Skiing as a recreational sport has been around for almost 300 years, so it’s no surprise that in all this time, the snowsport has accrued a language of its own. Apart from the technical jargon that has developed parallel to evolving ski technology, skiers have also found creative ways to communicate in the form of some very special slang (think ‘pizza’ and ‘french fries’ – we’ll explain later).
We’ve created an informative ski glossary just for you, so you can familiarise yourself with ski terms and definitions, whether you’ve never skied or you’re looking to upgrade your skier status to that of a knowledgeable professional. Wherever you are in your skiing journey, this resource will never go amiss.
A-Z Ski Terminology
ABS Sidewall: Industry term for a type of edge construction on skis that is made from high-quality ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic.
Aerials: Freestyle ski flips in the air performed by professionals.
All-Mountain Ski: Skis designed to perform in the full range of snow conditions and at the typical speed spectrum. Other names for this style of ski include mid-fat skis, all-purpose skis, and the one-ski quiver. Most Alpine skis belong to this category.
Alpine Skiing: Skiing downhill, as opposed to Nordic or Telemark skiing.
Après-Ski: Typical social activities and entertainment skiers engage in after a session or day of skiing, which includes social drinks and the sharing of skiing experiences. Après-ski is a staple ritual at ski resorts.
Artificial Snow: Man-made snow that’s not as fine as real snow.
Audio Helmet: A helmet with built-in speakers that enable you to listen to music while skiing.
Avalanche Beacon: A safety device worn by skiers, snowboarders, and others in case they are caught in an avalanche’s path. The beacon transmits a signal (typically at the international standard frequency of 457 kHz) that rescuers can use to locate a person buried underneath the snow. Avalanche beacons are indispensable items for anyone veering off the beaten tracks without a guide or any company.
Avalanche Control: The triggering of avalanches in an artificial way, through controlled explosions, for instance, to control slopes and make them safe for skiers. Avalanche control is the most dangerous task faced by Ski Patrol.
Backcountry: Any area beyond the boundaries of a resort that is neither controlled, patrolled nor cleared of avalanche dangers. The backcountry represents an area where skiing is undertaken at one’s own risk, thus it’s a place for informed and trained experts only.
Balaclava: An item of cloth headgear worn to cover exposed skin, especially to shelter it from the elements. A balaclava is essential when you are caught riding a lift in fierce, driving wind or snow.
Base: Definition of this term depends entirely on the context it is being used in. Base may refer to the underside of a ski, the main area at the foot of a ski resort, or the overall depth of the snow cover.
Baseplate: The bottom part of a ski’s binding. The baseplate is of crucial importance as it’s the segment of the binding that’s in direct contact with the ski, and is therefore responsible for transferring all movement. It is typically made with high-end plastics for both strength and flexibility.
Basket: Round or star-shaped plastic addition to the bottom end of a ski pole, intended to stop it from penetrating too deep into the snow.
Berm: A snowbank – a place where extra snow is stored, often used to provide stability on the outside of a turn.
Biathlon: A cross-country race consisting of a combination of skiing and rifle shooting.
Binding Plate: See Baseplate.
Binding: The construction that connects a ski boot to the ski itself. A ski binding is designed to release from the ski during a fall.
Black Diamond: Expert trail denoted on trail maps and signs by a black diamond symbol. The trail may or may not be groomed, and can vary from the merely tricky to an extreme difficulty level. A double black diamond indicates the steepest, most difficult runs at a resort.
Blue Square: Intermediate trail denoted on trail maps and signs by a blue square. Usually groomed and often one of the most popular runs. At European resorts, a blue run is actually a beginner trail and red is used to indicate an intermediate skill level.
Bomber: Slang word for a skier scooting down a slope in an erratic, out-of-control manner.
Bootboard: The platform inside a boot shell that sits directly below the liner.
Bowl: A large mountain basin where trees don’t normally grow, which makes for greater freedom for skiers. Characteristically ideal for performing great swooping turns or steep, speedy dives.
Brain Bucket: Slang term for a ski helmet.
Bumps: Bumps created in the snow typically through the repeated the turns of skiers. They can also be carved out artificially to form sculpted mogul fields for skiers.
