This story originally published in POWDER’s November 2016 issue (Vol. 45 Issue 3). PHOTO: Arnie Tydell
The Who: Terry really wants to click his poles against my poles, in mid air. This is not sexual innuendo. It's a trick he just came up with. We're at the top of 230 vertical feet of muddy, slushy bumps at Wilmot Mountain, Wisconsin. A bleak gray sky stretches out across the equally bleak gray, and very flat, horizon. Below sit two freestyle kickers, the first so straight up it feels like hitting a stack of railroad ties. The second is the sender—the glory shot for all to see at the second annual Midwest Mogul Mash.
Terry—like all 51 competitors, ranging in age from 6 to 58—is determined. "There's only one way I know how to ski bumps," he says, "and that's to attack!" But here's the thing: It's not about winning. Terry Ketlinski is a 43-year-old local contractor who's been skiing Wilmot since he was 7 years old. He's in the bump-off—wearing fluorescent green pants, fluorescent green sunglasses, and a colorful hat with dangly yarn pigtails—because bump skiing speaks to the kid he used to be.
Which is why on the first jump, he and I—two grown-ass adults—whack poles together mid-air before descending deeper down the filthy trough.
The What: Matt Sterbenz, the founder of 4FRNT Skis, started the event in 2015 to give something back to this tiny hill that helped shape him as a skier. He and a small crew fashioned bumps and built kickers by scrounging together as much of Wilmot's 23-inch base they could find. As people started skiing the course, you'd hear the telltale kachunk! of some poor kid ejecting from his hand-me-down bindings halfway down the hill. Three guys went down with blown knees, predictable results when you try to relive the glory days of youth even though you haven't skied bumps in 20 years.
As people started skiing the course, you'd hear the telltale kachunk! of some poor kid ejecting from his hand-me-down bindings halfway down the hill. Three guys went down with blown knees, predictable results when you try to relive the glory days of youth even though you haven't skied bumps in 20 years.
Everyone gets two rounds in a dual format, not including the rat pack where everyone bombs together in one giant mass. I gravitate toward the zipper line on the left, which fades just enough to the right without putting me in the maw of a muddy pit at the center of the course. Wearing matching red basketball jerseys, we look like red jellybeans hopping down the mountain. Daffies, spreads, twisters, threes, and Cossacks get tossed in one jumbled mess, dirty snow exploding like fireworks.
The Why: The Mash pays thrice tribute: First, it's closing weekend, so what else are you going to do? Second, starting in 2016, Wilmot will look a lot different than its blue-collar roots. Earlier in the winter, Vail Resorts purchased the small ski area, promising to bring upgrades to the base and lifts like the ancient Exhibition quad, which creaks and groans like a haunted house.
Most importantly, the Mogul Mash celebrates a kind of skiing that has largely fallen off the radar. People don't ski bumps the way they used to. They don't even ski bumps. You ever try to ski moguls on your fat skis? Exactly. So get yourself some narrow sticks, glue your legs together, and hit that kicker right under the lift.
The WTF: The craziest thing about a bump comp isn't the actual bumps. It's the few seconds leading up to the kicker. Good skiers plan ahead. Good skiers don't drink beer all day. Knees together, upper body square but fluid, pole plant, pole plant, you got this…Where's Terry? There he is. Right with me. Go faster! Here comes the jump. I think I'll do a twister. Nah, did that last time. Hurry up and decide, man. Is that dirt in my mouth? Here it comes. Maybe a backscratcher? Haven't done one since high school, but…oh shit… And then it's some kind of twister spread or spread eagle with such a hard landing it knocks your hat and sunnies clean off.
There actually are some winners—skiers who make it look good. Sterbenz hands out homemade trophies fashioned out of ski pole grips. The biggest prize goes to the Mogul Master, the person who embodies the spirit of the event. It's Terry, who gets all weepy and thanks Sterbenz for "having the courage to hold this event in the Midwest." And then he shouts out to the rafters, "Bring bump skiing back!"