Words Matter. Why “Arcs” Works Better Than “Turns”. 

Arc thinking makes a difference. Perhaps.

Recently I wrote a small piece on how to handle tough skiing situations and used the word “arcs” where most folk would use the word “turn”. My insistence on using the word “arc’”raised an eyebrow or two on the grounds that it was perhaps mere semantics or even nit-picking. Believe me, it isn’t.

Every single ski instructor I have ever met only uses the word “turn(s)”. You are admonished to “do turns”.  Even worse, you are recommended by some to “turn your skis”. It  tells you nothing at all about what movements you need to make with your legs/feet/body while in motion. 

What on earth is it supposed to mean? Is that how skis work, by “turning” them?  Is that a route to understanding, and to excellent skiing? No. Most of the movements you make should be in response to the skis, very little to do with making them do things.

What Is Really Happening When A Ski Changes Direction ?

The objection I have to using the lazy word “turn” is that it does not describe what happens.  It tells you nothing about how a ski changes direction and carries you with it.  It suggests that you do the “turn”.  You can “turn” a lot of things—a quick buck;  you can turn to the person on your left; you can turn a screwdriver; you can turn a triumph into a disaster. There is no end to the things you can turn.

An arc is a segment of a circle.

But let’s talk about skiing.  When you or an instructor refer to a “turn” in skiing, that is becomes something you think you do. But it is not what happens.

A change of direction may occur, (it may not) but that is an outcome of things you do, and of things that happen at the interface of the snow and the ski; it is not what you do.  If you haven’t already, then buy my top selling, incredibly inexpensive and value-for-money book “Ski In Control”

If you think you do turns, you are highly likely to also think that in order to do it, you will need to “turn your skis” (or worse, your body!)  Let’s substitute the word “pivot” for “turn” in this instance; it’s more descriptive.  There are times when pivoting your skis may be appropriate to achieving some outcome you desire.  Somewhat regrettably it may, though not necessarily, induce a change of direction. 

I say regrettably because if and when that happens it is likely to reinforce the idea in your head that you did it.  You didn’t.  Only very indirectly did the rotation of your ski (your foot) induce a deflection of your ski.  An outside force deflected your skis, and because you are attached, you went with them.  In a sense, they “turned” you, not the other way about.

Sometimes I allude to Tiger Woods and his golf.  If you think you have seen Woods “do” a 300 yard drive, you are mistaken.  What you have seen is Woods doing a complex of minute behaviors (many too difficult to observe) the outcome of which is a 300 yard drive.

Does My Insistence Matter? 

Yes, it does, because as long as you retain the word “turn” and as long as that affects your understanding, then it will in equal part inhibit your learning and hence your skiing skill development. My dislike of the word “turn” (in a skiing context) is not pedantry, nor semantic nit-picking—it has had singular importance in helping them my pupils to become significantly better skiers.

What Happens Between Skiing “Turns”?

Another issue of faulty perceptions about ski “turns” is the issue of what happens in between them. Probably when you were in the early stages of ski school, you will have been told that there is this type of turn (say a “snowplow”);  later, if you are old enough, you may have been admonished to do a “stem turn”; and then if you are good student on the fourth day of your week you might be allowed to try a “parallel” “turn”.

All of this is rubbish. It’ll get you down the hill maybe, but not much more. I accept that there has been a small (far too small) change in some ski schools, but nothing like enough, and I am personally more concerned about folk who learned their skiing quite a long while back.  Once learned, poor habits are extremely hard to change/eliminate.  I’m advocating good habits and understanding from the start.

A problem that the out-dated, and regrettably still extant, process creates is the idea that you “do a turn”, then a little later on as you ski, you “do another turn”. This process is repeated.

What is not clarified is what happens between “turn” one, and “turn” two. Presumably something, but what?  Unfortunately it is commonly a straight line. This is a pity in many circumstances because skis pick up speed when they are describing a straight line if they’re pointing to any extent downhill; and you may not particularly want that.  Fine, if you do.

