Mank? Refrozen Death Cookies? Crud — as opposed to “Chop”? Readers have been writing in over the years to say that a Glossary could be pretty useful. We agree, and we’ve finally gotten around to it. (Special shout out to all of our readers whose primary language isn’t English — Thank You for putting up with us, and for your polite suggestions to produce a Glossary.)
So in the interest of speaking the same language and getting on the same page, here are some terms we use to describe the snow conditions we test in, some general skiing styles, and a few important elements of ski and snowboard design.
In what follows, we’re just getting the ball rolling—this is the start of a growing list that we’ll be updating. We’d love to have you contribute, so in the Comments Section below, please suggest other terms you’d like us to define — or offer your own terms and definitions. We’ll move some of those suggestions into the Glossary itself, and the end result will hopefully be a list of terms that are pretty useful, sometimes pretty funny, and sometimes worth debating.
Finally, if you happen to have a great photo that illustrates some of the conditions we’re talking about, send it to us (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we’ll include it in the Glossary.
Take a look…
Snow / Conditions
Chalk: Dry, easily edgeable snow that often forms when it’s consistently cold and often windy. Chalk feels like, well, chalk. You’ll most frequently find it in steep, off-piste terrain, and a nice, chalky, steep run can be tons of fun since you can dig your edges in when needed, the snow is not grabby, and it’s more forgiving than refrozen snow. If it’s chalky, you’ll often find yourself blowing up big clouds of spray while sliding down the slope.
Chop: Powder after it’s been skied and cut up. Shallow chop (3-5” of tracked-out snow) isn’t much to contend with when the snow is light and fresh. But late in the day after a big storm, blasting through trenches and 12-24” deep pockets of powder can really test a ski’s stability — and your leg strength.
Corn: Found in the spring, corn is created during repeated thaw-refreeze-thaw cycles. You’ll typically find it an hour or so after the sun hits some refrozen snow on a warm spring day, and it makes for incredible skiing since it’s supportive enough to carve, but also extremely forgiving. Its consistency is somewhat similar to canned corn — soft and mushy up top, with corn-sized granules, and a firmer base underneath. Many people will put corn near the very top of the list when it comes to favorable snow conditions.
Crud / Mank: First you have untracked powder. Then you have fresh snow that gets chopped up, and after that chopped-up snow consolidates, gets warmed by the sun, and then re-freezes overnight, you have “crud.” Heavy, grabby, often hard & set-up clumps of snow. The heavier and wetter that “crud” gets, the more inclined we are to call it “mank”. If that set-up snow is colder & drier, that’s “crud.”
(And if it’s late in the season and you’re dealing with warm, slushy days and below-freezing nights, a similar freeze-thaw cycle can produce the dreaded “Coral Reef” or “Death Cookies.”)
Coral Reef / Re-frozen Conditions: Have you ever seen a coral reef? Have you ever skied re-frozen snow that looks like (and sort of feels like) a coral reef? It’s brutal, and no ski handles it well. Death Cookies, Frozen Popcorn, Sh!t F$*@k snow, whatever you call it, if you spend a lot of time skiing it, expect to invest in a good physical therapist.
Crust / Breakable Crust: Snow that has a layer of firm crust on top (often from 1-5″ / 2.5-12.5 cm thick), then a softer layer below it. If that crust is super solid, it’s typically easier to deal with — you just ski along the firm surface. If that crust isn’t that solid, you have breakable crust, and the skiing will be pretty interesting / more-or-less painful since you’ll frequently be punching through the crust and getting your skis caught up in / under it.
Dust On Crust: Just what it sounds like — an often very thin layer of soft, fresh snow on top of a very firm base. If the “dust” is thicker, this could make for fun skiing. But more often than not, “dust on crust” refers to a tiny layer of soft snow on top of a super firm layer, which gives you the impression that the snow is forgiving when it is, in fact, very much not the case.
Frozen Chicken Heads: Rock-hard, frozen clumps that stick up off the snow a couple of inches. They’re usually sitting on old, firm, wind-affected snow.
Groomers: Roughed-Up: We also call them “end-of-the-day” groomers, when the groomed runs have been beaten up throughout the day by skiers and the corduroy is gone. If a bit of snow fell the night before, you might have tons of mini-moguls dotting the run, little soft piles formed by wind & skiers making their turns.
Groomers: Smooth & Consistent: Nice, fresh corduroy; groomers that haven’t been roughed-up by skiers pushing snow around as they skid their turns. Depending on your preferences, on a nice pair of frontside skis, this can rank up there with the pleasure of skiing deep pow.
Groomers: Bulletproof: Rock hard Ice. Good luck getting your ski edges to dig in and bite. If you’re not on race skis, the best you can probably hope for is a predictable, controlled skid.
Mashed Potatoes: See “mank.” Heavier, wetter, gloppy, warm snow that’s been turned up / tracked out. Once that snow starts to get really wet and heavy and setup, it stops being mashed potatoes and moves into the “Cement” realm.
