How To Ski Moguls (Bumps) This Winter
Skiing bumps is arguably one of most challenging aspects of the sport.
A mogul field is a unique and unforgiving environment and there’s no quick fix to becoming at home in this terrain, so it's no surprise that most skiers shy away.
But for those willing to persevere and figure it out, I can't think of a more rewarding set of skills to have in your locker.
Developing the balance, athleticism and versatility to ski moguls will improve your skiing on piste, in the powder, trees, steeps, racing, and other challenging snow conditions. Honing your skills in bumpy terrain will give you the confidence to ski new and challenging places.
Plus...there's no better feeling than ripping down a mogul field, particularly with an audience!
What are moguls?
Moguls form whenever lots of people ski the same slope. Every time you make a turn you push snow out of your line and form a little mound.
Other skiers naturally slide into the trough you’ve made and push more snow. The more this happens the deeper the trough gets and the bigger the bump.
Skidding turns and slamming on the brakes compounds the 'bump building' effect. This is why you usually find the moguls get larger at the steepest parts of the slope. All those people skiing defensively create deep ruts and steep bumps.
There is no one way to ski moguls. There are different techniques and they all depend on tactics; which line are we going to take and how fast are we going to go.
The main challenges of skiing moguls
Keeping your balance
Skiing is balance.
With balance, everything becomes easy. But that stance you’ve worked so hard on for the groomers is just the start here.
The skis are now moving in 3D; the gradient and direction of the slope is constantly changing.
So, if you are perfectly balanced one moment, and you stay static, you won’t have balance the next.
Timing your movements
A groomed piste is a smooth plane. As long as you do the right movements, in the right order, the skis will turn where you want.
In bumps all your movements need to combine with much more precise timing.
If you turn the skis at the wrong moment, the tail will hit one bump or the tip will hit the next and you will probably be thrown off balance.
1. Start small on a bumpy blue run
The most important step is to spend time in the bumps – you need to get comfortable in this environment.
Start with small moguls on a blue run. Find a busy piste that gets a lot of sun or warmth. The soft snow and all the ski traffic will create bumps in no time. By the afternoon you should have a nice soft playground. First, try to make the same turns you would make on a groomed run.
2. Focus on timing your turns
As you are practicing, make sure to focus on your timing first. Aim to finish your turn at the top of a bump.
At the peak, there will be a moment when only your foot is in contact with the snow. The tip and tail of the ski will be in the air, making them much easier to turn.
This is much easier to do on a gentle slope that you have confidence skiing.
3. Build awareness of your balance
Mogul skiing challenges our balance as the relative angle of the ski to the slope changes a lot and very quickly.
To build awareness of your own balance try the following:
- Go for a run where you feel the weight on your heels.
- Then with the weight on the balls of your feet or your toes, if you can manage it.
- Now try to find the middle of your foot – if you have a good footbed in your boot you will feel the arch of your foot.
Carv Tip: Truly understand your balance
If you have Carv, you can truly understand your balance with these steps:
- Go to the settings tab and lean forwards and backwards when sliding slowly to watch your pressure changing as you move your weight (see the Carv graphic)
- Then take it to smaller bumps on a blue. Use the balance monitor to hear a live audio feed of your forward balance for each turn. You should aim for 55-60% forward lean as this is a centered, athletic stance for moguls.
- Try a few turns leaning too far back, then a few leaning too far forward, then a few nicely centered. You will really start to dial in the feeling when you're getting it right with the audio feedback.
- Take it to bigger bumps, and watch out for being thrown backwards and scoring less than 30% forward lean!
Now let's take it into some gentle bumps...
Notice when you hit the bottom of a bump, the skis will slow down and rise up, and when you get to the top they speed up and fall away.
Your goal is to stay balanced over the middle of the foot through all this (use the Carv tip above to help you dial this in). Most of your weight is in your head and torso, so to be efficient we aim to balance by moving the feet rather than the upper body.
Once you feel at home in this terrain, it’s time to ski a line.