Button Lift: A ski lift with a round disc attached to the end of a long pole, which skiers latch onto with their legs to transport them up the slopes.
Cable Car: The largest aerial ski lift. The cabins can range up to bus size, holding up to 100 passengers and are most often used to traverse long vertical distances above slopes.
Camber: The upward curvature in the base of a ski whose function is to distribute the weight of a rider across the whole ski, as well as to provide proper tension for improved ski response. The camber is determined by the amount of space available beneath a ski when it lays on a flat surface with its weight resting on the tip and the tail.
Cant: The lateral angle of the boot in relation to the ski. Starting from a vertical axis, your feet can be canted inwards or outwards for improved edge control.
Cap Construction: A manufacturing technique where the top sheet comes all the way down to the metal edges on the sides of a ski or snowboard; making it part of the overall structure.
Carving: A series of clean turns achieved through skilled manipulated of the edges of skis. Carving turns vary from tight turns to giant “S” shaped swoops.
Carving Ski: Narrower skis designed for skiers to be able to perform tight, clean turns more effectively.
Cat Skiing: Using a Snowcat to reach areas that are not accessible by chairlifts and skiing in these locations. This is similar to Heliskiing but is generally less costly.
Cat Tracks: Relatively flat paths used by Snowcats to access different areas of a mountain. These are often used by regular skiers to reach different parts of a resort.
Chatter: The vibration of skis caused by travelling at very high speeds. Excessive chatter reduces overall contact between the ski and the snow and the ability to remain in total control of movement and velocity.
Chute: A steep and narrow gully often surrounded by rocks. Chutes are almost certainly expert-only runs, whether marked as such or not.
Cirque: A deep mountain basin with steep walls or amphitheatre carved out of the mountain by an alpine glacier. Cirques are similar to bowls but generally steeper.
Corduroy: A common slang word for the parallel grooves in the snow found on a recently groomed trail made by a grooming machine or Snowcat, named as such for the resemblance to the fabric.
Corn Snow: Springtime snow caused by the repeated melting and refreezing of snow beds, resulting in corn-sized icy snow crumbs.
Cornice: An overhang of snow caused by unrelenting high winds. Cornices make for fun launching pads but can also prove dangerous as they can snap off at any given time.
Couloirs: French for ‘corridor’, a couloir is similar to a chute, but typically more narrow and steep, which indicates they’re only suitable for experts.
Crevasse: A deep and oftentimes hidden crack in a glacier or permafrost.
Cross-country Skiing: Forming part of the Nordic Skiing family, cross-country skiing makes use of narrow skis and bindings where the heel releases. Cross-country skiing is typically performed on flat ground as opposed to riding a lift to access downhill skiing.
Crust: A frozen layer of ice either covering softer snow or buried under a fresh dusting of snow.
Dampening: A tool or technique that reduces the vibrations – also known as chatter – of skis that occur at extremely high speeds.
Death Cookies: Slang term for the cookie-sized chunks of ice formed by grooming and snowmaking. Frequently presenting an issue at resorts in New England and the Midwest, death cookies aren’t often seen in big-mountain Western resorts.
Delamination: The separation of a laminate along the plane of its layers on a ski. A typical case of delamination occurs when the moulded layers on a ski start to separate, which can ruin the equipment if not attended to quickly.
DIN Settings: The tension release setting that determines the amount of pressure required for a ski binding to release during a crash. DIN stands for the German Deutsche Industrie Normen. DIN settings are an adjustable safety measure.
Downhill Edge: The edge of the ski that lies on the downhill side as you ski down the mountain.
Downhill Ski: The ski that is on the downhill side as you traverse the slope.
Drag Lift: A lift that drags you uphill as you stand on your skis.
Durometer: The measurement tool used to determine the toughness of a plastic ski boot shell. The higher the durometer, the softer the shell.
Edge: The sharpened metal strip on the sides of skis. The edge’s function is to enable skiers to gain more control over their movements by biting into the snow for smoother carving and cutting. Holding an edge is key to a good turn.
