Speakout :: Where Are All The Moguls?

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Twenty years ago you could hardly find a ski area that wasn’t littered with moguls. They were everywhere. But by the mid-’90s, moguls were on the way to extinction...
Twenty years ago you could hardly find a ski area that wasn’t littered with moguls. They were everywhere. But by the mid-’90s, moguls were on the way to extinction. Many blame the advent of shaped skis, but the decline began before then. No, the true culprit was excessive grooming, made possible by the invention and widespread adoption of the power tiller.

Understand, I’m not against grooming. I’ve logged thousands of hours behind the sticks, and I would be more than happy to spend my entire industry career in the seat of a snowcat. However, I also love moguls and other natural elements of skiing (because that’s what moguls are: the natural byproduct of skier traffic). These two viewpoints are not mutually exclusive; they are complementary.

Granted, there were other factors in the demise of moguls as well. Nearly a third of the skiing participants made their way to single planks. Then came terrain parks. And there was the proliferation of shaped skis.

The main cause, though, was an industry-wide desire to cater to a perceived demand from our guests. We decided that skiers wanted more corduroy, and we delivered it. But many skiers also crave the excitement of terrain variations, and if given the proper opportunities to learn, they are ready and willing to embrace mogul skiing.

Many would argue that the perceived demand for grooming was real. I admit there’s some truth to that, fueled by all the factors above. In addition, as the Boomer generation has aged, some have given up on the adventure and adrenaline aspects of skiing. But perhaps not as many as you might think (consider the success of Aspen's “Bumps for Boomers” program). Yet most of this “demand” for groomers was simply a perceived demand from a small, never-satisfied group of skiers.

Real demand or not, we gave in. With the advent of the power tiller and the winch replacing the more cumbersome grooming implements of the past, we began grooming most (if not all) of the viable mogul terrain. What the ski industry took away was the option to learn mogul skiing at all, leading to the claim that no one even wants to ski moguls.

The State of the Sport
Now, in 2014, most bump skiers are 40+ year-old “leftovers" from the mogul heyday of the ’80s and early ’90s. Many younger skiers can’t link turns on the flats, let alone in the bumps, because they rarely ski outside the park. Many mountains now groom steeper terrain, leaving only the most difficult trails (if any) with moguls.

But there are a few places that stand out from crowd: Winter Park's Mary Jane in Colorado, Sugarbush, Mad River Glen, and Killington in Vermont, and Ski Sundown in Connecticut, just to name some standouts. At those mountains, you can find moguls on low-angle runs, intermediate runs, advanced runs, and expert runs. This is called progression, and it is absolutely necessary to the survival of the sport.
Herein lies the conundrum: if only expert mogul terrain is available, then how can intermediates and aspiring skiers learn to ski moguls? You can drill on the flats all you want, but you can’t learn to ski moguls on a 35-degree slope.

Mogul skiers must have a place to learn. That means moguls on intermediate terrain. At many areas, moguls will grow without any help. At smaller ski areas where there is not enough skier traffic to form natural bumps, seeding (with bumps formed by snowcat or skiers) is a great solution. With time, the skier base at these areas will become proficient enough at moguls that natural bumps will begin to form. In sum, mogul teaching and learning terrain must be developed.

Taking Action: What You Can Do
The solution is quite simple: groom less. Not only will more and better moguls form, but you’ll save on diesel, wages, and maintenance. The following list will help your area embrace mogul skiing while minimally impacting your corduroy selection:

• Let some bumps grow on steeper runs.

• Choose at least one lower angle intermediate run and allow moguls to form. Or, build them with a snowcat, or ski them in with marking flags.

• Try grooming half of a popular intermediate run, and leave the other half ungroomed. This is great for families and groups, so that mogul skiers and those who aren’t can ski/ride together.

• Host local/regional mogul competitions on natural moguls.

• Encourage ski instructors to introduce skiers—both young and old—to moguls on the easier pitches. Offer mogul skiing clinics and mogul-specific programs.

• Encourage staff, especially patrollers and instructors, to improve their mogul skiing. When guests see good mogul skiers, they are inspired to try the sport. Plus, your staff will have more fun and be true masters of the mountain!
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