How to ski safely on a mogul piste

21/12/2021 - SnowTrex

A big part of skiing is about technique and tactics. SnowTrex spoke to Max Holzmann, chief instructor at the German Ski Teacher Association (Deutscher Skilehrerverband, DSLV). The state approved ski instructor gives expert advice on how to ski a mogul piste safely.

The Mont-Fort mogul piste in Switzerland.

1) How are mogul pistes formed?

In ski areas the wavy and uneven pistes are not created intentionally. Most of them develop over the day when an initially evenly levelled slope is ploughed up and rutted by countless pairs of skis and snowboards. The softer and deeper the snow, the higher the snow heaps will build up during the day. Like this, ploughed up pistes can be found in every ski area after a certain time. The soft deep powder snow next to the prepared slopes also turns into a hilly terrain when it is frequently used. Here, off-piste skiers find a particular challenge.

Mogul valleys and tops

As skiing mogul pistes is also part of the final exam when becoming a ski instructor, it is an area in which ski instructor Holzmann knows his way around.  His first lesson: there are so-called mogul valleys and tops. The “valleys” are the spaces in between the bumps, and the “tops” are the bumps’ highest point. Good mogul skiing is being able to use the right technique on both. “This type of terrain has many variants, which creates a restricted, predetermined track”, Holzmann explains. “In a hilly terrain, the skier cannot freely choose their track. In order to conquer the individual bumps, one has to be aware of their nature.” When skiing a mogul piste, quick turns have to be performed as well as constant up-and-down movements.

Not every bump is the same

Does this mean mogul pistes are only manageable for very good skiers? Not necessarily. “It depends on the height of the elevation and the distance in between two bumps”, Holzmann explains. “When the bumps are hard and steep, skiing them is particularly difficult. One should only ski a classic mogul piste on a steep slope when one is able to adjust their movements quickly and safely. However, there are mogul pistes in a flatter terrain and with rather low-rise bumps. Those are a perfect place to practise.” On both types of mogul pistes, a mobile body posture is important.

The motto: be agile and stable

Mogul piste skiers have to be very agile. They must be able to react quickly to the new conditions waiting behind the next bump and the turn change must also be initiated properly. Speed, coordination and a sense of rhythm are extremely important here. “You have to be able to constantly adapt to the terrain conditions,” warns Holzmann. “If that’s not the case, it’s exhausting and ultimately dangerous.” To do this, you need to adopt a position that is ready to move: a centred, even stance on the skis, knees, hips and ankles slightly bent, upper body upright. The skis are guided closely and should always be in contact with the ground. An agile posture also involves bouncing your knees. This rhythmic up and down movement serves as a shock absorber for the bumpy surface. Meanwhile, the upper body and arms remain as still as possible. Good body tension, which is generated by stable core muscles, is crucial.

Turns on the mogul piste

Springing movements are also connected to changing from one turn into the next one. Initiating a turn, changing direction, and going up the next bump only works when skiing in a regular rhythm. Holzmann’s advice: “The narrower the bumps are placed next to each other, the harder it is to move in the trough. If you want to successfully make your way through the moguls, you should not initiate a turn in the bump’s valley.” Ideally, changing from one turn into the next takes place next to the top of the bump, the turn itself in the downward movement. The legs are retracted when initiating a turn, and then stretched in the turn. This movement is called the balancing technique, as it is performed exactly the other way around when skiing an even piste. “It’s also important to know that braking is not automatically done when doing quick turns on the bumps. When you turn your ski on the bump’s top, and then more or less slide down the bump with drifting skis, it increases the braking effect and the safety when skiing turns.” This rule of thumb always applies: An expert skis from one bump’s edge to the other’s. Experienced skiers drift from the bump’s top to its valley, and beginners only use the trough.6) Where to find the best mogul pistes

A true classic among mogul pistes can be found at Nebelhorn: with a length of 700 m the piste in the ski area of Oberstdorf is the longest mogul piste in Germany. The piste “Gamsleiten 2” in Obertauern is feared because it is very steep and its countless bumps are often icy. The Swiss Wall, actually named “Chavanette”, is legendary: The extreme mogul piste can be found in the huge ski area Portes du Soleil at the pass between Champéry (Switzerland) and Avoriaz (France). Further large mogul pistes can mostly be found in the west Alps – e.g. in France or in the Dolomites.

Summary

When skiing wavy pistes, it is important to adopt a posture that’s ready for movement, have a lot of body tension, and steer one’s skis closely. When changing turns in between the bumps’ tops and valleys, active legwork and springy knees are the key. The upper body stays mostly still in the quick movements. Particularly high bumps can be conquered with the balancing technique: actively retracting one’s legs when changing from one turn into the next one, and stretching one’s legs in the turn.

Max Holzmann, training manager DSLV.

Our DSLV expert

Max Holzmann is a state approved ski instructor and executive board of professional training in the German Ski Teacher Association (Deutscher Skilehrerverband, DSLV). His areas of responsibility are the contents of training courses, the respective assessment levels and levels of difficulty in all training stages from level 1 to the state approved ski instructor exam in the disciplines motor skills, methodology, and theory.

FAQs on skiing techniques

How do I ski on flat terrain??

There are various techniques for moving on alpine skis on flat terrain. The easiest way is to push yourself with your poles and make alternating gliding movements forwards with your skis.

Can beginners ski on moguls?

No! Mogul pistes are very demanding and require maximum concentration and skill. They are therefore not suitable for beginners. However, those who have mastered skiing on mogul pistes will be able to cope well on almost any terrain.

What is the best skiing technique for moguls?

On moguls, you should always maintain contact with the ground and perform constant rhythmic up-and-down movements while skiing. The upper body is kept upright and calm and the poles are used carefully from the wrist. However, skiing on moguls not only requires good technique, but also good body tension, physical fitness and a lot of attention.

What are the dangers of deep powder snow?

If you are looking for deep snow outside the groomed pistes, you are in terrain with a higher risk of avalanches and natural hazards such as tree wells or poor weather conditions. In addition, the fast gliding in powder snow can tempt you to take risks and ski too fast. This increases the risk of accidents for yourself and others. Anyone skiing off-piste must be appropriately equipped and trained. Alternatively, you can also book a ski guide or a deep snow course.

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