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THE SNOWPLOUGH (Stem or Wedge)

The author is currently exploring the theory (and practice) that the snowplough/wedge should be sidelined until after a skier has learned to ski parallel, and that a beginner should start to ski on snow with parallel skis - 6 October 2009

Do you remember what it was like the first time you put skis on? Can you remember the first few days of bruises, excitement, and the thrill of uncontrolled speed? I have tried to remember how our instructor got us going but without much luck. I remember his name, and how much he drank at lunchtime, and that he had a very red face in the afternoons, but not much else. If you started a long time ago you probably wonít remember a great deal either, so prepare for reversion therapy! If you started only a short time ago then all this will be instantly familiar.

This section deals with the technique that got you going up to the parallel turn. It is intended as revision so that you can revert to practising it, and thinking about how it works. This will be quite easy as you should have no longer have any restrictive influences such as fear, or badly fitting boots (like you did when you started). It will also give you an idea of how to teach a beginner. It is not for a beginner to use as a manual prior to skiing for the first time, as nothing can do the early learning process justice except to go out onto the slopes and experience the pleasure, terror, and mere sensation of gliding over snow for the first time. I have mentioned elsewhere some very basic guidelines for teaching, so if there is good reason to teach a friend, then do refer back to them.

You really must practise these basic techniques yourself; they will not take a long time to get through - perhaps you can run through some of them in an idle moment waiting for your friends at the bottom of the gondola. They will definitely give you an insight into where your weight is over the skis, what you are doing to steer them, and how you are unweighting them before a turn - useful things to store away for later.



Putting the skis on. Walking around on the flat to feel the skis. Running straight down on the gentlest slope to a natural stop for perhaps 20 metres. Side stepping with small steps to get back up the hill (going a little higher each time). Running straight down again taking step turns to change direction. These exercises can be done with or without poles.

There are many other very useful exercises - the above give a simple idea of early progression.

THE SNOWPLOUGH (Stem or Wedge)

Getting into the snowplough position with the help of the poles. Alternatively, the teacher, running backwards, may hold the tips of the skis to start with. This exercise allows the skier to slide down the slope alternating between braking snowploughs, and straight running. Poles can be held, but the arms should be down by the skier's side, nice and relaxed. The knees should be slightly bent.


This basic turn can be done with or without poles at the start. By leaning over on to one ski while moving in the snowplough position, the weighted ski will turn. The weight is then transferred to the other ski to turn in the opposite direction. It should be emphasised that the weight remains on the outside ski until the next turn, ie the skier gets a feel of continually weighting the downhill ski.

Different instructors use different verbs to describe the snowplough steering action, but the instruction and demonstration must be as simple as possible! I demonstrate with an exaggerated upper body lean over on to the outside ski, sometimes bringing my hand down on to my thigh to point it out, and say 'Steer the ski round'. Others may say, 'Drive the ski round', or 'Push on the outside ski'. One of these will usually work, but there are two problems to look out for.

The first is that the skier tends to transfer his weight back on to the uphill ski as soon as the outside downhill one has made the turn. He then either sits down or else the newly weighted uphill ski slides over the middle of his downhill ski, and he falls flat on his face.

We have all done it and it may indeed happen to you at a later stage when, for example, you are skiing the bumps. It is usually sceptical apprehension rather than fear at this stage, as the brain refuses to believe that the correct inclination is for the upper body to lean out and down the hill. It usually irons itself out after a bit of mileage, and quite often only happens when turning one way. This is due to one hemisphere of the brain being more dominant than the other, or something like that.

The second problem is not as serious but can lead to worse faults later. The body is temporarily frozen into a catatonic state with arms akimbo, and poles pointing rigidly skywards or in some other direction. The skier must be encouraged to hold his hands loosely by his side. The rest of his body should then follow suit and relax.

As he skis faster there will be less weight needed on the steering ski. It is most important to chose the slope carefully. It should be wide and gentle with as few people on it as possible.

Just in case you canít wait till you have read my later advice on how to instruct a beginner and want to experiment with these turns on a victim now then please remember this:

Instructions should be minimal, and it should be remembered that demonstration will usually have more effect on a beginner's progress than the spoken word.

It is especially important not to increase the confusion in a beginner's brain, as that will be happening quite naturally already as he tries to come to terms with his strange predicament!


The early learning process has been developed to produce order out of chaos. The various stages of turning methods have been compartmentalised into specific manoeuvres - the Snowplough, the Stem Turn, the Stem Christie, and the Parallel Christie.

Most instructors realise fairly early in their careers that chaos and confusion usually dominate beginnersí thought processes, and a regimented structure of teaching does not always achieve the desired results. Indeed, some pupils need no instruction at all. I once took two thirty-year-old beginners in the Austrian Alps. I was struggling with the clips on one pupil's boots when the other impatiently decided to ski off alone. He wobbled down the slope in a semi crouch, flailing a bit with his arms, in a reasonable imitation of a Snowplough. By the time he had mastered the chairlift (about five minutes), he had crashed though the Stem Turn barrier and was doing an acceptable Stem Christie, which he has maintained for the past fifteen years.

The fact that he was my brother probably had something to do with his impatience, but it had taken me three days as a beginner in the ski school to get to the stage he had reached in less than an hour, without a word of instruction!

I appear to be digressing but the point is that our intrepid snowploughing beginner does not necessarily need to be bothered with the specific stages if his technique, however crude, appears to be advancing naturally. He may already be doing a wishy-washy Stem Turn.

