turn. At this point, you should be fully extended onto the outside ski.
  4. Downwards flex begins. Begin downwards onto the outside ski. Weight remains on the outside ski and you might feel the inside edge begin to gain some grip.
  5. Edge angle and grip achieved. Slight increase in speed allows upper body to come inside the turn arc. This allows the skis to come onto their inside edges. The inside edge of the outside ski grips to produce a natural rounded turn.
  6. Turn Completion And Transition. Once you are at the end of your chosen turn arc, you will be at maximum downward flex. You can now begin to extend onto the new turning ski to initiate the next turn.

Parallel Skiing Weight Distribution

One of the most important aspects of parallel skiing performance is weight distribution.

Distributing your weight correctly allows you to maintain balance while applying pressure to the skis in order to achieve your desired outcome.

Parallel Skiing Weight Distribution
Weight Distribution Is Very Important For Parallel Performance

Initiation And Control Phase

During a parallel turn, you will need to balance your weight on the outside ski from the beginning of the turn. This means that during your initial extend movement, almost all of your weight is already on the turning ski.

With your centre of mass positioned towards the outside ski, your inside ski should have as little weight as possible. This will allow for steering/rotation to match the turning ski, resulting in a parallel turn.

Parallel Skiing Turn
You Should Balance On The Outside Ski During Turn Initiation

Control And Completion Phase

Once facing down the slope, you will begin to flex down into the completion stage of the turn. During this stage, you will find that your centre of mass can come slightly inside the arc of the turn.

With speed slightly increased through the completion stage, forces acting upon you allow retention of balance while still tilting inside the turn to gain edge angle.

Parallel Turn
Balance through the control phase

Progression Of Parallel Skiing Weight Distribution

You will notice that as your confidence and ability increases, your speed will do the same.

When completing a slow (basic) parallel turn, you will need to keep your centre of mass over the skis to remain balanced. This often leads to a flatter ski due to lack of edge angle, which usually results in a ‘skiddy’ turn.

When speed is increased, the forces acting upon you (centripetal force) will allow you to bring your centre of mass inside the turn arc. This means you can gain ski edge angle while still maintaining your balance against the skis.

Higher speed and edge angle can lead to increased grip while still achieving a tight turn radius.

Higher Speed Will Allow For More Edge Angle

Parallel Skiing Tips

Remain Patient At The Beginning Of The Turn

Good parallel skiing will always use a rounded ‘S’ or ‘C’ turn shape. In order to achieve a rounded arc, it’s necessary to steer the skis evenly around the whole turn.

It’s important to remain patient during the turn initiation. Correct use of weight distribution, and therefore pressure, will help the ski to complete a natural rounded arc.

It is possible to use some rotation or steering at this stage when necessary. However, avoid over rotation as this will lead to a ‘hockey stop’ or ‘Z’ shaped turn.

Keep Your Weight Centred Over The Skis

When you’re steering your skis around a parallel turn, you should feel like the ski tips are leading the tails. This means your weight needs to be over the middle of your skis, which is underneath the balls of your feet.

Throughout your parallel turn; you should be flexing, extending, steering and rotating from underneath the balls of your feet.  

This will keep your fore/aft balance centred, allow for correct weight distribution and provide you with a great platform to achieve a high performance technique.

Parallel Turning Skier
Stay Centred Over Your Skis Throughout The Turn

Use The Shape Of The Ski

Modern skis are designed to help you turn. When looking at a ski, you will see it is curved on either side. This is called a ‘side cut’.

The side cut of the ski is arc shaped, meaning it’s designed to take you through a rounded turn arc. Applying pressure to the edge of the ski will make this happen.

If you are a parallel skiing beginner, you are likely to find your parallel turns are still very ‘skiddy’. However, as your ability improves, you will find yourself achieving higher amounts of edge angle and grip to make the ski work for you.

Aim For Flow

A flowing performance is often an overlooked part of skiing. The emphasis of achieving parallel skiing is usually around specific technical movements.

However, it’s important to tie all of the movements together to produce consistent and effective skiing. This means you need to focus on the timing of your movements.

When parallel skiing, you should aim to be constantly moving. This means your vertical movements should be at a consistent and gradual speed to mirror the timing of your turns.

