When embarking on any ski instructor course you sometimes have to be willing to look at things from a completely new direction. We can think of the turn in two halves. The fast half as we run towards the fall line and the slow half as we turn back against the hill.

Basic carving:

One we have got the idea of rolling the edges cleanly, the shape of the turn is quite often ‘bottom heavy’. [red arrow]

Ski instructor training, Top heavy or bottom heavy.
When we learn to ski, the bottom half of the turn is the obvious place to put all the action in. That is where we feel the most; that is where we feel we have most reference and a comfortingly strong feeling to stand against as we resist the hill.
Consequently early carving turns are often characterised by a clean but small edge angle that grows until quite late in the turn where the grip feels a bit more reassuring. This ‘swing to the hill’ type carving slows us down as we move further and further away from the fall line.
Commonly this is called a ‘J turn’ as the ski runs more directly towards the fall line and then loops back across the hill. Little action to the fall line, lots of action after.
Carving a J turn is the easiest type of carving.
The top half, on the contrary, is a harder place to ski well. It generally feels lighter, less firm to find your footing and so we generally err on the side of caution and ski to the fall line quite conservatively.

Better carving:

However, higher level carving doesn’t rely on looping the carve back up and across the hill. The alternative is commonly referred to as the comma turn with the essential difference being that the top of the arc is packed with action as the skier tries to make the ski arc a much more circular path to the fall line; essentially looping the first half rather than the second.

Ski instructor training, Dave rounding up the top of the turn.

What’s the difference?

There are two main differences:
In the first half, the ski reaches the fall line in more time and in less vertical distance so the skier picks up less speed.
A highly angled ski  in the fall line finds the new direction quicker and so the skier traverses and decelerates less in the second half.

The result:

Less acceleration plus less deceleration = a more constant speed of descent.
In effect, this more sophisticated (and more difficult!) way of executing a carved turn controls speed through the top half of the turn rather than the more obvious bottom.
Have a go – try and see if you are really making the ski work towards the fall line or are you relying on controlling your speed through the end of the turn?

Being top heavy wins you more brownie points.

Written by Dave Morris.