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“So I was going down this line off the double black totally shredding the gnar when suddenly I found myself behind this F-ing jerry who was pizza-ing down the hill. So I had to bail and ate a mouthful of snow ”
Did you catch that? No? Then you might be the jerry who’s just starting out on the slopes.
Unless you grew up in a state where you had access to snowy mountains, you’ve probably never encountered skiers, snowboarders, and other winter sports enthusiasts in their natural habitat. As a beginner skier, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the terms and vocab that you may hear on the slope—not just for aesthetic purposes, but for your own safety.
To help you get your bearings when it comes to the language of the mountain, we tapped John Collinson, one of the most renowned big-mountain skiers in North America and a Red Bull and The North Face athlete (@johncollinson). Here’s a list of terms that you’ll want to know:
Après-Ski: This is a French term that means, “after skiing.” It refers to socializing and throwing back a few drinks post-skiing.
Bail: A purposeful fall to avoid a jump or rail.
Bomber: A skier who is “bombing” down the mountain at a reckless speed.
Brain Bucket: Another word for helmet.
Butter: When a skier rocks onto the tips or tail of the skis and pivots 180 degrees.
Carving: Making clean turns with the edges of your skis. This usually leaves “S”-shaped marks in the snow.
Chairlift: A series of chairs hung from a moving cable that carries passengers up and down the mountain. Each mountain typically has a handful of chairlifts that take you to different parts.
Chatter: The vibrations of your skis that happen during high speeds. The more chatter, the less contact with the snow your skis have.
Crust: A frozen layer of ice that is covering powder or buried under snow.
Dump: When a mountain gets “dumped” on with a lot of snow.
Faceshot: When you kick up so much snow that it briefly obscures your vision. This normally means you’re skiing in ideal conditions with lots of powder.
French Fry: Pointing your skis straight to gain speed, another popular term among new skiers.
Gaper: A clueless skier identified by wearing the wrong gear. The term gaper comes from the gap between a skier’s helmet and their goggles.
Gnarly: A word used to describe anything extreme—a trick, trail, or the conditions in general.
Jerry: Another name for an inexperienced skier.
Liftie: A ski lift operator.
Park Rat: A skier who spends the entire day in the terrain park, which has jumps and rails to perform tricks on.
Pizza: To turn your skis inward to make a triangle (like a slice of pizza), which is how new skiers are taught to slow down.
Pow: Short for powder, or lots of snow.
Ripper: An accomplished and experienced skier.
Sendy: A trail that is particularly steep or dangerous and will potentially allow for a big jump.
Shred the gnar: To tear it up, or ski a difficult part of the mountain.
Ski Tow: A device for pulling skiers uphill, usually a moor-driven rope that skiers cling to while gliding on their skis.
Steeze: A combination of “style” and “ease,” which is used to describe an effortless and elegant run.
Shredder: Like the ripper, this is an accomplished ski bum.
Wipeout: A gnarly fall.
All slopes are marked with a different shape and color to rank their difficulty. Here’s what you need to know.
Line: A route down the mountain, like “Let’s take that line under the lift.”
Green circle: Easy. This is the simplest trail on the mountain. They are groomed, wide, and have a grade of only 6 to 25 percent.
Blue square: Moderate. These well-groomed slopes are slightly steeper than greens (with a gradient of 25 to 40 percent), but also the busiest as they’re popular among beginner to moderate skiers.
Black diamond: Hard. Typically found at the top of the mountain, these trails are steep at a grade of at least 40% and are susceptible to rough conditions (think ice spots, rocks, and narrow lines). You’d be smart to avoid these on your first (and second and third) ski trip. Once you gain some skill, though, they’re a fun challenge that’ll test your athleticism, reflexes, and conditioning.
Double black diamond: Expert. Take a wrong turn down one of these and you’ll find yourself butt-sliding the entire way down while you continuously swear that you’ll never ski again.
Triple black diamond: Extreme. Just leave these to the pros.
A list of the four most common styles of terrain you’ll come across on the resort (and sometimes out of the resort).
Moguls: Moguls are bumps that are formed from people skiing the same line, leading to a build-up of snow that is not skied over. You’re supposed to ski around them, in the grooves. “For these, you want to have quick hips and knees and think of your legs as shock absorbers as you keep your upper body still,” says Collinson. Many trails are split, with one side being groomed and the other having moguls. This allows beginners to try their hand at skiing bumps with the option to bail if needed.
Backcountry: This is a pretty broad range of terrain. It’s used to describe anything outside of a ski resort boundary. That can be anything from huge peaks to the slopes just behind the resort. Backcountry skiing is pretty fun because you’re on your own, so there’s more decision making on your part and there’s a lot of fresh, untracked snow. We suggest steering clear of backcountry skiing if you’re new, as there’s a higher chance of getting lost, injured, and, in some cases, caught in an avalanche.
Terrain Park: This consists of man-made features like rails and jumps—it’s like a skate park on the mountain. Typically, younger skiers and boarders hang out here. It can be fun for beginners, but you just want to be cautious.
Tree Skiing: This is exactly what it sounds like; you’re skiing between trees and in the forest. It’s fun because the trees make you feel like you’re going faster than you are. You want to have good upper and lower body separation for this—your feet should be moving apart from your upper body so you can better swivel around trees. Just look alive and you should be fine.