Flow is a big part of what gives your skiing style. We all want to look good, right? Share on X
Parallel Skier On Ski Slope
Aim For Flow If You Want To Look Good!

Train On The Right Terrain

Skiing suitable terrain for your ability level is a key component to learning parallel skiing technique.

Hopefully, if you have a good ski instructor, they will help you to establish the best slope on which to improve your technique!

Pick terrain that is safely within your ability level and practice your technique until you can parallel turn consistently. Only once consistent should you attempt to increase the gradient of the slope.

If you try to ski terrain that is too difficult, you will always hamper your long-term development.

Parallel Skier Off-Piste
Don’t Ski Powder Until You’re Capable. If Your Capable Now, Then Click Here For Our Top Powder Skiing Tips

Parallel Skiing Drills

Practicing drills can be a great way to improve your parallel skiing. They allow you to get the feeling for movements required in ski technique.

Drills force you to do movements that can be difficult to adapt to during normal skiing. They usually involve putting you in difficult positions in order to exaggerate the skill you are trying to learn and bring you out of your comfort zone.

Lifting The Inside Ski

Releasing weight from the inside ski is usually the issue that keeps learners plough turning longer than they would hope. To force weight change on to the outside ski, you can practice by lifting the inside ski off the snow completely.

At first, you should begin by ‘tapping’ (lifting and dropping) the inside ski as you turn. When competent with this, you should then aim to hold the inside ski up for the duration of the turn.

Once you can turn on just the outside ski, you will have learned the weight distribution skills needed to improve your parallel skiing.

Parallel Skiing Drill
Practicing Lifting The Inside Ski Can Improve Your Skiing

Jump Turns

Jumping during the turn is another parallel skiing drill than can help to straighten your skis and improve your balance.

When completing this drill, you should aim to jump into the beginning of the turn. This means that you are jumping through the majority of the initiation turn phase and landing with your skis pointing down the slope to complete the turn.

With the jump acting as the turn initiation, it will help to improve your vertical extension movement. Also, if you are at the beginner stage of parallel skiing, it will make sure there is no snow plough during the first part of the turn.

Hint: When you jump, your skis will naturally stay parallel. It’s unlikely you will hold a snow plough in mid air!

Once confident, you can move the timing of your jump to simulate removing pressure from the skis at different times during the turn. This will also help prepare you for the variable snow conditions you might face when your ability improves.

Pole Planting During A Parallel Turn

How To Use A Pole Plant

Using your ski poles will become increasingly important as your technique improves. In order to progress your parallel turns, you will need to use an effective pole plant.

You should aim to plant your pole during the initiation of the turn. Pole planting will signal your vertical upwards movement.

When you plant your pole, aim for it to touch the snow towards the front corner of your inside ski. This means that you should feel like you’re skiing around your planted pole.

Pole planting should be done rhythmically, meaning it is part of the initiation of each turn you complete. Once the pole is planted, it will naturally release from the snow as you progress around the turn.

You should only need to use your wrist to complete the pole planting movement, meaning your arms should remain in front of you at all times.

Parallel Skier Pole Planting
Aim Your Pole Plant Forwards

Why Pole Planting Improves Your Parallel Skiing

  • Support during extend movement. Pole planting will help you to gain extra balancing support during your parallel turn initiation.
  • Timing aid. Timing your pole plant correctly will help to improve the timing of your movements.
  • Posture correction. Aiming your pole plant down the slope will help to keep you centred over your skis. It will help your upper body to keep moving down the slope.
Parallel Skier Pole Planting
Use Your Wrist To Pole Plant At The Initiation Of Your Turn

Progressing To Dynamic Parallel Turns

When your ability to perform basic parallel turns becomes consistent, you should be aiming for a more dynamic skiing performance. Dynamic parallel turns are an advanced version of the basic parallel turn.

Making your skiing more dynamic will involve better management of force and improved use of the ski.

When speed increases, it’s possible to gain greater edge angle. This is due to centripetal force.

Centripetal force is the force acting upon us that allows you to incline inside the arc of a turn while still staying balanced. This means that with this force, we can lean inwards to gain edge angle.

Dynamic Parallel Turn
Dynamic Parallel Turns Allow You To Come Inside The Arc

When skiing at higher speed, higher amounts of force are created, allowing us to come further inside the turn arc. This results in more edge angle.

