I began skiing after graduate school in 1975 when I was 24 years old. It probably took me a year or two until I progressed from stem turns to decent parallel turns, and while in my twenties I was quite gung ho over the sport of downhill skiing as I progressed rather rapidly from novice to high intermediate. However, the thing I always admired the most in advanced skiers was the ability to ski moguls in control while maintaining smooth form. You’ve seen these freaks…they look like little pistons as their legs absorb every bump and change in terrain while their upper bodies remain unaffected by all the lower body turbulence, and they exhibit this form while skiing directly down a steep fall line.
Of course there are also the speed freaks who point their skis directly downhill on a steep groomed slope and attain high rates of speed and endanger all the other skiers around them. They also think they are expert skiers. Another impressive group of skiers are those who invade the trees and swoop off of rocks with no fear evident in their facial expressions. I respect these skiers, and many of these can probably also impress just as much in a mogul field, but the expert mogul skier still tops my list. Another group of skiers includes the crowd that sticks to the terrain park and performs all manner of tricks and stunts on rails and jumps. I can’t even imagine overcoming my fears to execute an aerial flip so I have the utmost admiration for these folks, but as a personal preference, I’d still rather watch a skilled bump skier.
So after skiing for 37 years, where am I on the scale of bump skiers? I’d probably rate myself in the top 20% and somewhere around the bottom of advanced and top of high intermediate. I used to think that smooth mogul skiiing required ridiculous quad muscle strength, superb cardiovascular conditioning, and a finely tuned sense of balance and these are certainly useful, but I’ve grown to realize that there are four fundamental keys to success. First comes picking a line. It helps to look for a good line before you start, but being able to adjust on the fly is even more important. Second comes controlling ones speed. A mogul skier will never be able to ski big moguls while continuing to gather speed as one progresses down the mountain. Controlling speed means using the tools provided to edge and slow down, so the third key is making short brief contact with the snow on the tops and along the rounded contours of the moguls. If you hold an edge too long, you are asking for trouble because your weight is too dependent on one ski, and you are likely to quickly lose balance and control. Amazingly the final key is confidence. When I was younger I read article after article about how mogul skiing is a mental game. These articles suggested pausing at the top of the slope to pick a line and then visualize ones smooth navigation through the bunched cluster of snow mounds below. I’ve come to realize that there is much truth to this mental aspect of the mogul game.
I group mogul fields into three types. First there are the double black diamond devils with moguls the size of VW beetles with huge deep troughs and in the worst case the troughs are icy from all the novice mogul skiers who ski through them and avoid the large humps. A second category are the moderate sized moguls, still spaced fairly close together, but not separated by the deep ravines present in the category one moguls. The last group is best described as embryonic moguls, a series of clumped crud mounds created by skiers after a fair amount of new accumulation. My favorites are category two, and I find that these are the best stretches to practice the key techniques and build confidence. I still strive for the ability to dominate category one, but I spend more time on category two terrain.
This all brings me to my day on Saturday March 2, 2013 at Breckenridge. Breckenridge had received a nice amount of new snow during the previous week, although there was no new accumulation on Friday night before we made our appearance on Saturday morning. The area was unbelievably crowded with several lift line waits approaching 30 minutes, but Jane and I persisted and were rewarded with some great skiing in the afternoon. The air temperature climbed into the 40’s and the sun was bright with no clouds in the sky. This was my fifth ski outing of the year, but my legs were feeling reasonably fresh as we discovered shorter lift lines on Peak 10 and enjoyed some nice long groomed runs on Cimarron, Double Jack and Crystal.
Next we migrated up the Superconnect back to Peak 8 and checked out Chair 6. Unfortunately at 2PM it was still mobbed with skiers so we continued down Lower Boneyard and Frosty’s Feeway. It was here that I discovered a nice stretch of category 2 moguls and in spite of only five days of skiing in the 2013 season and approaching age 62, I experienced some of my best mogul skiing. I was confident and applied all the keys described earlier. I bounced through this area twice and then demonstrated similar mastery of the moguls on High Anxiety before returning to Chair 6 just before it closed. Jane and I took one ride on Chair 6 and came down Lobo, a black diamond somewhere between 2 and 3, and the fun continued; absorb, quick edge, turn, absorb, edge, turn, etc.
It was a fun afternoon as my feet remained warm and moguls were my domain, and I’m looking forward to a weekday trip this week. The quest for mogul mastery continues.