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:
- Get a used slalom race board. For a production slalom race board, a
157 cm length is about right for a 170-180 lbs person. The shorter length
slalom race board will let you turn easily at low speed, but also allow
you to practice finding the balance point of a stiff board. However, you'll
want to move up to a longer board pretty quickly.
- Get a freecarve board. They are longer and have a lot of stability,
but with a small sidecut radius that makes them easier to turn. You can
either take an easier intermediate step and go for a used shorter board
(for a production board, 168 cm length is about right for a 170-180 lbs
person), or splurge and go for the board you will use long term (for a
production board, 173 cm length is about right for a 170-180 lbs person)
- Get a full-on GS race board that is damper. The Oxygen Proton is a good
example: because it is so damp, it holds an edge very well and will compensate
for less-than-perfect technique so that you can go up the learning curve
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.
- When buying snowboard hard boots, do not order a
size based on your street shoe size, or the boots will wind up being the
wrong size. Instead, measure the mondo point of your foot, which is the
distance in centimeters from the back of your heel to your longest toe (using
the same measurement technique as the guy in the shoe store).
- Footbeds (also called insoles) are the inner soles that
come inside boot liners. The cheap footbeds that come with new boots are
useless. You should immediately throw them away so that you don't accidentally
use them. You should replace them with either generic footbeds (10×
better than what comes with the boots), or get custom footbeds molded at
your local bootfitter (5× better than generic footbeds).
- Fully heat-moldable liners are highly recommended for any brand of boots:
they are first heated in a convection oven, then they mold to your foot as
they cool while in the boot.
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.
The binding angle is largely personal preference. However, there
are some issues to bear in mind:
- The lower your binding angles, the more leverage you will have across
the width of the board. When learning to carve, start with low binding
angles - lower the binding angle of your back foot until the extreme ends
of the toe and heel of your back boot (including any protruding binding
hardware) are each flush with the edges of the board, as viewed from directly
overhead. You may need to adjust the bias of the binding by shifting the
toe and heel blocks fore/aft to center the boot relative the edges of
the board. Then, adjust the angle of your front binding to be either the
same or a little higher.
- A lot of carvers wind up using angles of 60º front and 60º
rear, a coincidence that is often mistaken as conventional wisdom. Don't
use 60º/60º: instead, start by using the lowest permissible
angles for your boot/binding/board that also provides comfort. Then adjust
from there as necessary.
- You might be able to achieve a more comfortable stance if the front
foot has an angle 3-5º higher than the back foot. Some people ride
with a difference of as much as 15º between front and back
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
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:
- If you have no clue, start with zero cant/lift on the front binding
(flat), and a combination of inward cant and heel lift on the back foot
(3º cant/lift wedge on the TDs). Then if you need more, progress
with this series of tweaks as follows:
- Add toe lift up front
- Add inward canting up front
- Add heel lift and more inward canting on the rear
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.
- Use your shoulder width
- Use the distance from the floor to the middle of your
- Take your pants inseam and multiply by (Phi × 3
/ 8) = 0.607, which is taken from Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man.
Finding an Instructor
In general, there are two types of good carving instructors:
- Those who received no formal training or certification, and taught themselves
to carve without the burdens of conventional wisdom.
- Those who are certified to teach snowboarding, and who then subsequently
figured out which rules to break in order to carve well.
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 only sure way to make sure you are getting the right instruction is
to immediately ask the instructor to demonstrate rail-to-rail carving on steep
ice. If he can't, or won't, or never has, there is probably still time to
get a refund.
- If you are looking for G-force style instruction, check to see if the instructor
has boot overhang - if so, find a polite way to end the lesson and ask for
- Even if you are a racer looking to improve on the Speed style of carving,
you will get better training from an instructor who has a good handle on the
low-to-the-ground G-force style. If the instructor dismisses this style by
saying "those guys have bad technique because they reach for the snow"
it means the instructor is clueless about carving in general, since advanced
carvers don't reach for the snow to skim their hands on the slope - they don't
have to, because angulation, timing, and weight shift cause it to happen naturally.
- Ask the instructor how to get the board higher on edge quicker. If the instructor
says, "Use the same technique, just commit," The instructor may
be clueless. Techniques and drills that help with angulation are required.
- Ask the instructor how the technique should be changed in order to handle
steep ice. If the instructor says, "Use the same technique, just commit,"
the instructor may be clueless. Steep ice calls for cross-through techniques.
- Ask the instructor how the technique should be changed for racing. If the
instructor says, "Use the same technique: only the timing is different,"
the instructor may be clueless. Racing style dictates a more forward-facing
chest to avoid over-rotation.
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.
