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Glossary of Skiing Terms

Skiing is full of new and different terms, often borrowed from other languages, to refer to things that are new themselves or are just named differently … because. 

I’m very aware that I sprinkle my posts with plenty of terms that you might not be familiar with, a fact that I have taken for granted. It might also be true that you are just interested in finding out more about skiing culture and the wide vocab that makes it up.

So welcome to my skiing glossary – some of the strangest phrases or technical terms will be explained here so you don’t ever have to go “huh?” at one of my posts again (well, at least not because of the English I use …)

Heavy snow falling on a chalet in the mid-distance, framed between two pine trees in Val d'Isere, France
  • Boots & Skis
    BASE – the bottom of the ski, specifically the slidey part between the two edges. BINDING - attached to skis, they enable ski boots to attach to the skis, as well as to be released quickly in the event of an emergency, and unclipped safely to allow skier to exit skis. CABRIOLET – a type of ski boot where the tongue (same as the tongue of a shoe) is an L-shaped piece separate to the cuff and clog, and attached via a hinge just above the toes. Mostly found in touring boots as is lightweight and offers comfort both uphill and downhill. CAMBER – the arch a ski has across the middle of the ski. When a skier’s weight is pressed against the camber, such as in a turn or simply when standing on it, the camber flattens out and ensures consistent edge contact with the snow. Most often found on piste skis. CLOG – the lower part of the ski boot that holds the foot. CORE – the interior of a ski, made of wood and featuring metal (titanal), fibreglass, rubber and carbon to varying degrees based on the specific design of the ski. CUFF – the top part of a ski boot shell that covers the shin and calf. Attaches at its base to the clog. DIN - bindings have a release mechanism to ensure skis come off in the event of a heavy fall. This is set to your weight, age, and skiing ability, and is known as your "DIN", after the German organisation that first certified the now-industry standard technology. Be honest in the rental shop when they ask for your age, weight, height and ability - your safety and the future existence of your knees relies on it. EARLY RISE TIP – a type of tip rocker where the first contact the edge has with the snow is much further back down the ski than normal. An Early Rise Tip shortens the edge and allows bigger skis to pivot more easily. EDGE – the metal edge of a pair of skis, that bites into and grips the snow to make the ski turn or to stop the ski. LAST/LAST WIDTH – the width of the shell of the boot at its widest point over the balls of the feet, just behind the toes. The last for a boot always references mondopoint size 26; for every size you go up, the last width also increased by two millimetres, and vice versa for every size you step down. LINER– the inside of the ski boot that provides comfort and fit. Sits inside a shell. MONDOPOINT – the fancy way of say “ski boot size”, especially as it is just the centimetre length of the boot. Not the same as sole length. N.B. retail ski boots do not have half sizes; the shell is the same for full and half sizes. Brands will, however, take three approaches to this – sell only full size boots (i.e. 26.0, 27.0, 28.0), sell only half sizes (i.e. 26.5, 27.5, 28.5), or sell them labelled as both (i.e. 26.0/26.5, 27.0/27.5). This is for reasons known only unto God. POWER STRAP – the Velcro strap at the very top of the cuff of your ski boot that helps tighten up the closure and ensures good powder transmission. SHELL – the hard plastic outer of ski boot – contains a liner and is fastened using buckles. SKINS – a key piece of touring kit, skins are strapped to the bottom of skis and feature hair brushed all in one direction, allowing the ski to slide forward but grip and brake if they are moved backwards, allowing a skier to “ski” uphill. SOLE LENGTH – the forward-to-back length of the boot, normally in millimetres. It is not the same as mondopoint and is not ever used for fitting the boot; instead it is used for ensuring bindings are set up properly to accept your boots. For example, my boots have a mondopoint of 28/28.5, but are 324mm long. ROCKER – a fancy term for the turn up at the tip (features on all skis) and tail (only on some skis). TIP – the front part of the ski where it raises off the snow. TIP ROCKER – the turn up at the front of a ski, that helps the ski stay on top of the snow and ride over bumps and crud. TAIL – the very back part of the ski. Sometimes raised off the snow like the tip (also known as rockered) to allow for weight distribution in deep powder snow. TAIL ROCKER – the turn up at the back of the ski (the tail). It is most often found on all mountain and off piste skis, as it helps distribute weight and keep the ski afloat in powder. TITANAL – an metal alloy of aluminium, zinc, magnesium and copper, found in the core of most skis. Titanal provides strength but is a key part in transferring powder from you to the snow, improving grip and control in a ski. WAX - to keep ski and board bases slippy across the snow, they are coated with wax; this must be replaced every few weeks of skiing.
  • On The Slopes
    APRÈS SKI - lit. “After Ski”, the act of enjoying a civilised beer after a day on the slopes … or partying hard on a barrel at Cocoricos … BLUEBIRD - clear blue skies, plenty of sunshine and not a cloud to be seen - perfect skiing conditions. Can be used as “bluebird conditions” or “bluebird day”, or the holy grail, “bluebird powder day”. BUMPS – North American term for moguls. CHALK – snow that has compressed into a firm, chalk like texture. COULOIR - literally translated from French as “corridor”, a narrow gully between rocks through which it is possible to ski. They range from a few metres long to 200m+, and from less than a ski width wide to 10-20m. CRUD – when powder becomes broken up and skied out, it becomes a mix of hard pack snow with pockets of powder, maybe as the beginning of moguls. This mixed but not amazing snow is referred to as “crud”. DUMP - referring to a dump of snow that falls in a short space of time, leaving behind powder for you to ski. FACE SHOT - when you ace a turn in powder snow so well you get sprayed with snow. ITINERARY ROUTE – often marked orange or yellow on piste