Seriously, though, one thing I don't fully understand is the notion that skiing over the top of the whales emulates tougher terrian out west or in the northeast. Skiing over the tops of whales does create VERY short, steep (and usually rock hard) pitches, but the lack of need to make quick turns makes those lines much easier than what's required to ski steep bumpers out west or steep narrow twisters in NE. Right?
If the whales return this winter, let's hook up for some turns at T-Line. Short answer, there is a set of skills and tactics that you're not thinking about.
One of the keys to handling tough advanced terrain is the ability to gracefully handle cruxes. A crux is an area where a trail or tree run funnels into a very tight steep section. The crux is much more challenging and steeper than the rest of the trail. There may be only one or two lines through a crux (can be narrower than the length of your skis), and often a crux may require mandatory air (since they are often at the top of a mini rock ledge.) Examples of cruxes that I'm talking about: the top of Paradise at Mad River (at the 8 foot waterfall and some of the other entrances at that section), Rumble at Sugarbush, the rock ledge near the top of Upper Lift Line (Castlerock) at Sugarbush, numerous sections of Upper Goat at Stowe, and possibly the very top of Stein's Run at Sugarbush (but this is pretty wide for a crux.) With the exception of the entrance to D-Trail at Blue Knob and possibly Upper Gunbarrel at Roundtop, there aren't any cruxes on *trails* in the Mid Atlantic (though some sections may seem tough.)
Skiing cruxes requires the ability to make very quick controlled turns, but there is much more than that.
First, there are the fear and injury factors. If you choose a bad line on a crux, you are more likely to suffer a bad fall and hurt yourself. (Twisted knees and ankles are common.) If you fall making quick turns down a bump run, the risk of injury is a lot less.
How do the whales on OTW at Timberline help you ski a crux? You are skiing up to whale, you can't see down the back side of the whale, and you know there is a significant drop off. Further, if you ski OTW a bit, you realize that the back sides of the whales are likely to be icy and even more important, there may or may not be a serious trench carved across the hill at the bottom of the whale. (Most skiers/boarders tend to turn around the bottom of the whale instead of going over the tops.) Because of these trenches, you can't ski in every direction over the top of the whale, cuz you'll plow your ski tips into the trenches.
What is the most common tactic when you reach the top of a crux, tough whale or a steep drop off in a narrow trail? You perform a check turn at the top of the feature. A check turn is a speed scrubbing turn, with your skis completely across the fall line. You'll also have a significant amount of retraction of your legs at the top. As you are making the check turn at the top of the feature, you can now see down the backside of the feature and detect the hazards. *Without stopping*, you must immediately determine your line across the bottom of the feature. (If you find out there are no lines or a gaper is lying at the bottom, you have to quickly finish your check turn into a complete stop. To do this, you must be in complete control and balance.)
Depending upon the size of the whale and how bad the trenches are at the bottom, I'll execute 1-2 turns *on the back face* of the whale (sometimes not needed), regardless of how icy the back of the whale is. Generally, I'm not simply skiing over the top of the whale and turning five feet later; I'm turning on the back of the whale. At the top of the whale, I may have to make a radical direction change to choose the set of bumps I want to hit after the whale, or I may have to angle my skis into the bottom trough to avoid plowing my tips into the trough.
These turns are much tighter and quicker than normal bump turns.
Another core skiing skill that the whales exercise: the ability to quickly adjust your upper body position to be ~perpendicular to the slope. With the rapid drop off at the back of the whale, you need to get forward on your skis to maintain this angle, then rapidly readjust back as the slope flattens at the bottom of the whale.
The whales on The Drop are basically terrain park rolls (no where near as challenging as those on OTW), and I generally just ski straight over them without turning. Completely different set of mammals.
Very long winded answer, but there is a lot of going on there with the whales that I think most people are missing.