Accident, accidental, accidentally – Events which occur that are sometimes out of one’s own control. See Helmet.
Alpine – Challenging mountain terrain above treeline.
Alpine Start – The act of rising from sleep during GAST (generally accepted sleeping times) in order to time one’s ascent and descent for optimal conditions. Often involves driving past the bar crowd on their way home.
Alpine Touring – Backcountry skiing or snowboarding with bindings which include a heelpiece which releases or locks as needed. Telemark gear doesn’t have the locked heel option, and you can make up your own mind about that.
Anchor – A solid point of attachment with which to attach a person, usually via rope, to the mountain. A tree can be an anchor. One rappels from an anchor.
Angle – The degree of a slope as measured from the horizontal.
Apron – The broad, triangular region immediately beneath a chute or couloir, formed primarily by snow piling up after it slides down inside the entraining rocks.
Aspect – The compass direction a ski run faces, ie., a north aspect. While skiing a north facing run, one would be facing north. While ascending a north aspect, one would generally be facing south.
Avy – Shorter term for avalanche, a phenomenon in which unstable snow is pulled en masse by gravity down any slope steep enough to slide.
Backcountry – The scene available to the eye once one has put some distance between themselves and any signs of civilization, especially chair lifts, and generally, large numbers of people.
Backcountry.com – The source for your outdoor gear at a good price. Located in Utah.
B.A.S.E. (jump) – an acronym which represents four common launching points for base jumpers: Buildings, Antennas, Spans (think bridges or a tightrope), Earth (which is usually a cliff, but can also be a giant hole in the ground).
Beacon – An electronic device which emits a constant signal at the 457khz frequency, worn by mountain travelers to allow them to find or be found in the case of an avy. As all beacons operate on the same frequency, all beacons can pinpoint one another.
Bed surface – The smooth plane on which an avalanche slides.
Bergschrund – A crevasse separating the top of a glacier from the permanent snow above it, created by the gradual downward creeping of the glacier.
Beta – Information which details any known aspect of one’s adventure, including trail or snow conditions, the location of cliffs or rocks, skin tracks, bolted or other anchors, avalanche conditions, or any other facts which would aid in a party’s successful return.
Bivouac – Camping out with very little gear, sometimes only a bivvy sack.
Bivvy Sack – A thin, lightweight, weatherproof bag akin to a sleeping bag, designed less for comfort than emergency sheltering purposes.
Bomber – Bomb-proof, sturdy, able to withstand serious abuse.
Boot, booter, boot pack – All terms for walking up snow in boots. To boot is the action, booter and boot pack/track are the stairsteps left behind when a party has booted up the snow. ‘Putting in the booter’ is what you get to do when you’re the first one there after a snowstorm.
Bowl – A concave snowfield, usually quite large, most often devoid of thick trees.
Break, as in, ‘break trail’ – To be the first to ascend a particular slope or trail after snowfall. Once the trail is broken, ‘the track is in,’ until the next snowfall.
Breakable crust – When the crust is not supportable, in which case, one often falls, steps, carves, or stumbles through it to the snow beneath, particularly mid-turn. Makes for awful skiing. Or fun, depending on one’s perspective. The same things occur while skinning or booting.
BSL – Boot sole length. Actual physical size, usually in millimeters, of the outer length dimension of a ski boot. For example, a ski boot with a Mondo size of 27.5 (more or less an American men’s size 10) could have an outer length of anywhere from @275mm to @310mm. The bsl is an important figure to know when it comes time to mount bindings onto the ski for a particular pair of boots, as many bindings lack a length adjustment.
Bushwhack – To hike or otherwise make your way, sometimes by crawling, through shrubbery and other difficulties found on non-trailed areas.
Cache, or to cache gear – Storing gear on the mountain for later use. Often used to save the effort of carrying surplus gear not then required.
Cairn – An often discrete trail marker, most often created by piling stones into a cone shape, with the wider base at the bottom. Summer cairns are not visible in winter for the most part.
Carve – When skiers balance on their edges during a turn, thus, ‘to carve a turn.’
