8 Tips To Master The Steep Turn | Steep Skiing

Looking to venture out onto steeper terrain? We've got 8 tips to make the steep turn a stress-free affair

Header Image: Pete MacKenzie skiing the steep upper sections of Pinnacle Gully. Photo: Hamish Frost Photography

Nothing else compares to the feeling of lacing ski turns down steep terrain. When all the pieces of the steep skiing jigsaw fit together it’s a graceful dance with gravity, but to get to this level you must sharpen up on your skills and overcome the fear.

“Nothing else compares to the feeling of lacing turns down steep snow covered slopes”

At the point where all the elements align you will be flowing down the mountain in a state of joy. While we might not be able to jet off to the alps to lap Mont Gele, The Aguille du Midi or La Grave we can start to think about honing these skills right from our backyard here in the U.K. thanks to the bountiful supply of steep terrain in Scotland.

Here are our top tips that will help you progress into skiing steeper terrain or sharpen your skills for those already getting stuck into the steeps. 

Keep your kit in good working order and it’ll repay you with high levels of performance. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

Check your kit

Skiing challenging terrain requires you to make sure your kit is setup and maintained properly. Get everything out at home and spend time checking it over before your next trip. Basic things to look for are that your skis have sharp edges, the bases are waxed and smooth and your ski touring bindings are set up to your boot.

“Choosing the correct ski goes a long way. Generally a narrower, lighter setup is ideal”

Once in a while it is also worth checking the screws on your skis and ski touring boots, tightening any that are loose.

If you are wanting to develop your skiing in steeper terrain then choosing the correct ski goes a long way. Generally a narrower, lighter setup is ideal. You want something that is manoeuvrable, and easy to turn whilst having a good edge hold for firmer snow. Check out our choice of the best backcountry skis for some ideas.

Practicing in easily accessible and exposure free zones can help build confidence in the steeps. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

Practice makes perfect

We’ll dive into the technical pointers in just a moment, but number one is to get thousands of turns in safe terrain under your belt. This is best achieved in a resort where you can progress through the graded runs into marked itineraries and beyond.

Try to find short steep pitches with easy run outs to practice on before going into bigger terrain. Once you are nailing every steep turn you’re ready to step it up.

“Get thousands of turns in safe terrain under your belt”

When you do find yourself on top of that dream line be sure to double check everything before dropping in. You might be spending a whole day working hard in the mountains to get yourself on top of the run so you don’t want to waste it by skiing in walk mode.

Ideally find a small slope to make some practice turns on, if there isn’t much space a few jump turns on the spot can get the brain going and uncover any kit issues before committing to skiing the line.

Keep your hands (and body) pointing donwhill. Photo: Jordan Tiernan
Keep your hands (and body) pointing donwhill. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

Hands down the hill

Technique is key to staying in control. All the fundamentals learnt for skiing on piste are applicable in steeper terrain.

Focus on keeping your upper body facing down the hill and your legs working separately underneath you. This makes for an easier time initiating the turn and staying balanced.

The pole plant is important but you shouldn’t feel your arms swinging around wildly. If you are feeling slightly off balance or nervous it can help to simply focus on keeping the hands forward and ready for the next turn. 

Keep the weight predominately on the outside (downhill ski). Photo: Blair Aitken

Centre on outside ski

This applies to nearly all our skiing, but when it’s applied to steeper terrain it will be even more apparent how important it is. The outside ski, sometimes referred to as the downhill ski, can create the most control and grip during the turn.

“Stay confident, keep your body facing down the hill”

To achieve this grip you need to be balanced on this outside ski and in the middle of it. When nervous you might feel inclined to lean into the hill and back on the tails. To correct this, stay confident, keep your body facing down the hill and feel for the pressure on the front of the boots and on the outside (downhill) foot.

If your tips are in the air it’s a good sign you’re too far back. To stay centred try to keep your ski tips in contact with the snow the whole time. 

Getting into a flow helps link a series of hop turns together.

Find the rhythm

Smooth is fun, fun is smooth, or something like that. Try not to rush or ‘chop’ the turns. If you are throwing the skis around and not flexing to absorb the forces it is hard to get into a rhythm and you will increase the chance of losing an edge.

“Smooth is fun, fun is smooth”

Imagine yourself trying to dance down the hill, each turn feeling the ski grip smoothly. As you get into the swing of things you’ll find a natural rhythm. Don’t worry about your speed, keep it well within your limits, just try to find the flow.

Take it easy for the initial steep sections. Photo: Blair Aitken

Choose your slopes wisely 

Before skiing a run make sure you have assessed the slope and avalanche conditions. The dream lines are in safe powder snow but stability and powder is often hard to find.

The most reliable option is to wait til later in the winter and for spring conditions. When the snowpack has consolidated and been through a thaw freeze cycle you just need the sun or temperatures to change to soften the top surface.

Having carefully chosen your slope, be sure to approach the first turns with caution. As you enter, start to feel for the snow conditions and how much grip it provides. Don’t be worried about side slipping to get more feedback, this is a great way to double check before committing to the first turn.

Taking home workouts a little too seriously. Photo: Holly Burns

Get fit at home

Steep skiing is a dynamic activity that requires decent levels of endurance to get you to the good stuff. Now is a good time to work on gaining a baseline level of fitness and strength. Get the running shoes on or jump on the bike to build it up. This will pay dividends when you hit the slopes and can get those extra laps in without feeling crushed.

“Focus on building a strong core”

For strength training you will want to focus on building a strong core and taking time on the single leg balance work to engage those key muscles. Committed steep skiers can add in some hop turn jumps to work on separation between upper and lower body.

When doing these hop turns, focus on keeping your upper body still and forwards whilst your legs move underneath you. To take it a step further head outside, find yourself a slope and hop turn your way down it. Add in poles for the stability and ski specific positioning.

Skiing’s all about having a blast in the mountains. Get out there and have some fun. Photo: Jordan Tiernan

Keep it simple

Steep skiing is all personal and relative to your experience, ability and desire to push your limit. One person’s steep skiing is another’s high speed freeride run (check out La Liste). Remember it is just skiing. All we are doing is sliding down a mountain on a pair of planks. Have fun, smile and stay safe. 


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