Skiing Words Defined: A Beginner’s Guide To The Words, Phrases, Terms, And Slang Used In The World Of Skiing

An introduction to the vocabulary of skiing, including word definitions and explanations.

Photo: iStock.

On paper, skiing is a very simple thing. One person, two planks, a snow covered mountain, and the power of gravity; that’s basically it. And yet, scratch below the surface a little and you’ll find a whole world of ski terms, words, phrases, and slang that you might not fully understand. To help you get to grips with the skiing vocabulary, here’s a big list of ski words and their definitions.

Aerials – Ski jumping with an emphasis on freestyle.

Alpine Skiing – Downhill skiing. Not telemark, or cross-country. Just skiing. Down a hill.

Amplitude – Amplitude is all about how much air skiers get out of the pipe. For more on this, check out our 10 reasons why Kevin Rolland is one of the best skiers in the world.

Après-ski – Après-ski doesn’t actually involve any sort of skiing. It instead refers to the social activities and entertainment that occurs after a day on the slope. More often than not, large quantities of booze are involved. The word “après” is French for “after,” and so “après-ski” literally means “after-ski.” Those looking for fun after a day’s skiing, should check out this list of the greatest après-ski resorts in the world.

Artificial Snow – Fake snow. Fired out by ‘snow cannons’ (see below).

Back Country – Skiing for people who love to take things to the extreme. Back country skiing occurs outside the ski resort area on unmarked slopes. Because this type of skiing happens in more remote parts of the mountains, skiers have to climb uphill before coming back down again. In other words, there’s no lifts to get you where you want to be. The risk of getting caught in an avalanche is heightened while skiing in the back country.

Baseplate – The baseplate is one of the most important part of your ski bindings. It sits at the bottom of your bindings, and transfers your movement into the ski or snowboard that you’re using.

Biathlon – A race, and regular event at the Winter Olympics, that brings together cross country skiing and rifle shooting.

Binding – A binding is what keeps you connected to your ski or snowboard. The difference between a ski binding and a snowboard binding is that a ski binding is designed to eject the skier in the case of a fall whereas a snowboard binding keeps the snowboarder locked in no matter what.

Black Run – Steep slope for advanced skiers. Not suitable for beginners.

Blue Run – Beginner ski slops, and a great place to learn the basics. The best beginner ski resorts will have more blue runs than you can shake a ski pole at.

Bombing – Going down a slope recklessly fast. An apparent danger to others.

Bonk – To bounce off an object during freestyle.

Button Lift – Widely considered to be the snowboarding community’s worst nightmare, a button lift consists of a round disc at the end of an extending pole attached to a moving wire. Skiers sit on the round disc, with their legs either side of the pole, and are dragged to the top of the slopes. These lifts are a simple and efficient way to get people back up the pistes.

Cable Car – A large aerial lift, attached to a cable, that moves diagonally up and down the mountain. Perfect for transporting groups of skiers and snowboarders at the same time.

Carving – If you’re carving on a regular basis, you’ve moved well beyond the beginner phase for skiing. To carve successfully, the skier/snowboarder must be turning on the edges of their skis/snowboard.

Chair Lift – Effectively, a park bench that moves skiers and snowboarders back up the slopes. With that in mind, here’s 23 ways to make a chairlift ride incredibly awkward.

Clamps – Another term for bindings.

Couloir – A narrow chute with rock walls either side. Back country skiers have made an art out of nailing couloir-based lines.

Crevasse – A deep, and often hidden, crack in the glacier. Potentially lethal to any skier unlucky enough to fall down one.

Cross Country Skiing – Cross country skiing is done on flat tracks and gentle hills, rather than traditional ski slopes. The heel of a cross-country skier differs from that of a normal skier in that it isn’t attached to the ski. With over 107 medals won, including 40 golds, Norway are the undisputed kings of cross country skiing at the Olympics.

Crud – Hard, lumpy, and icy. A nightmare to ski on.

DIN – German for Deutsche Industrie Normen. DIN is the tension release setting that determines how much pressure is required for your binding to release your foot. To prevent horrific leg-breaking injuries, it’s important that the DIN is pretty spot on.