Effective Edge: The length of the metal edges on the ski that is in actual contact with the snow. Today’s shaped skis have longer effective edges, resulting in more stable skis that allow easier turning.
Equipment: Skis, boots and ski poles.
Fakie: Slang word for skiing backwards.
Fall Line: The most direct line down a trail or slop, known as such because if you fall, that’s the direction in which you’ll probably slide.
First Tracks: Cutting through fresh snow on a virgin trail, leaving behind your tracks for everyone else to see or follow.
FIS: French acronym (Fédération Internationale de Ski) for the International Ski Federation, the main authoritative body governing over skiing and other snowsports.
Flea Market: A crash in which a skier’s gear, including skis, poles, hats, gloves, etc., end up scattered across the slope.
Flex: Term used for ski boots to describe stiffness of the outer shell. This term can also be used to describe how much a ski bends when pressure is applied. Typically, the more experienced the skier, the stiffer the ski.
Footbed: The removable sole inside a ski boot’s liner. Factory footbeds are generally designed to be replaced, as no two feet are identical. Custom footbeds can be made to fit the sole of the foot as closely as possible.
Free-heel Skiing: A style belonging to the Nordic Skiing family and a hybrid of downhill and cross-country skiing, also known as Telemark skiing. Skiing with detached heels allows travelling across flat ground with Telemark skis also designed to be wide enough to handle high speeds and sharp turns. Free-heel skiing is known for its distinctive forward-bent knee ‘Telemark turn’.
Freestyle: A style of skiing primarily focused on performing jumps, tricks and aerials.
French Fries: Slang term for skiing with skis parallel to one another – the opposite of Pizza.
Fun Box: A box found in a Terrain Park built for skis to slide across (see Jib).
Giant Slalom: Similar to Slalom racing, but with the racing gates flanked further apart to enable higher speeds and broader turns. This discipline involves the use of two pole gates rather than a single pole gate.
Glade: An open area within a forest woodland.
Goggles: Protective ski eyewear used not only to provide shade from the sun and glare but also to shelter the eyes from wind, snow, debris and other potentially hazardous elements.
Gondola: An enclosed lift that fits, on average, between four to eight passengers. The gondola is like a mini-cabin, and usually faster than an open chairlift.
Grab: A freestyle trick that entails holding onto any part of your skis while in the air; it can also be performed to maintain balance. See Indy Grab or Mute Grab for examples.
Granular Surface: A term for snow that is definitely not fresh powder, but instead countless tiny pellets of ice and worn-out snow that look like grains. Granular surfaces are packed down and possibly groomed.
Green Circle: The easiest trails on a mountain usually designated for beginners, denoted on trail maps and signs by a green circle. Green runs are usually groomed, flat, and wide – a trail that experienced skiers should not ski on as traffic must remain slow. Blue is the colour that indicates the easiest trails in European resorts.
Grooming: The most common form of trail maintenance carried out in order to spread new snow and to smooth over bumps, icy patches and other obstacles. To groom the trails, tractors known as Snowcats drag giant rakes over the snow; on steeper slopes, winches are used to drag rakes up the incline.
Halfpipe: A U-shaped channel with smooth walls used by freestyle skiers for aerial tricks. A halfpipe is typically created by carving a channel out of large piles of snow, but they can also be dug out of the ground in areas with minimal snowfall.
Hardgoods: A catch-all term used to classify ski equipment, such as the skis, boots and bindings.
Hardpack: Snow that has been densely packed due to repeated grooming or skiing and the additional absence of fresh snowfall.
Headwall: A steep to vertical cliff found at the end of a valley, which is often also the topmost part of a Cirque.
Heliskiing: When skiers are transferred by helicopter into the backcountry to ski off-trail through fresh tracks on virgin powder. While heliskiing is expensive and potentially dangerous, it is also deeply thrilling and reserved for only the most experienced and expert of skiers, which consider it the holy grail of skiing.
Herringbone: The act of climbing uphill on skis while spreading them apart to keep from sliding backwards. Herringbone is called as such due to the geometric pattern left in the snow by these against-the-current movements.
Huck: Slang term for launching off a jump.
