Flexion, extension and retraction:
There are several very key movements that are going to be critical for success riding in moguls. Probably the most important of which is independent flexion, extension and retraction of the lower body. Every joint from the hips down is fully involved and needs to be in constant independent motion. You have to ride loose and allow one leg to flex while the other extends as you ride over and through the moguls. In addition to this constant, independent flexing and extending of your legs, a really super important movement is retraction. Put simply, this is the act of actively pulling your front and sometimes rear leg up in order to actually lift the end of the board up and over a bump.
Here is a drill to dial in this movement concept. Find a slope with small to medium bumps that are not too big (should be no more than a foot to a foot and half tall maximum). Do not worry about riding the bumps like you ultimately want to; for now, you are are going to traverse diagonally across the moguls and pick an angle that is going to give you a speed that is between a fast walk and a jog. Check for traffic as you will be traversing. All you are going to do here is ride up and over every bump and focus on loose legs and allowing the snowboard to climb up the bump, bend a little and ride down in the trough, back up the next and so on. The entire time, you are focusing on this independent flexing of each leg as your board is constantly changing pitch. Try to smooth out the ride as much as you can; allowing the legs to absorb as much vertical movement as possible. Do these traverses heelside, then turn and ride back across toeside. Really pay attention to the feel of maintaining good board contact with the snow through the entire mogul field. This drill will really help you loosen up for more advanced and funner mogul riding later.
Upper and lower body separation:
Here is where some controversy arises amongst advanced riders and instructors. As advanced riders, we have learned that with the exception of freestyle, upper body rotation is generally an inefficient way to ride and control our boards. Think of moguls as natural freestyle. Here we use our upper body a lot to assist us in making much quicker turns like we do when spinning. Don’t get the wrong idea here, we are not talking about throwing our upper bodies around and flailing our arms to turn the board. We still control our board primarily from the feet up. Instead, start thinking of POSITIONING your upper body in way that is going to increase the effect and efficiency of what you are trying to get your board to do (in this case turning rapidly). One of your biggest friends in the moguls will be what we call the “Anticipatory Rotation”. Put simply, this means thinking a bit ahead of your board and aligning your shoulders (don`t forget to turn your head too) in the direction you need to make the next turn. Do this prior to making an edge change that way, when you unweight the board and switch to the new edge, the turn has already positively begun.
Another form of Anticipatory rotation is “Counter”, often called counter rotation. This is maneuver where the rider will rotate the upper body counter to their current turn in order to get it stopped quicker For example, say a rider is running through the troughs of a bump line and is about to dive into a hard heelside turn. As he approaches the upcoming bump, he will rotate his shoulder heelside in anticipation of this aggressive turn. As the board begins to climb up the bump, he will use a down unweighting movement (suck up the legs basically) to bank off of the bump and make an aggressive edge change. As soon as he does this, he is going to have to make an immediate, aggressive toesdie turn to follow the trough without launching off the next bump. Here, the rider then rotates his upper body toeside even before his heelside turn is completed. This rotation is “counter” to his current movement path. It is also “anticipatory” as he is anticipating the urgent need to whip the board around toeside.
As you can see, in a field of moguls, to run a trough line where you ride a line similar to a skier, you are going to be twisting around like mad. The faster you ride the line, the more aggressive all of this becomes so take your time and ride slower.
A great drill for this rotation and counter movement is to pick a well groomed steep blue run and make very tight, short radius dynamic skidded turns. Be sure to use an anticipatory rotation prior to initiating the turn and use a counter movement before you complete each turn. Practice the timing of these moves on smooth open runs and get it dialed in before taking into the moguls. Another excellent place to practice this anticipatory rotation is in the half pipe if you have one. Even if you are not ready to get all the way up the wall or do tricks, if you have a half pipe, use that thing! A half pipe is ideal terrain for every possible movement you might need to make as a free rider.
As you ride up the wall past the transition, you will will turn your head and shoulders before the board stalls in order to turn the roughly 180 degrees to ride back down into the flats. As soon as the board stalls, you retract your legs to release the board from the wall (unweight it). When you do this, your lower body immediately rotates to realign itself with your upper body. In the pipe, you can really feel this effect and it will help you feel it in the moguls.
Just as in improving your steeps riding, the use of aggressive fore-aft movements will greatly improve your ability to ride moguls. Find a flat spot on the snow to play around with this movement concept. Think of your stance on the board like the transmission lever of a power boat. You have your centered stance which is “neutral”. Now, shift your body forward foot to foot (it will feel like you used your feet to slide your board back) so that your upper body is totally stacked over your front foot. This is your “forward” position. Notice something? When you do this, you HAVE to flex the front leg while extending the back one. This movement helps you to flex as you should. If you are forward in your stance you are naturally going to be flexed.
Now go back to “neutral” than shift your upper body back over the rear foot. This should feel just like doing a tail press. In fact, try to make the nose of the board lift up. This position is your “reverse” on the boat transmission. Keep thinking of this as reverse because in a second you will see why.