Chunder – Generally, chopped up, bad – even heinous – snow.
Chute – A wide chimney generally filled with snow, often with rocks on both sides.
Cirque – A valley rimmed on three sides by mountains or ridges.
Corn – Granular snow formed by repeatedly melting during the day and freezing at night. It’s generally icy at night; the ‘corn’ appears as the snow warms with daytime heating.
Cornice – An overhang of snow, generally on mountaintops and ridges, which forms as wind consistently transports snow in one direction.
Couloir – Very good skiing. A narrow ribbon of snow with rock walls on both sides.
Crampon – Spikes affixed to one’s boots to provide grip on slippery terrain such as ice.
Crevasse – A crack in glacier ice. Crevasses can be very deep, and are not particularly hospitable places for people.
Crown – The vertical wall of snow left behind at the topmost point at which an avalanche breaks off.
Crust – A hard layer of snow, often on top of soft snow.
Crux – The most difficult section of a route.
Deadfall – Fallen trees, which often interfere with travel as they cross one’s chosen path.
Depth hoar – A weak snow layer made of poorly bonded snow, buried in the snowpack, which greatly increases avy danger.
DIN setting – The ability to adjust the pressure a binding requires to release a ski boot; adjusted by changing spring tension. Lower settings require less force to eject the ski boot, higher settings require far more force. A ski whose DIN setting does not allow the ski to eject during a skier’s fall can lead to injury.
Dogleg – A change in direction, which often changes the aspect.
Double fall line – The outcome of a ball rolling down a slope whose angle has a varied aspect to it. Rather than a ball falling straight away beneath them in one direction, two simultaneous aspects affect the gravity involved.
Double Pole – The process of pushing with both of one’s ski poles simultaneously, in the effort to maximize forward motion.
Dynafit – The gold standard brand when it comes to backcountry ski bindings. Lightweight, strong, and simple. They also offer a full range of cutting edge, lightweight gear, including skis, ski boots, clothing, and backpacks. Remarkably well engineered stuff.
Dyneema – Ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE). An incredibly strong thermoplastic which, due to its incredibly light weight to strength ratio, makes it a wonderful substance out of which to create bullet resistant vests, or extremely light backpacks for mountaineering. If you wrapped a sandwich in this stuff, it would probably be intact after the next Ice Age. Check out Cilo Gear.
Ergal – A strong, lightweight aluminum alloy, which utilizes zinc as the primary alloying agent, but also contains many other metals, such as magnesium, copper, titanium, and iron. It has good fatigue strength but corrodes more easily than many aluminum alloys. Ultimately, the temper of the metal affects the mechanical properties of the final product. While Ergal is the common trade name, this metal is also known as Aluminum Alloy 7075.
Exposure – Maneuvering, often either ascending or descending, above terrain such as cliffs, a fall over which would often be unsurviveable.
Extreme skiing – The situation one would observe while encountering another person sitting on the couch with a vodka red bull in their hand, yelling platitudes towards the television set.
Facets – Snow which has undergone metamorphosis, such that the crystals are poorly bonded together. Often compared to sugar.
Fall line – The path a ball would take if released from the observer’s hand and allowed to roll down a slope.
Figure eight – Interlocked ski tracks that form a continuous series of ‘8’s down the hill.
Full track – An avalanche that does not stop anywhere midslope, but continues, often over flat terrain. Full track avalanches can descend, cross a gully bottom, and head up the other side.
Gendarme – A rock tower along a ridge.
Glacier – Accumulated ice in a continual state of flux, either expanding or more often in the 21st century, shrinking, particularly as the Earth warms. They often creep downwards with gravity, creating crevasses.
Glom – 1) A nasty condition in which accumulated material, usually a combination of semi-frozen, frozen, and melting snow, sticks to everything, particularly one’s skins as they attempt to ascend, thus resulting in ‘glomming.’ 2) Amalgamation of various food items which end up in the cooking pot on a camp stove. Best served with hot sauce! To learn to protect against glom, look here.
Graupel – Precipitation that is created by the interaction of droplets of water condensing on a snowflake, creating a ball of rime. Best represented by images of ball bearings or tiny styrofoam ball filling material.
