A big part of skiing is about technique and tactics. SnowTrex discussed this complex issue with Max Holzmann, chief instructor at the German Ski Teacher Association (Deutscher Skilehrerverband, DSLV). In part 3 of our series, the state approved ski instructor gives expert advice on how to ski a mogul piste safely.
Mogul pistes are tricky. The uneven surfaces can be icy, wavy, and sometimes even very steep – not an easy task to manage. Some even consider mogul pistes a supreme discipline among the difficult slopes for experts. However, with the right technique, even this variation can be managed.
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.
2) 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”, or troughs, 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 extreme variants, which creates a limited, dictated track”, Holzmann explains. “In a hilly terrain, the skier cannot freely choose their track. In order to conquer the bumps, one has to be aware of the nature.” When skiing a mogul piste, quick turns have to be performed as well as constant up-and-down movements.
3) 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.
4) Agility and stability
Mogul skiers must display a high mobility. They have to be able to react immediately to new conditions behind the next bump, and the movement from one turn into the next has to be initiated steadily. Speed, coordination, and a sense of rhythm are crucial. “You have to be able to adapt to the terrain’s conditions constantly”, Holzmann warns. “If that is not the case, mogul skiing is exhausting and, all in all, dangerous.” Additionally, one has to adopt a posture that is ready for movement: an even posture on the skis, the knee, hip, and ankle joints slightly flexed, the upper body upright. The skis are steered closely and should always maintain ground contact. Another aspect of agile posture are springy knees. On bumpy ground, the rhythmic up-and-down movement functions as a shock absorber. Meanwhile, the upper body and arms stay as still as possible. Good body tension created by stable core muscles is the key.
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.
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.
8) 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.