Know your snow. Illustration by Jameson Simpson.
“What dreams are made of when it comes to skiing,” says Todd Walton, executive director of Winter Wildlands Alliance. Freshly fallen snow—the lighter and drier, the better—with a “max fluff” factor that’s terrible for snowballs but unbelievably fun and light to float on, turn after turn.
“Every skier’s nemesis,” says Julien Ross, New Mexico’s OpenSnow forecaster. “It’s deceiving.” Whorls that look like they could be powder turn out to be a frozen layer over soft snow. Watch out for this if the sky has just clouded over or the temperature drops. Depending on its thickness, it can range from troubling to impossible. “Dust on crust” occurs when an inch or so of new snow covers firm, non-groomed trails. Skiing on it makes an awful scraping sound and provides little traction.
Crud (also chowder, chunder)
After skiers chop up powder, the sun, wind, and frigid nights take their toll. The snow freezes into chunks and lumps amid some partly soft snow that can make for difficult, more technical skiing.
Once heavily trafficked by skiers or compressed by snowcats, the snow packs into a firmer and more uniform surface. Artificial snow lies down in granular layers that are more packed from the start.
Higher-moisture snow supercooled into pellets instead of flakes. Stings bare skin and skis like ball bearings. Sometimes contributes to avalanches.
Snow conditions to learn before your next ski trip. Illustration by Jameson Simpson.
A spring phenomenon that results from snow freezing overnight and softening under the sun. It rides in fun, surfy, carving turns.
Snow so recently groomed that it’s still marked with corduroy-like grooves from snowcats. Skis easily take an edge and allow for a little more ripping (speed). “Up there in the top five feelings in skiing is carving in some fresh corduroy,” Ross says.