Learning how to snowboard demands your attention. It’s no surprise that learning the basics of snowboarding can be challenging. Finding stability on a very thin steel edge while being strapped to a snowboard tests your balance and patience. Once you learn how to properly balance on your heel and toe edges, you’re ready to learn how to turn.
Practicing Your Stance: Regular vs. Goofy
Once you have the ability to traverse left and right across the ski slope on your heels and toes, you’ll want to determine if you will be a regular or goofy rider. Take no offense to these labels. It’s simply meant to distinguish if you ride with your left (regular) or right (goofy) foot forward.
By now, you should feel more comfortable with one foot forward. If you don’t feel a difference between the two, get a friend to stand behind you and give you a slight push while you stand on your feet. Whichever leg moves forward to stabilize you is most likely your dominant foot.
If you still don’t know which leg should be your dominant foot, you can start practicing turning with both and see which one feels more natural. It’s easy to switch when learning how to turn, but you want to choose one foot to develop before learning how to ride switched. Movements like traversing with introducing lower body rotation could help you determine which leg feels better in front.
Anatomy of a Turn: The Importance of Edge Control
What do those steel edges on the snowboard actually do? Well, it turns out they are responsible for controlling the snowboard’s speed and direction. They can also be responsible for some painful crashes if you happen to catch the wrong edge while riding.
Edge control is something most riders develop prior to turning. Changing the angle of your edge in the snow causes a different amount of hold and control. The larger angle from flat will create more bite allowing turns to be tighter and sharper. The timing of setting your edge is something that can be worked on when learning how to turn too.
Initially, you’ll be setting your edge when the snowboard points directly down the slope. As your balance and skills improve, you’ll learn how to set your edge much earlier in the movement, which will aid in stronger control at higher speeds.
Utilizing Body Movements to Turn on a Snowboard
It’s no surprise that turning on a snowboard will require some sort of body rotation to initiate and control the snowboard. Although a lot of people think rotation comes from the upper body, it is the lower body that controls the majority of the rotation needed when turning. Through the shifting of weight and rotation of the hips, knees and feet, turning on a snowboard can be executed and controlled.
An excellent exercise to try to practice lower body rotation prior to learning to turn is an isolation exercise I used to teach my clients.
- With your snowboard on, sit on your bottom with your knees bent and your hands planted on the ground holding your upper body up.
- Try to turn your feet left and right in your bindings. Your feet will not move because they are locked in your bindings. However, your knees will rotate.
- Slightly raise your bottom off the ground and repeat the same rotation with your feet. You should now notice your hips rotate along with your knees.
- Play around with moving all three body parts in unison. This rotation is what you want to focus on when you turn.
Now that you have an idea of what the lower body should be doing, we can talk about the upper body. Our upper body needs to move with the lower body. When turning, you always want to keep your shoulders in line with your snowboard. This helps your spine stay straight and limit counter rotations, which affects the speed and power of your turns. Arms can be stretched out for balance, with your front arm pointing in the direction you’d like to go.
Prior to learning how to turn, we can practice a few different dynamic exercises to get comfortable with the rotation needed to turn. These include
Power Pendulum – traversing left and right on the slope while slightly rotating the snowboard more downhill and back perpendicular across the slope to develop rotation and braking control.
Mustache Turns – similar to the power pendulum, just repeating the exercise multiple times on a wider slope.
Chicken Turns (J-turns) – Aiming to rotate the snowboard straight down the slope and then back perpendicular across the slope. Develops more rotation, control and gets you comfortable with a bit more speed.
Make sure to practice these on your heel and toe edges so that when you’re ready to turn, you’ll have some experience rotating on both edges. Rotating on your toe edge can be intimidating because you’re facing up the slope and unable to see what’s behind you. Practice makes perfect, so don’t skip this just because it’s more difficult.
The Role of Speed in Snowboard Turning
Turning at different speeds will affect the amount of movement you make with your body. The speed you’re turning at affects the amount of force you put into those movements. Even things like balance will be affected at different speeds.
Slower Speed Turns
When executing turns at slower speeds, you will spend a lot more time in the turn, which will translate to having to balance a lot longer on your edges. Just like riding a bicycle, it is harder to balance during a turn at slower speeds than at higher speeds. Slower speed turns will also require a lot more lower body movement to translate into rotation. Turning at slower speeds is more difficult, but it helps to develop the lower body rotation and balance which will improve your riding, especially at higher speeds.
Higher Speed Turns
Making turns at higher speeds means faster turns using more power. All that balance and lower body rotation you practiced transitions into pushing into your snowboard more aggressively with control.
At higher speeds, you will actually need less rotational movement to force changes in direction which will feel much different than slower turns. What will change is how much you are required to bend and extend your knees in your turns. This helps with pushing the snowboard into the slope as your snowboard gains speed throughout a turn. It’s a tactic used to generate more edge hold.
