-- As his knees rise to absorb the shock, instructor Dino Haak keeps his weight over his 'outside' or downhill ski while going over a mogul at Alpental ski area.
thighs and knees work furiously to keep skis in contact with the snow, the expert skier's torso traces a smoother path through space.
...Ski instructor Dino Haak watches me bumble down a field of bumpy moguls, then speaks with the patience of a zen master advising a novice.
"You want to be in harmony with your run," Haak tells me. "Moguls are narrowing the whole thing down to the moment - the 'I am' and 'I do.'"
I have come to the mountain seeking enlightenment.It has appeared in the form of Haak, a 6-foot-1 German-born feng shui practitioner who speaks five languages, holds a master's degree in geography and sings in a band called Father.
not designing harmonious spaces or composing bilingual ballads, the 33-year-old Haak
teaches intermediate skiers like me how to ski better.He
specializes in helping people through moguls, the rounded humps that form as skiers carve swerving troughs down snow-covered slopes.
More than anything else at a ski resort, moguls (a term coined by combining the first letters of the words mountains and gullies) reveal which skiers are experts and which ones are just pretending.Good skiers like Haak race through moguls gracefully.Average skiers like me don't.
In a daylong lesson, Haak schools
me on what I must do to ski the bumps.My problems are typical of most intermediate skiers, he
Few aspects of skiing are more physically punishing than moguls, Haak
"When you do mogul skiing, you're going to
experience all sorts of strains on your body - more than regular skiing," he
warns.Skiers who spent last summer on the couch watching the Mariners will soon curse their weak legs and inflexible joints.
At the least, skiers should stretch their quadriceps and calves, as Haak
always does before skiing.Haak
also suggests warming up with one or two easy runs before hitting the bumps.
Lesson Two: Use the right tool
Most skis sold now have an hourglass shape, and the latest design craze is for fatter skis with more surface area.Neither is particularly helpful in mogul skiing.
Long, fat skis can be cumbersome in the valleys between moguls, Haak
said.Shaped skis with too much of an hourglass figure sometimes resist tight turns.Haak
likes skis that are "not too long, not too shaped."Haak's mogul skis reach only to his
nose when he
stands them on end, and he
said Europe's top mogul skiers favor straight skis with hardly any shape.I look at my new skis, a pair of fashionably fat K2 Escapes that rise just over my head.I begin to worry.
Lesson Three: Basic truths
At the top of the chairlift, Haak
motions me to follow him to a slope that has been groomed free of bumps, his
standard start to any mogul lesson.
"Everything we learn in the even terrain applies in the moguls," he
We reach the groomed slope, I perform a few turns, and Haak
immediately spots what's wrong.I've forgotten the basics.Haak
patiently reminds me of all the things my first-year ski instructors drilled into my head: Lean forward, never backward.Plant a ski pole to begin your turn.Keep the knees flexible.Pivot at the hips and try to move the hips across the hill.Try to keep the upper body facing downhill - and if you can't, at least look downhill.
"If I look downhill, I can only get my body so far in the wrong direction," he
Of the basic truths, the most profound is to lean forward, Haak
said.While turning through steep terrain, leaning forward while facing downhill, the skier's weight automatically is positioned directly over what instructors call the "outside" ski - the one on the downhill side during a sweeping turn.
"You always want to have the most pressure on the inside edge of your outside or downhill ski," Haak
said.I heed his
advice, forcing myself uncomfortably forward, and am rewarded with a greater sense of control.
A few more practice runs, more reminders and some drills, and we're ready to try some moguls.
Lesson Four: Seek tranquility
Haak skis through some moguls to demonstrate proper form.His
legs rise and fall like shock absorbers over the uneven terrain, but his
torso remains nearly motionless.
"When I do my legwork, my upper body should not be affected," Haak
said.A mogul skier's legs and knees may work like crazy, he
said, "but the upper body should stay calm."
Haak urges skiers to visualize balancing full glasses of water atop their shoulders as they ski through the bumps.Ideally, if the legs are doing all the up-and-down movements, neither glass should spill a drop.
I try it.Several good bumps later, my imaginary glasses are empty.I have a long way to go.
To accomplish that, Haak
tells me, I must learn to turn quickly on my skis - quicker than anyone can turn if carving on a ski's metal edge.He
tells me to make neutral "base turns," flat-footed pivots in which no edge grips the snow.
I try, but the base turns don't come easy.Up to now, carving turns using an edge was the whole idea behind my skiing.I vow to practice.My path to enlightenment grows longer.
Lesson Six: In tune with Earth
and I try some more moguls, but my performance is inconsistent.I find my rhythm for a moment but soon lose it in the uneven terrain.The rules sometimes seem in conflict with the mountain - theoretical prescriptions that sometimes don't mesh with reality.Haak
"Mogul skiing is continually adjusting," he
said."All these rules get blurred in some sense when you're fully in the moguls."
I watch Haak snake rapidly down the mogul field.At times he
follows the troughs between the moguls, other times he
pivots atop their crests.He
mixes sweeping arcs with a series of rapid, tight turns.At the bottom of the hill, he's
not even breathing hard.
is profoundly encouraging.By the end of my lesson he
tells me I am learning fast and making rapid progress.
With more time or more lessons, Haak
would urge me to tap into the flow of the ski slope.He
tries to achieve a mogul mind-set "where nothing else counts but this moment, where I'm at one with what I'm doing right now."
At such moments, a skier like Haak can virtually be at one with the moguls, his
body rapidly yet gracefully reacting to every high and low.Poles punch the snow with precision.Knees rise and fall like pistons.Skis hug the contoured slope.
"Ultimately what happens is you don't have time to think.It's all reaction," Haak
said."You do it intuitively.Forget about what you're doing.Just do it."
The master has spoken.