Most people have an ambivalent relationship with moag holes. Miss a turn, get back on your heels, and the hole will spit you out into a washboard traverse. Or worse. But knit a sine-wave line together in rhythm and control, and you will believe in the harmony of the spheres.
Telluride just placed four women in the top ten at the U.S. National Dual Moguls Finals in Stratton, Vt. Keaton McCargo, age 16, placed third. Sophia Schwartz, who grew up skiing in Telluride and Sun Valley, finished fourth. Lane Stoltzner was seventh, and precocious 15-year-old Kealey Zaumseil came tenth.
With all the good bump hills across America, Telluride produced four of the top ten. That’s remarkable. But hardly surprising. Telluride is a bumper’s mountain, always has been. With its long, steep pitches, relatively narrow trails, and a continental snowpack that builds up in four-inch sips rather than four-foot Sierran gulps, the mogul you careen around at the top of Spiral Stairs on December 15 will be there for you, the old same shape, on March 30. Familiarity breeds bumpers.
This kind of familiarity is relatively new. Look at old ski movies and you’ll see that in skiing’s wonder years, from the 1930s through the 1960s, there weren’t very many moguls. There weren’t as many skiers, for one thing, and not nearly as many good skiers, to sculpt and re-sculpt the troughs. Lifts were slower (or nonexistent), so you didn’t get as many reps. Freestyle, as a word and as a way of approaching skiing, hadn’t been invented yet.
The go-go 70s changed everything. Faced with vast fields of pimpled snow, proto hotdoggers went crazy, relying on acid and athleticism to get them through. Then the technicians moved in. In a few cases, they were one and the same. John Clendenin made his name in stretch pants and big hair (also big air), winning early contests on reaction time and linked recoveries. Now in his 60s, he’s one of the leading swamis in the “Bumps for Boomers” movement. He’s a hero to those of a certain age who still want to ski moguls, but must now learn to ski them smooth and slow.
Lito Tejada-Flores is another one. He was the first person I saw do The Slow Dog Noodle. I doubt he could put his back down on the snow like that now, and get back up. But Lito is another advocate for, and lover of, the bumps – even late in life.
I think the first truly modern mogul skiing I witnessed was by gold medalist Edgar Grospiron, at the Albertville Olympics in 1992. He had big eyes painted on the knees of his ski pants, and those eyes, despite his legs’ sewing machine oscillations, stared Buddha-like at the straightest, fastest fall line.
Telluride’s stars have their distinctive styles. I remember watching Yukon come down Allais’s Alley, back when it was the Chair Six liftline, essentially not turning at all. He just bounced pile-to-pile down the soft tops of the bumps. He had the young back, and the elevator-shaft imagination to pull it off. Now he weaves a circuitous jazz line – less percussive, easier on the joints, just as imaginative.
Hugh Sawyer taught a lot of Telluride’s first-generation bump kids how to be fast of hand and still of head.
Every-day skier John Roth is perhaps the quintessential Telluride bumper. He reminds me of a dancer in a Busby Berkeley musical, upright and deceptively quick in his unhurried descent of the white staircase.
The current bumper crop of hot-skiing kids owes a debt to all of them. Though I have to say what the team skiers are doing now on their micro-prepared courses, with shovel-shaved bumps and parabolic kickers, is like something from another planet. A planet where gravity can be manipulated with just the right piston action.
On any given day, moguls for me might be a bone-jarring riddle, or they could be a Slinky’s stairway to heaven. Dropping into chest-high bumps on the Plunge is a kind of inch-worm pilgrimage, extension and contraction on the tilt, like the Tibetan faithful prostrating themselves, folding up on the crests and then extending into the troughs, one body length at a time along the path to Lhasa – the road (or in this case the snow) worn smooth by pilgrims that have gone before.