Ski Lingo: Sound Like a Local!

Welcome to Spinnaker Bay Apartments in Queenstown.  The mountains will open soon and we look forward to hosting you at our ski-ready apartments - your ski home away from home!

We’ve had a bit of fun with this post.  Like any sport, snowsports come with its own set of slang; more often than not, you need a translator to help!  And until Google Translate launches that very particularly funny app, the best we can offer is the following list!

We'll start on snow type, terrain and weather conditions.  These are probably three of the most important areas to understand.   Much of this language you'll read on snow reports, and in the cafe, you'll hear some of this slang bantered about freely!

So enjoy the lingo, be safe out there this winter, and most importantly - have fun!


Ski Lingo

Variable Conditions:  Pack every type of layer and then some!  You won’t know if you’ll get sticky or soft or hard snow, wind, sun, rain, snowfall or a combination of them all.  Generally a skiable day, but you’ll need all your lens types!

Bluebird:  actually, this one is hard to get wrong.  Clear blue skies await you!  Just check the temperatures and the actual piste conditions.  At first glance, you’ll be forgiven for thinking it means the perfect day skiing – but it only refers to the skis above and not the snow, wind or temperature conditions – so read on…  and learn how to pack for the day. So Bluebird literally means clear skies and the sun is shining, so ‘make ski while the sun shines! 

Top Tip – pack sunscreen!

Spring Conditions:  This generally refers to the snow quality and means hard and fast in the morning and sugary snow on ice (or slush) in the afternoons.  You should note that there is a lovely window of ski opportunity between the two before the ‘snow turns’, which is fun to play on!  Generally, on Coronet Peak, this is from about 10:00 – 12:00!

Hero Snow:  Be a hero, try new tricks and take the opportunity to push your skiing/riding to the next level, as the snow is forgiving, with just the right amount of moisture and firmness in it that it will hold you up nicely on those epic turns, or should you fall, your landing is soft enough to absorb the impact.

A Run: Both a noun and a verb!   It can be the name of a route/piste (i.e. the M1) or the collective name we give to having finished skiing from ‘point a to b’.  i.e. I just had a great run down Skippers (name of the run)!  Yeah, at times, it’s confusing.

Pow (Pow-Pow): Literally short for ‘powder’.  That’s the light, fluffy snow that falls from the sky and brings the children out in all of us.  A 'pow day' means more people on the mountains, so more traffic, and more work for the road crew to do to clear those roads, so if there is pow in your forecast, then set the alarm nice and early, hire some wider skis, get up, get on your way and get parked, then if need be, have a coffee, relax and wait for the ‘all go’!

Top Tip – Check the chains in your car and make sure you know how to fit them.  Unlike Europe, our local mountains call a ‘chain day’ at the barest hint of snow, so be prepared to park up, chain up and then wait out a long drive up.  Snow days often mean ‘carnage days’! 

Spinnaker Bay Queenstown Accommodation Ski Lingo 1

Backcountry: Generally, the backcountry in Queenstown is the terrain we discuss outside of the patrolled ski area, but usually within the boundaries.  Further afield, backcountry refers to the real untouched mountains accessible only by helicopter or guided tour.  This is skiing and snowboarding at your own risk and should only be undertaken by experts or a registered guide.  We have very strict rules about access which must be respected.  If you are interested in enjoying our backcountry at The Remarkables and Coronet Peak, these guidelines and information pages ensure everyone’s experiences are the best and safest. 

Find the information here:

Can we just point out here that Heli-Skiing in Otago is an epic way to experience the best backcountry skiing in the world?  Why not try that!

Off Piste:  On CP and The Remarks, off-piste literally means everything between the groomed runs but within the ski area boundaries!  And there is plenty of it!  Find a line, and the mountain is your playground!

Crust / Crusty:  You’ll hear this to describe the snow conditions, both on-piste and off.  A crust or crusty layer is a harder frozen layer of snow on top of softer snow.  Usually, it comes about from a light rain freezing the top layer or wind whipping the moisture out of that layer.    It means you must work a little harder to crack through the surface – not always a pleasant run!

Bumps:  A type of terrain - you’ll hear novices describe the terrain as bumpy, meaning just that – skiers have repeatedly skied the same path until they have created bumps of snow or moguls.  Let’s go one further and also suggest it’s also what you get from a week of learning to ski/board – lots of bumps and bruises!

Moguls:  See bumps!  But seasoned skiers and freestyles will refer to this type of terrain as moguls, and while most of us avoid these, for fear of breaking a lower limb….  Seasoned skiers seek out moguls and show the world just how great skiers they are!  ‘Cause they’re hard!  Soul destroying hard!