Dry Slope – Dry slopes allow you to go skiing without snow. They’re ideal for practicing out of season or in countries where snow-covered ski-appropriate mountains are rare. If you’re based in the UK, why not check out our guide to 8 dry slopes in England and Wales.

Downhill Edge – While traversing the mountain, the downhill edge of the ski is the one that (surprise, surprise) is on the downhill side of the skier.

Downhill Ski – The downhill ski is the one on the downhill side of the skier.

Eagle – An aerial with arms and legs spread apart. Usually happens instinctively when someone is new to the park, and going off one of their first kickers.

Edge – Not to be confused with the guitarist from U2, ‘edge’ in skiing and snowboarding refers to the thin metal edges of the planks/board your using. The edge can be used to control your speed and turning.

Face-Plant – When you crash, while skiing, and fall flat on your face.

Face Shot – They’re what happen when you’re skiing in the deep stuff, and the powdery snow around you sprays up into your face.

Fakie – Skiing or snowboarding backwards.

FIS – The world’s leading governing body for winter sports. Stands for ‘Federation Internationale de Ski’ (International Ski Federation).

Flat Light – Grey skies, low clouds, and dim light resulting in poor visibility. The ‘flat light’ can make spotting changes in terrain an absolute nightmare for skiers who want to descend at speed.

Freerider – Freeriders want to leave the restrictions of the pistes behind, and let their skis out the cage. Off-piste lines, weaving between trees, steep runs in the back country; you name it, this lot are probably up for it.

Freestyle – Freestyle is a type of skiing that focuses specifically on tricks, rather than speed (ski racing) or distance (ski jumping).

Gaper –  A novice who, through bad skiing and bad style choices, inadvertently signposts to others on the slope that they have no idea what they’re doing.

Goggles – Worn to protect your eyes from harmful things like the sun’s UV, as well as wind, glare, and ice. Those who don’t protect their eyes on the mountain risk snow blindness, a painful and temporary loss of vision. Look after your peepers, skiers.

Gondola – An enclosed aerial lift to get you and your buddies up the mountain. Not to be mistaken with those things you see floating around the canals of Venice (also called ‘gondolas’).

Grab – A grab is when a skier or snowboarder grabs onto any part of their ski or snowboard while in the air. It’s a fundamental part of freestyle, and an essential weapon in the arsenal of the skiers and snowboarders who enjoy pulling tricks.

Grooming – The smoothing of slope-based snow, usually done overnight, by enormous piste bashing machines. Useful if there’s been heavy snowfall.

Groomer – A term used to describe a machine capable of snow grooming.

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Halfpipe – A place dedicated to tricks and freestyle. A halfpipe is a u-shaped channel with vertical walls, where people like Kevin Rolland and Shaun White can show off their aerial moves.

Hard Pack – Hard pack is snow that’s been pressed down as far as it will go.

Heliskiing – If you can afford the services of a helicopter and know what you’re doing in the back country, heliskiing involves being taken to remote inaccessible off-piste areas by a chopper so that you can ski incredible lines on untouched powder.

Ice – Come on. If you don’t know what ice is by now, we can’t help you. Ice on the slopes usually occurs when temperatures are low, and it hasn’t snowed for a while.

Inside Edge – Literally, the ski edge on the inside of your turn.

Jib (Jibber) – To jib is to ski or snowboard on a surface not made of snow, usually as part of a freestyle run on a box or rail. Essentially, it means to slide down something that isn’t snow. A ‘jibber’ is the term used to describe someone who skis these types of non-snow features.

Kicker – A purpose-built wedge in the snow, used by skiers and snowboarders to get air. Not to be called a ramp under any circumstances.

Liftie – A ‘liftie’ is someone who operates a chairlift.

Lift Pass – Good luck getting anywhere without your lift pass. They allow you access to the chairlifts, ski lifts, button lifts and gondolas that help you explore the slopes around the ski resort. They vary in price depending on where in the world you go.

Magic Carpet – Less magical than the one in the Disney film Aladdin, but still extremely useful for getting you back up a slope. They’re effectively a moving conveyor belt that skiers and snowboarders stand on, in order to ascend a piste.

Milk Run – Your first run of the day, when you’re not yet “in the groove” as it were.

