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Essential Ski Slang Part 2: Snow Slang

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Editor’s Note: Due to the success of our first roundup of ski related terminology, we returned to our blogger, Caleigh, to see if she could come up with a list of purely snow related slang. She did not disappoint.

As we continue our snow dances, we thought it’s as good a time as any to lay out episode two of ski slang, but with all the jargon you need to describe the snow that makes it all possible. Hopefully this will prompt the snow deities to grace us with a January for the books.

Alpenglow: This is the term used to describe the beautiful warm light at the end of the day that makes everything look like it’s straight out of a movie and congratulates you for making it to the end of the day on the mountain. This is your time to up those Instagram followers, because this picture’ll surely be a hit!

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Avy/avalanche: The thing that should scare you the most if you do any side- or backcountry skiing. Avalanches are huge mounds of snow, ice, and debris that break, or ‘rip,’ from a slope, sliding through anything in its way: trees, people, boulders, yetis, highways. For the love of all that is safe and good in your life, get some avalanche training if you plan to be anywhere that is not controlled by professionals. It’s also a good idea to have avy training in-bounds at certain resorts just in case. These are not something to be messed with!

Base: Base can refer to the bottoms of your skis or the conglomerate of hotels and shops at the bottom of the mountain. It also describes how much snow has accumulated on the mountain thus far. Most resorts will report bases for upper- and mid-mountain levels as well, and the higher the better! For reference, most mountains can open runs between 18-24 inches, but it really starts getting good around 50-60. Some get up over 200 inches!

Blower: Blower snow is so light and airy and new that it easily gets blown up into your face at every turn. Sometimes makes your face look like the run was a little more epic than it really was.

Boiler plate/hardpack: Otherwise called bulletproof snow, this stuff is tough on your knees. Better sharpen your edges if the snow’s going to be like this! Hardpack usually results from rapid freeze-thaw cycles or frozen layers of rain that make the snow more like ice than fluff.

Bomber: A run that is so well groomed or powder that is so smooth that you can cruise, or bomb, down at top velocities without really worrying about the outcomes.

Catwalk: The long, flat, often annoying sections where skiers have to skate their way along the groomed track. This is when it sucks to snowboard, because you’ll be walking these unless it follows the fastest bomber run of your life.

Chowder: This stuff is the choppy snow that results from a little fresh deposit, and a lot of riders cutting it up into little mounds that throw most people off balance here and there. Not the best for form skiing.

Concrete: Just what it sounds like, although I’ve heard two different definitions. One is largely the same as hardpack, and the other more resembles mashed potatoes, or exactly what you would imagine skiing through wet concrete would feel like.

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Corduroy: The fresh lines on the slopes in the morning after the snowcats go through. It basically makes you feel like a rockstar on skis. 

Corn snow: This type of snow mostly graces us in the spring, but some people would liken it to skiing on marbles or ball bearings. It’s not a pretty sight…

Crud: Basically the worst. Crud is a shamelessly derogative word for the snow that no one looks good in, the stuff that is a catch-all for some of the worst snow adjectives around: concrete, corny, crusty, sticky, lumpy, and overall very difficult to turn in. Generally below average.

Crust/crusty: This is a thin, crunchy layer on top of soft, fluffy powder that most closely resembles the crunchy burned sugar layer on top of a crème brulee. This stuff is much less fun and delicious though, and sometimes it stabs your shins when you break through it. Overall very rude snow.

Death cookies: These are small ice balls and chunks of snow that will really mess up your day.

Dump: If this happens on any day of the season, go skiing! This means that it dumped, pounded, puked snow all over the resort and it’s time to go get some glorious freshies. 

Facets: As you’re riding up the lift or hiking in the backcountry, this is the layer of snow that looks like miniature ice statues and perfectly designed sculptures all over the surface. They can also form an incredibly unstable layer in the snowpack that can easily ‘rip’ and cause a dangerous dry slab avalanche in the backcountry.

First tracks: Lucky you! This means you were the first to track up fresh powder and leave your mark on the impermanent history book of the slope. Congratulations!

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Free refills: This means it’s snowing so hard for so long, that by the time you get back to the top of the lift, your tracks are already filled in. First, fresh tracks all day!

Groomer: Made up of the aforementioned corduroy, these runs are cruisers, bombers, and the closest you’ll ever feel to being a racer.

No-fall-zone: Just what it sounds like: this is the run that’s either so steep or high consequence that you simply cannot afford to take a tumble. 

Pillow: This happens when there’s so much snow that it builds up on the top of any object sticking out of the slope, meaning you can ski over anything: rocks, trees, boulders. Have a field day, because this is rare and you’re lucky. Makes you feel like you deserve to be in a ski movie.

Poaching: Ducking ropes to take advantage of closed or out-of-bounds powder. Sometimes worth it, but ill-advised.

Slush: Very similar to mashed potatoes from my last ski slang article. Slush is slightly melted snow that gets to be so heavy and wet that all you can really do is slog through it to the bottom.

Stash: Shhh! This is the gold mine, the reason you came skiing today. Stashes are secret gems of powder that few people know about and they generally make the whole day worth it.

Tracked out: A run that gets so skied over that people either compact or slough off all the fresh snow to make it a sub-par snow day adventure. Still fun and softer than it was the day before, but the run loses most of its allure by closing time.

Tree well: This is danger zone. Deep in the trees when the snow is fresh, there forms large depressions in the snow around the bases of trees that can potentially be fatal to oblivious skiers. Bad news for your knees if you find one, and worse news for your lungs if you can’t get out of one and it’s deep enough. Respect the trees and give them the berth they deserve.

Whiteout: It’s fitting to end with the best of all! This means it’s snowing so hard that you can’t see anything. Stressful for some, heaven-sent for others, a whiteout means that your day will be chilly, blind, and epic. It also typically means that the next day will be blue bird and powder-laden.

Hopefully this list inspires you to go find some free-refilling untracked freshies and shred the stash until the alpenglow gleams bright upon the facets. Hopefully it also inspires the current weather patterns to shift a little farther south and gift us with the goods!