Ski Terms (What We Talk about When We Talk about Skiing)

Chowder. Mashed Potatoes. Death Cookies. Surfy. Damp. Forgiving. Playful. Slarvy.

As skiers and snowboarders, it can sometimes seem like we have an entirely different language when it comes to talking about snow, how a ski or snowboard feels on snow, and what differentiates one product from another.

We have a Glossary of Terms that helps explain some of the terms we commonly use, but we’ve recently had a number of questions about some other terms, concepts, and expressions that often pop up on our reviews

So for this Topic of the Week, we wanted to try to clarify a few of the questions we’ve recently been asked, and then ask you if there is anything else you’d like to see us try to spell out.

1) Calling a Ski “Smooth”

We recently received this question:

“One of the evaluation terms I always look for is when you classify a ski as smooth. It is not a term you use often, but when you do, I have always found it to be spot on. In the reviews that I’ve read, I have seen a fair amount of “damp” as a quality you talk about, but “damp and smooth” together seem to be pretty rare. What would you deem the major factors contributing to having smooth as a characteristic?”

As U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart famously said about pornography: “I know it when I see it.” And “smooth” is, perhaps, difficult to define, but you sure know it when you feel it.
But I think the cluster of factors tend to be:

(1) Weight + Flex Pattern: Typically, the flex patterns of skis that we’d call “smooth” are not exceptionally stiff, and the weight of the ski tends to be a bit heavier than comparable skis in the category. And if I end up describing such a ski as “smooth,” it means that the ski offers a pretty plush suspension across variable or harsh snow conditions. Examples: HEAD Monster skis and the Nordica Enforcer Pro. Granted, the Monster 88, 98, and 108 are quite stiff, but they are also heavy enough that their stiffer flex patterns still afford outstanding suspension at high speeds. The Nordica Enforcer Pro isn’t that stiff of a ski, but it is relatively heavy for a ~115 mm wide ski (2346 & 2351 grams).

Paul Forward reviews the Nordica Enforcer Pro for Blister
Paul Forward on the Nordica Enforcer Pro.

(2) Torsional Stiffness: In some circles, having a lot of torsional stiffness is often celebrated as being a great thing. But too much torsional stiffness can produce a harsher, more jarring ride. (On the positive side, a more torsionally stiff ski may feel more precise than a ski that is less torsionally stiff.) We’re actually going to be talking more about torsional stiffness soon in an upcoming GEAR:30 podcast, so stay tuned for that.

(3) Tip shape / turn initiation: I think this is another pretty crucial factor. “Smooth” skis will have the right blend of weight + flex pattern + torsional stiffness, but they also feel extremely easy and willing to initiate turns — apply any pressure on your edges, and you can feel the shovels of the skis start to engage and pull you into the turn, exactly as much as you want them to. Skis that we wouldn’t describe as “smooth” either want to pull you too quickly into a turn (which can be terrifying in a lot of situations), or they don’t allow you to access the shovel at all — don’t really pull you into a turn at all. There are a big number of skis that strike this balance quite well, and among them, we’d list the Fischer RC4 The Curv, the HEAD Supershape i.Titan, the K2 Ikonic 84 Ti, the Blizzard Brahma, the HEAD Monsters, the Nordica Enforcer 110 and Enforcer Pro, etc.

(4) The right tune: This is a huge factor, of course. But adjusting the tune the way you want it could definitely affect whether or not you are getting the amount of turn initiation you want — not too much, not too little. But of the skis I mentioned above, all of those skis felt pretty dialed in with the factory tune.

(5) Metal Laminate Construction: I don’t believe that a “smooth” ski would always have to have metal. But truth be told, I’m also not sure that I’ve described many skis as being exceptionally “smooth” that don’t have a metal laminate constructions. Hmmm.

(6) There are still a number of other factors here (e.g., rocker profile, the amount of traditional camber underfoot, etc.), so I don’t think there is some algorithm you can use that will let you then spit out a “smooth” ski. But “smooth” is also a subjective term to describe an on-snow feeling. But hopefully it’s a bit clearer now what we have in mind when using the term.

2) Skiing with an “Active” or “Dynamic” Style

We talk about this a lot — skiing with an active / dynamic style. And we generally bring it up when we’re talking about lighter-weight skis that don’t have the mass of heavier skis to simply steamroll and smooth out everything in their path.

In this sense, lighter skis generally don’t offer the plush ride of heavier skis. But lighter skis — when skied in an active or dynamic style — can be a lot of fun in variable snow or moguled-up terrain. Because in such terrain, since the ski doesn’t have the mass to bulldoze and smooth out the terrain, you the pilot has to do the smoothing out by anticipating bumps and terrain changes, popping from mogul to mogul, staying light on your feet and absorbing flat or firm spots, etc.

Jonathan Ellsworth reviews the Folsom Primary for Blister ReviewJonathan Ellsworth reviews the Folsom Primary for Blister Review
Jonathan Ellsworth demonstrating skiing with an “active” style.

So there is no right or wrong here, it’s just another Know Thyself moment: do you like to ski in a very active, energetic, light style? If so, then heavy skis may be too sluggish or too fatiguing to allow you to approach the mountain like you want to.

And if you are throwing tricks and spinning, well, then heavy skis with high swing weights are going to make life pretty difficult.

