How Many Words Are There for Snow?
Photo: © Kichigin / Shutterstock
Amy Fletcher of holiday skiing expert Crystal said: “I’ve been skiing since I was 7 years old and have traveled miles in more than 75 resorts across eight countries. “With five ski seasons in the past, I am now as addicted to snow as I was when I first skated in the 1980s for my first skiing lesson.”
No wonder the theme of snow is something close to her heart. Here, with a little help from resorts around the ski world, she started her snow vocabulary. We hope it will grow and thrive… So, how many words are there for snow? If you’re a skier or skater, the answer is a lot. We may not have the vocabulary of the Saami people of northern Scandinavia (who, according to linguist Henrik Magga, has 180 words for snow and ice). But the need to accurately describe conditions has forced us to get creative. After all, there is a huge difference between a perfectly groomed trail velvetand one is tied with death cookies. Here, we’ve collected some of the best, most concise descriptions of snow for you to explore. And we’ve also added some really cool terms from the Alps and Sweden. If you have anything more, please, please, feel free to add them in the comment box below. We would love to hear them. You can even try inventing a few. After all, where did the idea of ”Death Cookies” come from? I’m pretty sure it’s not from a scientist. Or a reindeer herder Saami. All it requires is a fertile imagination.
The perfect mid-winter velvet coat in Vail. Photo: © Welove2ski.com
For starters, this is a word that everyone loves. It’s the well-groomed surface of a piste/trail; and at first glance, it’s textured exactly like a geography teacher’s coat. Swedish skiers call it Manchester: because in the old days that was the source of all velvet in Sweden. In the middle of winter, when the snow is soft and squeaky, it’s 100% velvet. All yesterday’s bumps have been groomed flat, and the surface is smooth, predictable, and grippy. In fact, it’s good to get out of bed half an hour early so you can be the first to ski. (In Are, Sweden, they run an early ski program for those who want a head start in the rest of the resort. They call these sessions their sessions. Manchester morning.) On the contrary, in spring you can stay in bed a little longer. That’s because snow is going through a daily cycle of melting and freezing, and first thing in the morning it can be as hard as rock. So snuggle up under a blanket and wait for the sun to warm up the snow a little (but not too much) before you ski.
Corn snow is one of the most elusive types of snow and also one of the loveliest. You’ll find it out on the slopes on a sunny slope, usually during a clear spring weather – when the snow melts during the day and freezes overnight. When the sun hits the sun for the first time in the morning, the top begins to soften and become gritty, while the snow underneath remains solid and will hold a skier’s weight. It’s like ski velvet: and it doesn’t last long. Before long, the sun’s warmth was right down to the ice and the entire slope turned to mud. At this stage, wet avalanches are a distinct possibility.
Breckenridge powder – so light, it’s almost blown powder. Photo: Breckenridge/Facebook For advanced/pro skiers – and any skier who can link multiple passes – this is the holy grail. It’s the light, fluffy snow that accumulates in a storm far from the groomed runs – and if you’re the first to ski and you know what you’re doing, it’s like floating in the air. Well, either, or you’ll start an avalanche. But that’s another story… With powder’s delight, it’s not uncommon for it to spawn a number of sub-categories, including…
Blower Pow (aka Cold Smoke)
When it gets really cold — the kind that goes into your lungs and tickles your bronchioles — the powder becomes light and dry, almost like smoke. This is the air blower. And it can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you’re not just floating. It feels like God is holding you up with your backpack straps, and all the angels in heaven are singing you down the mountain. On the other hand, it’s so light and dry, you need at least 30cm of stuff underneath your skateboard – otherwise your soles will scrape off old rock/snow underneath. And when it gets really deep, it blows into your face, filling your nose and mouth, making it hard to breathe. At this point, it has become snorkle pow and you can admit to yourself that yes, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing (thanks, Vail, for the “snorkle pow”).
Snorkel pow: 147cm fresh flour at Solitude in Utah, December 2015. Photo: Solitude / Facebook
In fact, it should be Champagne Powder®. The Steamboat Resort in Colorado has registered it as a trademark to describe the powder that falls there when it’s particularly light, dry, and fluffy. It’s not quite blower power – but it’s close. And if you don’t want to worry about registered trademarks when you describe snow, cherry cherry powder will do well.