4. Round out your turns
I recommend watching this series of videos by Guy Hetherington, especially part three, to help you learn to read the terrain and choose your tactics.
To do this, follow these steps:
- Start on a groomed run and practice turning the skis without changing direction. See how narrow a corridor you can take up while pivoting the skis between 3 and 9 o’clock as you slide down the hill. This is hte opposite of a round turn - the edge grip is purely being used for speed control here, the skis move sideways.
- Now vary your speed by edging and flattening the skis while you skid, staying balanced on the downhill ski at all times. You need to control speed in the bumps while staying on your line so this technique is important.
- Practice skidding straight down the hill with the skis at different angles (between 10 and 2 o’clock) – sometimes you don’t have the space to get them all the way across.
- You can take this process into moguls that are round and well-spaced and practice skiing much more in the fall line.
5. Perfect your hockey stops on moguls
Make one turn and stop, aiming for the shelf on the uphill side of a mogul (called ‘landings’ in the video).
It’s more difficult than it looks! When learning a new skill, take it back to the piste any time you want to embed a new movement pattern.
- If you stop but have to lean on the uphill ski or your pole to balance, you need to work on balancing over your downhill ski more – keep your body moving down the hill with the skis and stay centered.
- Try stopping then lifting the uphill ski without moving anything else, and progress to stopping purely on the downhill ski.
- If the skis continue to slide down the hill you need more grip.
- Try to tip the skis onto a greater edge angle, while staying balanced on the downhill ski.
- If after stopping the skis slide forwards or backwards you are probably not balanced in the middle of your foot. The top or the spine of a bump is like a seesaw – if your weight is on your heels or your toes then the skis will tip.
Since skiing is balance, the goal is for your body to arrive at the bump at the same time as your feet.
Now, link a few well controlled turns together. The trick to this is simply to look for the next stopping point while you are still moving and it becomes more of a ‘hockey slow down’.
As soon as you can look for the next bump while you make a turn, you are skiing moguls!
6. Ski faster and more smoothly
A rounder turn has the skis moving in the direction they point (vs a skidding turn).
This means more speed and higher pressures, but it also means they hit the bumps tips first, which will allow you to be smoother – as the skis bend and you can deal with changes in pressure more efficiently.
Begin traversing across a mogul field with a bit of speed and try the following tactics:
Using your legs as suspension, try to keep the head and shoulders level as you ride the bumps.
The key is keeping the skis on the snow to deal with pressure change gradually.
The feet will move in a motion that feels like pedalling a bike backwards as you absorb, be sure to pull the feet back under you at the top and point the toes down to keep snow contact.
A little resistance on the front of the bump will make the mogul direct your momentum upwards, often meaning you get some air!
This sounds scary, but this way the bump will actually slow you down and the airtime gives you a chance to re-centre and get ready. Play with different amounts of absorption and jumping until you feel comfortable dealing with the pressure that comes with skiing into bumps faster.
When you take a rounder line you don’t always cross the top of the mogul, so the highest point you do cross is when you transition. You apply as much absorption and resistance as you need to get you into the next turn at a speed you can handle.
Bonus tips for skiing moguls
The pole plant
Every turn deserves one.
Always reaching forwards and down the hill, your pole should be ready to plant as you finish the turn. If you’re getting thrown around, a strong pole plant can help stabilise and give you a second to sort out your feet.
If the skis are running away from you; try reaching over and planting the pole on the backside of the bump.
Keep your hands up
At the end of a turn, I should be able to see my uphill hand in the corner of my goggles to help bring my body over the downhill ski.
Always look ahead
Keep an eye out for the next mogul you’re going to turn.
Rule of thumb is to always look at least one mogul ahead. That way, you know what’s coming and there will be no nasty surprises.
Get to the moguls and make mistakes
It’s a tough learning curve but you will learn to love them and they will do wonders for your skiing.
Master these and you can move on to ‘frog hops’ and ‘dolphin turns’, and start to light it up under the chair!