Let’s say that a time of just two seconds passes between “turns” one and two.  (Try counting them now, in your head – “ thousand one, thousand two  …” ). If you are skiing at 15 mph, hardly excessive—about the speed you’d ride your bike—then in that two seconds you will traverse 44 feet, just under 15 yards. Fifteen yards of potential added speed. Fifteen yards perhaps past the spot you intended to change direction. Downhill racers love it; they attempt to draw the straightest line down the mountain that they can.

A Conclusion: Linked Arcs

Finally this leads us to a conclusion:  Since outside forces induce skis to deflect, and perhaps describe arcs, and you don’t “do turns”  and arcs are segments (would have been better to say “sections”) of circles or parabolas, then the objective for your skiing skill development is to make movements while in motion (our equivalent of Tiger Woods’ minute behaviors) that lead to continuously linked (and rounded) arcs. Not “turns”.

Leave a comment below or email me ([email protected]) if you want to continue this investigation.

[Editor Note: Ski Coach Bob Trueman has a series of 19 YouTube videos on different aspects of skiing in control.  Enter “BobSki” into the YouTube search.]



  1. That was very tedious!

    • I agree. I guess you have to buy his book, because he didn’t say anything that I would have to do as a motion to create an arc. Thanks for nothing.

      • I regret that you and John found my offering tedious. And that it induced your rather unkind “thanks for nothing” comment.
        My comments about my own books were intended to be jocular – surely no one would actually really boast like that?
        May I ask, Jane, what YOU personally DO in order to initiate a deflection of your skis’ direction ? Were you to be sufficiently interested you might email me?

  2. I could not agree more……the mental visualization is so important to accomplishing the task……curves, commas, half circles, the letter “C”, and clock faces with the numbers also work well in creating a good mental image

  3. Bob, 100% correct the object is linked arcs for smooth skiing with control and efficient use of energy. Once you get that feeling you develop confidence and enjoy skiing much more because you feel safe and can even keep up the increased speed.
    I have been skiing regularly for about 50 years when going up the lift with other very experienced skiers every year we talk about the fact that the % of skiers that are performing well has increased immensely. Since we have all gone thru plenty of equipment changes over the many years we understand how much that has helped. More fun is the object and better skiing equals more FUN.

    • Thanks Michael,
      Ski design has indeed made an enormous difference. Skiing is a great deal easier now than ever before – hence more apparently capable skiers.
      Bob T

  4. Richard Kavey says:

    Soooooo bad! Worst article yet!

    The greatest enemy of teaching / coaching is too many words – usually accompanied by standing stock still on the hill for long periods while the ski god imparts pearls of wisdom to his bored, freezing group while their muscles grow ever stiffer and colder.

    Visual image of correct technique or drill by the coach followed by the athlete’s attempt with immediate feedback from the coach is good. Feedback including video review is best.

    While a carved term, or arc, is the fastest it is not always the best solution when it’s steep, you’re late, or need to make a recovery. Pivoting is an essential skill. Learning when to use what is an essential part of the learning process. All mountain skiing demands different tactics than ski racing.

    As Olle Larson and James Major demonstrated in their seminal book of the late 1970’s – from which all subsequent articles are based – skiing is best described by the bioanatomical language of medicine and physics and sequential images or movies – especially slow motion.

    Senior Skiing take the pledge: No more bloviation – leave that to our learned politicians who base their careers on it.

    • Bob Margulis says:

      Feedback from using video is good–real time feedback from CARV is even better.

    • Bravo!

    • Mr Kavey
      That bad? Dearie me.
      We were not after all actually standing on a snow slope, we were sitting in front of our computers.
      In what respects was my article erroneous? Where was I wrong?
      You are absolutely right, in my opinion, to observe that it is by DOING that we learn (usually enhanced by prior intellectual understanding) but the idea that one can learn a physical activity by watching someone else is questionable except for gaining a very generalised impression.
      If one could learn by watching I could play the flute: I’ve seen it done and the player didn’t make it look difficult.

