5 Fool-proof Strategies for Tackling the Bumps Like a Pro
Taos Ski Valley, NM – For beginners and some intermediate skiers, a face-off with a mogul run can turn a good day on the mountain into a bad one. Scary yard-sale crashes and even heated exchanges between couples are a familiar backdrop of many mogul hills.
But for those intermediate and advanced skiers who actually go out of their way to scout mogul runs and tackle them wholeheartedly, it can be an exhilarating experience and an impressive athletic feat. During a mogul run, if a skier has enough body control that the lower body, including the knees and feet, work independently from the upper body, it’s a beautiful sight that demonstrates skill, balance, and harmony. While there is no substitute for taking ski lessons and receiving on-mountain guidance, there are some techniques you can study and reference. Keep these strategies in mind and soon you’ll be skiing moguls with more confidence, control, and comfort.
1. Keep Your Options Open
One of the most common mistakes I see skiers make is that they find a turning style they like and they stick with it. But because the size and shape of moguls vary, it’s an ineffective strategy that won’t take you to the next level. You need to be flexible and proactive in your approach and vary your turns, even within the same run. What does that mean? You should never be over committed to a specific kind of turn. I’ve found that the best skiers in the world have a least one thing in common: at any given moment, they have every possible option available to them.
2. Tactics and Techniques are Intimately Linked
So to get yourself in position to have multiple options available to you, you need to practice different tactical choices. Ask yourself, am I skiing the zipper line on this run? Or should I make rounder turns that use the side of the neighboring mogul? Traveling to the outside of the bump and avoiding the top is a great tactical choice.
When in the moguls, your ability to make the right tactical choices and adjust your edge angle is critical. Remember the steep side of a mogul essentially gives you your edge angle automatically. An edged ski results in less friction which can result in increased speed. This can push you on your heels and cause your skis to slip out from underneath you like a banana peel. But if you take a wider turn and use the side of the neighboring bump, your skis are flatter on the snow, which increases the friction and makes it easier for you to steer. Trust me I know this can be a scary exercise because making longer and rounder turns means you’ll be facing the fall line longer than you feel comfortable with. Most of the skiers I teach want to turn across the fall line as quickly as possible to get back into their comfort zone. But remember to evaluate the situation and make the right tactical choice. If it’s a big bump you may need to make a larger turn, and your skis may be pointed down the hill just a little longer than you want to. Remember, you can always use the side of the neighboring bump to deflect you into your next turn.
3. Turn Shapes and Speed Control
Another way to improve your mogul skill set is to play with your speed control. You can try making two turns on top of a long skinny bump and think about turning up the hill slightly before you turn down the hill. This will not only build energy in the ski but it also gives you some security of knowing that you’ve controlled your speed before starting down through the fall line. Use the base of the mogul and your turn shape to control speed and to prepare yourself for the next turn. By keeping your speed in check your body will remain in balance. As you practice varying your speed and turning patterns remember that skiing is about movement and rhythm, linking several turns together, not starting and stopping.
4. Turn Those Legs
Another technique to remember in the bumps is turning your legs beneath your stable upper body. The reason we care about this is because when we are in the bumps we are making very short radius turns. When we turn our lower body beneath a stable upper body, there is a coil action, your body sort of winds up and twists, and builds up tension.
The body doesn’t like the tension and wants to release it. The more we can build up and develop that tension from the act of turning of our legs, the more quickly we can get into the next turn. This is challenging because people have a tendency when in the bumps to turn their legs quickly and then stop turning their legs all together, and that’s when they slide step. What people are really doing when this happens is compartmentalizing their skiing skill set. They are focused on doing one thing at a time and instead skiers should concentrate on turning the legs, controlling edge angle, and flatting the skis, all in a single, coordinated effort.
5. Turn Your Foot
Wait, there’s more! In addition to turning your legs to focus on separating the upper and lower halves of the body, you also need to focus on the separation between the foot and the lower leg. Again, this fits into the continuous movement theme. As I mentioned earlier, skiers often make one large, abrupt, sometimes desperate, movement followed by a total lack of movement. When you feel yourself doing this, try to keep moving or keep turning your legs under the stable upper body. But don’t stop there; instead, keep moving or turning even more. Get the final 8th or 16th of the turn by continuing to steer the feet just a bit more, and you’ll see favorable results. Use that ankle joint! We think of our ankles often when edging the ski but it comes in handy also when turning the ski by way of more rotary motion.
Putting it All Together
As a ski instructor at Taos Ski Valley, I get to experience and observe skiers on a classic, nationally-recognized mogul run called Al’s Run. Maintaining a zipper line down that run is not sustainable without an O2 tank. It is long! It has a classic fall line and nice VW Bug-size bumps. And because everyone on the chair is watching, you’ve got to work hard to show your best stuff.
When on Al’s Run, or your favorite bumps run, remember skiing the moguls is about a series of synchronized movements. I truly believe skiing is the ultimate multi-tasking sport. In order to improve your skills and performance on the mountain, you need to do a number of things at the same time. Focus on adjusting your turn shape, controlling your edge angle, and flexing and extending your legs. Then, practice blending all of these movements together in a seamless way. The more you can multi-task, the stronger you’ll feel and the smoother you’ll look.
Olympic Gold Medalist Deb Armstrong is the Ambassador of Skiing at New Mexico’s Taos Ski Valley and is a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America Alpine Team. Her website may be found at www.DebbieArmstrong.com.