Ice: Very densely packed snow on the slopes that assumes the properties of ice, especially due to lack of recent snowfall.
In-bounds: Ski terrain inside the boundaries of a ski resort – the opposite of Out-of-bounds.
Integrated Binding: A ski binding system designed to work specifically in unison with a particular ski. Integrated binding is increasingly being pushed to the levels of a golden industry standard as they provide better Flex by plying with the ski to increase the skier’s control of the ski and the transfer of power within the entire ski device.
Jib: Riding skis across a surface that isn’t made of snow, for example, a rail, fun box, or even pieces of fallen log.
Kicker: A triangle-shaped jump, often built in the backcountry to be used for trick sessions.
Last: A boot manufacturer’s term for the interior shape of a ski boot.
Lasted Liner: A ski boot term used to describe the most convenient and effective type of liner that is woven around a mould of the actual foot size for a vastly improved fit.
Lateral Upper-cuff Adjustment: A feature on some ski boots that allows the user to change the length of the upper boot through an adjustable cuff. Lateral upper-cuff adjustments are useful for bowlegged or knock-kneed people who need their upper boot to correspond to the angle of their lower legs.
Liner: The removable, soft inner boot designed to provide both support and padding against the hard outer shell of a ski boot. Liner is also essential for warmth and insulation inside the ski boot.
Magic Carpet: A surface lift that closely resembles a life-size conveyor belt, normally found only on smaller bunny slopes where younger kids learn to ski.
Mashed Potatoes: A slang term for wet and heavy snow.
Memory Foam: A layer of foam within a ski boot that has the ability to mould itself according to the exact shape of a skier’s foot over time.
Micro-fleece: An improved and strengthened form of fleece made from a tighter, less dense knit that reduces the thickness and puffiness of regular fleece – the ideal material to use for a middle layer.
Mid-fat Ski: An alternative term for an All-Mountain Ski.
Milk Run: The first run of the day in the wee hours of the morning.
Moguls: See Bumps. Usually found on black runs and used by advanced skiers.
Mondopoint: The standard European measurement for shoe sizes, commonly used for ski boots. It’s based on the mean foot length for which the shoe is suitable, measured in centimetres. To determine US sizing from Mondopoint, simply add the first and second digits together, and then add the decimal point (you will need to add 1 to your calculated result to convert a US men’s size to a women’s). For Mondopoint sizes from 30.0 upwards, add 9.0 to get the correct conversion (e.g. Mondopoint 30.0: 3 + 0 + .0 + 9 = 12.0).
Mute Grab: A type of Grab that consists of grabbing the outer edge of the ski, between the bindings, with your front hand.
NASTAR: A worldwide public grassroots ski race program that encourages ski racers of all ages and abilities to compare themselves with one another through an intricate handicapping system. NASTAR is an acronym for National Standard Race. More than 165,000 Nature Valley NASTAR racer days are recorded throughout the skiing season at 115 different resorts.
Never-ever: A first-time skier.
No-fall Zone: An area where falling will likely lead to serious injury and should, therefore, be avoided at all costs. For instance, the initial entry into a steep chute is often described as a no-fall zone.
Nordic Skiing: Most commonly used to refer to Cross-country Skiing, but can, in fact, be any form of skiing where the heel of the boot releases from the binding. Along with cross-country, common forms of Nordic skiing include Telemark Skiing and ski jumping.
Off-piste: An Out-of-bounds area that’s off a trail and other areas not marked on the trail map. Off-piste can sometimes refer to Backcountry.
Ollie: A jump or hop on skis that can be performed on a flat run or area.
Outside Ski: The ski on the outside of a turn.
Packed Powder: Relatively new snow that has been groomed or ridden over repeatedly and is thus much rougher than powder. Less distinctive resorts will define virtually all snow – regardless of actual conditions – as packed powder.
Parabolic Skis: See Shaped Skis.
Park: See Terrain Park.
Pipe: See Halfpipe.
Piste: The French word for ‘trail’, used to denote a run in technical terms.
Piste Basher: A tracked vehicle used for grooming ski slopes to even out the snow and prepare the slopes for safe use by skiers.
