From my observations, some competitive bump skiers are outstandingly skilled skiers. But not all, or even most, of them! As others have said, modern bump competitions are an unbelievable exhibition of athleticism and guts, but not necessarily of refined skiing skills.
VERY few competitive bump skiers that I've seen can carve a turn on the groomed snow at ALL. But so few of them even know what a carved turn IS, they assume that they're doing it anyway!
I watched a high-level bump competition on television a few years ago. It was a women's event, but I don't recall the details. When it was over, the winner did a little made-for-TV "mini-lesson" about edging. I could not believe how little she knew about edges, what they are for, and how to use them, and her demos looked like those of a low intermediate skier! She was a phenomenal athlete, and of course very good at what she did for a living. But when it came to basic, fundamental skiing skills, she was lost.
Vail SnoPro--you must remember when they used to set gates down Look Ma (big, steep bump run at Vail) and hold an invitational race in the spring. The field always included top freestyle skiers as well as top technical racers. You might expect that the bump specialists would easily dominate here because, well, it happened in bumps! As I recall though, the racers always cleaned house, with the great Norwegian pro-racers, Jarle and/or Edvin Halsnes, winning several years in a row.
Most serious high level racers that I've known do not spend a lot of time skiing moguls. But it isn't because they can't. They really just don't find them that challenging! And, of course, they often have some concern about getting hurt unnecessarily. But when they do venture into the corrugated terrain, it is worth watching. It's too bad that most of the public so rarely gets to watch truly skilled skiers ripping in bumps. Yes, it looks different from what we see in bump competitions, usually, because a) it isn't a bump competition, and b) they CAN ski bumps differently than most competitive bump skiers. They can make real turns!
Before the competition bump fans get all up in arms about that last statement, and rant on about how bump skiers make great turns in competition, I will ask a simple question: How can they both turn and go straight (down the fall line) at the same time? What they do is something. But going straight isn't turning, by any reasonable definition that I'm aware of! If you think it IS turning, then I agree with you--they do it well. As the Look Ma competition clearly demonstrated, though, make them turn by a different definition, and they struggle!
I too think it unfortunate that athleticism, tricks, and straight-line speed trump technical prowess in today's bump competitions. In the SLC Olympic moguls, Kari Traa, the Norwegian who won the women's gold medal, deserved it. She showed extraordinary skill, as well as the athleticism and excitement needed to win. In spite of the gold, though, I think her incredible skiing skills went largely unnoticed, even by the judges. The silver medalist, American Shannon Bahrke (with all due respect), showed little of the finesse and technical prowess of Traa. Traa's skis caressed the terrain, slicing forward through the snow and gliding over the bumps, while Bahrke's skis merely pivoted and scraped sideways. Both impressed the judges!
As we have discussed many times, at length, almost anything on the mountain can be skied with athleticism, or with skill. Some great skiers have both. But that someone can ski down anything and everything does NOT support the argument that they have high-level skiing skills!
It does take a trained eye to recognize some of the differences. Indeed, most untrained eyes pick out the flashy, athletic, aggressive skier while the true expert glides smoothly by, unnoticed! I've seen that with Phil and Steve Mahre many times. Few skiers on the hill would ever pick them out in a crowd, even in the late 1980's when they were among the best elite skiers in the world! Few recognized the exquisite perfection that passed them by. Skillful skiing is efficient and smooth, with no extra motion, and minimal exertion for whatever the task may be. It is quiet. It doesn't just jump out at you, screaming "look at me"!
I did, however, see Phil Mahre once throw the biggest air I've ever seen, off the biggest jump in the terrain park, at Keystone, at age 42. He did it without even thinking, spur-of-the-moment in the middle of a run, without even knowing what the landing looked like. The jibbers lying around on the snow had no idea who it was, but their gasps and shouts of approval showed that great technical skiers can make the "hardest" stuff look easy when they choose to. Because for them, it is!
Sorry, Adema. I share your love of bump skiing. I love skiing them, and I enjoy watching top level bump competition. Indeed, I agree entirely with your statement that "the timing, quickness, coordination, balance and guts it takes to rip a mogul run at the olympic level are just plain phenomenal." They are extraordinary, and praiseworthy! But these attributes describe athleticism, NOT skill.