Carving is turning with little lateral slippage of the skis. The carved turn is a turn made by the ski, bent into reverse camber, slicing a clean arc in the snow. Ski tail follows tip as the entire ski edge passes through roughly the same point.
This description may seem clear enough. But the real essence of carving defies such simplicity. If you prefer to keep things simple, do not read on!
Digression—an inquiry into the essence of Carving:
We usually distinguish carved turns from skidded turns, and there does appear to be a clear distinction. But all real turns skid to some degree, just as a car slips and perhaps squeals a little as it clings to a curve. If carving is the opposite of, or the absence of, skidding, then the pure carved turn exists only in theory. By this definition, carving represents a theoretical extreme on the spectrum of turns, with straight slipping on the opposite pole. Horst Abraham, in ATM Teaching Concepts,2 calls all turns skids:
“. . .we are making skidding the generic term for direction changes where the skis are in contact with the snow. If the skier skids a lot, he may come closer to ‘slipping’ his turns; if he skids less, he will come closer to ‘carving’ his turns.”
Abraham is right, of course. On one level, there is no such thing as a pure carved turn, with no skidding. But I can’t accept this idea as a working definition of carving. Where is that clear distinction? Look on any ski hill and you will see skiers who carve, and skiers who don’t. It is not an arbitrary line on a continuum, either—there are two distinct types of turns. Indeed, some clearly “carved” turns skid more than some obviously “skidded” turns. Think of a top downhill racer barely clinging to her line on an icy race course at eighty miles per hour. That ski may skip and chatter several feet sideways, yet there remains something very “carved turn-like” about her movements. Nor does the difference seem to relate entirely to skill level. Many skiers are very, very good at skidded turns! And some beginners and intermediates do the best they can at obviously carved turns.
So we still need a real definition of what makes one turn carved and another skidded, something that accounts for what we see and experience. Some say carving is a product of the amount of rotary force applied to twist the skis, that carving is the result of reducing rotary and focusing on pressure and edge control movements. True, tipping a modern ski on edge and riding that rail through a turn is one way to carve. And pivoting a flat ski that was sliding forward will cause it to skid sideways. Yet some carved turns involve powerful steering input. And pressuring the front of an edged ski (“forward leverage”) to tighten the turn radius causes the tail to straighten out and skid, even without any twisting. At best, this idea still only offers a scale of mostly gray area, that does not fit our observations. Once again, there is some truth here, but it still isn’t quite right.
Here (I believe) is the answer! What separates carved-type turns from skidded-type turns is what I call “positive” vs. “negative” movements. Simply put, a positive movement is one in the direction of the intended turn. To initiate a carved turn, every intentional movement should tend toward the new turn. The body (center of mass) moves downhill, into the turn, aided perhaps by a pole swing. The skis roll toward the new turn, flattening, then increasing their edge angle. Rotary, if any, steers the tips downhill, into the turn.
Skidded turns, on the other hand, are just the opposite, as they are based on negative movements. Initiating a skidded turn involves pushing the ski tails uphill, or away from the turn. The center of mass also moves away from the turn, perhaps pushing off from a “platform” created by increasing edge angle, and aided by a blocking pole plant that prevents movement down the hill. What could be more different? To carve, I pull my inside ski tip into the turn. To skid, I push my outside ski tail away from the turn.
So that’s it! Carved turns result from positive movements, skidded turns from negative movements. Black vs. white—this definition finally expresses that undeniable observation that there are two distinct types of turns out there. There is no hazy sliding scale here. By this definition, the amount of slippage is not important. The skill level is irrelevant. These factors may indicate how good a turn is, but neither defines the type of turn.
Carved turns are offensive; skidded turns are defensive. Both are useful in their place. Like so many things we do, state of mind affects movements. Carved turns are the embodiment of a skier’s intent to go in a particular direction. Skidded turns are the result of the skier’s intent to stop going in a particular direction. Either can be done expertly or shoddily. Carving, in short, is really an intent, not an event!
See also Skidding and Turn.