Updated July 2nd, 2023
How to stop on skis is without question the most important thing you need to learn when learning to ski. Strapping on a set of alpine skis and flying down the hill is a lot of fun, but it won’t end in a fun way if you can’t stop at the bottom. Let’s take a look at the 4 most common and best ways to stop when downhill skiing.
How to stop on skis. The 4 best ways to stop
I’m going to talk about some of the techniques to stop while skiing. The very best thing you can do is take a ski lesson from a professional ski instructor to learn these. This will give you some idea of what to expect from your first day skiing. This isn’t meant to be a substitute for professional instruction. I don’t want any of you reading this and jumping on the ski lift and pushing off thinking you know how to stop. The best thing you can do as a beginner is to start by heading to the ski school at your local ski resort.
1 – The snow plow stop or wedge stop
The snowplow or wedge stop technique is the first way most skiers learn to stop. They will sometimes call it Pizza for kids. You use a wide stance with your feet spread apart. You point the tips of your skis together. Your skis will look like the shape of a snowplow or wedge. To turn you will put pressure on your outside foot. To turn left, you put pressure on your right ski. To turn right, you put pressure on your left ski. To stop you put pressure on both skis at the same time.
This technique works very on easy not very steep on piste beginner terrain like the bunny hill and at slow speeds. The type of terrain you should be on as a beginner skier. It works less well, the steeper slopes and faster speeds. It also works best on smooth groomed surfaces. It’s very hard to hold your skis in a wedge in deep powder snow.
If you are skiing straight down the hill on a wedge and decide to stop, you need to keep pushing both feet until you stop. If you get tired and give up before stopping and take pressure off your skis you will just speed up again. This is the biggest drawback to a straight down the fall line wedge stop.
The below video shows a couple of examples of skiers doing snowplow stops.
Some tips for snowplow stopping.
Lean forward so you put more pressure on the front half of your skis. You have more ski in front of your boot than behind it. The more ski you use, the more effective you are at stopping. You should be putting pressure into the bottom of your ski boot and on your shin.
Don’t lean back. Leaning back too much is almost always an instant fall. If you feel pressure against the back of your leg where it exits your ski boot, you are leaning back too much.
Put your hands on your knees. This will force you to lean forward. You really don’t need to use ski poles until you are parallel turning and learning to pole plant. Up to that point, they are just getting in the way.
After you have stopped, turn your skis across the hill. If you don’t, they are still pointing downhill and you will start moving again.
Don’t worry about falling. Everyone falls while learning to ski. Having a great yard sale of a fall where you lose your poles, both skis, hat, ski goggles is something to brag about during apres ski.
Don’t use your poles to help stop.
It’s tempting to stick your pole in the ground in front of you and try to push with it to stop. This is a great way to hurt yourself. You will either mess up your wrists or you will jam your pole into the ground and ski over it. A ski pole between the legs doesn’t feel great.
See the below video for a demonstration and tips on how to snowplow stop.
2 – Snow plough or wedge turn to stop
This is a variation of the wedge stop. It is a combination of stopping and a snowplough turn. To do this you put pressure on both skis but more pressure on one than the other. You are stopping and turning at the same time. The more you turn from straight down the fall line to across the slope the more you will slow down.
The advantage is clear. If you get tired before you are completely stopped, you are now pointing across the hill instead of down it. When you take pressure off your skis you won’t immediately speed back up again. You will learn quickly this is almost always a better way to stop than just power wedging down the hill to a stop.
This takes a little more coordination because you are now stopping and turning at the same time. It’s a good idea to take a quick look uphill before turning across the slope. Getting run over by another skier or snowboarder isn’t fun.
See the below video for a demonstration and tips on snowplow turning.
3 – Hockey Stop or parallel turn stop
Alpine skiing gets a lot more fun and easy once you learn to parallel turn. This is when you do everything with your skis together and parallel to each other. They will call this French Fries for kids sometimes. Parallel turning is the ski technique that opens up steeper slopes and higher speeds. Once you are parallel skiing you have officially graduated into an intermediate skier. A hockey stop or parallel turn stop is the turning technique that goes with parallel turns.
It is named a hockey stop because it is similar to the technique hockey players use to stop on ice skates. Fortunately, it is much easier to do on skis than on ice skates.
To do a hockey stop you do the following:
- Start by going down the ski slope in a slightly crouched position like you are getting ready to turn.
- Lift up with your body to unweight your skis.
- Rotate your feet and legs to turn your skis perpendicular to the slope. While rotating keep your skis flat to the snow so your not edging.
- Weight down on your downhill ski and edge to slow down and stop while sliding perpendicular to the slope.
- The more you weigh and lean into your downhill ski edge, the faster you can slow down and stop.
The below video shows a couple of examples of skiers doing hockey stops.
Some tips to help you with hockey stops.
The more hardpack or icy the snow surface is, the more you need to focus on your balance while stopping. Use your downhill inside edge to stop and use your uphill ski to balance yourself. In soft snow or powder, you can go full power on both ski edges to stop yourself.
When powder skiing it is important to stay balanced with equal pressure on both skis. If you put all your weight on one ski when you ski powder, it will dig into the snow and the other ski will float up and you will fall.
Don’t lean back. Leaning back while parallel turning and doing a hockey stop is a great way to fall. You need to stay balanced with your weight over the center of your skis or slightly forward.
One direction will be easier for you to stop and turn. Almost everyone has a dominant side that is easier. It’s important to practice this stopping skiing technique while turning your skis both left and right. In advanced terrain, you won’t always have a choice of which way you want to go.
You may want to swing your upper body also when you stop. If you swing your upper body too much you can lose your balance. Don’t rotate your upper body any more than perpendicular to the slope with your skis.
The below video gives some tips and a demonstration on how to hockey stop successfully.
4 – Riding out a turn to stop
While going downhill, turn across the hill by and keep pressuring your outside ski and continue turning until you go uphill and stop. Use your inside ski for balance as you would any turn or stop. This is a good technique to use if you pick up too much speed to wedge or hockey stop. If you can still turn, you can save yourself by turning across the hill and uphill. This is more of a panic technique than something to do every time you stop. It will stop you no matter how fast you are going.
You run the risk of turning uphill in front of a skier who is going fast behind you and getting run over. Most experienced skiers will notice the skier below them doesn’t look that in control and stay clear. Everyone uphill of you isn’t experienced. It’s something to be aware of. If you have to choose between turning uphill blindly or barrelling into a lift tower below you, turn up the hill.
You also run the risk of running off the edge of the trail. Hopefully, you will slow down enough before running into the edge of the slope that you can wedge or hockey stop.
The below video shows a skier stopping by riding out the turn. She falls at the end but you can see it’s effective at stopping you if you get going too fast downhill.
How to fall while skiing to avoid injuries
Skiing is like every other sport. You can hurt yourself while falling. There is some things you can do to help prevent injuries while falling.
Remember to tuck and roll. Don’t try to stop yourself with your hands. Once you know you are falling tuck your arms in until you hit the ground. You can easily break your hands, fingers, arms, or wrists by hitting the snow hard with your hand.
After you are on the snow surface you need to stop yourself as quickly as possible. On a beginner slope, you will most likely coast to a stop without any extra effort. On a steeper slope, you may not stop without putting effort into it.
Dig your skis into the snow to stop yourself. If your skis have popped off, dig your boots into the snow. On steep icy or hardpack slopes you can slide a long way down the slope. There may be things below you that you don’t want to slide into.
The below video gives some great tips for how to fall and crash on skies and not get hurt.
How to stop while cross country skiing
To learn about cross country ski stopping and turning techniques, see this article from Nordic Ski Lab.
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Co-Founder & Editor
Kate is from Taiwan and came to the US after meeting her husband Doug. She has degrees in Fashion Design, Sales, and Marketing. The first thing we did her first winter here was go straight to the mountains and start ski lessons. These days she is an expert black diamond skier and waits for no one at the bottom. She also loves hiking and biking. She comes from Taiwan where people ride scooters way more than cars. She would rather bike or scooter and only drives when she absolutely has to.