Ski bums are a creative bunch. With laid-back lingo and vibes similar to surfers you might find on the beach, the slang words you’ll hear around ski resorts are often equally hilarious and puzzling.
With new terminology coming out every season, it can be tough to stay fluent in the local slang. We’ll go over some of the most common words and phrases you’ll hear from skiers and snowboarders, along with their meanings. Remember if you can’t spot the gaper within the first hour at the resort, then you are the gaper.
Gaper day in Whistler, BC. Photo: Andre Charland
Ski Lingo: Terms and Meanings
Similar to visiting a foreign country, it’s always nice to know some of the local terminologies that one might hear at a ski resort. Learn the meaning of the odd phrases you encounter. Then you’ll be able to make sense of what you overhear during your people-watching and eavesdropping, while on the chairlifts, and during apres ski. Slang words are fun in moderation. Enjoy this ski lingo!
List of the common ski slang words, in alphabetical order:
Apres Ski – Apres is “after” in French. And what goes on after skiing? Everyone gets bellied up to the bar at the lodge or base area for a band. Maybe there is a visit to the local hot springs in your apres ski. More or less, apres ski is a pretentious way to say a happy hour. Do you know what’s even more pretentious? Learning how to say cheers in different languages, and working that into your toast. Santé!
Apres ski in the German Alps. Photo: Visavis..
Black Ice – Thin, transparent ice that coats the streets, or ski slopes. It’s difficult to ski and dangerous to drive over. If it has snowed recently, always expect there to be some black ice, especially on bridges and overpasses, where cold air passes underneath.
Bluebird Day – Sunny, cloudless day, often following a storm day. Also called a blue sky day.
Bomber – Someone that bombs down the mountain on their skis or snowboard, sometimes in control, sometimes not. Experts that do this are called a ripper or shredder. Beginners doing this are related to the phenomenon called the Chinese downhill (not P.C. term). As opposed to bombers who could be highly skilled, those performing a routine Chinese downhill, don’t stop, turn, or brake and are generally, out-of-control beginners. It’s also a downhill ski race with no rules, as made popular by the 1984 Hot Dog: the Movie.
Champagne Powder™ – Snow that’s dry like champagne. It’s Steamboat Ski Resort’s trademarked phrase. Thanks to its location in northwest Colorado, Steamboat gets a lot of light, dry snow that sparkles in the sun. It’s the exact opposite of what you don’t want, Sierra Cement.
Chatter – The vibration skis and snowboards make when going fast.
Cowboy Downhill – An annual event held over President’s Day weekend at Steamboat Ski Resort where real-life rodeo cowboys and bull riders race down the mountain, in a no-nonsense fashion. They go straight down and outta control, probably derived from the Chinese Downhill.
Corduroy – Freshly groomed ski terrain that resembles the dress pants by the same night. Everybody loves skiing fresh corduroy for its predictable control and lack of ice. Earliest in the morning is your best time to find and ride corduroy. It’s the second best thing to fresh powder.
Perfectly groomed corduroy at Beaver Creek, Colo. Photo: reid.neureiter
Crud – Snow that’s compacted down to a cement-level crud. It’s also never level, so you’re bumping and busting your legs up trying to get through the crud. You wish it were corduroy.
Crust – Refers either to a hard layer on top of softer snow, or a hard layer hidden by a light layer of fresh snow. Crust is common on days where you only get a couple of fresh inches, so it looks like a lot more powder than it is and much less fun.
Dump – If you’re on a ski vacation in the high country, you usually want to get dumped on. This means that a lot of snow is going to fall, ideally overnight, so you wake up to gorgeous fresh powder. “Look outside, it’s dumping! Woo! Let’s hit the slopes tomorrow.”
Falling Leaf – Snowboarders who are just learning will often stay on what’s called the heel side, afraid to commit to turning over to the “front side” in fear that they will fall backward. So instead of looking like an advanced snowboarder carving down the slopes, they will resemble a falling leaf, going from side to side, but always on their heel edge, perpendicular to the downhill slope.
