Snowplow vs. Other Beginner Skiing Techniques

A group effort demonstrating the wedge, also called the snowplow.
i David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images

Somewhere on the ski slopes, you hear an instructor yelling "pizza" or "french fries." Don't get too hungry. This is a ski lesson for children, not a roaming lunch cart. "Pizza" refers to the snowplow or wedge position of the skis, and the "french fries" cue tells the students to turn their skis into parallel alignment. Some ski-teaching methods begin with the pizza shape. Others go directly to parallel. Each technique has its benefits.

The Classic Snowplow

    Despite their interchangeable use, the words "snowplow" and "wedge" do not share the same meaning. The classic snowplow dates back to the days of the 210-centimeter straight skis, whose bulkiness and shapeless form made maneuvering them difficult. The pizza-shaped snowplow kept both skis on their inside edges. Dipping your shoulders to one side made the skis turn. To stop, you simply pushed your ski tails outward and made a bigger snowplow. This dorky-looking method inspires snarky laughter from the people riding the lifts above you.

The Gliding Wedge

    Unlike their bulky ancestors, smaller and curvier shaped skis love to turn. Tipping them onto their edges does the trick, so don't waste your energy, not to mention the risk of ridicule, by leaning your shoulders into the turn. The gliding wedge uses a smaller-sized pizza shape. Your upper body remains upright as you initiate rotational movement in your ankles and pivot your ski tips in the direction of the turn. Don't panic if you're going too fast. Simply pivot your tips further uphill to burn off speed.

Wedge Christie

    Your ski instructor will watch you link your gliding wedge turns. When you can do this without running over an entire ski school class, she will teach you the wedge christie. In the middle of the turn, you glide your skis into a parallel position. To start a new turn, you steer your skis toward the fall line and glide them back into the wedge position. This technique gives you the chance to practice parallel skiing, while returning to the security blanket offered by the wedge when your skis are facing directly downhill.

Direct to Parallel

    The direct-to-parallel method bypasses the wedge turn. Proponents of this teaching technique proclaim parallel carving as the holy grail of skiing, and consider the wedge and snowplow as dead-end movements. They argue that because the pronounced curves of the shaped ski facilitate easy carving, the snowplow or wedge movement wastes the student's precious time. A typical direct-to parallel class often begins off slope, where you learn the basic movements of the carved parallel turn. Because balance plays a major role in this method, expect to spend some time gliding across the slope on one ski.

The Pros Weigh In

    The Professional Ski Instructors of America asked instructors which method they prefer to use. Most answered that it depends on the balance, transferable skills, athleticism and the fear factor of the individual student. If you enjoy Rollerblading or ice skating, you probably have some transferable skills. A love of mountain biking or bungee jumping implies an immunity to fear. This type of novice will benefit from the direct-to-parallel approach. In contrast, if you never participated in any type of sport, or if you have a fear of heights, the wedge turn might help you build confidence. One caveat: Skiing on terrain that's too challenging for your level of proficiency creates defensive mechanisms, which get you stuck in the wedge position.

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