The Beginner's Guide to Carving


Gear for Beginners

Happily, getting your hands on borrowed carving gear is not a problem. That's because carvers embrace the sport like a religion, and will jump at any chance to convert someone to hardbooting. Find a carver at your local mountain, then casually mention that you'd like to try it. In no time, you will be on the receiving end of enough gear to get you going.

Board: Get an all-mountain board: it will provide the easiest learning curve. You can learn to carve on it, and you can also go off-piste with your soft boot friends. It is highly recommended to get one of the better all-mountain boards like a Donek Incline, Coiler All-mountain, or Prior 4WD, because they all carve very well on groomers. They go for ~$500 new, but your best bet is to put a want-ad in the Bomber classifieds. You could also go with a cheaper production board like a used Burton Coil (~$175). You can select a long all-mountain board (for a production board, a 168-172 cm length is about right for a 170-190 lbs person): it will be easy enough for a beginner, yet you won't grow out of it as you become more advanced. If you decide you don't like carving in hard boots, you can still use the all-mountain board with stiffer soft boots and bindings. In addition to the all-mountain board, you can also go with some other options:

Riding a combination of these boards will speed the learning curve. When you learn to control your speed and make tighter turns, you can add a long GS race board to your quiver. For a production GS race board, a 173+ cm length is about right for a 170-180 lbs person. When selecting a longer race board, you should demo at least one damp board and at least one lively board to find out which type you prefer. However, it is sometimes easier to learn new techniques on a damp board. Whatever you do, don't get an asym board.

Boots: A stiffer boot will actually make it easier to get the board on edge. It will also force you to use somewhat better technique early on, which can prevent bad habits. Go for either the Raichle AF600, Head Stratos Pro / S-LTD, the UPS RSV Mach, or the UPZ RSV Mach Superlight. Definitely go with a boot that has at least 4 buckles - it offers better adjustability and better response.

Bindings: If you are < 180 lbs, you can begin with cheap plastic bindings like the Burton race plates (~$120 used). However, if you weigh > 180 lbs, or you intend to pursue carving seriously, you should upgrade to either Bomber or Catek step-in bindings. If you go with step-in bindings, make sure you buy boots that are step-in compatible.

Stance Setup

Binding angle

The binding angle is largely personal preference. However, there are some issues to bear in mind:

Don't allow your boots to overhang the edges of the board, otherwise your toe or heel will drag in the snow, a situation known as "boot-out." Boot-out can cause you to lose pressure on the edge of the board and wash out. Some people cannot avoid overhang, in which case it is better to have more overhang on toe side, since you can generally respond quicker to any boot-out problems

Binding Cant/ lift

The cant/lift of bindings is partly a personal preference. For GS carving, most carvers use a binding setup where the front foot is canted inward and lifted at the toe, and where the back foot is canted inward and lifted at the heel. The following advice applies to GS carving:

Stance width / setback

The stance width is the center-to-center distance between the two bindings. Stance is like binding angle - you don't determine it theoretically, but instead, you adjust it until it feels right. However, there are three common recommendations for a starting point for setting stance width: As a starting point, mount your bindings symmetrical with respect to the hole pattern.

Finding an Instructor

In general, there are two types of good carving instructors:

Which means you need the name of someone with a reputation, otherwise you are wasting money. Refer to the resorts page to see if there is an instructor listed at a resort near you.

If you decide to roll the dice with your local snowboard school, first ask if there is a designated carver who can teach on plates. If there are no designated carvers, ask for someone with racing experience who can teach on an alpine setup. In Canada, CASI level IV instructors are certified on plates. Get the earliest lesson of the day, which not only has the best grooming, but often comes with an "early bird" discount. (In the spring, you may have to wait until the bulletproof ice has thawed.)

Ideally, you want to find an instructor who carves exactly the way you want to carve. If you can't preview the instructor, there are a few approaches:


The Paradox

Carving involves paradoxes that trip up beginners, and one of the paradoxes has to do with angulation. Laid-over carving allows riders to get close to the snow, sometimes skimming both forearms during a carve. Beginners often attempt to achieve the same result by reaching for the snow and tipping their inside shoulder. But this move only results in an edge wash-out because you will lose angulation. In order to get your body close to the snow, you have to move it away from the snow. The correct method is to angulate your body away from the inside of the turn. The more you bend away from the snow, the higher you can put the board on edge, until the board is so high on edge that your body is close to the snow. If you focus on angulation (keeping your weight over the carving edge), then you will naturally achieve inclination (leaning your whole body close to the snow). When you see expert carvers laying it down, what you see is an optical illusion - it looks like they are leaning their body toward the snow to touch it with their hand, but in reality, they are pulling their body away from the snow so their hand does not touch it.

Skill Progression

Here is one possible skill series that beginners can follow.