  5. RIchard makes some good points but think he is a bit harsh on this article. While the article is wordy I did not take it as an instructional article so number of words don’t make it a bad article. I felt this is more of an essay on what a basic turn is and why the learning process might make it more difficult to learn based on how we communicate the process. I’m not sure how much we can teach skiing based on a written narrative however writing often conveys an issue clearer than verbalizing it. So we need to be more careful when giving verbal instructions. I also felt this article applies more to beginners to intermediates. All mountain skiing is not what this article about to me. I had to learn to ski before I started ski mountaineering and that was the hardest part. The time between the first lesson and making it down the green runs without falling was much longer and harder than advancing to blue and then black runs. All Mountain learning was some trial and error as I found no instructors in the backcountry other than my ski buddies. None were trained instructors and learned the same way. So I don’t feel that the critique applied.

    However, I find that some of those points don’t apply yet.

  6. Sherm White says:

    Some good points in the article, but I would encourage Bob to update his knowledge of what organized instructors (ie, in the USA, PSIA/AAAI) rather than taking shots at them and blowing his own horn. He is right about instruction in the late 60’s/early 70’s, but things have changed drasticaly since I got certified in 1973. Situational skiing based on fundamental movements is the mantra. Way more fun to teach.
    PSIA alpine level 3 cert., retired Ed Staff, and still teaching and coaching instructors in Northern Vt.

  7. Sherm! Smugglers’ Notch! My husband Steve and I have skiied there since 1983, with you as an instructor.
    I learned in 1969 with Austrians, and my newest pair of skis is almost a “shape.” Whatever they used in 2005 or thereabouts. I have new bindings and boots. So my style is still affected by edging, unweighting, etc.
    Am I risking my life? If I were to take a lesson, woulde an instructor not teach me because of my old school skis?
    If you or another Senior skier can advise me, I would be grateful.

  8. I enjoyed being reminded of why few beginners appreciate the dynamical nature of skiing. Skiing is not simply standing up on skis. Skiing involves doing what would make you fall if you were not moving. Having your hips not above your feet, most of the time, is the trick that causes arcs. Novices are not ready to trust that. Instructors have to get novices moving so that the skis prevent falling over when hips are on the side. First the faith, then the conviction!

  9. Albert Pierce says:

    If Bob’s book is as wordy as this article it may take all winter to get through it. I’ll buy it anyway because I collect ski instruction books. Maybe it will become a classic. I got it, arcing is in.

  10. When I was learning how to ski in control in the 60’s and 70’s, Yodel/Polka music was blaring on every other chair lift towers speaker with a true rhythm, an excellent tempo for linking wedeln in skiing intermediate trails. Even though you and others bad mouth the 60’s and 70’s manners, your generalization makes me sick when you wrongly blame it as a time of only bad habits formed. I disagree. To this day, I still sing to myself a rhythmic tune in my head while I am skiing. You are either too young or you fail to capture this basic requirement in advancing your technique based on rhythm. Your article shows no heart in the movement of your skis. Your article belongs to beginner skiers’ dilemna and it comes across as something that should only be published in “Popular Mechanics,” as your definitions make it appear as skiing is like driving a snowmobile. Snowmobiles didn’t turn in the 60’s either, they arc’d, up until a carbide blade was added to the ski bottoms. I have numerous pairs of skis with rocker design and I tell people they’ll do 360’s if you don’t stop them from turning once you set your edge in your carve. So Bob, lighten up, as some skis turn, some do 360’s and some arc like a Ski-Doo drives. I bet you can’t get a good night sleep ever since the new definition being used to evaluate a ski is called the “Turning Radius” lol.

    • Dear Cansnowplow,
      Allow me to correct you on a few points. I will attempt to be rather less emotional and insulting than some of my responders. I am amazed at how aggressive so many of them have been. Aggression seems to be the default reaction. Why?

      Firstly I’m 81, not young. Secondly my article was not addressing proven methods to assist in rhythmical skiing. It was about something else. Now you have introduced that as a new and separate topic, allow me to say that I entirely agree with you. Having a song in your head, or even as I have often advised, simply counting oneself around an arc with a view to achieving what you yourself achieve rhythmically, is extremely effective.

