How To Speak Skier: Snow Conditions
Ever wonder what the heck those ski bums are talking about when they say things like, “Yeah, I was expecting bulletproof but rode out the wave on 2″ of blower on top of cream”? You’re not alone. Like lawyers, doctors, and IT technical support, the industry has a lingo all its own. Ski words are another language.
Here is a glossary of most common idioms in a skier’s vocab used to describe snow conditions:
Cold, new, loose, fluffy, dry snow that has not been compacted.
Powder snow that has been packed down by skier traffic or grooming machines. The snow is no longer fluffy, but it is still quite soft. Setting an edge in packed powder is easy, and skiing the surface does not make noise.
Fresh snowfall that is too dense to be called powder, but isn’t quite Cascade Concrete.
This is an often-misunderstood snow term. When fresh snow becomes densely packed, it is hardpack. The snow has never melted and recrystallized, but has been tightly compressed through grooming, skier traffic, or wind exposure. You can plant a pole or set an edge in hardpack, and it is a relatively quiet skiing surface. Hardpack retains a white color, unlike frozen granular snow.
Snowsports folks often call this surface “icy”, but it is different from ice in many ways. Frozen granular is a hard surface formed when melted and refrozen snow forms granules that freeze together after rain or warm temperatures. Frozen granular is noisy to ski, but will support a pole plant or allow you to hold an edge. Frozen granular snow will often return to an easier-to-ski loose granular state after grooming. Frozen granular snow has a gray tint.Ice a.k.a Bulletproof Snow a.k. East-coast Powder
Not to be confused with frozen granular, ice is a hard, glazed surface created by freezing rain or large quantities of rain followed by sub-freezing temperatures. Ice will not support a pole plant, will not support an edge for most riders, and will chip when hit. Ice is generally translucent and may have a blue color.
New powder snow that has been blown into dense ridges by strong winds.
A windy day can compact and drift surface snow, leaving an inconsistent skiing surface that can be either densely packed, keeping a rider on the surface, or leaving deep, soft drifts of heavy snow formed when snowflakes are damaged by strong wind. These are usually creamy conditions.
Strong winds can remove all surface snow, leaving an ice-like surface in wind-affected areas. It is hard to set an edge in windscoured snow.
Loose Granular / Sugar Snow
This surface results after new snow thaws, refreezes, then recrystallizes. This is also created by grooming of frozen or icy snow.
Loose or frozen granular snow that has become wet and soft after exposure to warm temperatures or rain. This is a fast, soft, easy-to-ski surface.
Corn is similar to wet granular in that it is composed of large, loose granules of snow that freeze together at night and loosen up during the day. It is a soft, fast and consistent surface to ski.
Breakable (or unbreakable) Crust
When rain falls on top of new snow, followed by freezing temperatures, a crust forms on top of the snow. The crust makes for inconsistent skiing conditions, as it may be breakable or not breakable.