Mastering the bumps can put veteran skiers on top

Scooting downhill, skis in a wedge, I revisited the awkward embryonic stages of skiing with a group of instructors at Lookout Pass. To make us better skiers, Jack Geortner was reminding us the fundamentals apply at all levels.

Geortner, certified Level III with the Professional Ski Instructors Association, is in demand as an off-piste clinician at mountains across the U.S. He traveled from his home mountain in California’s San Gabriel Mountains to help Lookout instructors drill for their upcoming PSIA Level II exam.

I got to tag along.

“The commonality we’re working on is the balance point,” Geortner said. “Skiing on groomers, gnarly steeps, broken crud, bumps – the basics are the same. It’s how you adapt the basics to speed, terrain, weather and snow conditions.”

The weather at Lookout was spring-like. The snow was good on slopes facing north. It hadn’t snowed since a foot of powder fell several days earlier. The off-piste venue for the day was steep, cruddy bumps.

I had always viewed bump skiing as a series of recoveries – athletic saves, postponing the inevitable bailout or blowup. Thrilling, yet ugly. Geortner distilled the problem down to fundamentals.

“Things happen quicker in the steeps,” he said. “We have to be proactive with the hands to get the balance point where we want it. Reaching for the turn puts your hips over your feet, which is where you want to be skiing the bumps.”

We meandered through the bumps slowly, reaching far into the turn with our poles. Skiing in rigid control was a strange feeling. Getting there helped me understand Geortner’s mantra about balance points, and adapting the basics.

Geortner put us through simple drills on each run, exposing our flaws and identifying opportunities for improvement.

We turned up the tempo. I was more aware of how skiing well is a system. If one of the basic elements is missing, the system breaks down. Active hands reinforced my balance point over the skis, engaged my tips and added angle and power to my edges.

After drilling us for hours on basic technique, we shifted focus to terrain. Geortner’s advice was to get creative – stay out of the rutted, icy troughs and mix up a variety of turns on the front, back and top of the bumps.

He said a ski pivots easier at the top of a bump. The snow is usually good on the back of a bump. Mixing it up gets skiers accustomed to initiating a turn whenever or wherever they want.

“Doing the same thing every time is boring, no matter what you do,” Geortner said. “There’s no prescribed rule to ski bumps a certain way. The thing to get your head around is that bumps are fun. They make the run endlessly interesting.”

Skiing steep bumps at Lookout, I realized I could either ride a bull or a Cadillac. It was up to me.

“You don’t have to look like the guys on TV with 20-year-old knees who just blast away,” Geortner said. “If you’re balanced in bumps, you can ski them as slowly or as fast as you want.”

Geortner said that he found skiing bumps to be easier on the body than other terrain. Watching his effortless style, I could see why.

“In the bumps you’ve got a lot more options using the terrain to help you turn the ski,” he said. “If you master the bumps, you can look like a god on all the other stuff.”

Bill Jennings can be reached at snoscene@comcast.net

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