Bump skiing, part III: Terrain analysis
(Editors Note: This is the third of a three-part series on how to ski the bumps. If you missed Parts I & II, you can read them at http://www.vaildaily.com by typing in Eber in the keyword-search box.)Ski technique goes only so far. To ski the bumps well, you also need to learn terrain analysis skills because an essential element of bump skiing is understanding how to use the terrain to slow you down enough to be able to stay in the fall line.Although the following description may sound confusing on paper, remember that bump skiing is one of the most complex levels of skiing. However, the more you practice, the more familiar you get with how to use the bump terrain until after a while your analysis of where to turn becomes innate.
To ski down a steep, tight bump field, you can either ski to the top of one bump, turn on the crest, and ski down the side. Or you can follow the gully – often called the trough – between any two bumps and turn where that path leads you. Or, you can ski anywhere between the trough and the top of a bump, essentially turning somewhere on the sides of the bump.Where you should turn on each bump is determined predominantly by your speed control needs at the time. Thus, the best place to turn will vary with each turn and with the overall terrain of the bump field.Probably the easiest way to understand this is to think in terms of three bumps at a time. Looking down the fall line of a bump run, there is always a bump just downhill in front of you, one to the right of that bump, and one to the left. And around each of the bumps are the troughs.On a steep pitch, the slowest route is to ski to the top and down the side of the bump to the right or the one to the left. The fastest route is to ski the top of the bump in front of you, since it is directly down the fall line. And the medium route usually is to ski in the troughs. However, the latter is not true if the trough you ski plunges directly down the fall line. In that case, it is the fastest route.Yet, when you watch expert bump skiers, they appear to stay almost exclusively in troughs down the fall line, the fastest route, but never pick up too much speed. This is because of that third option of where to turn: the places in-between.
Namely, by aggressively edging into the sides of the bumps, you can slow your speed even while essentially staying in the troughs down the fall line. What’s more, although you may not notice, expert bumpers usually come out of the troughs every now and then to plant a ski edge on the top of a bump which is still in the fall line. Once up there, they can bend extra at the knees to absorb, then slide, edging, down its side, all for more speed control.In addition – although it happens so fast you may not notice – expert bump skiers frequently change course in terms of moving one line to the right or the left to get the speed control benefits of one turn on a bump to the side, against the fall line, before they continue down the new, parallel fall line.After all this, there is one final skill you need to ski the bumps well: courage. And that is because, no matter what you do, there are times in the big, tight bumps when you must tolerate being out of control and going too fast for your comfort level.At those times you just have to bite the bullet, hang in there, and wait for better turns ahead. Although this happens right in the heat of battle, remember that, if you have mastered the core skills, at some point soon, you will be able to regain control.And it is at that point, exactly, that you have conquered the bumps.
Elizabeth Eber is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Vail.Vail, Colorado