Moguls – One of the main reasons snowboarders don’t like skiers. Moguls look a bit like tiny pyramids made of snow. They get built up by skiers turning, and are most often found on the black runs. If you’re especially keen on skiing moguls, you might want to take a look at our guide to the best skis for moguls.

Monoski – A bizarre lovechild of a ski and a snowboard. Both of the skier’s boots are attached to the same plank, rather than two separate ones.

Noodle – A ski lacking in strength and rigidity, unstable at high speed.

Nordic Skiing – A term used to describe cross-country skiing (because the Norwegians are so damn good at it, that’s why).

Off-Piste – If you’re looking for powder, and a snowy area away from the crowded pistes, off-piste is the way to go. Because these are not regulated ski zones, and the snow is not really managed as such, the avalanche risk is increased.

Outside Ski – Look at the ski on the outside of your turn. That’s your outside ski.

Packed Powder – New snow that’s been groomed or ridden over. The perfect surface to ski on.

Park Rat – Someone who can’t get enough of hitting the parks, and showing off their tricks. With their, shall we say, “unique” clothing style…you can usually spot them a mile off.

Piste – Designated ski slopes. Comes from the French word for “ski slope.”

Piste Basher – Big machine that grooms the ski slopes (also known as a ‘groomer’).

Planker – A slang term for a skier.

Pooping – Sitting back while skiing, so it looks like you’re sitting on the toilet.

Powder – Found off-piste, or on the slopes after a heavy snowfall, powder is fresh, untouched, snow.

Powder Hound – A skier who’s addicted to powder (the snow variety, not cocaine).

Pow Pow – Slang for powder. Used excitably by skiers when skiing through some first-class white stuff. “Dude, check out this pow pow. We are slaying this pow pow.”

Rag Doll – Someone who tumbles down over and over again after falling.

Rail – A metal bar, found in parks, used for freestyle.

Red Run – Not as hard as a black run and not as easy a blue, these are the perfect ski runs for intermediates.

Ripper – Someone who is particularly good at skiing could be called a “ripper.”

Rope Lift – A moving rope that skiers and snowboarders hold onto to get them back up the slope.

Salopettes – Salopettes and ski pants are waterproof trousers, purposed for snow sports, that keep you warm and dry while skiing.

Schussing – Skiing straight. No turns. Like a bullet from gun.

Shred – A term used by skiers and snowboarder of a good standard, to describe the action of skiing or snowboarding.

Ski Area – The area of the mountain designated for snow sports. Marked off by flags or ropes.

Ski Bum – A work shy layabout who does nothing with their time but ski.

Slalom – The event where skiers weave between closely spaced out gates at speed. An iconic winter olympic event.

Slope – Part of the ski area. A marked off, on-piste, hill for skiing and snowboarding.

Slush – Wet snow that’s in the process of melting.

Snow Cannon – A machine that turns water into artificial snow, and then fires it out onto the slopes. Especially useful when it hasn’t snowed for a while.

Snowplough – A skiing technique used by beginner’s to control speed when turning. The front tips of the skis point inwards to create a’v’ shape. The slang term for snowplough is “pizza,” the slang term for parallel skis is “french fries.”

Steeze – Doing something and making it look both stylish and easy.

T-Bar – Like a button lift, but shaped like a ‘T’.

Telemark Skiing – A combination of cross-country skiing and downhill. The skier’s heels are detached, like they are in cross-country skiing, but the skis are wide enough to make sharp turns and quick descents.

Tips – The skis’ front ends.

Traverse – Skiing across the mountain, rather than down it.

Twin Tips – Great for freestyle. Twin tip skis effectively have two front ends, allowing skiers to ski down a hill backwards. Ideal if you want to hit a kicker, or land off a kicker, facing the “wrong” way.

Uphill Edge – The edge on your uphill ski that’s, funnily enough, facing up the hill.

Uphill Ski – As you traverse the slope, your uphill ski is the one that’s higher up the hill.

Wax – Applied to the underside of your ski or snowboard to help it glide more smoothly over the snow.

White Out – Heavy snowfall, and the accompanying conditions, making it impossible to see more than a few yards in any direction.

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