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Comparing skiing (water) to skiing (snow)

sunvalleylawsunvalleylaw Posts: 1,259 Mega Baller
edited July 2012 in Technique & Theory
I have seen a few comments making comparisons between snow and water skiing and thought I would start a thread. Why? I am a full cert snow ski instructor and coach. I have skied my whole life since 5, and water skied since 9. But I am a much better snow skier than I am a water skier. As I return to getting more focused about my waterskiing after several years of just skiing a couple/few times a year, I thought it might help to get my head on straight about what I know, and am interested in your thoughts. After watching some waterski vids online, and doing some thinking, here are some initial thoughts.

Bottom line, there is some crossover between snow and water skiing, but by no means is it perfect or direct. Depending on the experience of the skier, the comparison might help, or might confuse.


• Both snow and waterskiers want to be "stacked" over their feet and ski(s) in a functional position.
• in both sports, you want to complete the turn smoothly with no excess or corrective or recovery motions so that speed and momentum travel smoothly from turn to turn, and that functional, stacked, body position can be maintained with the "center of mass" being moved ahead.

But not all snow ski turns related to a waterski slalom turn. As a snow ski pro, we are taught to look at what the skis are doing on the snow. Turning a snow ski involves a combination of rotation (pure rotation = turning your feet left or right without tipping) and edging or tipping (pure edging or tipping = simply tipping the skis toward the left or right). Different turns use different amounts of combination. The difference depends somewhat on the direction of travel related to the "fall line" or line that a ball would follow down the hill unobstructed. I consider the fall line in waterskiing to be right down the wake.

A mogul ski turn, which is turning in a very short radius, but traveling straight down the hill over bumps, is full of rotation. Yes there is edging, but there is no true carve in the same sense of a larger radius turn where you can see evidence of the edging from turn to turn in the tracks left by the skis. The turn is initiated with a release of pressure from the edged skis at the end of the last turn, a forward extension, and a rotation and tipping of the skis into the new turn. (this is a bit oversimplified, but good enough for this purpose). The only turn in waterskiing that might be similar is a trick ski turn with tricks directly behind the boat, straight down the fall line. There are similarities in that the head and shoulders stay level and the body stays open to the fall line, but the lower body is doing anything really similar to a waterski slalom turn. Next time you are waterskiing, try turning your ski mostly by turning or rotating your feet back and forth. Not gonna happen!

Most beginner snow skiers use more rotation than tipping or carving in the beginning. Therefore, I think we need to be careful about how much we say waterskiing is similar to snow skiing. The experience of most people might confuse them.


  • sunvalleylawsunvalleylaw Posts: 1,259 Mega Baller
    edited July 2012

    Side note: Equipment for bump turns is also very different. Competitive mogul skiers are the only competitive snow skiers to use "straight" skis as compared to "shaped" skis with sidecut built in. All other competitive skiers (slalom through downhill, even slopestyle, halfpipe and freeride/bigmountain) use skis with side cut built in to the skis so that the ski tipped (but not bent) perfectly will carve a specific radius. Old straight skis had to be bent to carve at all, and were not nearly as efficient at it as the new skis. Skiing on the old skis required a lot more up and down pressure, and most skiers used more rotation. So again, be careful of the waterski athlete's experience when comparing the two sports.

    Now, I do think there are some similarities between modern giant slalom and super G (bigger turn, but not as straight downhill as a Downhill race) skiing. You are carving an arc that is at least similar to the waterski course, back and forth across the fall line. You need to be stacked over the modern skis. If you get back on a modern shaped snow ski it is game over. You need to keep that center of mass driving from the feet forward ahead of the arcing ski. There is some openess to the fall line, but you do not nearly keep the body straight down the hill all the time. That would be way over countered in the modern snow ski world. But you don't stay that countered on a waterski either so it is still more similar than fall line snow skiing. The West Coast technique guys seem to me to get closest to the similar techniques. The extension and flexion that occurs, with the skis carving underneath (or the body crossing over the top depending on how you like to view it) in both sports is much more similar.