First Tracks – Refers either to someone having to hike through the snow first, which is always the hardest, or getting to ski through the powder first, which is always the most fun.
French Fry and Pizza – Some instructors teach new skiers to “french fry” their skis when they want to move, and to “pizza” their skis together when they want to stop.
Freshies – This is the word you want to hear while on a ski holiday. You want to be getting freshies in the morning, or all day long. It’s another term for fresh powder snow.
Ganjala – A gondola that lends itself to smoking or vaping weed. Let’s hit up the ganjala instead of the chairlift, in reference to its windless nature and easy place to light some green.
Gaper – Some ill-fitting goggles and helmets don’t line up perfectly at the forehead, creating a gap of skin, also known as a Gaper Gap. This gap is exposed to sun, wind, and cold temperatures. It’s a total newbie look, easily preventable when shopping. This, in turn, is a term thrown around to any oddly dressed or acting skier/snowboarder. Look at that gaper over there! Yeah, what a total gaper. Even if they don’t show a gap.
Need to work on that kid’s gaper gap. Photo: Jim Kravitz
Gnar – You’ll often hear folks heading out to the slopes to “shred the gnar”. This means they will ski/snowboard (shred) the gnarly conditions (fresh powder).
Ice Coast – As opposed to the lovely snow conditions out west, the United States boasts much more humid and lower elevations along the East Coast. Here, the ski resorts receive heavier, wetter snow, which combined with the warmer temps at lower elevations during the day, the snow melts and freezes to ice overnight. Unlike the high elevation of the Colorado mountains that stay cold all the time.
Jerry – An out-of-a-place, beginner skier that seems to show no knowledge of how to operate on skis or a snowboard. Sometimes “gaper” is used. Other phrases include “Joey” or “Gorb”. A popular website does the Jerry of the Day.
Jib – Freestyling around the mountain looking for various little features and kickers you can pull a little stunt off of. You can jib natural or manmade terrain. It’s a verb.
Kicker – Either a nice little jump that you can jib off pretty well, a massive jump that will launch you into the stratosphere, or something in between. Hit that kicker over there! It’s also called a “booter“.
Carving a monster kicker in Whistler, BC. Photo: kcxd
Liftie – A chairlift worker that’s usually a first or second-year ski bum in town. They pick up a job of “bumping” lifts all winter, which is holding them up so people can board easily. It’s a great way to stay in shape. Lifties often talk about “living the dream” when asked how they’re doing. The best part of the liftie’s day is usually when they get to ski back down from the top booth or sneak into the woods to vape their medicine.
A liftie on his throne in Whistler, BC. Photo: Ruth Hartnup
Line – A strategic route down the trail one scouts out, usually to hit some fresh powder. You therefore can carve your own line that’s visible to all.
Carving a fresh line in some champagne powder. Photo: Julian H
Magic Carpet – Often found in the true beginner’s area, this is a form of transportation up a moderately pitched hill. Ride the magic carp to the top, by standing on it with your skis or snowboard. Similar to a moving walkway found at the airport.
Covered magic carpet lift. Photo: po1yester
Onesie – Retro ski outfits from the 80s and before that combined pants and jacket into one piece of clothing. While these stylish garbs made it harder to pee, they are making a comeback for their uniqueness.
A couple of skiers in onesies. Photo: Jack Nickel
Park Rat – A freestyle skier or rider who spends all their time in the terrain park. Often they don’t even take the chairlifts, but unstrap and walk back up, ensuring they get the most runs possible.
Planks – A set of skis.
Pow – Fresh snow that feels so good under your board.
Pressing Glass – First in line for the gondola. You’re pressing glass to hurry up and get up on the slopes to hit that fresh powder or groomed corduroy.
Safety Session – Code term for having a meetup to smoke up, usefully in the trees or perhaps aboard the ganjala. Also called a safety meeting, and generally involves the use of a glass pipe or vaporize to smoke weed.
