Aspen Times Weekly: Skiing for Life
A Mogul Ain’t Nothing But a Small Mountain
When most people come to the top of a mogul field they look down the mountain at the entirety of the challenge that lies ahead. Not Bumps for Boomers grads. They look at the geography of the individual moguls that are in front of them. Then they figure out how to negotiate them.
Every mogul run is a collection of individual moguls interconnected like a jigsaw puzzle. Rather than look at the puzzle, look at the pieces. Each mogul has a flat top, a tail, a nose and two sidewalls. That flat top is essentially a green run, a friendly place where you can make a simple turn without bouncing into a trough or trying to force a move on the tail of the mogul.
Now, imagine the field in front of you is a stairway down the mountain. Just look for the flat tops on the slope and “walk” down the mountain by making turns atop each ”step.”
Yes, it is as easy-peazy as it sounds.
You can sign up for the Bumps for Boomers clinic by going online to their website at http://www.bumpsforboomers.com or calling them at 970-989-2529.
While the season is winding down, there is one clinic in March and they are taking reservations for next ski season.
The philosophy of the founders is that, the more information they offer online, the more people will want to take the clinics. The result is that there is an amazing amount of information available on the website for those who wish to get a handle on the clinic’s basics. It is literally a tutorial on the techniques of bump skiing.
“That’s the best ski tip I ever got!”
It was simple really. My middle-aged, flat-lander friend and I had just gone through a particularly bumpy and crusty section of International on Aspen Mountain. He was panting heavily and he looked like he had not enjoyed the trip all that much. It had pretty much kicked his butt.
“Try and think of each mogul as a mini-
mountain and your goal is to make just one turn on that mini-mountain instead of making a bunch of turns on a bunch of moguls,” I said. “Just find a place on each little mogul that makes you comfortable, make a turn and look for the next place.” Over the next section, my friend slowed down considerably and focused his attention on each turn rather than the totality of the mogul field. And he was in far more control than he had been on the upper section of the hill.
It was at the bottom that he made the “best tip” comment. I chuckled. I had just completed four days of the Bumps for Boomers ski clinics and I had plenty of tips to give. “So when you get to the top of a mogul …”
Bumps For Boomers
When you stand at the base of the Ajax Express and look up the hill, watching the skiers come down on any given day, what do you see? A few young skiers hitting it hard as they come off Pumphouse? Sure. But mostly you see a ton of middle-aged skiers making pretty turns as they come off the bottom of North American.
“Eighty percent of the skiers ski 20 percent of the mountain,” says Joe Nevin, the founder and resident Obi-Won Kenobi of the Bumps for Boomers ski clinic program. “We want to help skiers by giving them the tools they need to be comfortable and ski terrain all over the mountain that they can truly enjoy.”
It sounds simple. But for most intermediate Boomer skiers, who perhaps ski a couple of weeks a year and feel that their best days are behind them, looking down the face of Bell when it is bumped, rutted and topped with a couple of inches of new snow can be intimidating. They not only have a psychological fear of having to ski the entire steep and bumpy slope, they lack the tools to get them from A to B easily and efficiently.
Bumps for Boomers is a four-day skiing program on Aspen Mountain that is designed to provide simple, easy to understand techniques and skills that can be deployed on any slope at any time to help an intermediate to advanced skier get down the hill easily and efficiently with as little labor as possible.
Authorized and sanctioned by the Aspen Skiing Company, Bumps for Boomers has operated for the past 15 seasons and offers up to 10 clinics per year. While it is managed by Nevin, an ex-Apple Computer Chief Information Officer who decided he would rather change the world one skier at a time, Bumps for Boomers relies on a cadre of seasoned Aspen Ski School instructors for their staff. Instructors include a former Emmy-winning sports producer, a graduate of Columbia, a Stanford physics grad and the former director of the Purgatory Ski School. It is a talented and cerebral group.
While not cheap (the instruction costs in excess of $1,500 for a four-day clinic), there may be no better way to improve skiing techniques in such a short period of time.
Ski For Life
“Ski for life. That’s the goal,” says Nevin when asked what he hopes will be the outcome for clients who take the clinic. The idea is to use three simple but essential skills to make it easier to ski, not just bumps, but literally all the terrain on a given mountain.
The first skill is skiing in control. Slowing down and being in charge of your skis rather than simply riding the rails down the mountain. Next is being in balance — this is the Zen phase and it is as much about what is in your head as in your knees; the clinic’s emphasis is on finding the place on your skis that is most centered and comfortable for you. And the third is learning the “tactics” to ski a mogul field. This includes learning how to focus on the various parts of a given mogul and finding your way through, skiing either a “green line” or a “blue line” through the mogul field.