Powder: Freshly fallen snow, and the thing that many skiers spend their entire lives seeking. Powder can vary a lot in terms of consistency, which often comes down to wind and temperature. In warmer climates, powder is often denser, wetter, and / or heavier, while colder temps lead to “blower” or “champagne” powder that is extremely low-density and makes for pretty effortless skiing as the snow itself provides very little resistance when heading down a slope. Wind will move fresh powder and wind-deposited snow is often denser than freshly fallen snow (see below).
Sastrugi: Those beautiful wind-erosion patterns that form in firm, wind-affected snow. Nice to look at, terrible to ski through.
Slush Bumps: Also wonderful. For some of us, slush bumps rank just after (1) deep pow, (2) unexpected stashes of wind-deposited snow (3) smooth, creamy, wind-buff, and just ahead of or just after perfect corduroy.
Upside-Down Snow: Snow that is heavier on the surface, then drier and lighter below. “Punchy” snow somewhat similar to breakable crust, but with a less consolidated surface layer.
Variable Conditions: An inconsistent mix of firm and soft snow. Could be a firm, maybe wind-scoured base with some looser soft snow sitting on top, or could be a mix of chunky, icy stuff and softer, gloppy snow. One of the more challenging conditions to ski fast in, and a great test of a ski’s stability.
Variable Terrain (related to variable conditions): When downed trees, large boulders, cliff bands, etc. are the primary cause of the significant undulations / variations in the snow surface.
Wind-Deposited: Denser pow (and if you’re lucky, deep pow) that got blown over from some other section of the mountain to create a nice little pow stash. Wind-deposited pow can turn a mostly firm day into a surprise mini-pow day if you find the right run / aspect where the snow’s collecting. Wind-deposited snow is often a bit denser and less “fluffy” than freshly fallen powder.
Wind-Scoured: Snow that’s been stripped thin and firm by the wind. It’s not necessarily icy snow (it can still be grippy), but this usually means that someone, somewhere else is skiing a bunch of wind-deposited loveliness.
Wind-Buff, Cream Cheese: Very dense, often a little wet, usually wind-affected snow that may only let your skis sink a few inches into it, but it’s smooth and super rippable. Buttery, cream-cheese snow makes for a plush ride while also making it easy to tell exactly what your skis are doing. Finding and skiing creamy, buttery wind-buff is so good and fun, it can almost make deep ass pow seem overrated.
Skiing / Turn Styles
Jib / Jibby: To get flippy and / or spinny. A “jib ski” is one that makes hitting jumps and throwing spins and tricks around the mountain easier. Generally, this involves a more relaxed, flowy style of skiing that uses the ski’s flex to smear around on and pop off of terrain features. A jump on the side of the run that presents a tree to tap in the air makes for a good “jib.” Boring skiers like to complain about “jibbers,” perhaps out of jealousy since they seem to be having so much fun.
Faceshot: When you’re skiing through fresh snow and the snow from your skis / board flies into your face. Despite the fact that it plasters you in cold snow, many people live to score great faceshots as they’re a sign that the snow is nice and deep. When getting faceshots, some describe the experience as entering the “whiteroom.”
Freestyle / A “freestyle-oriented approach to terrain”: You’re not into nuking down the mountain making big turns and getting back to the lift as fast as possible. You’re looking for cat tracks to launch off, jumps to hit on the sides of runs, cliffs and cornices to spin off of – you have a more freestyle-minded approach to the mountain. “Jib” is in your vocabulary.
Playful: Can refer to both a skiing style and how a ski feels on snow. In terms of skiing style, “playful” is a more general term than “jib” or “freestyle;” you can ski playfully without throwing tricks, hitting rails, flipping, etc. Someone who skis playfully tends to ski with more of an active / dynamic style (see below), often slides and slashes their turns, likes to get in the air often, and may throw tricks and / or ski switch. In terms of a ski being “playful,” we use that word to describe skis that are (1) easy to release from a turn / slarve, (2) that produce energy when you lean into them, (3) are easy to flick around in the air, (4) feel balanced in the air (often due to a more forward mount point), (5) and / or ski switch well. Many skis are playful in some of those aspects, but not in others, which is why we often expand on a given ski’s “playfulness” and detail in which specific ways it feels playful.
Butter: Bending the tips or tails of your skis while sliding on the snow, usually during a spin, so that only the tips or tails of your skis are touching the snow, with the rest of the ski in the air. E.g., during a “nose butter,” you’d be sliding on and bending the tips and shovels of your skis, raising the tails of your skis off the snow. Butters can be done on flat ground, off of rollers, before or after jumps, or just about anywhere. In general, softer skis tend to be easier to butter since they’re easier to bend, and skis with deep rocker lines and more tip and tail taper also tend to be easier to butter since they don’t “catch” or “grab” the snow much during the rotation of a butter.