Sugar:  When the snow is granular like sugar!  Often you’ll hear snow conditions as ‘sugar on ice’, which we use to describe a very fine moveable layer of snow on a harder base.  This often happens with machine-made snow.  Think tiny weeny snowballs rather than snowflakes.  The crystalline structure of the machine snow lacks the little arms in the flakes to interlink with each other, so the snow settles as individual ‘ball type’, and after a lot of skier milage, it often gets ‘skied out’ (moved to the sides, often creating moguls or bumps)

Dust On Crust: Another way of describing Sugar on Ice…a fresh layer of powder on a hard and fast surface underneath. 

Fake Snow: Kinda like fake news, really.  The snow is produced artificially by snow guns/machines.  It can be a sweet smooth ride first thing in the morning, but it tends to get skied out quickly. Never as good as the real deal!

Death Cookies: Not the nicest skiing experience.  Death cookies are varying-sized balls of ice that are produced by grooming/snowmaking and, unfortunately, sit on the piste, making a nuisance of themselves.  There’s a longer explanation that goes into what conditions need to be present in order for this to happen – but all you need to know right now is that the locals call it a ‘death cookie’, and they can be very hard to ski and often very dangerous too.  If you are in the café and you hear that a run is covered in death cookies, we suggest avoiding it!

Spinnaker Bay Queenstown Accommodation Ski Lingo 2

Sticky (Snow):  Yeah, Nah!  While this term describes the type of snow, it’s generally used as a reference to your ski experience.  It means that because of this type of snow, your ski is sucked onto the snow and doesn’t glide as well as you’d like, which in terms means that the ‘run’ was a little more hard work than normal.  Not terrible, but not perfect either

Corduroy:  For piste skiers, we all seek that perfect corduroy runs first thing in the morning.  This is the visual effect of lined furrows left by the groomers after they’ve packed and reshaped the piste.  It’s sort after and provides the best start to the day for carvers and alpine snowboarders!

Top Tip – check the weather report – if the conditions are super cold, you can get a corduroy finish which is rock solid and like skiing on ice which is not so pleasant!

Corn:  Corn is a simple term for a more complicated process of repeatedly melting and freezing snow, creating large corn-like grained crystals.  Why it's important is because this type of snow creates a super velvety surface which is a pure pleasure to ski and ride on - there is a window of time when the snow grains just start to melt - that's your time! 

Bulletproof: Yup, literally, a bullet wouldn’t penetrate the snow and it is generally a hard (pun intended) surface to ski.  It always brings out the worst in our skiing!  Our recommendation is to chillax in the café, wait a little bit for the temperature to rise and the snow to soften and then go and attack your day!

Freshies: We use this to describe the possibility of skiing on untouched powder, thereby making fresh tracks in the snow!  If you want to impress your mates back home, you’ll want to tell them that you had a day full of freshies!

‘No Friends on Freshies’: Dump your friends and get out and get those fresh tracks, and let no one, not even the best mates, stand in your way!

Be the first, and be unapologetic about it because, on a great snow day, there are ‘no friends on freshies’!!!

Chop: After the pow pow has fallen, and the punters have attacked the mountain, and when you find freshies between other skiers' tracks, you are left with ‘chop’. 

Crud: How to explain crud?  Well, it’s really just churned-up yucky snow leftover from a pow-pow day.  It’s hard to ski, takes some technical skill to ski well, and for most of us, it dims our ski experience as we tumble from hitting the bumps…

Grooming: Some reports will tell you about grooming, which is super helpful if you understand snow conditions, but most won’t.  We wish more would!  A Groomer / Cat / Piste Basher are big, very cool machines that literally rake and redistribute the snow and reshape the piste (overnight) to make it firm and skiable for us all the next day!  Groomers are our unsung heroes on the mountain!

Dump: ‘Dumping down’ – snowing its brains out, and then, of course, you have the past tense ‘it dumped a meter yesterday’.

‘Snotting Down’:  Same as dumping down, really.  A very Kiwi term!

First Tracks: First on the lifts, get the best tracks!  On Coronet Peak, it also means the hour that you can ski, at a price, before the lifts open to the general public.  It’s when you get the corduroy, and on Coronet Peak, those pesky (but necessary) slow zone signs are nowhere to be seen.

Becoming Fine:  Instead of saying it's foggy or overcast at present, ‘becoming fine’ means the weather ain't so great right now but will hopefully improve!  But it’s not there yet. We recommend you check the weather cams!  It’s the easiest way to see for yourself.  But we believe you have come to ski, so get up, go up and check out.

Right - so this is the start of the list.  In our next post, we'll add more in part two and cover some of the more slang we use to describe other skiers and their ski style!