I first went skiing about 35 years ago, and although I started the week as a complete novice, by the end of my skiing vacation, I was hooked! Skiing combined all my favourite things: the great outdoors, a challenging physical activity, and the opportunity to learn a new skill.
And it didn’t hurt that I thought skiing was ultra-cool, too!
However, there was a downside to skiing. When it came time to discuss the day’s adventures, I had a hard time understanding what my fellow snow-pals were talking about.
That’s because skiers use a unique set of skiing terms and lingo that can seem all but impenetrable to a novice.
Of course, you don’t need to be fluent in the language of skiing to enjoy sliding down a mountain with planks of wood strapped to your feet. But, if you want to enjoy the after-ski chatter, you should probably familiarise yourself with the basics of skiing terminology.
So, to help you on your way, in this article, I’m going to reveal 72 of the most common ski terms and skiing phrases you need to know.
72 essential skiing terms and lingo every skier should know
While a lot of skiing vocabulary is international, there are a few differences between Europe, America, Australia/New Zeeland, Japan, and other skiing destinations. If any of the terms below are region-specific, I’ll point them out to you.
Not just what you breathe but also a jump during which your skis leave the snow. “Getting air” is a massive thrill, and some skiers are always seeking bigger and more spectacular jumps.
02Après ski (all regions, especially the EU and US)
This term is one of the main reasons you need to get a handle on ski lingo! Après ski means after ski when it’s time to eat, drink, chat, chill, and party. This is when skiers get together to discuss the events of the day, putting all those skiing words to good use.
A term that describes snow sliding down a mountainside. Avalanches can be very dangerous and are a particular hazard for off-piste skiers, who should always carry emergency locator beacons and have undertaken specialist training in case they are ever buried in an avalanche.
Avalanches are known as avys for short, and avy dogs are used in some places to locate people buried under snow and even dig them out.
Known as off-piste in Europe, this term means skiing off the prepared runs and usually away from other skiers. When you go off-piste, you’ll have to find your own route or can hire a guide to lead you. Backcountry skiing invariably means deep powder snow.
Even the most proficient skiers fall over from time to time, and beginners may feel like they spend as much time on the ground as they do on their skis! Falling over, always done with style, is known as bailing or to bail.
Brits, especially ex-forces skiers, call a spectacular bail a yeti, as in “did you see me yeti back there? I thought I was a goner!”
The straps that hold your skis onto your feet via your boots. A broken binder invariably results in a wipeout and a long walk back to your lodge or hotel.
An advanced ski run. Usually steep and technical and may contain hazards. Not for beginners.
A beautiful clear blue sky.
An easier ski run that’s perfect for beginners who have graduated from ski school.
Going down a ski run as fast as possible. Also known as egging (UK), as you’ll go even faster if you tuck your body down low and adopt an aerodynamic egg shape. “Look at him go; he’s really egging it.”
11Brain bucket (US/OZ/NZ)
Ski slang for a helmet. Brain buckets used to be a rare sight on ski slopes but are now all but compulsory in most resorts.
Bumps are skiing slang for anything other than a smooth, level surface. For beginners, this could be nothing but a small rise. Still, for more experienced skiers, it could be a bonafide mogul that results in getting massive air.
13Bunny hill (US)
The American ski term for a beginner slope.
Once you progress past beginner status and snowplough turns, you’ll learn to use the edges of your skis to change direction. This is called carving. Carving requires well-prepared skis.
15Cat tracks (US)
Mostly flat trials that link ski runs or different parts of the mountain.
A run that’s been skied out and is no longer smooth. Don’t worry – the piste groomers will have it fixed up and ready for you in the morning.
A narrow off-piste feature that sends you in a particular direction, often found in the bottom of valleys or between rocks. Chutes are known as couloirs in Europe.
18Cross-country skiing (EU)
Unlike downhill skiing, this is a type of skiing where you travel on flatter runs for extended distances. Also known as Nordic skiing, this is often done off-piste and is the snow world’s equivalent of hiking. Cross-country skiers usually use skis with bindings that allow their heels to move freely.
The frozen layer on top of the snow. The crust often vanishes as the temperature rises, and more and more people ski over the same run.
20 DIN setting
How firmly your skis are held to your boots. DIN settings are universal and based on your foot size, weight, and skiing abilities. Let your gear pro set your DIN if you are unsure. Get it wrong, and your skis could remain attached to your feet in a fall, causing severe injury, or fly off unexpectedly.
Damage to your skis, such as after hitting a hidden rock.
A dump is skiing lingo for a big snowfall of fresh powder. Off-piste skiers love a good dump!
Carving tight turns requires skis with good edges. The edges on your skis are sharpened metal strips designed to cut into the snow to provide more lateral purchase.
Like it sounds – falling flat on your face. Try to break your fall with your arms; it’ll protect your nose!
The art of skiing backwards – on purpose, and NOT by accident!
26First tracks (US)
Leaving a trail through virgin snow, either because you’ve found a new route or there was a recent dump of fresh powder. First tracks are what backcountry skiers dream of. Also known as “freshies.”
A type of skiing that emphasises jumps and tricks. Skiers are awarded points for style, skill difficulty, number of turns, etc. Freestyle is like if gymnastics, skiing, and ice dancing had a baby…
Freestylers often use twin-tip skis that are turned up at both ends so they can ski forward AND backwards.
28French fries (US)
Skiing with your skis parallel. Weirdly, this term is not used much in Europe.
This American term means skiing through trees, which is exhilarating but also risky. So, make sure you’re wearing your helmet!
