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Moguls: Love 'em or hate 'em

By: John Lymer

Maybe you’re one of those who dread moguls and consciously avoid them?! If so, I hope the tips in this article may start to change that for you. And if you’re somewhat keener, hopefully there’ll still be a nugget or two for you as well…

I love moguls! Yes, some find that weird I know. To me, moguls are the last big challenge of piste skiing. The way I see it, if you can do a controlled side slip and turn then you can get down a steep, icy plane surface on a black run. If you can do jump turns, you can get down the same slope, or steeper, in fresh snow. But moguls are different and still a challenge and a thrill. I’ve never been able to absolutely thrash down them, but I can keep up a good, steady pace. My knees are nearly 60 now and one is missing an anterior cruciate ligament (skiing in Purgatory Creek — yes, really). While I’m pretty capable, there’ll always be bumps that will catch me out. And there lies the challenge — to get caught out less and less!

I recall what seemed a never-ending mogul field in St Moritz about 35 years ago. I’d only been skiing several years then. That slope could have been a mile, but maybe it was less. Now I’ve improved I went back in search of that run about 10 years ago. Gone! Flattened! Sadly, that seems the fate of many bumps — over eager piste-bashing. Lately, moguls have seemed in short supply on many holidays and I don’t think I go to all the ‘wrong’ resorts?! We used to ski a lot in America before the currency exchange rate really went against the UK. What we found in a lot of resorts there is that they’d flatten one side of a steep run and leave moguls on the other. If only more resorts would do that!

Long before Chill Factore came along, SCoM organised monthly visits to the dry slope at Ski Rossendale in Winter, with tuition provided. One such was a moguls lesson with Instructor, Bill McGann, possibly about 25 years ago. Whilst I’d watched videos, read books, listened to friends and practiced, that lesson transformed my moguls skiing. More so than a 2 hour moguls clinic a couple of years later in Vail! Before booking on the latter I was asked to watch a series of videos which demonstrate the abilities of skiers in levels 1 to 9, with 9 being the best. I judged myself to be level 8 and booked on a clinic for levels 7 and 8. The session started by skiing a run with several Instructors watching quite a large group of about 30 or so. After that we were split up and told that just 2 of us were level 8 and everyone else was level 7. It transpired that the other bloke in my ‘group’ was an Attorney from Miami who worked for 6 weeks each year as a part-time Ski Instructor in Vail. I was in good company then!

Right, enough of the preamble, let’s get down to some key points and then I’ll go on to explain the reasons for them:

  1. Keep skis close together and weight them both fairly evenly
  2. Stand centred on your feet, rather than on the balls
  3. Face downhill and keep your shoulders quite square to the fall line at all times
  4. Keep hands in front at all times
  5. Plant your pole, absorb the bump, twist below the waist and side slip down the back
  6. Try skiing over the bump/around its shoulder and let the bump push your ankles and knees up. As you go over/around the crest, completely relax your ankles and scrub the speed off by side slipping down the back of the bump - do not edge your skis
  7. Slow the whole sequence right down, practice, then you can start to speed up

We’re often told to keep skis a foot or more apart and mostly weight the downhill ski. That works well for carving. But doing it with bumps will result in your skis getting taken in different directions — splaying — possibly followed by a fall. So, close together and weight evenly on both skis it is please.

If your hips are vertically above your knees, you lack the flexibility to absorb big bumps. Try standing on the spot in your normal skiing position and see how much and how easily you can lower your pelvis. Now shift/sit very slightly back, so your weight is now on the middle of your feet and not on the balls. Your hips have moved back a fraction and your pelvis can get much lower and more easily when you bob down. When you ski moguls, the bumps will push your skis, ankles and knees up in just the same way. It’s important though, not to sit too far back, or you will certainly lose control! As with most things skiing, the difference between right and wrong is quite a subtle one.

Face downhill with your shoulders square to the fall-line and your hands in front at all times. All the real work is done by the hips, knees and ankles and your upper body should be quite still. If it all goes a bit awry, it’s probably because your weight has shifted a bit too far back, or there’s too much upper body movement and one shoulder and arm is trailing. I find the quickest way to resolve both and recover is to try and get my hands out in front again.

Really relaxing the ankles is key to side slipping. It may sound counter intuitive, but the more relaxed your ankles are, then the slower you will go. So, trying not to edge,the skis will scrub the speed off as you descend the downhill face of the bump. Then, extend your legs into the trough, prepare to plant the pole and pivot around the next bump.

You can take 3 lines through moguls: over the crest of each bump, around the crest, or through the channels. Let’s face it, skiing over every crest is physically very tough! Skiing the troughs is very difficult and your ski tails will get caught. That leaves us with the middle way: skiing around the crests/on the shoulder of the bumps. It doesn’t take as much absorption as going over the highest point of the bump and it gives you a bit more time to turn, then prepare for the next turn.

Aided by good side slipping technique, try skiing moguls very slowly. Once you can do this, you can speed up a bit any time you want, but slowing it all down will help you consolidate good technique. Relaxing the ankles will put you firmly in control. You absolutely do not want to edge and carve the skis.

Okay, let’s summarise then:

If you take one thing from this —

  1. Relax the ankles completely; do not edge the skis

If you take three things —

  1. Relax ankles
  2. Keep skis close together and evenly weighted
  3. Keep hands in front at all times and shoulders square to the fall-line

Now all we need is to be able to go on holiday once again!

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