The Stem Turn involves little more than sliding the uphill unweighted ski in to being roughly parallel with the weighted downhill ski after a turn. The uphill ski is slid in after the downhill ski has crossed the fall line (the steepest part of the slope), and it enables the skier to experience traversing without having to do it in the snowplough position. The weight must be kept on the lower ski at all times, and this should be encouraged as there will still be a tendency for the skier to lean back and into the hill. He may also be lifting the inside ski in to join the other; this is no bad thing as it forces him to put his weight on to the lower ski, and will probably change to a slide in due course.


The Stem Christie combines a stem and a christie, would you believe, the christie bit involving a little unweighting and bringing the skis parallel for the majority of the turn. The stem is used to start the turn, and before reaching the fall line the unweighted ski is slid in parallel to the other to provide the christie finish. At the start of the turn a pole plant is usually incorporated in order to germinate the seeds of anticipation, angulation, and a minimal unweighting movement.

From a traverse the outside ski is moved into the stem position. At the same time the skier bends slightly at the knees and hips and plants the opposite pole just back from the tip of his inside ski. As the weighted stemmed ski approaches the fall line the skier rises up. The inside ski is brought in parallel as the skier rises up. At his stage the turn becomes a christie as the initially stemmed ski has now become partially unweighted by the up movement. It continues to turn across the fall line, and from his somewhat upright stance the skier drops down again for the next pole plant.

This is the theory, but in practice it is quite difficult to combine a pole plant with one side of the body and a stem with the other. If the pupil finds it too difficult, the pole plant can be passed over until practising the Christie and Christie stop.

There is, however, a major problem with the Stem Christie as a skier can become a victim of its very success. It is a reasonably uncomplicated turn to master in its basic form without a pole plant, ie just a quick stem to get the ski started in the turn, and a sliding in of the inside ski soon after. Once mastered in this form it becomes the mainstay of most skiers' repertoire. As the mileage increases, the upper ski will slide in almost immediately after a minimal stem has started to turn the lower ski. It then looks like a parallel (christie) turn. Even if a pole plant has been learnt at the start it is soon discarded, as there is no technical reason to plant the pole because the weighted ski is being steered round with a stem. Once the pole plant has been dispensed with, there is no angulation, which means less work, and a skier can quite happily spend the rest of his life tooling down well groomed pistes in the sunshine without a care in the world apart from being late for the lunchtime rendezvous.

The Stem Christie should be the end of the beginning, and the aim of this book is to convert some of the thousands of skiers who may have been using it for years to the exciting world beyond.


The Parallel Turn (or Christie as it used to be known) is the final turn that most beginners learn in ski schools. Although not used a great deal by people who have discovered the Bog Standard Plough (Stem) Parallel and stuck to it, it is nevertheless excellent grounding for more advanced technique. Its simple difference to the aforementioned turn is that there is no initiating stem*. The skis are parallel all the time and are unweighted by a slow down and up slow motion.

*It is possible to turn your skis while straight running with a rotation of first one thigh and then almost immediately afterwards the other other. For example, you want to turn left so you rotate the right thigh in the direction you want to go, ie: anti clockwise, and then the left thigh in the same way. To turn right, you would rotate the left thigh to the right (clockwise) and then the right thigh. In theory this is an initiated stem, but it looks and feels like a parallel turn as there is the barest minimum of a stem.

Let's get back to the three preliminary exercises. The first is the parallel traverse with the skis alternating between flat running with the skier standing upright, and slight angulation into the slope to put the skis on their edges. This is quite difficult for a beginner, but gives him the feel of the snow sliding under the skis as he goes both sideways and forwards with the flat running, and a basic feel of edging when he angulates. If the edging is too difficult it can be overlooked at this stage.

The second exercise is the christie stop, which involves a slow straight run down the fall line. The skier angulates directly over the skis as he goes down to put the pole in, and comes up around the pole. The pole plant, which is important, goes in between the front of his boot and the tip of the ski, thereby encouraging him to get his weight forward at the start of the turn. As he turns across the fall line the skis brake by side slipping on the snow. Plenty of weight is kept on the lower ski. This should also be practised on the other traverse.

The last exercise is alternate pole plants while stationary. The pole plant is crucial; it makes the skier go down and come up in order to unweight the skis. Some teachers also try to make their pupils jump the backs of the skis off the ground as they come up. It is quite energetic and hopefully does not last for long.

The parallel turn can now be tried on the move, going down to plant the pole, up and round it, and then down to plant the other pole to prepare for the next turn. A few turns should be linked together to provide a basic rhythm. The major fault is not weighting the lower ski enough at the end of the turn, as most pupils tend to lean too much towards the pole plant and somehow stay there. This should be discouraged!

There is also a tendency for the upper body to remain square over the skis. I don't consider this worth correcting until a skier begins to turn his upper body into the slope, although there are gurus, especially in Austria, who still advocate a definite upper body facing down the hill position even when the basic parallel is interspersed with quite long traverses. It is worth encouraging a skier to keep his uphill ski a few centimetres in front of his downhill ski on a traverse as this does discourage the upper body from turning inwards.

This then is the early learning process. Hopefully it has reminded you what it was like at the start, and given you some idea of what you are doing now. By analyzing the basic movements learnt by a beginner, you will be well briefed for what follows.





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