Check out these ski expressions, snow terms and ski words unique to the downhill sport so you can be knowledgeable and cool from first chair, aka milk run to après ski. See our Ski Slang for more silly ski expressions and lingo. Also check into our Family section for tips on getting your kids skiing, and Skiing 101 for ski vacation tips on what to pack, what ski gear to buy, and how to plan for your ski trip.
Alpine skiing: also known as Downhill
skiing, using skis you descend a mountain, hill or slope on snow
Après-ski: The social drinking and music immediately following your time on the slopes.
Avalanche: When snow layers are unstable, snow can slide and cause tremendous damage, knocking down trees, lift towers and skiers. Always heed ski patrol and backcountry avalanche warnings.
AT - sounds like ET, but it means All Terrain, and implies you are going off trail with AT gear.
Backcountry - also means skiing beyond a ski area’s trails and marked terrain, going off trail, off-piste, at your own risk. Uphill Skiing is skiing up in bounds on backcountry skis.
Base: The bottom of the mountain where the lodge, parking, and bar are located, where you start and end your day. Also the underside of your ski.
Base Snow/Base Depths: ski resort reporting of their depth of snow pack, from accumulation and snow fall received and compressed.
Bindings: where your boots meet your skis, the mechanism that allows you to click in and release when needed.
Bowl Skiing: A wide open slope that has the shape of a bowl, open for skiing with minimal tress and hopefully lots of untracked snow. Vail is famous for its back bowls.
Brain Bucket: slang for a ski or snowboard helmet- providing a level of protection to your brain in the event of a fall.
Bunny slope: The easiest, gently pitched area at the ski resort, where beginners start.
Carving: Making turns on the ski or snowboard with your edges.
Cat Skiing: Skiing in the outback, where a snow cat is your transportation up and you ski down untracked powder back to your private snow cat limo. It is not skiing with felines.
Catch an edge: When you ski or board metal edge grips the snow more than anticipated –resulting in a fall or nearly fall or near-fall
Catch Air: When your skis or board comes off the snow surface, and you are airborne, intentionally or not.
Chute: Narrow passage, often between cliffs or rock bands, for extreme skiers to navigate – usually steep, hopefully deep with snow. "Shoot, I missed that sweet chute."
Corn snow: Loose granular snow like corn kernels, mostly occur during spring skiing when the snow melts and forms granules.
Cornice: an overhang on a steep slope, caused by wind and snow – hucking the cornice takes courage.
Crevasse: a divide or crack in a snow covered slope, you don’t want to fall in here.
Cruiser: A ski run with long sweeping turns, not to difficult or too fast, just right…
Death Cookies: frozen snow ice formation that is the size of a cookie, with the consistency of a hockey puck – hard to ski on.
DIN: a setting on your ski binding – translation: Deutsche Industrie Norm which is calculated based on your height weight and skiing ability. Have your DIN professional set and inspected annually
Dump: a big snowfall, over a foot.
Fall line: The straightest and steepest line down any slope.
First Tracks: being the first on a ski slope, so there are no previous tracks, usually early, heaven in skier terms.
Freezing Rain: Rain that freezes when it hits the ground, a four-letter word in ski country
French Fries: keeping your skis parallel, for kids when the y graduate from snowplow - pizza pie to French Fries.
Frostbite: Freezing of the skin in extreme cold, when circulation ceases –and skin turns numb and white – not good- get inside, and warm the skin back to a rosy complexion to avoid permanent damage.
Frozen granular: Snow that has melted and re-frozen, not as fun to ski as softer fresh powder snow.
Gaper: An awkward skier, aka Joey, or Punter in Canada, who looks out of place, a Rookie, who sports an obvious gap between his/her goggles and helmet or hat - called the Gaper Gap.
Glade: a ski trail with interspersed trees, provides a woodsy wonderful natural aspect.
Gondola: enclosed cabins attached to a cable that transports skiers in comfort up the slopes.
Green Circle, Blue Square, Black Diamond: Trail designations by difficulty, green is easiest, blue is intermediate, black is most difficult
Groomers: the Piston Bully machines that smooth out the snow and create corduroy seems on the trails.
Halfpipe: a concave carved feature for skiers and snowboarders to rock from side to side on the slope.
Heli Skiing: adventurous skiing in untracked terrain outside of ski area boundary, with a guide and helicopter as your transport to the top of the mountains
Herringbone: a ski technique for climbing up the slopes by spreading your tips, not quite crossing your tails in a V shape.