maps, these are recommended off piste routes. They are not pistes and should not be considered as such. KICKER – a type of jump featuring a ramp that kicks up on take off to gain serious air. Can just be the kick up part by itself, especially if built in an off piste area for skiers and riders to send. LINE – your route down a run. Normally reserved for off piste routes, this can be used on piste too (“look at that perfect powder – stand back, I’m going to send this line”). MOGUL (feature) – Sometimes just called bumps in North America, moguls form naturally as snow pushed downhill by skiers builds up into mounds. Requires skill and stamina to ski effectively. See also Moguls as a discipline. MOGUL FIELD – an area of a piste where moguls have built up. PARK – an area of the resort featuring jumps, rails, and other features to facilitate freestyle skiing. PARK RAT – a skier who spends most of their time in a park trying to perfect their tricks. PISTE – a marked run set out by the resort and featured on maps. Called trails in North America. POWDER – fresh snow that has fallen and has created a blanket through which you float and glide, like being carried by angels. What every off piste skier dreams off and says prayers for every evening. POWDER DAY - a day after heavy snowfall when you can ski nothing but powder. The Holy Grail is a “bluebird powder day”. Remember, there are no friends on powder days … OFF-PISTE – both to refer to skiing away from a marked piste or trail, as well as areas outside a marked piste or trail. SEND (verb) – to go hell for leather throwing caution to the wind, normally down an off piste route or over a jump (“look at that perfect powder – stand back, I’m going to send this line”). SEND (noun) – “the send” is the art of sending a line (“Bob is a great skier; he respects the send). SLUSH – found in warm weather, when snow begins to melt it first turns into slush, snow with a high water density and can be difficult to ski. STACK IT – to fall over. STOMP - as in, “to stomp a landing”, to land after a jump with confidence and energy. TRAIL – North American term for piste. YARD SALE – a type of fall where a skier’s kit detaches from said skier and becomes strewn across the piste; custom states any “yard sales” witnessed from the lift must be accompanied by vocal reminders to the unfortunate person.
  • Skiing & Olympic Disciplines
    ALPINE SKIING – traditional downhill skiing, so-called to differentiate it from touring, cross-country, and freestyle skiing. Encompasses four different racing disciplines: DOWNHILL, SUPER GIANT SLALOM, GIAN SLALOM, and SLALOM. BIATHLON – an Olympic/FIS discipline of cross-country skiing that features shooting at five targets on the completion of every lap, with time penalties for each target missed. BIG AIR - an Olympic/FIS discipline of freestyle skiing. Skiers perform tricks off large kickers designed to give maximum air time. BOARDER-X/BOARDER-CROSS - up to four boarders race down a course that is narrow and twisty, featuring several rollers and jumps. Crashes often result. FIS and Olympic discipline. See also: SKI-X/SKI-CROSS for the skiing equivalent. CROSS-COUNTRY – similar to ski touring, only takes place on a flat(ish) track and focuses on covering distance, rather than gaining uphill or downhill thrills. DOWNHILL – an Olympic/FIS discipline of alpine skiing. The longest and fastest alpine skiing race discipline, skiers compete to set the best time skiing down a piste. FREESTYLE - a broad discipline of skiing based on pulling tricks of jumps, rails and pipes. GIANT SLALOM – an Olympic/FIS discipline of alpine skiing. Similar to slalom, skiers compete to set the best time navigating around a series of gates, set on a medium length course and testing medium length turns and control. Often shortened to “GS”. HALF-PIPE - an Olympic/FIS discipline of freestyle skiing & snowboarding. Skiers perform tricks off the sides of a long U-shaped pipe and are marked on style and execution. MASS START DOWNHILL – sometimes referred to as a “Chinese Downhill”, this is a downhill race that features multiple competitors skiing the same course at the same time. No FIS or Olympic disciplines feature Mass Starts. MOGULS (FIS/Olympic discipline) – two skiers race against each other side-by-side down a course featuring three mogul fields broken up by two jumps. Skiers are graded both on time and discipline/style, including how well they ski the moguls and the tricks they pull over the jumps. PARALLEL SLALOM – an Olympic/FIS discipline of alpine skiing and snowboarding. One of the only disciplines where skiers compete directly against each other, and the only timed “downhill” snowboard discipline. Two racers race against each other down a pair of identical slalom courses set out side by side. RANDONEE – lightweight ski touring, done to prioritise getting uphill as fast as possible. SKI TOURING – strapping skins to the bottom of your skis and walking uphill, normally outside of resort boundaries to score untouched powder. Lightweight ski touring is sometimes called ski randonee. SKI-X/SKI-CROSS – up to four skiers race down a course that is narrow and twisty, featuring several rollers and jumps. Crashes often result. FIS and Olympic discipline. See also: BOARDER-X/BOARDER-CROSS for the snowboarding equivalent. SLALOM – an Olympic/FIS discipline of alpine skiing. Competing over a short course, skiers compete to set the best time navigating around a series of poles designed to test the skier’s ability to turn quickly and in control. SLOPESTYLE - an Olympic/FIS discipline of freestyle skiing & boarding. Skiers perform tricks along a course consisting of different features, such as rails, kickers and pipes. All features are optional, and skiers are marked on execution and style. SPLITBOARDING - the snowboarding equivalent of ski touring. Specially designed snowboards - called splitboards - are designed to split in half and allow boarders to walk up hill, before re-attaching together again to ride back down the hill. SUPER GIANT SLALOM – an Olympic/FIS discipline of alpine skiing. A middle ground between GS and Downhill, skiers compete to set the best time skiing down a downhill course artificially manipulated by gates to enforce a twistier route.
  • Avalanche Safety (Coming Soon)
    This section is coming soon - thank you for your patience!
A glimpse through fir trees to a mountain vista in La Clusaz and the Aravis, France
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