OK – I am weird – I am in my sixties, and I still like skiing moguls. No, I don’t and won’t ski them in the same manner I did in my twenties, but I still love them almost as much now as I did then! In college at University of Vermont (UVM), a whole gang of us would warp down icy bumps, on a trail called “Scotch Mist” at Sugarbush North (now named Black Diamond) our knees acting like shock absorbers and our backs absorbing the impact. We would ski the huge troughs super-fast, our skis deflecting and our knees absorbing and if a line looked sketch, we would grab an air and land in the next line over, not stopping until we hit the cat track at the bottom. Oh to be a kid again…!
It was pointed out by well-meaning friends, one who was a doctor, that what was fun now, could cause long lasting damage to my already sore knees and back. If I hoped to still be skiing in my sixties, every day that I pretended my back and knees would last forever, would constrain any future career as an elderly ski bum to which I might aspire.
Somewhere I discovered some deeply buried emotional intelligence and began to change the way I skied moguls. It’s no longer fast and flashy but my goal now is smooth like butter. And sure, butter is boring, but imagine nice hot, steamy French bread without butter. That would be almost as bad as a day of skiing without moguls. I’m hardly the fastest person on the mogul field now, but I’m sometimes the smoothest… and even more often, the oldest. I do limit myself to three or four bump runs a day and try to ski moguls with very little impact, That’s why I hope to still be skiing moguls into my 80’s!
What are Moguls, Anyway?
When you’re learning to ski, you’re likely to come across steeper slopes covered with snowy mounds. One usually wonders how these snowy pimples got there and more importantly why would anyone want them there? Realizing that skiing on a smooth, groomed trail can be challenging enough, it’s easy to wonder why these rounded uneven speed bumps could be any fun for anyone.
Just so you know, moguls are not carefully placed hay bales built into the terrain to create these bumpy patterns. Moguls are somewhat random piles of hardened snow, slowly carved out by skiers making repetitive turns on repetitive runs. Skiers need to turn their skis to control speed, especially on steeper terrain. When the snow is soft, our turns push the snow around. The snow forms small piles and it’s generally easier for a skier to make turns before these small piles of snow rather than on top of the loose piles. These small moguls continue to force skiers to turn in more specific places creating a feedback loop that forms bigger moguls and eventually a full-fledged mogul field. Typically, when you combine steep slopes, a lot of fresh snow and a lot of skiers, the moguls build quickly. On the other hand, on lightly trafficked trails or wide open, less steep trails where skiers make longer radius turns, you are less likely to get moguls. On trails like these, especially when conditions are firm, it can take days for a mogul field to grow, if ever.
In addition, many ski areas groom their intermediate trails every single night with the goal of restoring the snow surface, delivering smooth corduroy that’s perfect for early morning laps. At many areas, any moguls that may build up by day’s end, get squashed flat by Piston Bulley grooming machines each night.
Skiing is expensive. People who pay a lot of money expect to enjoy their skiing. Few people want to pay $200 for a day of skiing and feel frustrated because they skied poorly, blaming their difficulties on trails filled with moguls. Thus, it’s in the ski areas best interest to crush moguls except on a few select expert runs. As ticket prices increase, so does the demand and expectation for immaculate grooming. As skiers age, because mogul skiing can hurt the body, generally the antipathy towards moguls increases.
Even for experienced skiers, moguls are challenging to ski. The new shaped skis have made skiing groomers, steeps, racecourses and especially powder easier. The new ski design hasn’t helped as much with mogul skiing. While the dirty little secret is that powder isn’t easy to ski, no one will admit they don’t like powder. It would make you look like a poser. Moguls on the other hand, get a bad rap, and are popular to hate. Most skiers will tell you; “I like everything about skiing… except moguls!”
But if you want to be an all-around skier, and a good skier, you can’t avoid moguls forever, limiting yourself only to groomed trails or trees. At some point you will need to learn how to ski moguls and hopefully even come to enjoy them. Thus, as a 60-year-old skier who still loves moguls, I feel qualified to offer some advice!
The truth is that moguls, like powder skiing ask you to ski with a different technique than you would if skiing groomers.
Here are some tips to help you become more comfortable and proficient skiing moguls. And once you get the hang of mogul skiing, I promise you moguls can be fun!
1) Admit it – it’s Is it hard to ski moguls?
Once, you realize that moguls are challenging and that you use a different technique for moguls, then all it takes is practice, practice and more practice. And a great thing about skiing is that even practicing is fun! The good news is that unlike powder skiing, you don’t have to wait for a massive snowstorm and then beat everyone to the mountain to practice and improve your technique. You can find moguls at most major mountains and practice at will. It might be wise for your ego’s sake to avoid the bump runs under the lift until you feel ready to “show off!”
2) All Mogul Fields are Not Created Equal~
Understand that not all mogul fields are created equal. If it hasn’t snowed in while, moguls can get carved up, the troughs can get super deep, the tops can get sharp, and they can become super difficult to ski. Also know that some mountains have better bumps than others and when trails get super steep like the chutes at Jackson Hole, Squaw Valley and Alta/ Snowbird, tricky moguls can make an already challenging trail even more intimidating and difficult to “style.”
Mary Jane at Winter Park, Sun Valley, Deer Valley, Steamboat and Killington are my picks for the ski resorts with the best moguls. I haven’t skied everywhere, so apologies if I am missing a great mogul mountain, somewhere else. What most mogul skiers will agree is that snowboards, because of their slidey nature, tend to take the tops off the bumps and destroy the patterns of the mogul field. Generally, the better the skiers skiing the mogulled trails, the better the bumps. Moguls are meant to be skied straight on in the fall line and can become more erratically shaped when you have a lot of skiers (or snowboarders) traversing back and forth across large swathes of the hill, damaging the quality and integrity of the mogul field.