Putting It All Together: A Step-By-Step Guide to Turning on a Snowboard
Learning how to turn can be broken into several different steps that help control body movement, edge transition and rotation. There will be slight variations to note when turning on the heelside edge versus the toeside edge. After practicing on each edge, you can progress into S-Turns, which is essentially linking heelside and toeside turns!
I like to break turns into three different steps outlined below. Whether you want to practice a heelside or toeside turn, you will start on the opposite edge.
- Initiation – from the opposite edge, shifting weight slightly towards the nose to help point the snowboard down the slope
- Set Your Edge – shifting weight over the edge you will be turning on
- Rotation – rotating the hips, knees and feet in the direction you are turning in
Now, let’s dive into how to actually perform your first beginner turns.
The Beginner Turn (Heelside)
Start on your toeside edge and begin traversing across the slope. Your initiation of the turn will happen by placing a bit more weight on your front foot. Combined with looking over your front shoulder, you should feel the snowboard begin to rotate down the slope.
Next, as your snowboard rotates down the slope, you want to get the snowboard base flat on the snow by shifting your weight from your toes to the flats of your feet. A flat base ensures you’re not going to catch an edge when rotating.
When the snowboard base is flat, and your snowboard is pointing directly down the slope, it’s time to set the new edge. In this case, it will be your heel edge. Shift your body weight on your heels and slightly bend your knees like you’re about to sit down on a chair. You should feel your calves pressing against the highbacks of the bindings.
Once your edge is set, you can now rotate your hips, knees and feet in the direction of the turn. Look in the direction of the turn and make sure your upper body rotates with the lower body. You will get more rotational power from your front leg, so focus on driving that through the turn. As the snowboard turns across the slope, make sure your weight is still centered between the nose and the tail. Complete the turn by traversing across the slope on your heel edge to control your speed.
The Beginner Turn (Toeside)
Start on your heelside edge and begin traversing across the slope. Your initiation of the turn will happen by placing a bit more weight on your front foot. Combined with looking down the slope, you should feel the snowboard begin to rotate down the slope.
Next, as your snowboard rotates down the slope, you want to get the snowboard base flat on the snow by shifting your weight from your heels to the flats of your feet. A flat base ensures you’re not going to catch an edge when rotating.
When the snowboard base is flat, and your snowboard is pointing directly down the slope, it’s time to set the new edge. In this case, it will be your toe edge. Shift your body weight onto your toes by trying to stand on your tippy toes by pushing your hips forward while slightly bending your knees.
Once your edge is set, you can now rotate your hips, knees and feet in the direction of the turn. Look up the slope and make sure your upper body rotates with the lower body. As the snowboard turns across the slope, make sure your weight is still centered between the nose and the tail. Complete the turn by traversing across the slope on your heel edge to control your speed.
Important: The Toeside turn can be intimidating because you face uphill when complete and are blind to what’s behind you. Really focus on lower body rotation as well as looking up the slope early if you have difficulty getting the snowboard to turn from pointing down the slope to across it after setting your edge.
The final step in learning how to turn is linking both your heelside and toeside turns together. The end of your heelside turn has your traversing on your heel edge, which is the starting point for a toeside turn. Keep your speed very low and try to complete a toeside turn. If successful, you are not back at the starting point for a heelside turn.
S-Turns are all about speed control. When you’re practicing each turn independently, you have an opportunity to come to a complete stop before trying again. The S-Turn introduces continuous turns, so speed control is extremely important for success. Once you become comfortable linking a few S-Turns, you can start getting mileage on longer green runs.
Carving Vs Sliding: Different Types of Turns
The movements introduced above talk about sliding turns. This is where the snowboard slides or washes across the snow when making changes in direction. You utilize rotation of the body to make the snowboard turn, and turning is usually done at slower speeds. These movements are learned by beginners and novice riders.
Carving, on the other hand, is where the snowboard changes direction from the rider leaning over the heel and toe edges. This is usually done at faster speeds and requires good balance, edge control and an understanding of pressure. Carving is always faster than sliding turns, and you are always on your edge with the nose and tail following the exact same path. This leaves a pencil thin line in the snow.
Carving is a great skill to introduce to novice riders once they have mastered sliding turns on green runs while moving at a good pace. It gets you around the mountain fast, with less energy than turning and is a very fun and unique feeling.
Learning how to turn is one of the final steps you will need to master before having the skills you need to ride around the mountain on green runs. Although beginners are very eager to get to this step, It’s important to learn the basics first before attempting to turn. This helps ensure your progression is safe, doesn’t challenge you too much and inspires the confidence you’ll want to continue developing as a rider.