Sunday, October 10, 2010

How to Adapt to Skiing Moguls

by Robert Stewart

Moguls are one of those challenges in skiing that can strike fear into all but the most expert of skiers. The thing is, moguls can be our friends. Yes really, they can!

If you are comfortable skiing down groomed slopes at varying gradients then you will have the ability to ski a mogul field. I’m not necessarily talking about high speed ‘ripping’ directly down the fall-line or performing aerial manoeuvres like the pros. But it is achievable to ski smoothly and graciously down through a mogul field performing short radius turns like you might on your favourite groomed run.

Skiing is all about adapting to the terrain that we are on at the time. When we drive a car we adapt to the type of road we are using. For example, on a small winding road you would drive more slowly, probably in a lower gear, than on a straight major highway. Many skiers become locked into a certain way of skiing which works fine on certain terrain, usually groomed runs, because that’s what we mostly do. But transfer that technique to other terrain, like moguls or powder, and it might not work as well.

I’m not saying you have to change the way you have learnt to ski, just make some tweaks which help the skis deal with what’s in front of them.

Modern ski technology has enabled skiers to ‘carve’ out smooth turns on groomed runs with relative ease. This is great news because carving out high speed turns can be great fun. But, without going to much into technical detail here, what we are doing in these turns is basically pressurising the inside edge of the turning ski and letting the ski do the work.

I have seen many good skiers head into the moguls and continue to apply the same technique. What tends to happen is that very quickly they gain speed and cannot handle the impact of the moguls. They quickly get thrown backwards even though they understand the principles of flexion and extension crucial to skiing moguls.

For me, the simple solution to skiing moguls at any level is ‘rotation’. This means that we separate the lower part of the body from the upper part. Our legs work independently from out torso. We are steering the skis with our legs and feet. We still use our edges and we still pressure the skis, but in a different cycle.

For example:

Pattern of turning on groomed run > Pressure ski – Edge ski – Skis turns

Pattern of turning on moguls > Turn ski – Pressure ski – Edge ski

One of the best ways to improve our rotational skills is to practice side slipping. It’s not an exiting prospect I know, but a little bit of training here and there will pay off in the long run.

Side slipping involves keeping the skis perpendicular to the slope and sliding down at a controlled speed. It is often something taught to beginners as a safety mechanism to get down steeper slopes. In reality, it is a tricky skill to master but teaches us a lot about edge control and rotation.

The key to this is to pick a fairly steep slope on a groomed run. First, practice your side slip facing one way, then stop and turn around 180 degrees and practice facing in the opposite direction.

Start in a stationary position with the skis at right angles to the slope and about hip width apart. Ensure that your skis are angles so that the inside edge of the lower ski and the uphill edge of the upper ski are holding you in position. Then slowly release both edges simultaneously until the ski flattens against the snow completely and then control your speed by applying more edge as required. More edge means less speed.

The key here, and this is really important, is to make sure you don’t ‘drift’ from the fall-line. In other words you must side slip in a perfectly straight line down the slope. Build up your side slipping practice and then start to change your direction from facing one way to the other as you are moving. This involves releasing the edges and fully rotating the skis 180 degrees underneath your upper body. Again the key here is to keep side slipping in a straight line down the hill, even when changing direction.

Do ten to fifteen minutes of this a day and within a week you will see a big improvement.

Hey, get a bunch of people together and go to a slope with a short tow lift. Take your ski poles and mark out a straight line course down the hill by laying 2 sets of poles about 4 meters apart. Practice your side slipping and stay within the channel of poles. Make the channel narrower as you improve!

What’s this got to do with skiing moguls!! Well, become a master of rotation and all those tips about skiing on top of the bumps and flexing and extending will all become much much easier to perform.

Robert Stewart is an ISIA certified ski instructor who has over 20 years of teaching experience with all levels of skiers. He was formerly a professional freestyle skier and competed in freestyle competitions across the globe. You can find out more about Rob on his own skiing blog at