Pit Zips: Ski jacket zippers located under the armpits allowing the user to circulate air through the jacket when conditions are warmer.
Pizza: Slang word for an elementary skiing technique where skis are tilted together in the shape of a slice of pizza to snowplough down a slope.
Pole Grip: The handle on a ski pole.
Powder: Fresh, dry and lightweight snow that represents immaculate conditions for skiing for the majority. Large amounts of fresh powder make for an epic skiing experience.
Powder Skis: Designed to slide on top of powder, these skis are particularly popular and regularly used in areas that receive major snowstorms frequently. The mega-wide waist widths – ranging from 105mm to 130mm – keep the skis from sinking too deep into fresh snow, but they can be challenging to control and sluggish on groomed runs.
Power Strap: The adjustable strap at the top end of a ski boot that serves to clasp the cuff of the boot into place and fasten the boot snugly to the calf and shin, making for better support during skiing.
Quarterpipe: A halfpipe divided in half lengthways and used for a single – and often massive and impressive – aerial trick.
Racing Ski: Typically stiffer, longer and narrower than the average ski, and used for races, including Slalom or Giant Slalom. Racking skis are sometimes called Slalom skis or Giant Slalom skis, depending on the race they are used for.
Racing Boot: Designed for racing, these boots are more stiff and often narrower than the average boot.
Rail: A bar generally made out of metal, built for skiers to use for support to slide up a slope. Rails are almost exclusively found in a Terrain Park.
Red Run: Intermediate-level slope according to the European piste classifications, which alternatively denotes an advanced terrain in South America.
Reverse Camber: The downward arc formed in a ski by applying pressure from above. The more pressure applied, the greater the degree of reverse camber created, thus loading the skis or snowboard with more energy for turning. Some skis are designed with built-in reverse camber which keeps the tips perpetually floating above the snow.
Runout: A flat expansive area at the end of a run that where racers can slow down adequately before stopping, as well as a fairly flat run used to link more difficult trails back to a ski lift or common area.
Salopettes/Ski Pants: Salopettes are warm, insulated and waterproof trousers that are normally padded for extra protection against weather elements and potential injuries while skiing.
Schussing: Skiing straight downhill without turning.
Shaped Skis: Also known as Parabolic Skis, this term refers to the hourglass shape adopted by the majority of skis nowadays. Wider at the tips and tails and narrower at the centre, shaped skis require less effort to turn as the shape itself initiates a curve. The degree of the actual shaping depends on how much Sidecut has been built in.
Shell: The outer layer of a ski boot’s anatomy that is normally made out of special hardened plastic.
Shovel: The front end of a ski that often bows out to a larger shovel shape to avoid the skier sinking into the snow bed.
Sidecut: The inner curvature of a ski measured by the difference between the narrowest point in the centre of a ski to the widest points at the tip and tail. The curvature of a sidecut is the key component in creating a turning radius; the more drastic the sidecut, the sharper the turns that can be achieved.
Six-pack: Slang term for a chair lift that can carry six people at a time.
Ski Boards: Extremely short skis akin to a cross between regular skis and inline skating equipment. Ski boards are also known as snowblades.
Ski Brake: A mandatory attachment and safety feature of ski bindings designed to stop a ski from scuttling downhill after being detached from the ski boot.
Ski Patrol: Trained skiers responsible for slope safety, including clearing areas of possible avalanche triggers and risks following a snowstorm, marking dangerous obstacles on or near a trail, and assisting or even escorting injured skiers down a mountain.
Skier’s Left: Used to denote the area to the left of a skier heading downhill.
Skier’s Right: Used to indicate the area to the right of a skier heading downhill.
Ski-in: Accommodation that can be reached from the ski area via skis – literally skied into.
Skijoring: A version of skiing in which the skier is attached to a set of dogs or a horse by a waistband and pulled across flat ground.
Skins: Synthetic or mohair strips of material that can be temporarily affixed to the bottom of skis to aid uphill motion. Skins are used to access higher elevations in the backcountry without constantly slipping backwards.
Ski-out: Accommodation from which it is possible to ride from the door to the lifts – literally ski-out from.