3) It’s all About Your Turns
• Practice making quick and frequent short radius turns on groomers especially early in the season when only a few groomed trails are open and you are looking for ways to keep skiing fun, Find steep terrain to practice so you can improve speed control. Make it a game and see how many turns you can fit into a specified area and work on making your turns quicker and their radii shorter. Often you will be initiating new turns before you can push the energy all the way through the tail of the ski. Again, for racers, this feels different, but this is what you need to do to fit that second quick turn down the backside of a mogul.
• Next, remember that turns exist to control your speed, you want to be constantly turning at a rate that will keep you from going too fast. If you miss a turn, stop as quickly as you can, avoiding an epic blow out. (usually by bailing out across the fall line) It’s hard to regain control once you have missed a turn.
• Tip: if you insist on trying to recover, after a missing a turn, try a quick double pole plant (this gets your hands forward and back in position.) Compress into the back side of the nearest bump in an attempt to kill your speed. Make two quick turns and you may just be back in the game. This is easier to do at age 25 than 65!
4) Mogul Turns are Different than the Turns You Make on Groomers
• A mogul field is filled with lots of uneven surfaces against which to press your skis for the purpose of turning. You will never find flat and easy ground to make a textbook turn. Thus, you will need to match your skis to the terrain using your absorption to create as turnable surface out of rutty, steep troughs.
• Do not expect to make racing turns where you finish the turn, accelerating off your tails. Your goal in mogul skiing is to use your turns to brake, not accelerate.
• Mogul turns are quick and begin at the very front tip of your ski. Often the turn is complete, and you have changed edges before the turn even gets fully to the heel of your boot. You can quicken your turns by pressuring your weight forward against your boots. Relying on your old racing technique in bumps makes moguls even more challenging.
• Change your concept of the perfect turn and save them for an uncut powder stash! Sometimes a turn in moguls is merely a change of edge or even a wiggle, trying to fit your skis into whatever ridge, trough, top or ripple is needed to maintain the rhythm of your turns.
• Create a platform from which to ski by keeping your legs close together (but not glued together). While your legs can and should still work independently in the moguls, you will be skiing with your legs closer together, more similar to powder skiing but with your weight farther forward. Your independent leg action is much more subtle when skiing moguls than groomers.
5) Pick Your Line in Your Head Before You Ski It
• Before you start skiing down a mogul field, pick your line and plan your first five turns. Whether skiing the troughs or the tops or a combination of both. Know where your first five to eight turns “hope” to be. Throughout your run, you should always be planning your future turns three to five moguls ahead.
• If you completely miss your line. Stop, smile and start a new line!
6) Act Like Mercury
• Pretend you are like the element Mercury that gooey silver substance that oozes down the hill, slowly taking the path of least resistance. While a good mogul skier skies tops as much as troughs, making turns on the backsides of bumps, the ooziness and flow of mercury makes it the perfect metaphor for mogul skiing.
• Unless you re intending to get air, your skis should never leave the snow (again act like mercury) if your tips are coming up off the snow, concentrating on getting your weight farther forward, pushing them your tips down towards the snow and initiating your turns.
• Work on your absorption. You are using your knees to absorb the terrain creating a flat enough surface with which to make some kind of turn, Your mission is to be constantly turning and molding your body through knee absorption matching the undulations of the terrain.
• You will want to work on learning how to absorb the front side of the bump, unweighting at the top of the bump, molding your skis to the snow and then carving at least one, and even better if space allows, two turns down the backside of the mogul. This is tough! It can take years to perfect this technique. Practice on gentler, low angled mogul fields, with smaller moguls and find slower soft (spring or powdery snow) to get the hang of these backside turns. Learning these on slick, fast icy moguls first can be super challenging. Just work on doing three or four turns at a time until slowly you can link longer and longer runs replete with backside turns.
7) It’s All About Your Head, Your Body Position and Mostly Your Hands!
• Keep your head up, Look forward and downhill – never look across the hill or down at your skis. If you look at your skis, you will probably cross them and falling is no fun!
• Keep your weight forward, you are initiating the turn at the tip of your skis not your tails. If your weight gets back, in a bumpy environment, it’s easy to get out of control – if you keep your weight forward, on top of your skis, and constantly turn and can mold your skis to the terrain in the process, you will stay in control.
• It’s all about your hands – keep your hands forward at all times and at shoulder width. The second your hands get behind you or too far out to the side you are done. Your hands should be steady and calm with just a slight up and down movement of the wrists to help initiate your turns. Watch the hands of a good mogul skier to see how quiet they remain. If you want to focus on one thing to improve you mogul skiing it is calm hands that always remain out in front of you.
8) … And Some Final Pointers
• Know that you can ski moguls by mostly riding the troughs and deflecting your tips, absorbing the moguls all the way down the hill, but this becomes an inevitable game of chicken, should the hill get steeper or the bumps bigger. I used to ski this way in my twenties. Few oldsters can still ski this way. Basically, you are counting on absorption from your body, the deflection of the skis and some well pressed edge sets to control your speed.
• Know that most bump runs consist of a mix of deflecting through the troughs and absorbing the tops with turns on the backsides. It’s a rare mogul field where you can use an either / or technique.
• If you are competing, you lose points if you change lines – but when skiing a mogul field, it makes total sense to change lines doing your run – this can be a great way to slow down by doing a wider turn to get into a different line, or merely a search for some kinder, gentler bumps.
• As an older skier, I like to avoid the biggest and troughiest bumps. Thus, I am often found skiing the bump line next to the trees. Because there is less traffic on the sides of the trails, the bumps here tend to be smaller and the snow softer. I never find it wimpy to be searching for smaller bumps.