Austrians call blower pow Puderzucker – “saccharine”. Just imagine if the snow was sweet. There may be a hint of cinnamon… (Thanks to Marion Telsnig of Crystal for this!)
This is something you’d find on a properly frozen trail. I’m not talking about the usual hard bag you get on a snowy trail that softens a little in the sun and then wraps it up overnight. This is a consistent, transparent, incomparable thing. Most likely you will find it after heavy rain. It’s also recognizable by the noises it makes under your skateboard: like squeaks, scratching noises.
When it’s not cold enough to snow corn to form, you get a brittle crust. It can bear your weight a little. But before long, you’ll be gliding past the top layer, into the lake layer below. You might even find yourself waist-long in the bed of a stream of water – or one of the stomata that form in the heart of a large rock. It’s God’s way of saying “you should hire a guide” rather than skiing on the slopes yourself.
Crud = broken heart. If only you got to the dough an hour/a day/a week earlier! But you did not, and now it has been chopped into a small snowball of millions of billions of dong. For the first few hours after forming, the crud isn’t too bad for skiing. It’s just not as perfect as it used to be. But bad things can happen to crud. It will be wet and grainy when the sun comes out – and if it’s illuminated overnight, it’ll look like a ruined field the next morning. Some skiers call this chunder (thanks to coloradoski.com for the definition).
“You should have been here yesterday.” Classic rudimentary. Photo: © Welove2ski.com
Yuck, yuck, YUCK. When it’s really warm in the spring, and the piste bashers groom the really slimy piste lines, they often leave behind lumps of snow when they wake up. Sometimes they are the size of cookies, sometimes rocks: and if it gets cold overnight, they can solidify. Not only that, they stick to the surface of the piston line. If you hit one, you will fall.
Dust on the crust
The dust on the crust is Mother Nature’s greatest tease. Yes, it looks like an unmarked field of dough. But the blizzard had drained it too quickly – and the cotton stuff was only a few centimeters deep. As you turn, you’re scraping old, frozen snow underneath. It was a bone painful ride.
In the US, Colorado skiers use this as an abusive term for California snow. But really, you can find it anywhere. All you need is moist air when it starts to snow – and you’ll often get it in the coastal mountains. The white things that fell were not powder, but something thicker, wetter, and heavier. It can look attractive, off the beaten track. But the moment your tips fail and you stop on your way, you’ll realize this is no friendly snow.
In about 15 minutes, the snow will fall appropriately. Photo: © Welove2ski.com
We all know what this means. It meant wet pants, soggy feet and screaming knees – and the unanimous decision to get down the mountain as quickly as possible and get back on the sundeck. Every ski country has a word for it:
Austrians call it Gatsch (same word for mud)
For the French, it is la soupe (thanks to Julie Pomgalski of Prosneige for this)
In Piedmont in Italy, it pappa – it’s porridgy baby food (thanks to Marco Pietrini of New Generation)
In Sweden, it fruit ice cream
Sometimes in America, it mashed potato or porridge
This schnee is definitely batzen (even though it’s in France). Photo: © Welove2ski.com
This is the word Austrians use to describe wet and thick snow, not quite Gatsch (taciturn). You can also use it to describe a person – and it’s definitely not a compliment…
Ah… Five girls. This smooth word came to us from the Ladin language of the Italian Dolomites. They use it at the Canazei resort to describe light, light snowfall and I love it – even though it’s actually pretty nasty stuff. You’re there, after all, praying for a dump – and all Mother Nature can do is wring out a few crumbs.
Kona Yuki. Photo: © Kiroro.co.jp
Kona-Yuki means powdered snow in Japanese. In fact, the Japanese claim that they have 100 different words for the snow that falls on the northern island of Hokkaido almost every day from November to April. Mochi-Yuki looks like a pounded rice cake. While Kata-Yuki is – for you and me – a fragile shell.
This is Swedish for “hugable snow”. It’s a layer of snow that’s moist, sticky, and a bit sticky when squeezed, and it’s perfect for building snowmen. It’s not of much use to skiers – it’s not far off, after all Sierra Cement. But who cares? That is a great concept. (Thanks to Linda Wasel of Jamtland for this.)
In Sweden, this is snow falling so hard and so fast that it feels like a slap in the face. According to Linda Wasel, it’s a term loved by Swedish newspapers…
Five dollars? I do not think so. This is closer to Snösmocka. Jackson Hole, December 2016. Photo: Jackson Hole / Facebook
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