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How To: Execute a Downhill Kick Turn

This basic survival skiing turn is a backcountry staple for experts and novices alike.
Photos by Jennifer Howe / howephoto.us
  • Intro: The downhill kick turn allows you to make good time, if not stylishly. Sometimes snow is too shallow or crusty, your pack's too heavy, or you can't ski well enough to make downhill turns safely. It also works with longer, northland-style snowshoes.
  • 1) To start, traverse downhill at a comfortable, controlled angle until you're ready to turn. Stop and put your downhill pole behind you, on the slope above your skis. If needed, stomp your skis until you have a firm platform underfoot.
  • 2) Once stable, kick your downhill foot straight ahead in 'chorus-line' fashion, letting the tail stick into the snow and the tip point straight up.
  • 3) Facing downhill, let your downhill ski pivot on the tail, so the tip falls behind you. For easier movement, lean on your poles for balance and let your hips twist downhill.
  • 4) Once your downhill ski is back on the snow, reversed in direction, stomp it firmly to form a reliable platform you can stand on.
  • 5) Lift your uphill/forward pole and put it well forward of the downhill ski tip.Transfer all your weight onto the downhill ski.
  • 6) Using your poles for balance, lift your uphill ski from the snow and let it pivot around naturally to your new direction of travel.
  • 7) Plant both skis firmly and regain your balance again.
  • 8) Proceed as before, making Z-shaped switchbacks down the slope. Repeat as needed until you're on flat ground again.
Intro: The downhill kick turn allows you to make good time, if not stylishly. Sometimes snow is too shallow or crusty, your pack's too heavy, or you can't ski well enough to make downhill turns safely. It also works with longer, northland-style snowshoes.
Image 1 of 9

Intro: The downhill kick turn allows you to make good time, if not stylishly. Sometimes snow is too shallow or crusty, your pack's too heavy, or you can't ski well enough to make downhill turns safely. It also works with longer, northland-style snowshoes.

READERS COMMENTS

Page 1

I never laughed so hard. This guy looks SO unstable!. Leaning back on both poles with the back of your your ski planted in the snow and then standing on both feet planted in opposite directions?!!! Could you imagine him doing this on an extremely steep slope in bad or tight conditions? I do kick turns all the time, you need to do them in one smooth motion, lifting your downhill ski up, then rotating it and your soon to be downhill pole at the same time. No planting of the ski bottom, no leaning back on your poles. The more neutrally balanced you are and the closer you can keep the downhill pole to your ski, the better, as there might be a tree in you way or you could lose your balance. The guy pictured here is on flat terrain, where you should start practicing, but it would never work in a dire situation....
— Still Laughing

Interestingly, I'm the guy in the photo. The slope is about 20 degrees, breakable crust. More importantly, the article is designed for novices. You need to piece the moves together before they become a smooth motion, particularly with big packs on. And it works, as demonstrated, in steep situations. As an FYI, I telemarked down 22,000-foot Andean summits in the mid 1980's. So laugh all you want - if it makes you feel bigger.
— Steve Howe


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