Guide – Individual who has been certified in the proper techniques and skills needed to assist others in getting safely around in the mountains. Also familiar with rescue techniques should that eventuality arise.
Hangfire – Potentially dangerous situation which is above the skier, with potential to release and create issues. A cornice hanging overhead could be hangfire, as it might break off at any time, depending on conditions, size, shape, and other variables.
Hanging snowfield – A snowfield suspended above a cliff. Ski B.A.S.E. jumpers often utilize hanging snowfields for their launches.
Helmet – A device worn on the head and utilized to protect one’s standard of intelligence in the case of an accident. See accident.
Horn – A protruding rock that can serve as an anchor, around which one would typically place a sling.
Hyponatremia – Condition in which the level of sodium (salt) in the blood is abnormally low. There are various causes, but in the endurance athlete’s case, it is generally caused by sweating over a prolonged timeperiod, with water replenished, but insufficient sodium replenishment.
Hypernatremia – Condition in which the level of sodium (salt) in the blood is abnormally high. Typically, this is known as dehydration, and the usual cause is a depletion of the body’s water level, rather than extreme salt consumption.
Ice axe – A multi-use tool typically used to add stability and protection for the mountaineer. They are important to the concept of self-arresting, should an individual fall on a mountain.
Inclinometer – A simple device which uses gravity to determine the angle of a slope. See ‘Angle’ pic.
iPlate – A vanity license plate purporting the skierness of the driver, as in, I SKI.
Jib, jibber – Folks who amuse themselves by doing air ballet while wearing skis.
Jump turn – Technique in which the skier jumps off the slope to bring their skis around in a 180 degree arc, generally taking off from one side (right side edges) of their skis to the opposite side (left side edges), and vice versa.
Kick turn – A method of changing one’s direction on skis which involves a sort of dance style maneuver whereby the skier is facing one direction across the slope, raises the lower leg and twists it such that it points in the opposite direction. Weight is then transferred to this ski, and the other leg is brought around to face the same direction.
Knife-edge – A sharp ridge coming to a point like the two sides of a roof, often with exposure below.
Laps – To ascend and descend slopes more than once.
Looker’s Right/Left – Term to describe the location of something from the viewer’s perspective.
Loop – A ski tour which returns to the starting point without revisiting terrain.
Manky – generally terrible.
Moraine – A ridge of debris at the base of a glacier, often found where glaciers once existed, but no longer do, and formed by the downhill movement of the glacier.
Mouth – The opening at the lowest end of a canyon. If ascending, one would enter the ‘mouth of the canyon.’
MSR XGK – The gold standard of portable cooking stoves for camping use in all seasons.
Neve – Stable, consolidated, uniform snow. Akin to corn snow.
Notch – A gap in a ridge, similar to a gun sight notch.
Out-and-back – A ski tour in which the ascent ground is repeated on the descent, with one then arriving back at their original starting point.
Point release avalanche – An avalanche whose starting point is very small, and fans wider from there. Often begun by something falling onto a snow covered slope from above, such as snow or rocks. These sorts of avalanches do not leave the same sort of telltale crown, but whose shape resembles an up-side-down ice cream cone.
Posthole – Walking in snow such that one leaves deep impressions, or holes, behind as they walk. Postholing often involves stepping into snow up to one’s hips, and even deeper, leading to trenching.
Pow, powder – Snow of a low density. Has many names, types, and varieties: gunsmoke, cream, fluff, air, bottomless, gnar gnar (often used by powder technicians), champagne, and many more.
Powder technician – A rad plank rider who often eschews turns while on skis, choosing instead to float above the gnar gnar on 140+mm waisted skis. Their skis are so wide in fact, that it matters little if there was 2 inches or 3 feet of snow the night before, because they float so well that they only utilize the top ¾ of an inch.
Probe – To search for a buried person by repeatedly jabbing a long pole into the snow, attempting to discern the different feel of a soft body as compared to snow and rocks.
