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Bumps and Bourbon

One writer takes on a weekend of instruction at Bob's Mogul Camp and learns to stay mostly centered, most of the time.

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“Clunk, clunk, clunk,” go my boots as I shuffle through the base lodge on the Mary Jane side of Winter Park Resort. It’s only 8:45 a.m. and I am pleased with myself for being on time for day two of Bob’s Mogul Camp. I’m even more delighted that I’ve made it here at all, considering the amount of bourbon I consumed last night.

It’s a Colorado bluebird day in early March, the kind where you’ll find yourself unzipping your vents on the way from your car to the ski rack, let alone waddling through a heated building. I make it to the small conference room where our group meets each of the three days of this weekend-long camp and I scan the scene.

Like yesterday, there are about 30 people in the room, mostly older men. “Bob’s Mogul Camp” is written in big letters across a whiteboard and next to the bulleted verbiage listing various ski techniques and tactics for proper mogul skiing. In the margin, someone has taken the liberty of scribbling, “if you’re a snowboarder, forget these rules and just send it.”

At 9 a.m., Bob Barnes struts in, offering up fist bumps and generally giving off the air of a cocky rule-breaker. “You all look good,” he says. “For your age.”

We break into our groups with different instructors we had formed yesterday based on experience. I can get myself down most mogul runs, whether I look pretty doing it or not, so I get to be in Barnes’ “advanced” group. A handful of men in the group will count this weekend as their 3rd, 10th, or even 15th time at Bob’s Mogul Camp. Barnes, of course, kindly refers to these guys as “repeat offenders.”

Mary Jane, named after a lady of the night who owned the land in the late 19th century, boasts its infamous “No Pain, No Jane” trademark, recognizing its tree skiing and terrain lined with steep bump runs and making it the archetypal mountain for a mogul camp. And an ideal place for a guy like Barnes to be running the show.

Getting in sync behind Winter Park Ski & Ride School Director Bob Barnes.Photo by Keri Bascetta

A now grey-haired Barnes has been teaching this mogul course three times a season for 23 years, the same amount of time he’s been Winter Park’s Ski & Ride School Director. “I’ve been a ski instructor since I was 16,” Barnes says. “So, I’m 99.9 percent right about anything that has to do with skiing. Every- thing else, I’m probably wrong.” As a side note he adds that he’s been unconscious eight times in his life, “So, I wasn’t born this messed up, it took time.”

Today, as we ride up the Super Gauge Express, Mary Jane’s speedy six-pack, I try to remember everything Barnes tried to instill into our group of seven yesterday. The key takeaways I can recall are to keep functional ankle tension for responsive- ness and a forward stance—oh, and to always end a day of mogul skiing with a bourbon. The hope, he says, is to be “mostly centered, most of the time.” That, and to be willing to change how I’ve been skiing pretty much my entire life.

I’m not sure I’ve got the centered stance or ankle thing figured out after only one day of skiing bumps with Barnes, but given the size of my headache, I think I’ve got the bourbon rule down. The willingness to change how I ski is what brought me to this camp in the first place. Skiing bumps has always been like most things in my life: I hope for the best, end up discombobulated, then pretend everything’s okay. Typically, I’d lose control about 10 turns in, get bucked off, and then start again. The steeper the bumps, the sooner I fall apart. So, the idea of actually learning proper mogul technique that could translate into better skiing across the mountain feels like something worth pursuing.

We file off the lift and follow Barnes for a warm-up across a traverse to a short chute of jagged moguls called Sterling Way.

“A stiffening agent must have been added last night,” says Barnes, referring to the snow that had softened up throughout the day before and had hardened through the night’s freeze, making each mogul a small glacial expedition.

Our group slowly picks our way down our warm-up run, working to keep our shoulders facing down the mountain. I skid to a stop at the base of the run and Barnes calls me out. “You’re so far back, you’re in your mother’s womb,” he says. I laugh and know he’s right. I’m getting in the back seat on each turn and as a solution, I let him place four trail maps between the back of each of my boots and the liners to push my stance forward. 

We ski down and continue our follow-the-leader system for several runs, each with Barnes reminding me to stay balanced and to keep my spine upright with my pelvis facing down the mountain. My goal, he says, is to slide down the backside of each mogul into its trough and then up onto the backside of the next bump, pivoting and not forcing turns.

By the end of this second day, my slight hangover has been exchanged for exhaustion, but the repetition of bump run after bump run has me feeling the most upright and in control I’ve ever felt while skiing moguls.

“You’re looking the most centered I’ve seen you,” says Barnes. I feel like I’ve just won a medal.

My body no longer feels awkwardly stiff while flexing my ankles ever so slightly and standing up straight; instead I am beginning to feel confident, transitioning atop each mogul without the stress of being bucked off my line.

The sun is sinking, and Barnes calls it a day by announcing it’s time for some bourbon. We follow him down this last run. Like a calligrapher penning beautiful cursive lettering, he makes effortless turns atop each mogul, pivoting down their backside and onto the next.

“He makes it look so easy,” says Dennis, a fellow student. I nod in agreement, and also in amazement, realizing I am half Barnes’ age, but I’ll be lucky if I ever have half his talent as a skier. He’s the zaniest, least buttoned-up Director of anything I’ve ever met, yet he’s also one of the best teachers and skiers I know—his wildness and humor match his technique and drive. He just might be the human embodiment of mogul skiing itself.

I push off to follow Barnes’ line, just trying to stay mostly centered, most of the time. After all, bourbon awaits. 

Bob’s Mogul Camp

  • Where: Winter Park, Colo.
  • When: Jan. 18–20, Jan. 30–Feb. 1, March 1–3, 2019
  • Cost: From $674, lift ticket not included
  • More info:

Originally published in the January/February 2019 Double Issue Print Edition of SKI Magazine. Don’t miss an issue and SUBSCRIBE.