Next to stopping, good maneuverability is the most essential skating skill. The ability to make a hard swerve helps you avoid collisions and gives you more options in tight situations, such as on crowded trails or in the heat of a roller hockey game. This can be accomplished by learning the parallel turn, which is also the entry point for learning the slalom skating skill that leads to ski cross training.
The parallel turn is a banked turn that uses a tipping action similar to that used by cyclists. A left parallel turn begins by coasting in a narrow scissors stance (think "bicycle configuration") with the left foot in front. With experience comes the balance, speed and confidence that enables you to achieve this turn simply by looking over your left shoulder and letting the tip happen while centrifugal force keeps you from crashing. The scary part is that your center of gravity ends up way left of your feet in a hard left turn!
This article was updated in July 2002 to reflect my latest, more successful way of teaching the elusive parallel turn. The following sequence favors people who prefer to turn in a counter clockwise direction (most right-handers). Of course, you'll repeat the drills to learn parallels on your "bad side."
Before starting the 4-step drill below, warm up by skating through a long row of cones (or other markers) about 5 feet apart on level pavement. Doing "slalom" turns this way will help you get used to tipping both skates toward the same direction (onto "corresponding edges") when making turns in a narrow stance.
1. Coast in a Swapped Braking Stance
First, just practice coasting at a moderate speed in a straight line with 3/4 of your weight on the right, rear foot and 1/4 on left heel wheel. To keep your skates no more than 3 inches apart, try pressing your knees together. Bounce up and down on that right hip a few times to really settle your weight over it. Your helmet, right shoulder, right hip and right heel should all be aligned, meaning you're in a pretty upright stance except for the bent right knee.
2. Lift the Front Toe
This is exactly like trying to brake with the wrong foot. Once you are successfully coasting in the narrow stance with an upright torso, lift the left toe and get used to coasting that way. To keep the narrow stance, try to get the left heel wheel about an inch ahead and to the left of the right toe wheel.
3. Add a Toe-Lifted Turn
At a moderate speed in that toe-up coast, begin looking over your left shoulder as you try tipping the right knee under your belly button toward the left. Eventually, this should result in a turn as long as you are maintaining that all-important bicycle configuration of wheels in a line, not side by side. Remember to keep an upright torso--don't bend over the left foot or you'll get too much weight on it and kill the turn. You could even try lifting that skate off the ground altogether and try turning.
4. Drop the Front Toe
Once you master Step 3, you are ready to begin dropping the front toe mid-turn. Keep trying until you can hold onto your narrow stance (try tucking the back right knee in tight behind the front left knee). Begin dropping the toe sooner and sooner in the turn until you can complete a full parallel turn with all eight wheels on the pavement.
- Enter the turn at a moderate speed (remember, cyclists must put a foot down if going too slowly). For this reason, you might find a slightly sloped area better to learn on.
- Stay upright and keep your skates in a narrow stance.
- Go back to the previous step if you're having trouble.
Performed successfully, you should feel pressure under the outside edges of the left, front skate's wheels, but mostly on the heel wheel. There will be lots of pressure on all of the inside wheel edges of your right skate directly under you. A sure indicator of success is the sound of the pavement scraping across those edges as they grip into the arc of the turn.
Parallel turns require confidence born of practice! It may take half an hour or it may take a week, but this elegant swerve is so worth it.
Note from Dan: I use this turn all the time - but not for downhill skating. This is not the same thing as what skiers call a parallel turn, so don't let the name confuse you.