Learning how to ski in the 1970s in Vernon Township, N.J., where the Hidden Valley mountain ops team would regularly roll flat any bumps that took shape, one might wonder how Donna Weinbrecht’s mogul skiing career got off the ground. She started the ski team at West Milford High School and focused on racing gates instead.
The 1992 Olympic gold medalist described herself as a starving mogul skier back then, but she also was quick to credit the race carving technique she learned as the foundation for her freestyle skiing success. It is a key tip she shares each year with participants in her annually sold-out moguls camps at Killington, which men and women from across New England often use in preparation for the resort’s legendary amateur spring event — the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge.
“If you want to ski better in the bumps, start in the flats,” Weinbrecht said. “Whatever is lacking there is going to blow up in the bumps, whether it is poor pole planting or making too-late (foot-to-tail) turns. We fix a lot of bad habits in the flats and practice a lot of quick turns.”
Weinbrecht, of course, moved on from her Jersey racing days to win the first Olympic gold medal for mogul skiing in 1992 in Albertville, France. A three-time Olympian (she also competed in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994 and Nagano, Japan, in 1998), Weinbrecht earned 46 individual World Cup mogul event victories and five FIS World Cup titles.
She was a 14-year member of the U.S. Ski Team, winning two silver medals at the 1989 and 1997 World Championships and a gold medal at the 1991 World Championships in Lake Placid. She was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2007.
As important as ski racing was, it was Killington’s famous bump run, Outer Limits, that turned Weinbrecht into the pioneering freestyle skier she became. “There wasn’t anything on the World Cup tour that challenged me as much as skiing every kind of condition here at Killington,” she said. “I was just skiing around here with [Killington Mountain School grad and 2022 Olympian] Hannah Soar and we were talking about how Outer Limits sets up so perfectly for succeeding on the world tour.”
Weinbrecht’s father built a winter home in Killington in 1979, so when she first arrived on the scene, there wasn’t much of one quite yet. Outer Limits had just been cut, there was no lodge at Bear Mountain, and mogul skiing was in its infancy.
“I would come up here and I was like a kid in a candy store,” Weinbrecht said. “Back then, we were the rogue of the mountain. We were having all the fun. The first mogul contest I was ever in was the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge, which was probably just in its second year. I was self-taught. It really was a Cinderella story.”
Today, thanks in large part to Weinbrecht’s legacy, Killington continues to produce some of the best mogul skiers in the world, particularly women. It is a tradition that keeps her coming back, eager to share her knowledge with amateurs and World Cuppers alike.
Weinbrecht shares some of her tips below for becoming a better mogul skier:
-After practicing good technique in the flats, move to an intermediate bump run, something not too steep and where the moguls are a bit looser. It’s a build-up process.
-Maintain good snow-to-ski contact with absorption: your up-and-down together with your side-to-side turning. In moguls, you really need to engage your core abdominal power. You have to push and pull. Most people get into trouble when they get stagnant, rolling their turns under foot and forgetting about the pushing and pulling.
-Most of my camps are just trying to get skiers to feel that bounce. I don’t care if it’s going across three moguls at a time before turning. Some get stuck in between the ruts but you still need that unweighting through the hips, even if you don’t have that quick turn.
-Try to mold yourself to the terrain, which is undulating. The weight transfer happens through absorption. There is a lead change, a stepping on the new ski and the sooner you can get on edge on the back side of the bump, the better. It’s like coming out of a gate; there is a very shallow quick-twitch turn, the setting of an edge.
-Upper and lower body separation is key to skiing moguls. Keep your shoulders back, and your stomach tight and always looking down the hill. Your lower body remains loose, turning from side to side to absorb the terrain rather than letting the terrain throw you.
-Intermediate levels should practice making fuller turns to control speed. Hockey stop on the front side of a bump with your skis facing the trees, and hold that position until you’re ready to rise up and complete the turn on the back side of the mogul. This can be practiced very slowly. Experts will be able to take a more direct line with their tips pointed down the fall line. In competitions, we use moguls to generate speed, carving on the front and back side of the bumps.
-There is usually great snow on the back side of bumps. If you can make a few turns on the back side, they set up for you like that and you can see left-right, left-right.
-If things get messed up, stop and start again. I’d rather see shorter, successful passes than one long run filled with mistakes. It’s about repetition.
-Pole-planting is important for rhythm. You should be planting mid-girth to the top of a mogul, not in the trough. That’s too late. Your poles should be comfortably out in front and slightly to the side of your body.
-Look at the troughs to find a rhythmic line and visualize your first six turns. Then keep your eyes up, looking at least one to three bumps ahead.
-Experts use their tips to drive into the bump. When you feel the ski flex, pull up with your legs. Use your hips and tips to rise up the crest. Use your full leg extensions.
Matt Boxler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.