Starting a new sport is tons of fun, but it can feel like you’re learning a whole new language too. So to help you grasp the lingo, here’s a round-up of the most common ski-related words and slang.
Ski area: The general name for the area of the mountain where you can ski and snowboard, including all the pistes and lifts.
Piste/run/slope: The paths that you ski down have several names but they mean the same thing. Pistes are marked with poles along the sides to keep you on track, and they’re colour-coded according to difficulty – green and blue for beginners, red for intermediates and black for experts.
Lift pass: This is literally your ticket to the mountain. It lets you use the lifts, so once you’ve bought it, you need to keep it with you in a safe place at all times. Most are programmed like a contactless bank card, so you can leave it in a pocket and the lift barrier will detect it and let you through. If you’re new to skiing, some resorts have free beginner lifts that don’t need a lift pass.
Alpine skiing: The type most of us will do – just skiing downhill, on a piste.
Moguls: Bumps of hard snow that can form on a piste when lots of people ski down it. They can be tricky (and fun) obstacles to dodge on your way down.
Piste basher: The vehicle that drives up and down the slopes when the mountain is closed (usually late at night). It rakes or ‘grooms’ the snow on the piste to leave it nice and smooth for the next day. It’s sometimes called a groomer.
Ski patrol: A qualified team employed by the lift company to patrol the ski area and make sure everyone is using the mountain safely.
Snow cannon: When the outside temperature is cold enough, these machines can make artificial snow and blow it out onto the pistes – a process called snowmaking that’s very useful when a resort hasn’t had much real snowfall.
Après ski: French for ‘after ski’, après is the afternoon fun and entertainment after a day on the slopes. Stay in your ski gear and head off to a bar for a drink, music and dancing. Or you could relax in a spa or try out a winter activity.
Cross-country skiing: A style of skiing done on flat or gently rolling runs, rather than downhill. The front of your boot is clipped onto the ski, but your heel is free to move up and down – so you can slide across the snow. It’s also called Nordic skiing.
Off-piste: Going away from the piste into unmarked, unpatrolled areas. You need to be an experienced skier and take specialist equipment with you. This style’s also called freeride or back-country skiing.
Heli-skiing: Taking a helicopter up to an unpatrolled, unmarked area for off-piste skiing and boarding. One for experts only.
Terrain park: An area for doing tricks, with lots of jumps and obstacles like rails and boxes. It’s also known as a snow park, and this style of skiing and boarding is called freestyle.
Jib: To ride, slide or jump onto anything that’s not snow, like a rail or box in a snow park.
Grab: Grabbing part of your ski or board while doing a jump in the air.
Ski tip and tail: The tip is the very front of your ski and the tail is the back.
Edge: The thin line of metal along the side of the ski or snowboard, which is used to control your speed and turning. On harder snow or ice, the edge should be sharper to give you more control.
Ski binding: This is the bit on the top of your skis that attaches to your ski boots. Put your toe in first and press your heel down to clip in. Push the lever at the back to unclip.
DIN setting: If you fall or twist on your ski, your boot is designed to unclip to prevent injuring your leg. The DIN setting is the level of tension that’s needed in order for the boot to release. The higher the DIN setting, the more tension that’s needed. The setting is based on your skiing ability, height and weight. They’re set by the ski hire shop and should only be adjusted by them.
Snowplough: One of the first moves you’ll learn in ski school – also called the ‘pizza’. Control your speed and direction by creating a V shape with your skis, with the front tips almost touching and the backs wide apart.
Parallel turns: The ‘French fries’ technique that comes after your snowplough ‘pizza’. This time, you keep your skis straight side by side and lean your body to turn.
Carving: A step up from beginner level, successful carving means leaning your body and turning on the edge of your skis.
Traverse: Skiing across a piste rather than down it, to get from one run to another or to catch up with your group.
Schussing/straight line/fall line: To ski down the piste in a straight line without making turns.
Snowboard binding: The frame on top of a snowboard that you strap your boots into. There are different types of snowboard binding, but the most common is a ratchet-like strap over your toes and top of your foot.
Riding: The term for going down the mountain on a snowboard.
Riding regular: Riding down the mountain with your left foot forward.
Riding goofy: The opposite to regular, goofy means leading with your right foot. To find out which way you prefer, stand straight and get someone to give you a nudge from behind – whichever foot you instinctively put forward first is the one you should try leading with.
Riding switch: As you get better, you may try riding switch, where you literally switch between leading with your left and right foot.
Riding duck or duck stance: Your feet usually face slightly towards the direction you’re going on a board. But in duck stance, both feet are angled outwards – one towards the front of the board, one to the back – so it’s easier to ride switch.
Magic carpet: Often found in beginner areas, these are relatively flat conveyor belts that you stand on to move up a hill.
Chairlift: A series of benches hanging from cables that you sit on as you would on a chair. They carry groups of usually four to eight people up the mountain. You keep your skis or board on, and a bar comes down in front of you to keep you safe for the trip.
Cable car: A lift with two cabins hanging from cables above the ground, that carries dozens of people up the mountain at a time. You take your skis or snowboard off for this lift and carry them inside.
Gondola: Similar to a cable car, but with lots of smaller cabins that carry a handful of people and move in a continuous loop up and down. You take your skis or board off and either carry them in or store them in a rack on the outside of the cabin.
Button or T-bar lift: A round disk or horizontal bar that goes between your legs and is connected to a moving cable above. It pulls you up the mountain with your feet on the ground. They’re commonly known as drag lifts
Liftie: Someone who’s employed and trained by the lift company to operate a lift.
Weather and snow
Bluebird day: Clear blue skies and sunshine – the weather that most of us dream of.
Flat light: Grey skies, low clouds and dim light, making it harder to see bumps and dips in the terrain.
Whiteout: When visibility is severely reduced by falling snow or thick cloud cover – a perfect time to ditch the skis and check out the local après bars.
Hard pack: Snow that’s been compacted down as far as it’ll go – not quite ice, but not fun to fall on.
Powder: Fresh snow that hasn’t been skied through or groomed.
Now you’ve learned the lingo, get to the mountains and try it out on your next winter holiday.