Here is one possible skill series that beginners can follow.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- If you have not done other board sports and you need to determine whether
you are regular (right facing) or goofy (left facing), do a slide test. In
socks, sprint across the floor and slide. Whichever way you find yourself
facing is the stance you should use.
- You can think of carving as an extreme version of regular freeriding - your
carving style will take you in a direction beyond where your freeriding style
left off. And by pushing yourself beyond your freeriding style, your freeriding
skill will improve. The extra edge control will also be of use in the halfpipe.
- As a beginner, you can progress up the learning curve faster if you attend
a carve camp.
- To click into your bindings on the slope, face downhill with your board
perpendicular to the fall line and downhill from you. Then dig a shelf in
the snow by banging your front heel on the slope, keeping your rear foot uphill
of the board. Then slide the back of the board over the shelf and click into
the rear binding.
- While the USASA is competitive, it has is a very supportive vibe, and beginners
will feel welcomed. USASA uses real snowboard gates and stubbies, which are
far more snowboard-friendly than skier flags. You can often meet other carvers
and carving instructors at USASA events, and snag some free advice. As a beginner,
stick to GS races, because they are closest to a carving style. Slalom style
is purely cross-under, in which your torso follows a straight line down the
slope while your legs flick from side to side around tight turns.
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:
- Avoid twisting the board longitudinally. Try using more heel lift on the back foot.
maintain the same rigid static pressure during the turn. Instead, apply dynamic
pressure using a few techniques:
- Progressively shift your weight from forward to back throughout the turn
- Progressively increase your angulation throughout the turn
- Progressively twist your upper body towards the inside of the turn.
- To allow the board to seek its most natural arc, try unlocking the lean
adjusters on your boots.
If the entire board chatters or washes out, it means you are unbalanced, or the board is twisting. Some
- Keep your weight over the carving edge by angulating. See the section on Angulation for several tips, including moving your
outer hand to the inside of the turn.
- Tilt the board higher on edge. A board tilted at a low angle is more likely
to skid out. Strive to get early edge angle.
- A stiff setup on bumpy terrain is not a good combo.
- Your binding setup might need tweaking. Make sure that you are centered on the board, and that both legs are contributing
an equal amount of pressure during a turn.
- Do not tense up your legs, otherwise the board will chatter. Bend your knees
more and relax your muscles.
- If you twist the board, the nose will want to carve a different radius than the tail. Board twist can happen if you bend your knees aggressively, rotate your body into the turn, and don't have enough lift on the rear binding. In this situation your rear heel will try to lift up as your front toe pushes down, twisting the board.
- Chatter can be caused by too much pressure on the tail ... or too little:
- Don't break forward at the waist, otherwise you will take pressure off
the tail, causing it to skid out. To avoid breaking at the waist, try to tilt the board using your lower leg, with your knees and ankles.
- You might be exerting pressure on the board too late in the carve. As
you are finishing the turn and the board is about 15º from the finish,
you need to be taking pressure off the board to start the next turn. If
you are still pressuring the board beyond this point, it's going to skid.
Shift the time interval of pressure toward the early part of the turn.
This problem can occur if the board doesn't get tilted high on edge soon
enough at the beginning of the carve - as a result, the rider over-pressures
the board during the later half of the carve trying to get it higher on
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:
If you are traversing the slope between
turns, or carving inconsistent turns, you must yield to people behind
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 are using a highly rotated style of carving, you should be able
to look slightly uphill on toe side turns to increase your field of view,
and you might want to take a peek every 3rd turn or so.
- If you can't monitor who is coming from behind, you should consider stopping
every few turns.
- Use goggles that give you a wide field of view.
- You need to be able to hear the sound of people encroaching upon you from
behind, so it's not a good idea to listen to music while you carve. Some
helmets with soft ear flaps allow you to hear much better than others.
- If you carve in family ski zone, look over your shoulder on every turn.
98% of the time you won't hit anyone. And that is exactly the problem.
- Be extra cautious when you are tailed by little kids - they often bomb
down the hill without paying attention to where they are going, and when
they hit you, people will automatically assume that it's your fault.
- Be able to recognize the visual pattern of high-end ski racing apparel,
with the characteristic reinforced areas on the shoulder and shin. If you
peek uphill and spot one, it will try to pass you on the very next turn.
If you get hit from behind, ask yourself two questions:
- Was your board perpendicular to the fall line when you got hit?
- Did you not yet transition into the next turn when you got hit?
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
How to own a run
Before carving a series of turns down a run, follow these guidelines:
- First wait until there are no uphill skiers bombing down the hill.
- Enter the run and carve your first turn.
- 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:
- Have plenty of time to see you carving, even if the skier pays attention
to a very narrow field of view.
- See that you are carving at high speed.
- See at least two turns of your trench, and realize that you are carving
wide, consistent turns.
- 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.
Back to The Carver's Almanac