Terms Used to Describe Types of Snow

Man skiing off piste

coberschneider/Getty Images

There are more ways than you might imagine to describe snow. Snow terms run the gamut from cauliflower to dust to smud, to the traditional powder. If there is a type of snow, there is a term to describe it. Here is a list of terms to describe snow and skiing conditions.

Snow Terms

  • Artificial Snow: Snow manufactured by snow cannons or guns, which create tiny granules like hair or grits. These machines are becoming cheaper with increased technology.
  • Ball Bearings: Little firm balls of snow that form around or under skis.
  • Blowing Snow: Grounded snow that has been moved around by the wind.
  • Blue: Clear ice, the ground is visible underneath it.
  • Breakable Crust: The top is frozen solid, but underneath there is soft powder.
  • Brown Snow: Mud showing through, often during springtime.
  • Bulletproof: White, but so densely packed it is hard to put dents through it.
  • California Concrete: Heavy wet snow that is created by a Pacific storm.
  • Chokable: Powder that is so fine and deep you could drown or "choke."
  • Chop: Freshly fallen powder that has been skied on enough to be chopped up, but there are few bumps.
  • Chopped Powder: Powder snow that has been "cut up" by other skiers/snowboarders.
  • Chowder: Heavy, wet, lumpy snow.
  • Colorado Super Chunk: Heavy wet snow about two days after a spring storm.
  • Cornice: A formation of windblown snow, also known as an overhang. It is important to recognize cornice in alpine skiing and climbing because it is often unstable and hard to see from the windward side.
  • Cauliflower: The newly made snow found near the base of the snow gun.
  • Champagne Powder: Snow with extremely low moisture content, often found out West.
  • Cold Smoke: The airy trail of powder that follows skiers in fresh powder.
  • Corduroy: The snow made by the snowcats that groom the trails.
  • Corn Snow: Pellets of snow that are not as icy as hail pellets and that often fall in the spring.
  • Crud: Sometimes looking like cookie dough this type of snow is created from powder being skied over.
  • Crust: Snow that is hard packed and frozen, yet not icy.
  • Dust on Crust: When there is a light covering of loose snow on top of the snow that has a hard, icy outer layer. This type of snow can cause a lot of falls.
  • Flake: Flake is slang for snow, for example, "I shredded some flake."
  • Freshie(s): The fresh, un-skied snow on the mountain found first thing in the morning.
  • Granular Snow: Snow that has big snowflakes that often looks like rock salt.
  • Grapple: Small hail, or sleet that may be rounder and thicker than typical hail or sleet.
  • Hardpack Snow: Firm compressed snow that is almost icy.
  • Mashed Potatoes: The effects warm, often springtime weather, has on snow. It can make for slow skiing.
  • Penitents: Tall blades of snow found at higher altitudes.
  • Pillow Drift: A snow drift across a road that is usually 3-5 meters wide and 1-3 feet in depth.
  • Poo Ice: Dirty snow which is packed down and overused.
  • Pow Pow or Pow-Fresh: highly desirable powder—loose and fluffy.
  • Packed Powder: Snow that is compressed and flattened either by skier and snowboarder traffic or by grooming equipment.
  • Powder: Fresh snow that is light and fluffy because of its low moisture content. It is the ideal snow for skiing.
  • Salt on Formica: Looks and feels like loose white salt granules sliding on top of white formica.
  • Sierra Cement: Similar to mashed potato snow but it isn't melting. It is still cold, very heavy, wet, and often found in the Sierra Mountains range.
  • Slush: Snow that is starting to melt, and it's very heavy and wet.
  • Smud: Brown or muddy snow usually resulting from warmer weather.
  • Snirt: Snow covered in dirt, most often during the spring months, in states like North Dakota or on the prairie, where winds will pick up black topsoil from uncovered fields and blow into towns that have slower melting rates. It is very quick; you can go to sleep seeing white snow and wake up to black snow.
  • Snowdrift: Large piles of snow near walls or curbs caused by wind pushing it against vertical surfaces.
  • Spring Snow: Late in the skiing season, the sun melts the top of the snow base creating a soft layer that is the idea of long slow turns. The melted area usually becomes too deep for enjoyable skiing by the end of the day.
  • Souffle Dure: Naturally packed, firm snow that occurs after a snowfall on a north facing, steep, rarely skied couloir.
  • Styrofoam: Looks and feels like skiing on Styrofoam, and sounds very hollow or empty.
  • Surface Hoar: Corn-flake shaped frost that forms on the surface of a snowpack on cold, clear nights. Additional snowfall can bury layers of hoar, creating a weak layer, also known as hoar frost.
  • Watermelon Snow: A reddish/pink snow that smells like watermelon, caused by red-green algae.
  • Wet Powder: When rain covers powder, it becomes really fast and does not create the best conditions.
  • Wind Slab: A layer of stiff, hard snow created by deposition of wind-blown snow on the leeward side of a ridge. Wind slabs form over weak, soft powder snow, creating avalanche concerns on steep slopes.
  • Yukimarimo: Balls of fine frost formed at low temperature in places like Antarctica during weak wind conditions.
  • Zastrugi: Snow surfaces created by the wind into ridges and grooves.

From packed powder to granular, it can be difficult to know what kind of snow is being mentioned. However, knowing the types of snow is important if you want to know what you'll be skiing on.