A particularly hard run or line. Some adventurous types purposely seek out gnarly routes, while others may say “I’m not going down that – it looks too gnarly for me.”
An easy ski run for beginners.
Piste and ski trail maintenance. Tractors called snow cats go out on the pistes before use to smooth out the snow, remove hazards and obstacles, and clear up dangerous patches of ice.
Frozen, compressed snow that’s ideal for going very fast, but very painful to fall on. Elite downhiller skiers love hardpack, but beginners should take extra care.
Getting a lift on a helicopter to parts of the mountain not served by ski lifts. A great way to ski on virgin powder, but very expensive and not very eco-friendly.
Staying within the designated skiing areas, where you are deemed safe. The out-bounds areas are where you’ll find the off-piste skiers, but there may be an increased risk of avalanches and other hazards.
The best time to ski in Japan – January.
Trying to perform a skill or ski a run you are not ready to do. Some skiers are incurable Jerries who really should know better!
To ski on a non-snow surface. Freestyle skiers sometimes jib along railings and other obstacles.
Your passport to the mountains! Show the liftie your lift pass, and they’ll let you on. No lift pass? Better get walking!
Not to be confused with a left-footed snowboarder, also known as goofy. A liftie is ski jargon for a ski lift operator.
A proposed route down a ski run. E.g., “Follow the line down between those rocks and trees.”
Bumps in the snow that advanced skiers go over and lesser skiers go around. Contrary to popular rumour, moguls are NOT hibernating bears.
A prepared ski run.
44Pizza slice (US)
Delicious lunchtime treat and what American skiers call snowploughing.
Planks are skis, and a planker is a skier. This is a somewhat derogatory term used by snowboarders, who think they are WAY cooler than skiers!
Ski-speak for powder snow, and sometimes called pow-pow. Powder snow is just what it sounds like – snow with a light, powdery consistency and texture. The finest powder snow is called champagne powder.
A skier who only wants to ski on virgin powder and avoids trials and pistes whenever possible. Powder hounds pray each night for a fresh dump!
An intermediate-level ski run. Ideal for, well, intermediates.
A very accomplished skier who loves to “rip it up” and carve up the mountain. Also known as a shredder (US). Very good kid skiers are often called “little rippers.”
A very undulating ski run that looks not unlike a rollercoaster and is just as much fun.
Meaning to ski straight down the run without turning and to achieve maximum speed.
Accidentally crossing the ends of your skis. Invariably, scissoring will result in a bail, so make sure you’re wearing your brain bucket!
Your preferred ski length, DIN settings, boot size etc. You’ll need to tell the gear shop pro your set-up deets (details), so they can give you the right gear for your day on the slopes.
Anything that’s extreme, scary, awesome, dangerous, or otherwise deserves some kind of exclamatory emphasis. For example, “Man, that line was sick!”
Not quite in the backcountry, but the area to the side of prepared pistes.
Someone who would rather ski than work, and may even work in a ski resort for low wages just so they can feed their habit, such as a liftie, ski run groomer, or hotel bartender or waiter.
57Ski in-ski out
Accommodation where you can ski right up to your front door.
A generic term to describe the machine that takes you to the top of the mountain. Different types of ski lifts include chair lifts, drag lifts, button lifts, and gondolas.
A downhill race/event during which skiers zig and zag through closely placed pairs of flags called gates.
A skier’s worst nightmare and the opposite of powder. Slush is very wet snow and does not provide an enjoyable ride.
A tractor used to clear snow from the roads and also a technique used by beginners to control speed and direction where the toes are turned inward, and the heels are outward. Known as a pizza slice in the US.
A secret off-piste skiing area usually only known to locals.
A combination of style and ease – making it look easy, even when it’s hard or gnarly.
Skiing term that means landing a jump or trick, as in “Did you see me stomp that jump?”
65Telemark skiing (EU)
A combination of downhill and cross-country skiing. Very popular in the Nordic regions. Telemark skis have detached heels but are also wide enough for speed and sharp turns. The “telemark turn” is a classic skill that involves using the poles to change direction and not just the ski edges.
Skiing across rather than down an incline. Traversing can be used to make steep slopes more manageable or to reduce speed.
A deep hollow beneath a tree filled with snow and very hard to climb out of if you are unlucky enough to ski into one. Tree wells are another reason to avoid going too close to trees.
An unfortunate term used to describe the gap between your goggles and helmet. If you are going to get hit by ice or a tree branch, invariably, it’ll be right in the twat gap.
Used on the bottom of your skies, so they repel the moisture of the snow and help you slide faster and more smoothly. It’s usually best to wax your skis before using them.
A weather condition where visibility is severely limited. It can be caused by fog, heavy snow, or a combination of these. Whiteouts are dangerous because you won’t be able to see hazards until they’re very close, e.g., trees or other skiers.
Another skiing term for falling over. Wipeouts are usually specular and can be painful. Still, they’re often funny to see, providing no one gets hurt, of course.
72Yard sale (US/OZ/NZ)
Often the result of a wipeout and the term used to describe all the gear that goes flying off when you fall. It ends up strewn all over the place, so it looks like you are having a yard sale.
Skiing terms and lingo – wrapping up
So, now that you know 72 of the most common skiing words and terms, you should have no problem understanding all the après ski banter – even if it is fuelled by beer! Enjoy your ski trip, don’t forget your brain bucket, and I hope your wipeouts are not too gnarly.
See you on (and off) the piste, you planker!