Okay, we all know for a good skidded turn, dynamic or otherwise, we need good front foot steering and the best way to achieve that is being very nose heavy. This makes for very powerful, very aggressive turn entry and you can see why this is important in the steeps and the moguls. When you get low and forward, you feel like you are diving into each turn and you can feel the control you have with the front foot to turn that board.
Now, why get aft? How does this help you? Remember your basic board performance principle about the heavt end of the board going down the hill first? In the moguls and on very steep terrain, your focus is on getting the turn completed as quickly as possible. Once you entered the turn and and are trying to “drive” the board through turn completion, if the nose remains heavy, it is not going to want to climb up out of the fall line. By shifting your weight back through nuetral to aft or “reverse”, you make the tail heavy and it wants to slide downhill which has the effect of driving the nose uphill. On steeps this is done to slow down. In the moguls, it is done both to slow down and to navigate around the bump quickly. If you were in that boat and needed to pivot the bow quickly, you could slam that thing from forward into reverse. Obviously in a real boat this would be bad as the wall of water came in over the transom to say nothing of what it would do to your transmission…
When you do this rapid aft shift of your weight at the bottom of a turn, it acts just like slamming yourself into reverse and aids in slowing down as well as pivoting your board. In moguls, controlled board pivot is your friend!
Unless your intent is to deliberately catch air off of a bump, up unweighting or “popping” usually does not end well in the moguls. What generally happens, is you land bad and get bounced again and again until you do the Wyle E Coyote stunt. Instead of popping or up unweighting to make an edge change or even to pivot the tail for a “pivot turn”, a down unweighting movement is going to serve you much better in the moguls. A down unweight is accomplished simply by starting from a fairly extended position and suddenly collapsing your legs allow your body to drop down toward the board. You can also think of this as “sucking” your legs up to pull your board up to you like when jumping. However it makes sense to you is totally fine. The point is that by doing this, you effectively unweight the board to make a solid edge change but you don’t pop yourself up off of the snow into space. The main problem then comes from having to land and reset your edge. This can be problematic in very dynamic riding conditions.
A drill for this is simply riding a mellow green or blue and practicing this dropping down to the ground and making the edge change in that moment where the board becomes weightless. This is a timing thing and takes a little practice to get the timing down and therefore is best dialed in outside of the mogul field.
As stated earlier in the independent flexion drill, spend some time traversing back and forth across the mogul field and get comfortable with the concept, Gradually increase speed and pitch but alwasy make this a straight diagonal traverse.
Next, start turning in the moguls!. Begin with the traverses as before but now, instead of traversing all the way across, only ride over 5 to 10 bumps and then pick a good spot to turn. One thing about riding moguls is to always be looking 3 to 5 bumps ahead and plan where you are going to make your turn and stick with it. Indecision and hesitation will wreck you every time in the moguls. Try to make your line even as possible and make a turn in a spot that will help you keep your turns reasonably symmetrical. Take it slow and focus on technique rather than style at this point.
Picking a good, logical line I think is at least 50% of being a good snowboarder (at least for free ride). Riding moguls requires you to always be looking for the ideal line and spot to make a turn. My preference in the moguls is to make a compression turn off of the upsloping side of a bump. In essence I bank off of them. This banking turn also really helps me pivot the board down through the trough. Some rides like to pivot their board as the get up on top of each bump and then ride down into the trough. I am not good at this method myself but a rider who can do it well looks sharp doing it. One thing about moguls is there are many different ways to ride them and as long as you are riding down through a mogul field without falling, there really is not a “wrong” way. The main thing is to get out there and start playing in them.
As you progress, pick up the speed a little bit and focus on staying in control and absorbing the bumps. Start tightening your corridor width a little bit. This is going to require you to get gradually more aggressive with your movements. Try to set a goal of making a turn every 3 or 4 bumps and see how long you can hold to it. Try to get a rhythm going with your flexion, extension, fore-aft and rotary movements. As you keep doing it, you will begin to feel it like a dance and that is when it starts to become fun. It is also a great core muscle workout. Few things will work the core like mogul riding.
The snow conditions, your board and weather can make or break you when riding and especially learning to ride mogul. Because carving is not an ideal method for moguls, a short, soft board makes your life easier in moguls. That park noodle will slay moguls far better than some long assed plank that turns like a school bus. A little bit narrower stance helps a bit too as narrowing your stance a little makes pivoting quicker and easier.
Obviously, icy, hard frozen moguls are not fun, not even for the skiers. Don`t try to learn on these things when it`s bullet proof out. Wait foe powder or even better, spring corn or slushy snow. I find spring moguls to be the funnest of all. A softer surface is going to be a lot more fun and forgiving. Your nose and tail have a nasty tendency to hook when it`s hard.
Weather, specifically lighting can play a key factor. Flat light and fog suck anytime but in the moguls it is even worse. You need to have some decent contrast and good visual perception to accurately judge your line and when to turn in the moguls. A bright bluebird day is ideal!