But frankly, I don’t see tons of skiers on the mountain skiing in an extremely dynamic style and throwing tricks off everything. So if you are more of a directional skier — maybe hitting the occasional straight air, but pretty much never spinning — than a heavier ski might work better for how you ski.

And if you mostly love nuking down open faces making big, sustained turns, or straightlining tighter chutes, then you aren’t skiing in a very active / dynamic style, you are more of a mountain murderer, and you are probably relying on (1) the weight and stiffness of your skis, and (2) your own strength and power to keep things stable as you fly over and through bumps and variable snow. There isn’t exactly an opposite counterpart here to the “active / dynamic” style, but you could describe this as a more “powerful & planted” style.

And finally — to be very clear — these aren’t binaries. While some folks might fit perfectly into camp A or B, many, many skiers are going to fall somewhere in between. And it’s also why some of us like to own multiple pairs of skis, because some days, it’s fun to go murder the mountain, and other days, it’s fun to jump and pop and play.

Your Turn

Thoughts? How do you think about these things? And please let us know about any other terms or expressions you might be wondering about.

5 comments on “Ski Terms (What We Talk about When We Talk about Skiing)”

  1. I would say that smooth and damp are qualities in a ski that describe the same thing – a lack of vibration when on edge, especially over harder snow or ice – that are influenced by many factors in the design of the ski. As you mentioned, metal in a ski tends to make it more damp, not only due to weight but also its stiffness in reverse camber, torsional stiffness, and width underfoot. Dampness is like having a shocks on a car, it smooths out the bumps without being bouncy, or “chattery” in the case of a ski. In fact, the new Rossignol Hero Master has an actual piston mounted to the top of the ski that limits oscillations in the front of the ski. Looks ridiculous, but I would love to try it. I imagine that an ideal ski would be damp in the front and springy in the back.

  2. Some local NWBC additions to the lexicon:

    Wet fresh snow measurement increments: Cementons/Cementometers

    Moist fresh snow measurement increments: Moistometers

    Sun baked or rain soaked deep new snow: Mashed POWtatoes

    Prior to fat skis, one of the many achilles heels of skiing deep wet fresh cementons with non rockered, pencil stick skinny skis. A term made redundant after the advent of fat, tip floaty skis: Wedge of doom, a.k.a.: death wedge

    The big wedge of white sludge that starts with building up on topsheets, then extends to knees, sucking tips down and eventually stopping forward momentum with a buildup up to thighs/crotch. Required partner to extricate self with shovel as skis/bindings inaccessible to self due to full white concrete lockdown.

    A ski day that is in excellent order: Copaskietic

    A narcissistic skier: Narskissist

    A narcissistic extreme skier: Gnarskissist

    more to come….

  3. “Driving the shovels” vs “skiing with a neutral stance”.

    You will often talk about some skis responding better to one approach than the other. I think I have some intuition for what these two styles mean (though I’d love to hear it in your words), but what I really want to know is how much a skier really can choose which approach to take with a ski and how exactly it changes the way the ride feels.

    For example, if you try to drive the shovels on the Line Blend when it’s center mounted, what happens…do you just fall over your toes in an involuntary 2mph butter onto your face? If you try to ski a Head Monster mounted at -2 behind the recommended line with a neutral stance do your skies immediately fly straight down the mountain at 40mph while your ass stays at the top of the hill?

    In the same spirit, is it obvious before you get on them which skis will respond best to each technique? I.e. are all soft, center-mounted skis best approached from a neutral stance and all stiff, rear-mounted best approached by staying on top of the shovels? Are there some skis that respond well to both approaches and if so, what really changes from the driver’s point of view as they change technique?

    • Hey, Josh – apologies for the late reply, but here are some answers to your questions:

      “For example, if you try to drive the shovels on the Line Blend when it’s center mounted, what happens…do you just fall over your toes in an involuntary 2mph butter onto your face? If you try to ski a Head Monster mounted at -2 behind the recommended line with a neutral stance do your skies immediately fly straight down the mountain at 40mph while your ass stays at the top of the hill?”

      Some skis — like very soft, more center-mounted park skis — will feel like you have “nothing” in front of you if you try to drive the shovels of the ski // really pressure hard the front of your boots — in the way that you *can* and *should* ski a Head Monster. And yes, worst case, you do feel like you are just going to fold the front of the ski and “go over the handle bars” — pitch forward / fall forward.

      Conversely, the main problem with trying to ski “centered” on a very stiff ski with a traditional mount point (say, -10 cm or more behind true center) is that, the moment you get pushed slightly back and on to the tails of the ski, you will be taken for a ride — you will start accelerating faster & faster, while having less and less control — since these skis are driven and steered by pressuring hard the tips and the front edges of the ski.

      And no, it is *not* always obvious which skis will respond best to each technique. So we try to point that out in our reviews – how skis prefer to be skied, and if / when a ski can actually be skied either way.

      But as a generalization, the more center mounted the ski, and the softer the shovels … the more that ski is likely going to respond poorly to traditional ski (racing) technique, and you’ll want to ski upright and balanced.

  4. I understand this may be on Blister’s “to do list,” but how about some short videos of the various skiing styles? I guess one could call it a video glossary. If a picture is worth a thousand words then moving pictures of a moving skier would be priceless. Some phones make good enough video and you could even post to YouTube if server space is an issue.

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