A Guide to Ski Lingo
Rocker? Playful? Off-piste? Jerry?? If you've ever found yourself confused by ski lingo, start here with our handy explainer by Ski Expert Matt Wood.
Buying skis can be a daunting experience. Unfamiliar terms are littered through ski reviews with enough density to make them unintelligible. It almost seems like ski manufacturers (or their PR firms) are trying to trick you on purpose! Just the mere thought of picking your way through all of that mumbo-jumbo is enough to give you a migraine. Take a deep breath, and clear the fog. It will be ok.
It is common for ski lingo to confuse people. It is dense, it is technical, and it is often misused, making it impossible to decipher alone. It's important to have basic knowledge, though. Knowing the right terms and how to use them can help you describe your preferred style of skiing, what you're feeling on the hill if you're on a ski test, and what you're looking for in a pair of skis. I have compiled a few must-know terms, a Rosetta stone for the common skier.
Note: This guide is focused on alpine skiing lingo. Nordic skiing (or cross-country skiing with a pivoting fixed toe and free heel) has its own terminology and category.
Terms to Know
Rocker | synonyms: early rise, tip splay This term describes a ski’s shape when looking at it side-on. Camber is the negative bend in a ski, where the area under the ski bindings lifts off the ground when unweighted. It is designed to create pressure points on the edge, giving a cambered ski a better grip in turns, particularly on hardpack. Rocker is the opposite, a reverse camber, or positive bend in a ski, designed to make turn initiation easier, give a smoother ride over bumps, and improve soft snow performance. Most modern all-mountain skis have a rockered tip and tail with a camber profile underfoot. This sweet spot gives the ski maximum versatility on both firmer groomers as well as soft snow conditions, where the rockered tail makes it easier to exit the turn.
Sidecut radius | synonyms: sidecut, shape, turn radius Sidecut radius is the design that controls the turn shape that the ski makes naturally. A larger sidecut radius equals a larger turn radius (18< meters), which indicates a ski that will be more suited to higher speeds but harder to turn quickly. A smaller sidecut radius (18> meters) will allow easy turns but create instability with speed. A ski’s sidecut is usually, but not always, correlated with waist width and ski size.
Playful | synonyms: poppy, surfy, jibby, fun, buttery | antonyms: charger, hardcore, stiff, stable, bomber Playfulness refers to the flex and rebound of a ski and allows a freestyle skier to jump, spin, and play down the mountain, even at slower speeds. Playful skis use a variety of wood cores, such as poplar, which exhibit different characteristics. They are not designed to go high speeds in the worst conditions but rather for playing around in any condition.
Flex | synonym: stiffness The flexibility of a ski, or how much it resists being bent by force. A stiffer ski is more supportive when the skier is driving or leaning into the ski. This is very much dependent on the skier; a larger skier, or more aggressive skier pushing the ski hard, will generate more force and bend the ski more easily than a lighter or less aggressive skier. Flex is usually referring to bending the ski, but there is also a twisting flex, referred to as "torsional rigidity" or "torsional stiffness." This flex is important to the stability and edge hold that a ski exhibits and often is important to expert skiers who want a carving ski for hardpack groomed snow.
Damp | synonym: suspension | antonyms: twitchy, snappy, pop Damp refers to the skis' rebound when going over bumps or variable snow. A damp ski will rebound more slowly, reducing vibrations and giving the ski a smooth “damp” property and increased stability. This is a favorable characteristic in skis that are made for going fast in mixed conditions like crud or dense chopped-up snow and is typically associated with skis that are less playful. A ski that's not damp will exhibit chatter at high speeds, where the tip will vibrate against the snow. Dampness is usually, but not always, accomplished by placing an aluminum alloy laminate, called titanal and commonly confused with titanium, over the wood core of the ski, which is commonly denoted with the abbreviation "ti."
Taper Taper refers to the skis’ tip shape. A ski with its widest point set back from the tip has a lot of taper. This shape is typically found in powder skis, though not exclusively. Tip taper is a design feature that increases maneuverability and agility and is commonly used to make powder skis nimble in deep powder. It also allows skis to cut through bumps more easily when carving.
Twin Tips Twin tips refer to the front and back shovels of the skis looking the same, like twins! Common among freestyle skis because it allows the skier to land on skis frontwards or backward. In addition to the same rounded appearance, twin tips usually feature tail rocker to match the tip as well.
Freeride Freeride skiing is skiing in ungroomed and untracked snow. It is also known as backcountry, off-piste, or big mountain skiing. Freeride skis usually have a wider platform and large amounts of rocker profile to float on top of deep snow more easily and give a surfy feel.
Freestyle Freestyle skiing is usually done in a terrain park using man-made jumps or boxes and rails. Freestyle skis are typically lightweight and have a narrow waist width for the best control while turning.
Quiver No, we're not talking about Robin Hood. A quiver refers to the skis that a person owns, typically different style skis for different conditions or purposes (carving, powder, touring, etc.).
Dump, Dumping | synonym: puking, nuking No, not where your trash goes. Dumping refers to heavy snowfall. If you're in the lodge getting ready on a powder day with a lot of fresh snow, you'll probably hear a local say, "Man, it sure did dump last night!".
Powder, Pow | synonym: freshies, blower The reason for living, powder refers to freshly fallen snow. It seems straightforward, but it can take on many different properties, from light "Champagne Powder" to dense windblown powder to heavy wet manky Sierra Cement. If it's white and fell from the ski, it's a Pow Day and should be considered a blessing.
Bunny Slope The beginner slope of a ski area, serviced by a magic carpet lift, where people who have never skied before can learn the sport safely, segregated away from the intermediate skiers and advanced skiers.
- Piste: A groomed run.
- Off-Piste: Any terrain not groomed.
- Backcountry: Usually any terrain outside of a ski resort's boundaries.
- Jerry: Slang term for an out-of-control skier, or more generally, a beginner to the sport that is unaware of their surroundings. Known for "gaper gap" (a space between your goggles and helmet) and "yard sale," a crash where their equipment is strewn all over the trail.
- Grom: A young skier just learning the sport.
- Après-ski: The post-ski party, generally at a bar on the mountain.
- Puckered: Scared.
- Glade: A stand of trees perfect for skiing through.
- Ripping: Skiing well.
- Line: Where you ski. Literally the line your skis leave in the snow.
- Mogul: Bumps that form on steeper trails from skiers repeatedly making the same turns. Moguls are the ultimate test for advanced skiers, testing a skier's limits of proper form, ski technique, and fitness.
- Terrain Park: A designed area of a ski mountain with features to jib and play on. Frequented by "park rats" (terrain park skiers).
- Jib: A terrain feature that can be tricked, manmade, or natural.
- Liftie: A ski lift operator, usually the friendliest person on the mountain.
- Skiing: The most fun you can have with pants on.
Now that you have an inside scoop on key lingo for navigating the mountain like a ski bum, do you have all the right gear for you and your preferred skiing style? Chat with me or one of my fellow Skiing Experts anytime for free advice and gear recommendations. From the bunny slope to black diamonds and first chair to après-ski, we can get you set up on the right skis and ready to rule the mountain.