    @lagdawg mentioned powder skiing as being similar to waterskiing in how the skis (water and snow) relate to the surface. (I oversimplified what he said but I think got the gist). I agree. Modern powderskiing, due to the widened and shaped and now "ROCKERED" skis has made it much more similar. I capitalize rocker because that was always a difference between equipment before. Snow skis were always cambered, or bent the other way like a leaf spring. Now, powder skis are about the same width as a waterski in many cases, and have rocker!! Therefore, you ride higher over the soft snow, tipping and edging your skis into the snow, and driving that center of mass forward. Much less rotation of the skis as compared to skiing pow on old straight skis, much more similar to a GS or super g race turn, much more similar to waterskiing.
  • sunvalleylawsunvalleylaw Posts: 1,259 Mega Baller
    edited July 2012
    Continued 2:

    Another difference would be the hands. In snow skiing, in a perfect world, your hands are always up, driving down the hill. You never keep you hands on your hips (or checking for your wallet as instructors say to their students). That gets your weight back behind the ideal point, requiring recovery from poor position. In watersking, we are dealing with this handle thing that we need in order to keep moving forward, so it is a bit different. I think that because snow skiing is driving by gravity, and waterskiing is driven by the pull of the handle made by the boat, the ideal stacked position is slightly different. Ideally (and somewhat generally) , a snow skier's chest angle in relation to the snow would equal the angle of the shin, which should be driving into the boot. (again, somewhat simplified for initial discussion. the shin should not be overdriven, but you always want front cuff pressure, not rear of the boot). Suffice to say that you won't see competitive skiers with an "up and proud" chest, and they won't be pinching their shoulder blades together. A "cat back" is stronger in snow skiing.

    So there are a lot of differences, based on the equipment, what propels motion (gravity vs. pull), and the techniques used to turn the skis if you are a beginner in a wedge or open (not highly edged) parallel using rotation to turn, as opposed to the carving skiers that are much more advanced. Once you are talking advanced carving skiing, there are more similarities. But still differences based on the pull vs. gravity.

    As I return to greater focus on my waterskiing, I would like to explore the similarities, what works for me from west coast and what doesn't, keeping more open longer in my waterski turn rather than closing it off too soon by pushing on the rear of the ski or looking too sharply across the wake and things like that. Also, in my snow skiing, I started experimenting with using a "third eye" in the vicinity of my belly button to guide me around the turn. I got that from a mountain bike camp I went to, and it works well in carved snow skiing as well, to avoid what we call excess lead which prevents clean transition of speed and energy from one turn to the next. I would like to see if it works in waterskiing too.

    But I am not a good enough waterskier to analyze much more technically from here. My learning has come from just doing it as a kid, and studying LaPoint/Suyderhoud back in the day. I would welcome input from other snow/waterskiers. I hope this was not too long winded for this forum. Posting it helped me think through some things. I hope someone else finds it helpful.
  • LkSamm196LkSamm196 Posts: 75 Baller
    I'm pretty amateur on water....but pretty f*ckin' rippin on snow.

    Here in Washington, we ski in the winter and do water sports in the summer. (at least that's what I do)

  • sunvalleylawsunvalleylaw Posts: 1,259 Mega Baller
    Hi LkSamm196. I have skied Lake Sammamish. Pretty nice lake when it is flat. I grew up in the PNW skiiing at White Pass and later Crystal mostly. Sometimes up the road from you at The Pass, Alpental being my favorite there. Sorry if you don't like my thoughts here. Have fun!
  • sunvalleylawsunvalleylaw Posts: 1,259 Mega Baller
    One more thought: I re-read Bruce Butterfield's tech article about applying snowskiing to staying open in waterskiing, keeping the shoulders level and down course. I understand what he is saying and see that it makes sense. But IMHO, it is an upper body concept only, and the lower body behaves differently in this aspect of the sport. In snow skiing, if you were in a turn that required keeping the shoulders directly down the fall line, you would be rotating your skis to turn them. Not so with waterskiing. Interesting hybrid concept. In waterskiing, you combine some aspects of the upper body of fall line skiing with some aspects, but not nearly all, of the lower body of GS or SuperG race skiing. Conpare a Ron LeMasters photo of Bode Miller to one of the good West Coast guys and you will see what I mean about the lower body. check out the top photo at the first link below:

    And the top photo here:

    Bode is known for "breaking the rules" with regard to upper body alpine technique. You won't find a ton of Austrians copying his upper body. Interesting though that I think Bode is more similar to a competitive waterskier than most skiers.