Sausage Fest – Having a very high ratio of men to women, which is commonplace in any mountain town bar or gathering. Ski towns in general are one big sausage festival.
Sausage fest in hot tub. Photo: AG SW
Scissoring – It’s okay to pizza and French fry, but you don’t want to scissors. That means your skis are getting crossed up and overlapping each other. It’s a good way to wipe out.
Sick Licks – Hitting manmade jumps and natural features and doing amazing stunts.
Sierra Cement – Hard crud snow is well known in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Its high moisture content makes it compress to cement pretty fast, as opposed to the lighter dryer snow you’d find in Utah or Colorado. California and some of the Pacific Northwest are noted for hard, wet snow. But still, fresh powder is fresh powder, just not for as long.
Ski Bum – A person who moves to a ski town, takes up just enough employment to pay for their skiing habit and lives to ski 100+ days per season. Some last a season and others stick around for life. There’s an art to ski bumming.
Ski bums are often lifties and other resort workers during the winter, and find a different seasonal job in the summer. Some are said to be “living in a van down by the river.” Some actually do, or tent, or house with 5 or 6 roommates…whatever it takes to keep shredding that gnar!
Slushies – What we’re trudging through in the springtime. Slushies often turn into a pool somewhere that brave folks will ski across.
Too much slushies can lead to this. Photo: kcxd
Snow Bunny – An attractive woman skier or snowboarder. Also called a ski bunny, some ski others just sit in the lodge sipping on cocoa.
Ski bunny. Photo: Andre Charland
Snowplow – A technique done by beginner skiers the same as a pizza. They just wedge their skis in a pizza slice shape, closer together near the tips. This allows a slow, controlled safe descent.
Steezey – Synonym for awesome, sick, dope, etc. Like man that jacket is steezy bro, yeah man just got it this season. Can also be shorted to steeze. It generally means showy, so a boring grey jacket would not be steeze, whereas, a multi-colored trip fest would be.
Stomp – Freestyle skiers and riders will stomp a landing, meaning stick it.
Switch – Riding backside on your snowboard or skis. It’s said to be riding switch.
Tabletop – Big ass jumps that require you to go all out, no breaking, otherwise you’ll land harshly on the flat top of the jump, as opposed to the correct down-sloping backside.
Texas Goretex – Pretty much the same as a Canadian Tuxedo. Texas goretex is denim, usefully sported only in the form of jean pants. It has no known moisture-wicking advantages and is most common in those from southern non-skiing states.
Tracked Out – By early afternoon, most of the fresh powder at any given resort will be tracked out, meaning you won’t be able to find many lines of your own.
Traverse – Skiers are much better at traversing horizontally across the slopes. Snowboarders generally have to unstrap, and “skate” along, whereas a skier just pushes with their poles. Traversing is either done to get to a new trail or part of the mountain or just go back and forth more slowly.
Warm Before The Storm – This can happen year-round in Colorado. It’ll be 85 degrees and sunny in the morning, then by afternoon the temperatures have dropped 40 degrees and you’re heading for evening snow. So if you’re on a ski trip, don’t fret if it’s unseasonably warm, the storm could be coming – it’s just the warm before the storm.
White Out – When fog is high and visibility is low, it’s a whiteout. It’s much worse of a problem above the treeline and much less of a problem in the trees. As that’s the best place to be on a whiteout day, believe it or not.
Yard Sale – When you wipe out and lose all your stuff. It’s really only applicable to skiers as snowboarders stay strapped up. Skis, alternatively, unclip from their bindings and polls fly away. Yard sale!
Vintage yard sale at Stowe, Vermont. Photo: Patrick
Those are really just a small portion of the crazy and bizarre phrases you’ll hear thrown around a ski resort. If riding high in the Rockies, be sure to brush up on Colorado’s local lingo, for even more slang words you might hear.