Ice: Not the best skiing, even if your edges are sharp like Bode Miller. But most ski resorts don’t report “icy” conditions, instead its frozen granular or “mixed”
Loose frozen granular: snow that has crystalized after thawing, refreezing, repeat, and has likely been groomed and reworked a few times.
Jib: terrain park elements you can hit or jump off, boxes, rails and jumps are for jibbing.
Joey: an inexperienced hazardous skier that does idiotic thins. Don't be joey, or a punter or a gaper.
Kicker: a jump in a terrain park. Also called a Booter, if its big and cash is at stake- a money booter
Liftie: personnel that assists skiers and riders to get on the chairlift safely. Also checks for ski passes.
Machine made snow: snow made from snow guns by combining water with compressed air.
Magic Carpet: a moving conveyor belt that transports skiers up hill, best for beginners on a gentle slope.
Mashed potatoes: snow that has the consistency of mashed potatoes from having thawed, usually during spring skiing
Milk run: The first run of the day, often with Patrol.
Moguls: Bumps of snow on the trail that are quite large and rounded, made from skiers pushing snow into lumps. Bump or mogul skiers love them, folks with bad knees don’t.
NASTAR: a race foundation with national scores and comparatives, medals for best times in various age groups.
Nordic: cross-country skiing, skinny skis with a toe binding, no heel attachment, ideal for skiing across fields, in the woods, with no lifts.
Off-Piste: European term for skiing beyond the trail network, often beyond the ski resort boundary, can be dangerous, and illegal without a guide or permission, know before you go.
Out of Bounds: same as off-piste or backcountry, skiing at your own risk beyond ski area marking and patrol.
Packed powder: fresh powder snow that has been groomed into corduroy by the snow cat groomers. Park: abbreviation for terrain park where you will find jumps, boxes, rails and quarter pipes for play.
Piste: French for ski trail, hence off- piste is off trail.
Poles: sticks with a hand grip and a pointy end that goes in the snow. Use your ski poles for pushing, and for pole planting to initiate a turn.
Poma or Platter Pull Lift: a ski tow rope with a small disc that you place between your legs so that you are pulled up the ski hill
Powder: Fresh snow that accumulates enough to create a soft skiable surface
PTex: a plastic fill used to repair
Rime: Frozen windblown ice formations that usually occur on exposed mountaintops
Quad: a chairlift that seat for, versus a Triple or Double or Single, some are high speed detach, others are fixed grip.
Rocker: Ski construction that provides a more flexible tip and/or tail so the ski floats through powder and isn’t as stiff and demanding as a traditional ski. AKA Reverse Camber
Schussing: An old European term for skiing without turning, like tucking.
Shaped skis: skis with a side cut near the middle/center, versus just a straight ski, that initiates turns and carves more easily than a straight skis
Ski Joring: skiing while being pulled by dogs, like dog sledding.
Skins: removable leather bands to attach to the ski base for friction when climbing
Snowplow: a beginner ski position, when the tips of the skis meet and the tails push out to form a wedge, or pizza pie for the kids just learning. The snow plow controls your speed until you can turn with skis parallel competently.
Tail: back of skis, versus the Tip.
T Bar: no tea served here, a wooden T that hangs from a lift cable, skiers sit on one side of the T, which is an upside down T, to get a pull up the ski slopes. Don’t sit down on the T-Bar, just rest it under your butt for the ride, beats hiking.
Tram: large aerial lift, like a cable car, with two cars- usually holding over a 100 skiers.
Traverse: to ski across a hill, not dropping in elevation.
Tree Line: elevation above which trees do not grow, snowfields and rocky mountain tops.
Tree Well: area surrounding tree were snow melts creating a well, skiers should steer clear so as not to fall in and get trapped.
Twin Tip: ski with tips on both ends so you can ski backwards, or switch.
Wet granular: Snow that has melted, crystalized and is now and slushy.
White-out: When its snowing and so windy that you can’t see anything but white.
Wind Chill: the mean temperature of the wind combined with the cold.
Windblown: Snow that has been packed severally by the wind, it’s no longer soft and pliable.
Wind Hold: when chairlifts and gondolas are closed because it’s too windy to operate safely, that blows.
XTreme: need an X, so this defines adventuresome advance skiing beyond normal limits and boundaries.
Vertical Drop: Ski area measurement of elevation change from the summit to the base.
Yard sale: a skiers fall that spreads their gear, poles, goggles, hat, skis, all over the slopes
Zermatt: needed a Z, this Swiss resort is the ultimate in the Alps bordering Italy, with the Matterhorn as its centerpiece.
All Stories by Heather Burke, All Photography by Greg Burke
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