Probe pole – A collapsible pole, much like a tent pole, with a point on one end, and a quick assembly pull-through string running through the middle, which one assembles to probe.
Quiet – The serene sound of the mountains, when there’s not a windstorm.
Quip – The scathingly funny platitudes which fly between inbounds jibbers and backcountry skiers when they converge. Not to be confused with:
Quit – What inbounds skiers do for the day once the lifts close at four o’clock.
Randonnee – French for Alpine Touring, or Ski Touring, or backcountry skiing, all of which are terms for the same thing.
Rappel – A means of descending (sometimes) otherwise impassable terrain, utilizing a rope, harness, anchor system, and friction device, which controls the speed of descent.
Relief – Vertical distance between the valley and mountain’s highest point.
Rime – A type of snow that has typically been wind blasted into place with such other factors present that it can hold on to vertical objects.
Riser – Alpine touring bindings usually have risers, which meet the heel of the ski boot at some distance above the ski, allowing for more efficient ascents.
Rock Fall – An Accident (see above) waiting to happen for those who don’t wear Helmets (also see above). When rocks, small or large, fall on one from above, often after the sun has warmed, and thus softened, the snow holding the rocks in place.
Roller – A short, steep section of a slope whose far side is invisible from above due to its increased angle relative to the rest of the slope.
Route-finding – Arriving where you’re headed in a safe manner, even if the exact route taken by past persons is unknown to you.
Runnel – A sort of bobsled luge type groove in a slope created by the funneling effect of many ski lines, coupled with material (mostly snow) frequently sliding down the slope, making the runnel larger and deeper.
Saddle – The large, low area between two peaks, not to be confused with a notch.
Sastrugi – Snow that has been shaped and affected by the wind.
Self-arrest – An effort applied towards stopping one’s downward motion during a tumble.
Serac – An enormous block of ice formed by intersecting crevasses on a glacier. These glaciers can be located high up the mountain. Thus, seracs can drop off of a mountain with little or no warning. The resulting event is usually quite large, as the ice brings other material down with it, much like an avalanche. Except in this case, the ice comprising the serac alone is often substantial, as it splinters into shards.
Sewing Machine Leg – An uncontrolled condition in which one’s foot, most often supporting the body’s weight from the forefoot, begins to shake violently up and down, as if the sufferer is pedaling a sewing machine pedal. Can be ascribed to fear or exhaustion, or both.
Shot – More slang for the slope one wishes to descend on skis. Line, run, and coolie (short for couloir) are more terms.
Ski Belay – Process of descending a slope while attached to a rope, generally being held by a belaying partner, who feeds the rope and can brake the rope, catching a slide by the skier. Sometimes done during ski cuts, or when the descent is above exposure, or anyplace where a fall would be fatal.
Ski crampons – Using the same general idea as crampons for one’s boots, ski crampons are affixed to the ski, usually via the binding, and utilized for ascending frozen, icier snow conditions. Used in conjunction with skins.
Ski Cut – Process whereby a skier, from their position, skis across and simultaneously down a slope, weighting their skis in an effort to get an avalanche to release both by the application of their weight, and the cutting action of their skis.
Skier’s Right/Left – Term to describe the location of something from the skier’s perspective.
Skin, skinning – To ascend a slope with skins affixed to the bottom of one’s skis, with one’s heels released, enabling an efficient walking stride.
Skins – Devices which affix via adhesive to the bottom of one’s skis, covering the entire base surface, whose other side is covered in short (typically) nylon bristles which point in one direction. These allow forward sliding, but usually prevent backward movement. In Europe, mohair is preferred over nylon.
Sling – Flat, often 1 inch wide nylon, tied to create a loop which is then passed around a horn or other suitable anchor, to which a rope is usually affixed.
(the) Sliver technique – Ascent technique whereby the ascender, confronted with snow too deep to posthole through, drops the excess weight of their pack, attempts to bodily trench up the slope with their new-found lightness, and later returns for their pack. With the trench carved, re-ascending is much easier. First thought up and utilized by this writer to ascend the upper section of the Sliver on Nez Perce in chin deep snow, it is a technique of last resort, as it necessarily involves a re-ascent of previously covered ground. Oh, and it seems certain many have used this technique prior to me.