Skiing Switch: Skiing backward. (Hopefully you meant to be skiing backward.) Sometimes called skiing “fakie,” though that’s much more common when referring to snowboarding.
Slarve / Drift / Surf / Slide / Schmear: You’re flying down the mountain in soft, deep pow, laying over a turn and then you roll your ankles down the fall line, letting your skis break free in a long, controlled power slide with your skis perpendicular to the fall line. Though the term originally applied to skiing big lines in pow, it can be done in firmer, smooth conditions too, or even on a groomer.
Directional: A directional skier is someone who does not ski switch and who rarely makes slashed / slarved turns. They ski with a forward, more race-inspired stance and drive the front of their skis through their turns. A directional ski is one that supports or encourages this style of skiing.
Active / Dynamic Style: When we talk about a “dynamic” or “active” style, we’re basically talking about skiing with more finesse than brute force. A “dynamic” style typically means you ski “lighter on your feet” — rather than skiing straight through rough snow, you tend to find lines that let you avoid big impacts by making lots of quick adjustments mid-line. You tend to get your skis in the air often, whether that be on jumps or just when skiing through variable terrain (e.g., moguls, trees, steeps). A less dynamic style will often mean you tend to keep your skis planted on the snow and won’t be making as many minute, quick adjustments. As a result, people who do not ski very dynamically tend to generally prefer heavier skis that do a better job of blasting through everything and muting out harsh impacts. Dynamic / active skiers tend to prefer skis with more energy or pop and that are often a bit lighter since they make it easier to make quick adjustments, and if you’re skiing with an active style, you won’t need quite as damp and stable of a ski.
A Few Terms Related To Ski Design and Materials
“50/50”: A term we use to describe products designed for both backcountry ski touring and lift-accessed, inbounds skiing. “50/50” products are generally lighter than inbounds-specific or “alpine” products, and heavier than dedicated touring products.
Swing Weight: How heavy / sluggish or light / quick a given ski feels, especially at its tips. A ski with a high swing weight will be more difficult to flick around from your ankles, which is most noticeable in the air or when skiing tight trees, steeps, and mogul runs. Skis with heavily tapered tips typically have “low” swing weights because the widest (and heaviest) point on the ski is moved closer to the middle of the ski.
Taper (Tip / Tail Shape): When the widest point of a ski’s tip or tail is drawn closer to the center of the ski, and the material beyond it is “tapered” in toward the end of the ski. Most modern skis wider than ~95 mm at the waist have at least some tip and / or tail taper, while narrower skis do not tend to have much taper since it decreases a ski’s effective edge on firm snow. The Armada ARGII is an example of a ski with extreme tip and tail taper.
Titanal: A lot of ski companies refer to titanal as “Metal” or “Ti.” Some dishonest or dumb marketing departments and ski-review publications will falsely call it “Titanium.” Titanal is an aluminum alloy used in the layups of some skis to make them more damp and stable — it is not titanium, and almost no skis are being made with actual titanium (some of Atomic’s skis being some of the very few exceptions).
Damp: Not relating to how wet something is, but instead refers to how well a ski “mutes out” or decreases vibrations. A really damp ski (e.g., a World Cup GS ski) will feel almost glued to the surface of the snow, even when skiing fast in firm, rough conditions. A ski that’s not damp (e.g., a lightweight touring ski) will get knocked around a lot, can feel “twitchy” in rough snow, and overall will require more skier input to keep it tracking in the right direction while skiing fast in challenging conditions. Overall, heavier skis tend to be more damp than lighter skis.
“Rocker” Terminology: For more about Splay, Rocker Lines, Traditional Camber, Reverse Camber, etc., see our Rocker 101 article.
Power Transfer (in regard to ski bindings): How efficiently movements — especially smaller ones — transfer from the boot, to the binding, to the ski. For example, poor power transfer can lead to a vague feeling through the tail of the ski when breaking it out of a carve in a skidding maneuver. On the other hand, excellent power transfer can lead to a more precise and connected feeling when initiating a carved turn. Most alpine bindings provide excellent, and very similar power transfer, while touring bindings (particularly “pin” / “tech” bindings) provide notably worse power transfer than alpine bindings.
Poppy / Energetic: Skis that rebound / bounce back when you bend them. This could be after the apex of a hard-carved turn on groomers, or when flexing the ski before the takeoff of a jump or drop, in order to get more air. How poppy a ski feels depends on a lot of things, including how stiff the ski is. Certain skis (e.g., Fischer Ranger 102 FR) are quite stiff and they might not feel poppy / energetic to smaller or less aggressive people who aren’t able to bend them, but they feel very poppy to stronger / bigger skiers who can bend them. Conversely, softer skis like the Line Sakana are very easy to bend and feel poppy even without much force / input from the skier, though they feel less poppy to stronger, bigger, and / or more aggressive skiers since the ski is not stiff enough to “push back” against those skiers’ strong physical input. Skis that are not poppy are sometimes called “dead.”