Editor’s note: During this Winter Olympic year and leading up to the 2015 FIS Alpine World Championship season, this weekly series will tell Colorado’s rich ski racing history and heritage through stories about its ski heroes and legends.
A mericans have won 10 of the 36 Olympic medals awarded in mogul skiing since its inception at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, and that medal haul is likely to continue on the women’s side in Sochi, where defending Olympic champion Hannah Kearney remains what one observer calls “a machine.”
That observer is two-time Olympian Jeremy Bloom, a former mogul skier and NFL football player, who is once again working for NBC in Sochi. Bloom also gives Vail’s Heidi Kloser a realistic shot at climbing on the podium Feb. 8 in Sochi, which would make her the second Vail skier to medal in moguls after Toby Dawson won bronze at the 2006 Torino Olympics.
On the men’s side, though, part-time Colorado resident Bloom says defending Olympic champion Alexandre Bilodeau and his Canadian teammate Mikael Kingsbury have to be considered the heavy favorites on Feb. 10. Bloom says their skills in the air, consistently nailing tricks such as a back double full (a straight back flip with two twists) set them apart.
“I think Kingsbury has a very good chance of becoming the best mogul skier to ever live. He might be already,” said Bloom, who grew up in Loveland and played football for the University of Colorado. A National Ski Hall of Fame member, Bloom was a world champion and 12-time World Cup winner who finished sixth and ninth, respectively, at the 2006 and 2002 Olympics.
“I don’t agree with the people who feel like (mogul skiing has) just become aerials,” Bloom said, “because you still have to turn and you still have to have good mechanics in your turns to win, and the guys who are putting that all together like Bilodeau and Kingsbury, it’s fun to watch.”
Dawson, a 2012 Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum Hall of Fame inductee, was a little nervous about the direction the sport was heading after retiring in the wake of his 2006 bronze-medal performance in Italy.
“I hope they continue to keep it pure, with mogul skiing really counting and the airs not getting much bigger,” Dawson said at the time. “The sport needs its own identity concentrating on the turning, edging aspect. The X Games have turned more into jumping with a lack of emphasis on the technique of skiing.”
‘Really Come Around’
Steamboat’s Nelson Carmichael, a Colorado Ski Hall of Fame member since 2004, won a bronze medal in Albertville in 1992 — the first Games where moguls enjoyed full-medal status. Back then inverted aerials weren’t allowed. If they had been, then he says he may have stuck around for the 1994 Lillehammer (Norway) Olympics.
“We were still doing upright jumps and couldn’t do flips,” Carmichael said. “We all wanted to do flips from the very beginning, and they always said, ‘No, no, no.’ Ski areas didn’t want people to flip and break their necks. Now they build jumps for kids to fly off, do whatever you want. It’s really come around.”
The influence of snowboarding, especially inverted tricks in the halfpipe, had a lot to do with the evolution of aerials in mogul skiing, Carmichael said, but all the changes came long after his heyday in the late 1980s and early ’90s. At that time, machine-made bumps changed the sport dramatically, with skiers becoming “mogul robots” on perfect man-made courses.
Still, even though the bumps were symmetrical, the jumps had be natural, and that created problems with irregular landings for a few years until jumps could be man-made as well. But inverted aerials weren’t allowed until the 2006 Games, and it took Jonny Moseley — the only American man to win moguls gold (at Nagano in 1998) — pushing the boundaries with his “dinner roll” trick in 2002.
One thing has stayed the same, and that’s scoring, with judges awarding 50 percent of an athlete’s points for turns in the moguls, 25 percent for speed and 25 percent for the two jumps.
“What’s a little bit disappointing with man-made courses is a lot of them are too easy for these guys,” said Carmichael, who earlier this month attended the annual World Cup at Deer Valley, Utah. “So, they’re flying down there and doing these great tricks and it kind of turns into this air show with a few bumps in between … but if you have somewhere like Deer Valley where it’s a little longer and steeper, then I think it all comes together again.”
David O. Williams wrote this story for the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum. The museum is located on the third level of the Vail Village parking structure adjacent to Vail Village Covered Bridge. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 970-476-1876 or go to www.skimuseum.net.