  1. First focus entirely on angulation, by keeping your shoulders parallel to the slope. As a drill, fully extend your inside arm so that it points straight up the slope: this motion will force your collarbone to tilt, keeping your shoulders parallel to the slope. Do not let your inside shoulder dip. You can also try the "chicken wing" pose, where you keep your inside hand at your chest, point your elbow to the inside of the turn, and raise your elbow so that it points up the slope. (If you start to fall, bring your elbow into your body to avoid shoulder dislocation)
  2. Now, increase your angulation by bending your knees, getting a little lower, and tilting the snowboard higher on edge, while still keeping your shoulders parallel to the slope. Try to develop an accordion bend, by expanding the side of your body facing the inside of the turn and compressing the side of your body facing the outside of the turn. Don't lose your angulation near the end of the turn, and don't break at the waist.
  3. While maintaining angulation, work on twisting your body into the turn so that you carve a more circular arc. To aid your body rotation and angulation, move your outside hand across the board, or try touching your outside hand to your front foot. Look slightly uphill, and face your body slightly uphill. Focus on pulling the board all the way to the end: don't let the board get ahead of you. The idea here is to get rid of counter rotation. This skill comes in two phases:
    • First you work on your toe side turns. Without a good toe side turn, it's hard to enter a heel side turn with enough control to practice the technique. Over time, your toe side carves will become tighter and more controlled.
    • Once you are able to master the toe side, you will have enough control to start practicing on heel side. After you improve on heel side, you get a feedback effect - your toe side turns will be even easier, which in turn improves your heel side. This is usually when carvers experience their first breakthrough.
  4. While maintaining angulation and twist, focus on entering the turn with your weight forward, then shift your weight back as the turn progresses. You should start to feel a pop as you get some tail spring to help the board change edges.
  5. While maintaining angulation, twist, and weight shift, focus on doing a cross-through: Instead of rising up and then flexing back down to change edges, stay low all the time and bring your body straight across the board.
  6. While maintaining angulation, twist, weight shift, and cross-through movement, start entering each turn early, by performing the cross-through movement before you think you need to turn. Early turns will tighten up your carves and allow you to carve on your downhill edge at the very beginning of a turn. Think of pressuring the board up the slope at the beginning of the turn, while the board is perpendicular to the fall line.
  7. While maintaining angulation, twist, weight shift, and early cross-through movement, work on adding a burst of angulation at the start of the turn (the beginning of a diving turn) to get your board higher on edge so that you carve a tighter radius on steeper slopes.

Other tips

Heel side

While a perfect toe side carve feels great, a perfect heel side carve feels even better, but it's harder to pull off. To take up the sport of carving is to seek the perfect heel side turn.

A lot of carvers are plagued with edge hold problems on heel side, which can appear as two phenomena: wavy trenches or chatter.

If it feels like the tail of the board is oscillating back and forth, you are probably leaving wavy trenches. It happens because the nose and tail of the board are each trying to carve a different radius. There are two ways to fix this problem:

If the entire board chatters or washes out, it means you are unbalanced, or the board is twisting. Some remedies:


Rule #8

It is easy to T-bone skiers/boarders who are overtaking you, since carvers make wide, open turns, travel perpendicular to the fall line at high speed on edge changes, and go slower than most skiers in the direction of the fall line. Skiers are not used to other people carving wide turns, so they don't look out for it. As a result, carvers must take an additional level of care, and follow rule #8:

Rule #8

If you are traversing the slope between turns, or carving inconsistent turns, you must yield to people behind you.

If you are carving consistent half-circles, it means your board is pointed downhill 99% of the time, and it's the skier's responsibility to watch out for you, even if you are carving large-radius turns that consume the entire run. But when traversing between carves or deviating from a consistent pattern, skiers cannot be expected to navigate around you, so you need to be aware of people who are behind you:

If you get hit from behind, ask yourself two questions:

If you answer yes to both questions, you were probably traversing between turns. During a season of carving, you have to accept the likely possibility of getting hit from behind. At the very least, you can expect a few close calls.

How to own a run

Before carving a series of turns down a run, follow these guidelines:

  1. First wait until there are no uphill skiers bombing down the hill.
  2. Enter the run and carve your first turn.
  3. Look over your shoulder as you finish the first turn to make sure there are still no uphill skiers bombing down the hill.

You now own the run. As long as you carve consistent turns without traversing the slope, you have provided more than enough fair warning, because any skiers approaching you from behind will:

  1. Have plenty of time to see you carving, even if the skier pays attention to a very narrow field of view.
  2. See that you are carving at high speed.
  3. See at least two turns of your trench, and realize that you are carving wide, consistent turns.
  4. Be able to predict your line.

Therefore, if a skier still manages to slam into you from behind and cause you to break a tib/fib, you can rest easy, knowing it was not your fault.

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