In gaining more force and edge angle, we are then able to use the shape of the ski further to our advantage. This force and angle allows us to ‘bend’ the ski more, producing a tighter turn.

When skiing dynamically, you can expect the tail of the ski to follow the tip, producing clean lines in the snow. Dynamic parallel turns are a natural progression of ski technique and are a sign of high performance.

Parallel Skiing Vs. Carving

What Is Carving?

Carving is a more advanced version of parallel skiing that is generally used by more advanced skiers and performed at higher speed.

The skills attained during basic parallel skiing are improved upon when learning carving.

Carving refers to using only the shape of the ski to control speed and line. This means that you are using pressure to affect the skis.

When looking at the ski, you will see that the sides of the ski are curved. This is known as the ‘side cut’. Carving takes full advantage of this side cut, using it as the sole method of turning.

Dynamic parallel turn

Each ski will have a different amount of side cut. This means that each ski has its own ‘side cut radius’. This is the size of the natural arc the ski will travel around when turning.

When pressure is applied to this edge, it will take you round a natural turn arc. When more pressure is applied, the ski bends. This increases side cut curve, which in turn produces a shorter turn radius.

During carving, you can expect two clean lines in the snow. This is a ‘gripping’ turn, not a ‘skidding’ turn.

Is Carving Better Than Basic Parallel Skiing?

Carving is a technique that can produce higher speeds. This is because the ski edges ‘cutting’ through the snow produce less friction through the turn.

Less friction means more speed. Share on X
Parallel Skiing Vs. Carving
Ski Racers Use Carving To Maintain Speed Through The Turn

Although carving uses a generally more advanced skill level and technique, that does not necessarily mean it’s better than any other type of turn. Every type of parallel turn has its own necessity based on the speed and line required.

If higher speed is required (e.g. on shallow terrain), then carving will be the most suitable option. However, steeper or variable terrain may require more rotation or skid to control speed through the turn.

If you want to ski at a high level, be sure to practice all elements of parallel skiing technique so you can use a blend of your skills based on the terrain you are skiing.

Parallel Carving Turn
Try To Use A Blend Of All The Parallel Turning Skills

Parallel Skiing Mistakes

Pushing The Skis Side-To-Side

‘Pushing’ the skis is most common parallel skiing mistake on the mountain.

Pushing refers the act of rotating the skis in order to create a skid. This is done rhythmically on each side, designed to appear (to the untrained eye) like the skier is turning.

However, the skier is in fact not actually turning. In this case, the skier is performing a series of ‘stops’ or ‘skids’ in order to control their speed.

When parallel skiing is performed in this way, you will notice that the turns are ‘Z’ shaped rather than ‘S’ shaped.

In order to complete a rounded turn, this often means remaining patient whilst turning the full arc. If it’s necessary to produce a short turn radius, this can be done through a combination of edge, pressure and rotation.

Pushing the skis is common on steeper terrain. It’s important to use a short turn radius to control speed on steep slopes.

If the skier does not have the required ability to perform the necessary short turn, they will often use high amounts of rotation to limit the time spent facing down the slope. This results in pushing the skis.

Parallel Skiing Down The Mountain
Don’t Be A Pusher, Be A Turner!

Mini Snow Plough At The Start Of The Turn

Another common issue in basic parallel skiing is the appearance of a mini ‘triangle’ at the beginning of the turn.

Skiing parallel requires you to balance on the outside ski for the duration of the turn. The most difficult time to balance on the outside ski is at the beginning of the turn.

If you leave too much weight on the inside ski during the turn initiation, the skis will form a small ‘snow plough’. This is due to the outside ski starting to turn, but the inside ski being too ‘heavy’ to rotate and follow its path.

If you ski in this way, the inside ski will be blocking the outside ski. This causes a slower turn initiation, which can lead to problems controlling speed.

If the first part of your turn is slower, you will be facing down the hill for longer. When this happens, it can be difficult to control your speed.

This is increasingly problematic when the terrain gets steeper.

In order to initiate the turn with parallel skis, focus on improving your balance over the outside ski from the beginning of the turn.

Parallel Skiing Turn
Mini Snow Plough Is A Common Parallel Problem!