Ski-walk Adjustment: An adjustment on some ski boots that allows the upper cuff to hinge backwards, making room for a more natural and comfortable walking motion when the skis are taken off.
Slalom: A form of downhill skiing where racers head downhill on a course line with tightly spaced gates that must be passed between using short, quick turns. See also Giant Slalom.
Slope: A slope is an area of snowy hill or mountain that has a gradient and is adequate for skiing.
Slush: Very wet snow or snow that is melting. Slush can also be snow mixed with rain.
Snow Cannon/Snow Machine: Machine on the slope that turns water into artificial snow when real snow is scarce.
Snowcat: A tracked vehicle used for moving around snowy, mountainous areas; often seen dragging giant rakes as they groom runs, but also used to transport riders into the backcountry for snowcat skiing.
Snow Park: An area constructed and designated especially for freestyle skiers, featuring jumps, rails, fun boxes etc.
Snowplough: A beginner’s technique for slowing down on skis, achieved by bringing the front tips of a pair of skis together, pushing the tails apart, and applying pressure on the ski’s inside edges. Snowploughing is also referred to in slang as Pizza.
Snowskate: Similar to a skateboard deck without wheels, designed to be ridden on snow for freestyle tricks.
Softgoods: Catch-all term used to classify ski clothing, including jackets, pants, gloves, and hats.
Straight-lining: See Schussing.
Super G: The fastest discipline in Alpine racing, similar to Giant Slalom but with even fewer turns to allow higher speeds.
Superpipe: A larger version of a regular Halfpipe – the walls in a superpipe can sometimes be higher than 6 metres.
Switch: See Fakie.
Tail: The posterior end of a ski.
T-bar: A surface lift that pulls skiers uphill by grabbing onto and then sitting on a plastic T-shaped arm suspended from a moving line. Often found on small and flat beginner slopes, but they can also be found high up a mountain in steep areas where a chairlift can’t be or hasn’t yet been built.
Telemark Skiing: See Free-heel Skiing.
Terrain Park: A freestyle zone roped off from other downhill runs and filled with jumps, rails, fun boxes, and other assorted obstacles. Parks can also include a Halfpipe and boardercross run.
Tracked Out: Slang term for a slope of formerly fresh snow that has been ridden over repeatedly.
Tram: See Cable Car.
Transition: The section of a halfpipe linking the vertical walls to the flat floor.
Traverse: Skiing across a slope in a varying zigzag pattern as opposed to straight down; typically done to control speed on steep surfaces or to cut across a mountain.
Tree Line: The altitude at which trees stop growing on a mountain. In the US, the tree line floats between 8,000 and 10,000ft, while in Europe it tends to be lower – closer to 7,000ft.
Tree Well: A dangerous hollow space formed around the base of trees after heavy snowfalls, which conceals the drop from skiers’ sight. Fatal accidents can occur by falling into one, especially if skiers plunge headfirst into the hole.
Twin Tip: Skis that have marked curvatures both at the tip and at the end, enabling a skier to ski backwards with ease. Originally popular only among freestyle skiers since the twin tip shape allows for reverse (see Fakie or Switch) take-offs and landings off jumps. Modern advancements, however, have seen twin tip shapes appear more often in big mountain skis, as they shape handles smoothly in powder conditions.
Vertical Drop: The distance between the base of a mountain and its highest point at the peak.
Waist Width: Measurement of the narrowest portion across a ski, usually coinciding with the middle of the sidecut.
Wax: Used on the base of skis to keep them gliding smoothly over variable snow conditions and boost this special property. New skis will almost always be impeccably waxed but they should be tuned and rewaxed after intense or prolonged wear and tear.
Waxless Skis: A type of cross-country ski designed with a crosshatch or fish-scale pattern on the base that reduces or eliminates the need for a wax finish.
Wedge Turn: See Snowplow.
Whiteout: When visibility on the slopes drops to a negligible point, usually during or after a heavy snowfall, dense fog, or a combination of the two. Whiteouts make skiing extremely risky, if not impossible altogether.
Wind Hold: When lift operators cease to operate running lifts due to perilously high winds.
Yard Sale: See Flea Market.