If skiers can master — or even begin to understand these three skills — it will not only open up the mountain to them, it will allow them to ski with much less anxiety, fear and trepidation. Ultimately, by using these techniques, graduates of the class ski steeper terrain with a greater degree of efficiency, which allows them to ski more each day with less effort, more days in a year and potentially more seasons in their skiing lifetime.
“The amazing thing to me is that I used to struggle to get down bump runs,” said a 60-year-old physician from Dallas who completed the clinic for the first time, “but now I find that I am hardly tired when I get to the bottom of a bump run. My legs are so much fresher and I can ski virtually all day. It really changes the way I look at the sport.”
I participated in a four-day “Bumps for Boomers” clinic last season and can honestly say that it changed the way I ski. For the better and likely for the rest of my life.
While previously a solid skier, a few years ago I skied nearly every run on the four Aspen ski-mountains in a single-season quest, I still struggled on the steepest and deepest slopes, particularly those with fields of moguls. My philosophy on those challenging hills was more about survival than enjoyment. As I (and you) am getting older, I felt the need to reboot and get to a point where I could ski anything and everything with a degree of confidence and control.
On the first day of the clinic our group gathered at the bottom of the gondola. There was the doctor from Dallas, a couple of retirees from Cape Cod who travel the world to different resorts and ski more than 50 days a year, and a few other assorted Boomer skiers looking for a magic bullet. As we headed up the hill I queried the group as to why they had taken the time and spent the money to come to Aspen.
“Well my son is a great skier and I find myself struggling to keep up,” said the physician. “I was on the website and saw some things that looked like they might help.” The couple from Cape Cod was taking the clinic for the third time and had seen dramatic improvement each season. “The No. 1 benefit is that you can teach old dogs new tricks — we are passionate about skiing, and now we are retired and have more time to do it,” said the wife from the Cape. “Learning better skills so we can ski more efficiently and more challenging stuff better is a blast.”
While most skiers initially think this is about learning how to pound bumps better, nothing could be further from the truth. The clinic’s first surprise was when the instructors took away our skis and replaced them with 95cm shaped ski boards. Then they began at the beginning, breaking us down to the most basic techniques.
“Most skiers forget about the basics and the most basic thing that you can do is drift down the hill in total control,” said Nevin as we began an exercise where we simply found the flat part of the ski and began to drift sideways down a relatively flat hill. It was a skill that we would rely on for the next few days. Taking the edges out of the game, something that most intermediate skiers have come to rely on in their normal turns, was a game-changer. Finding that flat place on the bottom of the skis, the place where we could drift down the fall line, or simply stop by turning our ankles toward the hill and re-engaging the edges, gave us a new and gentler way of negotiating the slope.
Over the next four days, we gradually progressed from the flats to steeper and deeper terrain. We moved from the “shorties,” as everyone called the training skis, back to our own skis. And we learned that “economy of motion” was not just a critical element in allowing us to ski bumps and steeps, it was the mantra that allowed us to ski easier and with less stress than we ever thought possible. “I can’t believe how much terrain we covered” was an oft-repeated refrain.
But beyond the repetition of technique, the gentle but firm instruction and the steady implementation of the skills and tools, a key advantage of the clinic was the camaraderie that was formed amongst the skiers. From Day One through Day Four all went through a similar process, and though each skier learned at a different pace and skied at different levels, each benefited from both the support and by watching the rest of the group. In a private lesson there is the opportunity to get precise and constant instruction, but in the clinic it was the bonding and reinforcement from the fellow skiers that really helped make a difference.
Each day when the group would stop for lunch, the conversation became livelier and racier. The first day was kind of a feeling out process, “Where you from?”, ‘How much do you ski?” By Day 2 people began to offer encouragement. On the third day the razzing began as the competitive side of the group came out. People were more relaxed and the relationships had been shaped. And by the end of the session friendships had developed, numbers were exchanged and the skiers began to make plans to ski again with their “clinic mates.”
On the final day of a recent clinic, I skied with a group that had come light years from their first morning on their “shorties.” I asked the group what they had accomplished. One skier from Charlotte, North Carolina, said the clinic had “given him a road map, a way to get from the top to the bottom of any steep slope.” Another said that he now looked at each mogul and “defined the geography of the mogul.”
But my favorite line came from the only woman in the class, a retired housewife from Chicago: “Well, I got better,” she said of her experience. “But my favorite thing was I never would have gotten to see Jerry’s Shrine if I hadn’t taken Bumps for Boomers.”
Every silver lining’s got a touch of grey.
Kelly J. Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo research credit for this story goes to Aspen Middle School student George Morrison.
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