Trying To Force Pressure Onto The Outside Ski

When you are learning parallel skiing, you are often told to pressure the outside ski. This is true, but it can also be misunderstood.

There are two methods of applying pressure; balance and force. When completing basic parallel turns, we should be focussing on balance.

In this case, balancing refers to holding as much of your bodyweight as possible on the outside ski.

With our weight balanced on the outside ski, pressure is naturally applied onto the turning ski. Furthermore, the weight is also removed from the inside ski at the same time.

A common mistake is for the skier to try applying pressure on the outside ski by pushing down on their outside foot.

This common parallel skiing mistake can force the outside ski to be displaced sideways. If the outside ski is pushed sideways, it can cause the appearance of a small snow plough, loss of balance and loss of control.

Remain Balanced On The Outside Ski

Leaning Back Too Much

Leaning back is a mistake that is evident in ski resorts across the world. The importance of skiing posture is something that is stressed from your first day skiing, but is also one of the most common issues.

Fore/aft (forwards and backwards) balance is something that is sometimes overlooked when analysing the behavioural issues of the skis during a parallel turn.

If you lean back, your weight will be placed onto your heels and the tails of the skis will be pressurised. This leads to the inside ski getting ‘stuck’, meaning it cannot rotate to follow the outside ski.

Leaning back can also force you to push the back of the skis sideways to produce a ‘parallel turn’. However, this is not really a turn and is a perfect example of ‘pushing’ the skis sideways.

Parallel Skiing Skier
Don’t Get Stuck In The Back Seat!

Vertical Movements Are Incorrect

Whether you are new to parallel skiing, or more experienced, the timing and efficiency of your vertical (flex and extend) movements are going to have a big impact on your parallel skiing performance.

Vertical movements play a big part in achieving a parallel turn. They allow you to balance on the outside ski, shift your weight during the turn transition and help to manage the forces acting upon you while skiing.

The most common vertical movement mistake is to extend up or flex down too quickly. This can lead to the skier being static in-between quick movements.

Poor timing of movements leads to a loss of balance, lack of pressure control and generally a poor skiing style!

In order to achieve an effective and flowing performance, you should aim for consistent extend and flex movements throughout the turn.

Aim for gradual and flowing movements. You should be moving up or down throughout the whole turn – not static.

Parallel Turn
Don’t End Up Standing Still, Aim For Flowing Movements!

Poor Pole Planting

Pole planting is a skill that seems easy in theory but is used incorrectly by many. The importance of pole planting is often underrated when discussing parallel skiing technique.

A well-timed and accurate pole plant will improve your balance, aid your timing and help your posture by keeping your upper body moving down the slope.

One common mistake is pole planting too late in the turn. This disrupts your vertical movements and can negatively affect your balance on the outside ski – leading to the skis opening into a small wedge shape.

Aim to initiate your parallel turn by pole planting. This will give you the balance and timing to begin your movement onto the outside ski early; leading to successful parallel skiing.

Parallel Skiing Pole Planting
Initiate Your Turn With A Good Pole Plant

Lifting The Inside Foot

This is another mistake you will frequently see on the mountain. It’s especially prominent on steep terrain, where a short turn radius is required.

If the skier is incapable of balancing enough weight on the outside ski, the inside ski will block the skis from producing a short parallel turn.

Many skiers force sufficient weight onto the outside ski by lifting up their inside foot. This usually results in a very quick ski rotation, allowing the skier to control their speed.

Parallel Ski Turn
Unless It’s A Drill, Lifting Your Inside Foot Is Cheating!

This is an inefficient way to ski and works to produce a series of ‘skids’, rather than turns.

In order to solve this issue, the first piece of advice would be to work on progressing your technique using shallower terrain.

Next, focus on improving your body positioning to gain effective balance on the outside ski. This will make the inside ski light enough to follow or rotate without the need to be lifted.

Once the correct technique is achieved on a basic slope, it can then be practiced on more challenging terrain.

Summing Up

Parallel skiing is often seen as the goal for many. However, it’s only effective when performed with proper technique!

Perfecting the basics of parallel skiing will provide an excellent platform to take your skiing to the next level.

Always focus on proper technique and you will reap the rewards in the long run!

What are the challenges you have faced during your journey to achieve parallel perfection? Let us know in the comments below.