Spring doesn’t officially begin until begin until March 20, 2016, but now is the time to start thinking about one of my favorite times of the year, which is spring skiing! The longer day bring more sun, higher temperatures and soft snow, and with soft snow brings moguls, big moguls.
While the popularity of mogul skiing has dropped, since the heyday of the 80’s and 90’s, when just about every ski company made a mogul ski and just about every ski area held a bump contest in the Spring, it is still an enjoyable activity, especially when the bumps are soft and forgiving.
While the population of bump skiers has dropped off considerably because many of the younger, rubber kneed skiers that used to make up the core group of bumpers are now found in terrain parks. Additionally, there aren’t many consistently moguled trails because mountains have taken to incessantly grooming the snow into perfect rows of corduroy and then marketing these conditions to us as the best thing since deep powder…really, anyone can ski corduroy, it’s not that amazing. Technology has also led to the decline in mogul skiers because fat skis make turning in the bumps problematical. The Hart F17, generally regarded as one of the best mogul skis ever, is made with the following dimensions 99-66-87. When compared to the Nordica Enforcer, a very good and popular free ski, which is made with the following dimensions 133-100-121, it becomes obvious why it is harder to turn in the bumps on today’s skis. Lastly, ski movies, like Paradise Waits, I believe strongly influence the direction of our beloved sport, are all about big mountain and deep powder skiing. These are genres of skiing that very few of us get to partake in and enjoy on the East Coast, unless you go backcountry, take a trip out West or to the Chic Chocs in Quebec.
With these changes in the sport it has brought on more rail jams and big air contests that are also fun, but fortunately there are still some mountains, here in the East that offers up a spring mogul event. The granddaddy of them all is the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge, held on Killington’s signature run, Outer Limits.
Outer Limits is located on the Bear Mountain peak of Killington. It may be the most famous run in the east and is the holy land for east coast bump skiers. It is widely considered one of the premier mogul runs in the country (and maybe world). Bear Mountain was used as a training ground for the 1980 US Ski Team, although the majority of their training occurred on Wildfire, which is more suited to downhill and giant slalom Mogul skiing was not an Olympic event until 1992. Outer Limits, opened in 1979, and was originally rated a black diamond until 1992 when it was upgraded to a double black diamond. Oddly, the trail became easier once upgrade to a double black diamond. Prior to 1992 the trail was never split groomed, leaving no bailout option for the skier once they entered the seemingly infinite mogul filed. Today, if a skier gets in over their head they can traverse out to the corduroy and rip some GS turns or even bomb the trail from top to bottom (Killington Vermont’s Outer Limits- Top Speed: 66.1 mph!). The run, known for being one of the steepest on the east coast is misleading. In reality, there are over 50 double black diamond trails with a higher average steepness. However, Outer Limits does maintain a sustained pitch of 25.9 degrees. While it isn’t the steepest, what sets Outer Limits apart are the moguls, lots and lots of enormous and gargantuan moguls. And at many times of the year they are icy, really, really icy. The moguls on Outer Limits are generally very tight with deep troughs that require superb mogul skills; if you get back on your skis you will be immediately punished. In the spring, when the weather warms and the snow softens is the best time to ski Outer Limits. So, if you believe you are a magnificent mogul skier, you can prove this April 9 when Outer Limits hosts the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge, which dates back to 1980. The event brings together the best moguls skiers in the east, well sort of, it is open only to amateurs’ who are not USSA members or anyone who has been a member of USSA as a competitor in the past five years, so that eliminates many of the skiers that regularly compete in mogul events.
With that said, Outer Limits has been the proving ground for many skiers including 1992 Olympic moguls gold medalist, Donna Weinbrecht. Outer Limits is a trail that belongs on every East Coast skier’s bucket list. But, please, only say you have skied Outer Limits if you skied the moguls, nobody cares if you ski the groomed section of Outer Limits
The other contest can be found by taking one of the country’s great ski “highways”, Route 100, to the four peak resort known as Sugarbush. Also, occurring on April 9 is the Stein Challenge. The event is a different format than the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge. Instead, it is more like the legendary Gunbarrel contest found out West. If you enter you will have 4 hours to complete as many laps as you can on Stein’s Run.
Stein’s Run is named after Norwegian Stein Erickson who won the gold medal in giant slalom at the 1952 Oslo Winter Olympics. Erickson was also the director of the Sugarbush ski school during the 1960’s. Stein recounted a story on the history of the trail. He was riding up the gondola, known as the Sugar Bus, with Jack Murphy the general manager of the mountain – although Stein was not aware that Murphy was the GM. Stein proceeded to complain that the mountain was funny because none of the trails followed the fall line of the mountain. Murphy then piped in and told Stein that since he was such a smart guy that he should design a trail himself and that was the genesis behind the 1700 foot, double black diamond trail located on Gadd Peak, known as Stein’s Run.
Stein’s Run is a steep, it averages 26.71 degrees which is steeper than Outer Limits, and tops out at 31.03 over 300 foot section. The piste is an east coast favorite mogul run that receives serious attention from the snow gun jockeys that allows the trail to remain open deep into the spring. Once on the trail you will find a trail with nowhere to hide – it is moguled from tree line to tree line. Although, it doesn’t have any Mother Nature’s features, such as rock ledges, you may encounter piles of blown snow.
Stein’s Run, because of the steepness and width of the trial, is also used in the summertime as a launch area by the Vermont Hang Gliding Association.
Even if you have no intentions of entering a mogul contest, do something different this year, advance your skiing skills by becoming proficient in the bumps – practice, read a book or take a clinic. It is an exceptionally gratifying aspect of our sport. If you need a little motivation, here is a free documentary about mogul skiing.