cross country ski tips

Stationary turns for both Classic and Skating
Level: beginner ability ski technique lesson

Your first day of cross-country skiing, whether a distant memory, or a soon reality, will bring a wide array of sensations. Fear knocks first with thoughts of high speed downhills and black and blue butt cheeks, but soon forgotten once the flat trails open before you. Then comes the sensation of glide, like a sweet voice beckoning you farther down the trail. Then you stop and look behind, only to see the two-story touring center is now a dot amidst the naked aspen trees. You decide to turn your skis around to head back but find these floppy diet sticks have a mind of their own, and you haven't a clue how.

Finally, the maneuver of changing direction is accomplished but not without its challenges.  You might have experienced the tangled mess of ski tip and tail, or the echo of your accelerating heart as your mind and body try to untangle the floppy ski tails out of the powdery snow. You seemed to manage but not with bests choice for the situation or the pizzazz you deserve.      

Choices for turning around, otherwise called a stationary turn, are many. If we omit the mid air 180-jump turn and the collapse and slither to redirect the skis then we end up with four distinct moves.      

The Tip, Tail, Foot and Kick turn are the four of choice, the latter requiring dexterous angularities, but fun and fast to perform once you know the right moves.  The main point of all these is that they take very little space on the trail with one for the exact situation you find yourself in.      

The easiest part of the first three moves is the name given to them — they are exactly what the name is.      

A tip turn has the skier turning around the tips of the skis. Start with lifting up the tail of a ski, leaving the tips on the snow — think of raising the heel higher than your toe. Now take a small step to the right, moving the tail only, and then bring the left tail over to match. Remember to leave the tips on the snow and move the tails over, in a series of short steps, until you reach the desired direction.

xc ski tip turn

The Tip Turn is good because you can see what you are doing and enforces the same movement pattern for an “A” position used in a gliding wedge for slowing on a downhill.      


xc ski tail turnWith the tail turn, you can't rely on sight so you'll need to develop a feel for the skis. This feel comes from heel pressure.  Begin by raising the tip of the ski, keeping the tail down on the snow. I think of pulling up on the toes of my boot, which forces my heel down on the ski. Lift the ski tip up a few inches and feel the ski tail planted firmly on the snow.  Now swing the ski tip side keeping the tail glued to the snow. A good practice trick is to stick your pole tip in the snow between the ski tails to start the side steps—this should help keep the ski tails in the same location on the snow.

tail turn animation

The Tail Turn teaches us how to "V" the skis. That's the same "V" position we use in skating and the uphill Herringbone! Isn't that exciting?

Notice that we are making multiple “V” steps in the snow. This is the same “V” position skier’s use in the uphill herringbone and the same position for skating. It's also the same movement pattern for step turns.

Many people feel the tail turn offers the best turning stability because they can feel the tail pressure on the snow.  They can also easy to see how high to lift up the ski tip to clear powdery snow.

The next turn is one we perform naturally, without much thought: the Foot Turn. Just move around the feet performing small tip and tail turns, lifting the tips and tails equally high.      

Start by drawing a small circle in the snow then step in and center your feet in the middle. Now start taking small steps to turn around. Notice that your tips come together but with the next step it's your tails — like a tip and tail combo turn.      

Our last stationary turn is the Kick Turn. I will admit that it takes some practice. The way some students react to it makes one think that it should have a surgeon generals warning with it, "The kick turn may be hazardous to your health." You do need limber knees and hips but the majority of problems comes from skis that are too long or just a lack of knowledge and practice.      

cross country ski kick turn lessonThe advantage of the kick turn is that the skier can turn around very quickly, and on narrow trails, in only two moves.  The key is using the poles for balance and picking which foot to use for the first step.    

kick turn animation
The Kick Turn

Stability for the entire move comes from the pole plant. Begin by planting your right pole near the tails of your skis then plant the left pole near the tip of your skis. Don't lock at your elbows but keep them relaxed while planting the poles vertically, pole tips underneath the hands.  With your arms out spread, your body is now open to the direction of your first step.       

Your leg on this open side is the right leg—the leg you’ll use for the first move. Another quick check on the pole plants to make sure they're firm in the snow and providing stability, then it's no turning back.      

To begin this first "kick around" with the right ski, use the knee to start lifting up the ski tip. Then kick your foot forward and up to help set the ski tail in the snow out in front of you. Now pivot the tail away from you and let the ski swing the 180 degrees into the new direction.      

As the ski swings over and touches the snow, your body weight should follow so that you can quickly swing the other ski around to match. Now both skis should be facing the new direction. Bring your left pole around and your ready to ski off into the sunset.      
The kick turn is also useful for changing direction while traversing up a hillside. When you come to the point where you want to change direction, level your skis across the hill, and begin to pack out a stable platform in the snow.  Plant the poles above your uphill ski and kick your downhill ski around first. Bring the poles around; then you're ready to continue your traverse in the new direction.  (Note: experienced skiers will change direction with the uphill ski first)   

With practice, you'll find a favorite turn that works best for you in each situation. As they become second nature your thoughts will begin turning to the pure enjoyment of cross-country skiing and never having to look back.

Written by Mark Pearson; Photos courtesy Tom Lippert Photography


CLASSIC TECHNIQUE: Diagonal Stride; Adjusting Pole Straps; Arm Swing; Double Pole; Kick-Double Pole. CLASSIC UPHILL TECHNIQUE: Classic Uphill Diagonal; Edging; Side Step; Herringbone. DOWNHILLS AND TURNING: Getting up from a fall; Kick Turn; Track Snowplow; Five Tips for the Diagonal Stride; Kick Double Pole. SKATE SKIING: Ten Tips for the V-1; V-2 skate technique; Marathon Skate. ALL AROUND: Stationary Turns; Step Turns. RESOURCES: Nordic Glossary; 20 Q and A; History of Cross Country Skiing

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