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Turn With Your Toes, Not Your Nose

HoliMont-EntranceHoliMont Snowsports School

By Dan Balkin

Sounds catchy, eh? I threw in the “eh” because this tip comes to us courtesy of some Canadian friends. This is only fitting, because roughly half of the skiers in our fair town hail from Canada. This is actually third-hand ski advice. I got it from Josh Foster (via YouTube), and Josh Foster credited someone named Johnny Brown for giving him this tip. Josh Foster is a Canadian Level IV ski instructor (translation of Level IV Canadian: Canadian ski god).

Josh is also the ski school director at a destination resort called Big White, near Kelowna, British Columbia. I love to watch Josh’s ski tips on YouTube. Sure, there are minor differences in philosophy, technique and teaching progressions between the American and Canadian ski instruction systems, but that really doesn’t matter. High-level skiers anywhere can tip their shaped skis on edge and rip crisp carved turns, but they can also do more — a lot more.

To ski in bumps, powder, broken snow and on steeps, all mountain skiers must also know how to turn their legs. As a matter of fact, elegant free skiing, even on gentler slopes, always involves both edging the skis and turning the legs. Therefore, this tip is really for everyone. So, let’s break the tip down into its two parts. First, we’ll talk about the meaning of “turn with your toes.”

Josh’s tip “turn with your toes” is really about making ski turns with your entire lower body (feet and legs). In other words, if we turn all 10 toes down the slope, we must also turn our legs. Simply said — in terms of skiing — your lower body consists of everything from the bottom of your feet up to the two balls of bone and cartilage (femoral heads) that connect your legs with your hip sockets.

Try this: Stand on one foot and rotate your other foot 180 degrees (a half circle) around the planted foot WITHOUT moving your hips. The foot and leg that are swinging in the half circle can do this because the “ball” (femoral head) that attaches your leg to your hip socket is rotating or turning — that is the lower body at work. If you watch YouTube ski tip videos, you will note that great skiers constantly talk about upper and lower body separation. Essentially, this means that you make ski turns with your lower body, not your upper body.

What is Josh implying not to do by saying “turn with your toes”? He doesn’t want us to throw our heels sideways to turn our skis — that promotes skidded turns. By focusing on turning all 10 toes DOWN the hill, you are far more likely to make round, elegant turns that blend the skills of edging the skis and steering the legs.

That said, what is this business about the “nose”? In this ski adage, Josh is using the term “nose” as a metaphor for the entire upper body. In terms of skiing, the upper body consists of your hips, torso, head and arms. Basically, Josh is saying that if we twist our upper body to the right to turn right, our “nose” will also twist to the right with our upper body. That is a classic skiing error that compromises our balance.

In summary, the old instructor phrase, “you ski with your legs and you balance with your upper body,” is particularly evident in this tip. Your upper body should be steady and unflappable as you ski, and that allows you to turn your feet and legs under a steady and quiet upper body.  When thinking about this tip while skiing, I literally think about turning my toes (lower body) under and around my “nose” (a stable upper body).  Like most great ski tips, it’s simple but effective. If this tip has whetted your interest in a lesson, I suggest that you follow the mantra of the world-class skiers on the PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) Demo Team: “Next time you’re at your local ski area, be safe, have fun, and go with a pro.”

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