      Having a song in your head also makes you happy. It just wasn’t the topic of the article. Many other aspects of skiing were also not the topic of the article; if you were to address them all we would be here a long time.

      I am amazed that something as straightforward as my article actually “makes you sick”. Had I known that was a possibility I would have done my best to be kindly and not have you so upset.

      I don’t understand why you introduced snow-mobiles, so must leave that section as it is.

      To believe as you state, that “turning radius” is a NEW concept is rather questionable. It has been a concept of ski designers ever since the first side-cut was put on the edge of a ski sometime I think in the 60’s (I stand to be corrected on the date), and particularly so since the parabolic shape was introduced by Elan in 1992.

      Of course a tilted ski even with no side-cut will have a turn radius that will, in that case, be a function of the combination of tilt, and bend of the ski.

      Incidentally, side-cut is not the “new definition used to evaluate skis” – at least not on its own; why did you omit the longitudinal bend/stiffness profile, and crucially the skis resistance to torsional twisting ? None of which cause me any sleep loss because I understand them.

      My article was primarily concerned with the false impression given (and still given today by many instructors, though I accept, not all) that in order to effect a change of ski direction one must either “do” a “turn”, or “turn the ski”. You clearly know much better than that. Many do not.

      I wish you well, and sincerely hope I do not continue to make you sick.

      Bob T

  11. I hope the translation from Spanish to English is adequate:
    A ski has a construction, and consequently a series of possible modifications that the skier can make, forming the skier-skis binomial.
    This combination is effective in our wonderful environment, snow, although there are other types of surfaces and simulators that also make it possible.
    The definition that you make of “arcs”, as I also understand, is adequate, and on the other hand, as you say, so many terms that are still misused in ski lessons, but that are traditionally understood.
    The essence and the good work, I understand, is to gradually apply the correct terminology of sports science in our classes with any client / student / athlete.
    In a trajectory where the skier-skis pairing glides on the snow, he will be painting with his skis lines that are the trajectories originated and at the same time conditioned by: the slope, the speed, the snow and the trajectory that he is tracing with the skis, in your case, the “arcs” you are painting, which will logically have a certain radius.
    So bravo !! Mr Trueman

    I am a professor of winter sports at the University of Granada (Spain), next to the Sierra Nevada ski resort. A pleasure!!

    • Thank you Professor. My mentor was (is) John Shedden who created the English Ski Council (ESC) for the UK Sports Council. You may know, or know of, him?
      All of the coaches in the ESC have always been focused on the benefit of UNDERSTANDING skiing – what it is induces a ski to change direction. Much good work was done on this in the 70’s and 80’s by Prof. Hans Zehetmayer in Austria, following on work by Dr. R. Sobotka, and later still by Prof. G.R. Twardokens of the University of Nevada in Reno, USA
      Very few people develop skilfull skiing without understanding it.
      Of course almost every skier finds a way to get down a snow slope – usually unhurt – the question is how well, is it done? Many equate getting down a black run, for example, as proof of skill. By itself it is not. One can get down all sorts of slopes badly – in an ugly unskilfull manner. The descent itself is not a proof of skill.
      I regret we never met, I have coached for over twenty years for a week or two each year, in Baqueira. I know it is far from Sierra Nevada, but it is Spain which I love.
      Bob Trueman

  12. Jordan Pauker says:

    Come on! This site exists because the brother /sisterhood looks for any opportunity to talk about all aspects of skiing. It’s our way of keeping in touch with a passion when we’re not on the hill. Anyone bothering to read the whole analysis of arcing vs. turning is privately admitting “I don’t really care about the debate, I just like reading anything about the sport I love.
    PS: Couldn’t agree more with the notion of “listen” to your skis. They’ll tell you when and how to turn.

    • Dear Mr Paulker
      I agree with your entirely. Skiing is about joy, in the end: there is nothing like it.
      I just maintain that those who understand and do it best, are the ones who get the most out of it.
      Bob T

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