Easing into Carving with Garlands

Garlands, a wavy traverse across the slope, are the standard way that ski instructors get students to start in with a carved turn (among other uses). Here's a quick primer on how to run yourself through a basic garland progression.

Modern skis are designed to carve. In other words, to turn with minimal or no skidding. Commonly, novice and intermediate skiers like to throw in a hip check or shoulder toss in order to get their skis around faster. Normally, that's because

  1. They don't know how to get a turn started without skidding their skis a bit.
  2. They get nervous when they're looking straight down the hill and they like to hurry through that part.

Since practicing garlands addresses both of those concerns, ski instructors love them.

What's a Garland?

A garland is nothing more than a series of partial turns that you do as you traverse across the trail. Basically, rather than bringing it all the way around, you ski across the hill and point downhill just a little until you start to gain speed, and then start turning back up the hill to kill that speed. So you're basically traversing, but with little turns built in.

What's the Point? How Do I Do It?

Garlands are often the next step in building towards a carved turn after sideslipping. Once you are able to sideslip and let your tips drop and come back up, you're ready to try garlands. In this case, just start sliding across the hill and then, as you do in the sideslip, flatten your skis just a bit and shift your weight slightly forward and downhill. The tips drop just like in the sideslip, but this time you let yourself pick up a little forward speed. Then engage the edges again, but gently, just grabbing a bit with the edges and letting the ski come back to pointing uphill.

I often tell people to try not to turn. Banish that thought from your head! Instead, just try to tip the skis on edge by pushing your knees slightly into the hill. Resist the temptation to push the tails of the skis downhill. Since modern skis are designed to turn, the ski will come around on its own time. Don't rush.

Then What?

Now that you feel pretty comfortable with your small garlands, start making them bigger and bigger until you're pointed almost straight downhill before you pull out of it. At this point, you actually have all the components of a nice carved turn. In each garland you're making half a right turn and half a left turn (or roughly a quarter circle each way). Now you simply have to take the turn all the way around, using the exact technique you use in the garland.

To make the last step to carving, the main thing most skiers need is patience. When they find themselves in the middle of the turn, pointed straight down hill, they try to hurry the turn and get the ski back out of the fallline. This often results in throwing the hips and skidding the ski. Instead, just be patient and let the ski do it's work. You have done your garlands, so you know that the ski tipped on edge will naturally turn and take you out of the falline. Count off 1001, 1002, 1003 without hurrying the turn, knowing that by the time you hit 1004, you will have come back across the slope and back under control. Get used to this and you'll be a stronger, more stable, more powerful skier ready to tackle a wider range of terrain and have a lot more fun.