With any sport, there evolves a lingo, slang or code that helps to define its culture. The skiing and snowboarding world is no exception. Over the years, ski-speak, as some call it, has evolved into somewhat of a language of its own, with each new generation of skiers and riders adding more and more phrases to an ever-expanding vocabulary.
Recently, while attending an industry event at Mission Ridge, I was engaged in a short conversation with the guy sitting next to me on the chair that went something like this: “Hey, what’s the snow like up on the ridge?” I asked.
“Dude, it’s pretty gnarred up, but really bony up there, too. If you stay skiers’ left, you can totally smash a few fresh lines. But the lower glade just below the big cornie is super tight—with the flat light and this chowder, you might eat wood,” he said.
Hmmmm. That sounds good, I thought. Or wait. Maybe that’s not so good. I wasn’t completely sure.
“Hey, thanks man,” I replied.
And then, not wanting to appear obviously confused by the somewhat cryptic exchange, I said, “Yeah, I’ll probably just head down. I think I’m supposed to meet someone…um…for something.”
Shredders at Lookout Pass (left), 49 Degrees (top right), Mt. Spokane (middle), and Silver Mountain (bottom right). // Photos courtesy of respective mountain areas; Lookout Pass photo by Lacey Johnson.
As an ex-ski bum who is now rapidly approaching the big four-zero, there was a time not so long ago when I was very fluent in the ski speak of my era. But as those days have moved farther into the rear view mirror, I have slowly transitioned into that skier type that true ski bums detest: the aging weekend warrior who is no longer capable of holding his own in casual ski speak with the dirt bag locals.
I realized that day at Mission Ridge that it was time to reconnect with some of my bum brahs from the past, some of whom are still living the dream. I knew they held the knowledge to unlock the code and re-educate me to a level of competent ski culture fluency.
Just as learning the proper fundamentals of skiing and riding is critical, I believe that attempting to grasp the unique vocabulary that makes this sport so special is also important.
Sounding like you’re in the know, or at least attempting to fake it when you’re hanging with the locals, can save you from becoming totally lost in a random, base lodge conversation or worse, completely embarrassing yourself. Knowledge is power and basic jargon is priceless—it’s street cred for up on the hill.
Here is a list of 26 of my favorite ski-speak terms and phrases (in alphabetical order). Some are old school and others are newly learned by me.
Après Ski: Literally means “after ski,” but really refers to the nightly booze/dance party assault which can do way more damage to your body than a day on the snow.
Bombing: Going downhill at a stupid-fast rate of speed without regard for your own body. Or anyone else’s body.
Bony: Early or late season conditions featuring a slew of wood and rock landmines under your skis.
Brah or Bra: Synonymous with “bro.” A fraternal/plutonic expression between males bonded through testosterone based experiences.
Bulletproof: Compacted, icy snow that’s literally hard enough to ricochet bullets.
Bunny: A female skier who appears to be more concerned with whether her boots and gloves match than actually skiing.
Chowder: Chopped/skied up snow + powder = chowder = the exact opposite of effortless.
Cornie: Short for cornice, which is an overhanging edge of snow on a ridge or the crest of a mountain with a sharp drop below.
Death Cookies: Icy chunks of snow that cover the run like evil gremlins waiting to grab your ski edge.
Eat Wood: This is what happens when a skier or rider gets to meet a tree up close.
Face Shot: A somewhat rare and cosmic event that occurs when the powder is so deep that the snow hits you in the face with each turn.
Line: A natural line of descent between two points on a slope.
Flat Light: Grey skies and dim light that can create vertigo and/or make terrain changes seem like a surprise attack.
Freshies: Untracked powder.
Gaper: Any unstylish or ill-advised novice who stands out (albeit unintentionally) as being completely clueless.
Gaper Gap: That giant, unmistakable gap of forehead flesh typically visible between a gaper’s helmet and goggles.
Glade: Heavily treed areas that are still skiable.
Gnar: A shortened version of the word gnarly, meaning either a place or activity that is high on the scale of dangerousness and coolness or used to refer to quality snow that one intends to shred.
Jibber: Someone who skis rails, boxes, and other features around the mountain. Also referred to as a “park rat.”
Pow: Short for freshly fallen powder snow.
Ripper: An accomplished and impressive skier or rider.
Dirt Bag: One who lives to ski or ride and avoids anything that isn’t skiing or riding, often including work. Also known as a ski bum.
Smash: Meaning to ski or ride, but only if you’re a ripper. Not applicable to gapers/spores/novices. Often used in place of “shred” or “killing it.”
Yard Sale: A major fall in which a gaper/spore loses his or her skis, gloves, hat and poles across the run.
Spore: Stupid + People + on + Rental + Equipment = Spore. I swear I’m not making this stuff up.
Steazy: Style + Ease = Steaz. For example, Olympic athlete Shawn White is the reigning godfather of steaz.
Although this isn’t an all-inclusive guide, I hope you’ve learned a few new words that you can casually slip into your skiing/riding vocabulary this season. Maybe you’ve always been able to walk the walk on the mountain, but now you have the opportunity to learn to talk the talk.
If you want to master the art of speaking like a skier, I recommend starting slowly. Try sprinkling these little gems into your next conversation on the lift ride up. With a little luck, some perseverance, and a lot of steaz, you just might be smashing the gnar by the end of the season.
Find more skiing and snowboarding stories in the OTO archives.