    Having one foot behind the other in waterskiing, and two feet more or less side by side with some amount of "lead change" (which foot is ahead relative to the other) accounts for a lot of the differences. I believe that has to do with what the hips are doing relative to the upper body. But I have to think about that more.

    Sorry if these mental meanderings seem a bore, but as a much better snow skier than water skier, it is helping me to straighten out my head as I return focus to waterskiing.
  • eleeskieleeski Posts: 3,975 Infinite Pandas
    Snow skiing and waterskiing share a common trait, dynamic balance. Specific techniques do not have much crossover. Some things like body twist or hand position are minor factors along the lines of tiny fin depth changes or wax brushing techniques. Perhaps they make a performance difference but it is nothing like the effect of good basics. And there are many "right" ways to get down the hill or through the course (or trick pass). I am criticized on snow for my "waterski lean". Hmmm, maybe the technique crossover is worse than not complementary.

    Fundamentals like "tits up", eyes up, weight on the ball of the foot and be decisively aggressive are critical for both. Keep up core strength, flexibility and confidence and you will do well at both sports. Waterski more (and smarter) to get better at waterskiing and snow ski more (and smarter) to get better at snow skiing.

    @sunvalley "I can't believe you are a full cert instructor, I'm so much better than you!" GNAR

  • sunvalleylawsunvalleylaw Posts: 1,259 Mega Baller
    @eleeski, Eric, Dude, just so you know, I am the best skier on the mountain! GNAR.

    I agree about the common traits or threads, and that specific techniques differ. Dynamic balance, good body position (in which I think there are differences between the sports), and good flow from turn to turn without being hard on the edge(s) at any point, but most commonly at the end of the turn, rather letting the skis flow from one turn to the next.
  • LkSamm196LkSamm196 Posts: 75 Baller
    Not sure about this similarity, but snow skier chicks are typcially pretty hot.

    Snowboarder chicks are typically dogs though.

  • m70winm70win Posts: 12 Baller
    The biggest difference to me is, in Slalom skiing on water through the course, you fight to stay wide so you are early for the turn. But in Snow skiing through a course, you to try and stay as narrow as you can, and ski straight down the fall line on purpose. I suppose it's the difference of fighting the pull of the boat, compared to using gravity to it's greatest extent
  • m70winm70win Posts: 12 Baller

    This is fun to watch.
  • m70winm70win Posts: 12 Baller
    Water VS Snow - Challenge of Champions - Mahre Bros., LaPoint, Ro
  • m70winm70win Posts: 12 Baller
    "In 1994, for the second year in a row, former world slalom water ski champion and world record holder LaPoint won the right to wear the crown as the world's best skier on both water and snow. In 1993 at the inaugural "Water vs. Snow" competition, LaPoint bested three worthy adversaries to claim the title during a made-for-TV format event consisting of slalom waterskiing and downhill racing."
  • SkiJaySkiJay Posts: 2,314 Mega Baller
    Snow and water skiing share the fundamentals of balance, speed, coordination, timing, and control, but so do most sports. I grew up literally ON the Canadian Rockies and while snow and water skiing provide great cross-training opportunities, making detailed comparisons between the two is a bit like comparing a baseball swing to a golf swing or skateboarding to surfing. Though similar at a glance, I think they are far more distinct and different from each other than they are similar. ... Your ski should be your dance partner, not a wrestling opponent
  • igkyaigkya Posts: 704 Crazy Baller
    I remember that competition when it was originally broadcast. Anyone know what happened to the front rudder system (starts around 15:00)?
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