Slough – Breaking free of some surface snow, which slides down the mountain, but does not keep going for a great distance, nor does it pick up excessive extra snow. Sloughs are smaller than avalanches, but can knock a person off their feet.
Snain – A barely frozen snow which is a lot like rain. Or vice versa – a frozen rain that’s a lot like snow.
Snice – Snow that’s got plenty of ice content.
Snirt – You guessed it – snow that’s got plenty of dirt in it. Or dirt that has a little snow upon it.
Snow Pit – a hole dug into snow angled at 30 degrees or more, with a vertical wall on the uphill side, out of which columns of varying size and depth, are cut. Perhaps most commonly, a shovel is placed on top of a one foot by one foot column, and a process of tapping (light, medium, hard) begins in sequence, until layers of snow shear off and stability is assessed. Five light taps would be considered unstable, while five hard hits would indicate stability.
Snow Saw – A saw designed specifically for cutting snow. For an inexpensive way to build your own, look here.
Sock in – When visibility is obscured by clouds which have moved in, and, for the moment, show no indication of blowing away.
Straightline – To point one’s skis directly down the fall line, with no effort towards slowing their speed.
Suncups – Most often a late season phenomenon that arrive with the increased daytime sunlight, these manifest as a field of snow that almost resembles an enormous number of tiny, frozen waves, in a crosshatch pattern.
Sun Crust – Snow condition in which the surface of the snow, subjected to (often repeated) warming by sun by day and re-freezing in the cold of night, is covered in various thicknesses of ice, often a breakable crust which will not support one’s body weight.
Switchback – Utilizing the lower angle available by going across and up, rather than directly up, a slope, one eventually needs to turn around, and this occurs at the switchback.
TAY – See Turns all year.
Technical – Difficult, challenging, and often scary. These factors are mitigated somewhat with practice and gear use.
Teton Style – To make the entire approach in ski boots, regardless of whether there is snow. This often involves walking miles on dirt on both the approach and exit.
Third Man Factor, also Third Man Syndrome – Phenomenon in which (often a pair of) exhausted individuals near the brink of death imagine that a third, ethereal member has joined their doomed caboose. This being helps encourage them to survive against all odds. John Geiger wrote a book on the topic.
Topsheet – The topmost portion of a ski, to which the binding is mounted.
Trenching – 1) A wild party conducted in a tunnel-like hallway of snow. 2) To move over and through snow such that a sort of ditch is left behind. Generally speaking, this is strenuous work.
Turns all year – Afficionados of the celebration of perpetual winter, who aim to ski during each calendar month, often finding themselves on glaciers during the summer months.
Walk mode – The lever activated switch on touring boots which allows for greater articulation (forward and back movement) than is found on downhill ski boots. Allows for more efficient ascending.
Whippet – A ski pole with an integrated ice axe pick protruding forwards from the handle, especially useful for stopping an uncontrolled slide down a slope before it begins. Absolutely essential gear for steep skiers. Handy in numerous ways.
White out – When it snows or blows so hard that everything is white, thus making it virtually impossible to determine one’s location, or if one is moving or stationary. Often creates the sensation of vertigo.
Whoompf – The sound that a collapsing layer of snow makes as it settles onto the layer directly beneath it. Most often heard directly after a snowstorm.
Wind loaded – After wind has transported snow from one side of a slope onto the other, the side with extra snow is said to be wind loaded. Often, this is not too dissimilar to a loaded gun, from the ski mountaineer’s perspective.
Wind direction – The direction the wind comes from. A north wind could wind load a south facing aspect.
Xi – The fourteenth letter of the Greek alphabet. Essential knowledge for any good Scrabble game.
Yurt – A relatively permanent structure constructed in the mountains for overnight sleeping and shelter purposes.
Zoloft – In 2007, it was the most prescribed antidepressant on the U.S. retail market, with more than 29,000,000 prescriptions. This is what you take if you haven’t utilized backcountry skiing to counter the effects of S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder).