As a snowboarder, chances are you’ve engaged in one of these unending arguments about whether you are (or should be carving), simply linking your turns, or skidding. There’s a lot of confusion about the different kinds of turns snowboarders use, what they really are, and which is better to use.
Carving is about riding on the edge of your snowboard for maximum control and minimum snow displacement in turns. Skidded turns involve your board sliding somewhat with your tail and nose following slightly different paths. They are easier to master than carving and handier for rugged terrain.
Linking turns simply refers to switching between heel and toe edge. Also called S-turns or regular turns, they simply refer to the ability to chain turns successfully. When turning, your board is either skidding or carving – or something in between.
Carving is sometimes described as turning with style. The goal is to create as little edge as possible and retain full control at speed. Few riders carve even though they may think they do. A good test to know whether you’re truly carving is if the track you’re leaving is a line narrower or wider than the width of your board.
Let’s dig a bit deeper (no pun intended) into the linking vs carving vs skidding debate.
Linking (S turns) vs carving turns on a snowboard
As I mentioned, linking turns merely means going from toeside to heelside and vice versa for the purpose or turning left or right. So An S-turn simply means making two turns on opposite edges in a fluid motion without stopping. Linking turns is an intermediate step in the snowboarding learning process.
How you link your turns, e.g. by holding a hard edge all the time or with some skidding, is a separate thing. In all cases, however, to link your turns you engage your edge at least some (edging aka carving) to keep control of your board.
The term “S turn” describes the shape of the turn, whether it’s carved or not. Short turns result in you facing downhill more, whereas in longer turns you face the edge of the slope more often. The size of the turn also determines how much edging you do.
You can a basic turn keeping your body lined up with the board, pushing down on your front foot, and twisting your front knee in the direction you want to go, optionally with a slight squat when switching edges.
Carving, on the other hand, is a specific technique (and riding style) which involves more advanced skills that build on top of simple turn linking.
In a carved turn, you position yourself fully on the edge of your board so that the board moves along a defined path, determined by the shape of the edge (sidecut) and the pressure you apply.
Carved turns result in smooth, large-radius turns that leave a “pencil line” track in the snow when riding on hard pack.
Even at higher speed, little snow is displaced from true carving. The snowboard bends and cuts into the snow, with the edge digging out only a thin line along the path. Skidding at the same speed, in contrast, would raise a much bigger spray.
Carving focuses on edge grip and precision, and provides a unique riding feel. It gives you solid control of your snowboard at higher speed. It also allows you to ride faster on groomed and/or clean runs. In general, you come out of a carved turn faster than you went in.
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Carving vs skidding for turning on a snowboard
When a snowboarder makes a carved turn, the front and back of the board move in unison as it goes down the slope.
On the other hand, in a skidded turn you move sideways and skid down the hill. The front and back of your board do not follow the same route, the back of the board veers slightly off course, creating a skid or crescent moon shape in the snow.
So while skidded turns leave a swath of mashed snow, carved turns leaves pencil thin trenches. Skidding also results in your board making more noise as the snow’s surface is being scraped during the motion.
The more you skid, the louder your boarding is because you’re scraping the snow.
Carving continuously on a steep run, holding your edge and make efforts not to skid is physically very demanding and makes your calves and thighs work hard. Riders who are new to carving often need to pause and rest often when carving.
When using skidded turns, you go down in more zig zags than a pure arc. Skidding is not as demanding as pure carving and requires less energy. That’s the reason the vast majority of snowboarders use this technique most of the time.
Typically, it’s hard to carve all the time, particularly on really steep and/or bumpy terrain. Most people combine different types of turns. Also, many snowboarders have a hard time mastering the carve for the heelside turn and always slide the board somewhat – resulting in some chattering in the turn.
Carving – aka riding an edge – requires more experience and skills than skidding. It requires commitment and confidence in order to significantly shift your weight on an edge.
In a carved turn, you apply pressure on your front toes or heel to initiate the turn. As the edge of your board starts cutting through the snow, you complete the carve by putting pressure on your rear foot toes or heel.
In a skidded turn, on the other hand, you have your weight primarily on your front foot, and your rear foot is the one initiating the turn by pressing on the board’s edge. This results in significantly less control over the snowboard.
Skidded turns are sometimes called “ruddering” or “windshield wiper turns”. You move your back foot inward or outward to transition between toe and heel. This is a great technique for shedding speed.
To initiate a carved turn, you need to apply enough force to flatten your snowboard (make the board’s camber flat in the turn) and dig the full length of the edge. This is achieved by pressing down on the nose of the board and/or squatting down as you enter the turn.
In appropriate snow conditions, a turn begins by shifting your weight forward onto the nose and then gradually moving your weight backwards in a steady and controlled manner throughout the turn. A carved turn uses the full potential of the snowboard’s edge on the snow surface.
When carving, you’re able to pick up speed even though you’re making turns. You switch edge when your snowboard becomes perpendicular to the descent line.
Carving typically requires aligning your body with the board, keeping your weight evenly spread on both legs, and minimizing hip and upper body rotation. You shift your weight to one edge or the other as necessary, and perform wide, drawn out turns.
At the end of a turn, the board snaps back like a spring as the camber gets back into place (good carving boards have camber with a directional shape), allowing you to absorb energy and bounce into the next turn.
To learn carved turns, you should generally start with a green run. Carving on a steep black is challenging at first, even for an experienced snowboarder, as being able to easily shave off some speed will be required.
See also: Hard vs Soft Snowboard Boots
Carving vs skidded turns: which to choose?
Both carving and skidded turns have their place in snowboarding, even for advanced riders. Deep carving isn’t appropriate in all situations, for example in areas with many trees, on moguls, or on very steep and narrow runs.
A combination of easy/lazy carving and skidded turns is often the best way to achieve efficient riding. You ride on an edge just enough to leave a thin track but without turning much, and use skidded turns to shed speed or stop.
You might need the great edge control found in carving when riding advanced runs with narrow chutes. However, you may also find relief in skidding your edge when facing a steep open slope.
Carving is an important skill for speed, particularly on hard pack and ice. The edge control obtained through carving is a prerequisite for fast riding on groomers.
Besides the great feeling it offers, carving allows you to build up speed (unlike skidding which sheds speed) while better controlling your board.
That said, most riders shouldn’t carve on really steep runs and bumpy terrain, or in crowded conditions where the ability to stop on a dime is essential – e.g. if another snowboarder or skier cuts you off.
Skid turns are also a good choice when you’re riding at low speed and you need to do really tight turns – tighter than your board’s sidecut permits.
Linking S-turns is a fundamental skills will learn after getting started in snowboarding. Turning on a snowboard always means engaging your board’s edge in the snow. Carving focuses on a strong and permanent edge hold and control, while skid turns also involves some edge sliding at certain times.
Both carving and skidded turns play a key role in snowboarding at a proficient level. Each may be a good option for specific types of terrain and speed levels.
Whether you’re edging or skidding, it’s important to keep your board on edge during a turn. Your board should only be flat for a brief moment when transitioning between edges.