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The Ski Terms Glossary

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Ski Terms Explained: Talk the Talk to Walk the Walk

Your ski-shopping experience can quickly feel like the vocabulary section of the SAT. Nerdy shop employees like us throw words at you like damp, playful, sidecut, aggressive, and blah blah blah. You try to get on our level, but playing along can be exhausting. And it can also make it even harder to make a decision! (Although that's never our intention...)

So, we compiled a glossary of ski terms that pertain to construction and the on-snow experience. Don't stress: There won't be a test at the end.

Ski Terms Glossary

Rocker - This is the splay, or "early rise," of the ski tip (and/or the tail), where the ski literally rises above the snow. Rocker gives you maneuverability, better floatation in powder, and generally makes the ski easier to turn. The amount of rocker in a ski varies from ski to ski, depending on the model and where the ski is designed to ski. Carving skis naturally have less rocker for greater edge hold and stability while carving, while powder skis generally feature substantially more rocker for better performance in the deep stuff (and where carving is less of a priority).

Camber - Before there was rocker, there was only camber! When you hold two skis base to base, camber is the arch of space between the two skis underfoot. Camber provides stability when it contacts the snow, giving you strong edge hold and grip on hard snow. It also adds pop and snap. Skis that have lots of camber can feel energetic and springy, while low camber can feel more pivot-y.

Full Rocker/Reverse Camber - A fully rockered ski is a ski with no camber, kind of like an upside down banana. This creates an incredibly pivot-y and maneuverable ride. These skis can feel very nimble, ideal for trees and bumps.

Directional - A directional ski (or skiing style) is inspired by a more traditional ski style and construction. Instead of skiing switch and making slash-y, pivot-y turns, this person drives forward through the shovels (tips) of their skis. A directional ski typically has more rocker in the tip and a flatter, less rockered tail for greater edge hold.

Playful - A playful ski (or skiing style) slashes and slides through turns, rather than driving big turns and laying trenches. A playful skier might enjoy popping off of little side hits, jumps, or features, and maybe like to ski switch. Playful skiers and skis usually prefer a more centered stance on the ski, to make it easier to whip tails around in tight places or while spinning.

Accessible - This refers to skis that can be enjoyed by folks who are beginning, easy-going, or cautious skiers. At the same time, they usually can also be enjoyed by more advanced skiers, but don't demand aggressive skiing all the time.

Twin Tip - These skis have rocker in the tip and tail. If it's a true twin tip, there are equal amounts of rocker in the tip and tail. Twin tips became popular in the park for sliding on rails and spinning, but can transition to the rest of the mountain if you prioritize playfulness and maneuverability. Or if you just like to make the whole mountain a terrain park.

Damp - Maybe the most unappetizing ski slang term around, damp refers to the suspension in a ski. Just like a mountain bike suspension, a skis construction can help absorb vibrations in the snow. Damp skis feel remarkably smooth and planted to the snow.

Stable - A stable is a reliable ski. These skis typically feel remarkably smooth at higher speeds or going through rough snow conditions. Good suspension absorbs vibrations as you ski, giving you a smooth ride. Sometimes these skis can be stiffer and more demanding, but not always.

Loose - Loose skis are very playful, easy to swing around, and are usually quite maneuverable. They like to slide and slarve rather than locking into the snow for a traditional carve.

Surfy - Just like it sounds, surfy skis feel surfy! Best felt in powder, surfy skis have seamless transitions between turns, feel smooth riding, and light on your feet. Very similar to loose.

Smeary/Slashy - A smeary or slashy ski wants to slide around, drift through turns, and get sideways (as opposed to arcing a carve). Closely related to playful and pivot-y skis for their tendency to get sideways.

Pivoty - Skis that are pivoty are easy to "pivot" in tight terrain, like bumps and trees. You can easily whip the skis around to face another direction, and feel easy to turn on a dime. Great for playful styles and folks looking for something easy to swing around in tighter terrain.

Ski Terms Glossary

Forgiving - A forgiving ski is easy to shut down and won't punish you for making mistakes. If you miss the timing of a turn, or hit a rough patch of snow, forgiving skis are easy to get back on top of and get back on your line. They also typically let you take a more "cruiser" approach, rather than needing to be "on" all the time.

Demanding - The natural opposite of forgiving, a demanding ski usually requires good technique and a little more work to engage. Getting the back seat or getting away from an aggressive stance may cause the ski to get away from you. If you have an aggressive skiing style, these skis can be really rewarding and help you ski even harder.

Aggressive - You know those folks who get chased down by ski patrol for speeding? Those fall into the category of "aggressive" skiers. Aggressive skiers are charging the hill with speed, and ski powerfully through tight terrain.

Fast - When we describe skis as "fast," we typically mean they have a high speed limit, or none, because they're built with metal or are stiff and powerful.

Cruiser - Think of a beach cruiser bicycle: easy to turn, smooth riding, and as casual as a cucumber. Skis described as cruiser are similar. They don't require the best skill around and are pretty easy to ski.

Flex - A ski's "flex" refers to how rigid or bend-able it is. Stiffer flexes and softer flexes translate differently to snow to suit different ski abilities and styles.

Stiff - Stiff skis typically require more input to bend and drive or flex with your hand. While flex can give you some clues about how a ski will perform, it's important to remember that it's just one piece of the puzzle.

Soft - Softer skis are typically more forgiving and easier to bend. Often they're more poppy and playful, and less stable, than stiffer skis.

Freestyle - Frontside and all-mountain skis that are described as "freestyle" skis are suited for playful skiing. They're often symmetrical tip and tail and ski well switch. They're poppy and energetic and easy to spin or jib.

Freeride - Freeride skis have some similar qualities to freestyle skis, but they come in bigger packages. They are wider than 100mm underfoot and intended for powder chasing, cliff drops, backcountry booters, the type of skiing that turns big-mountain terrain into a playground. Some are burlier, some more playful, but all freeride skis are built for people who ski to feel free.

Sidecut - A ski's sidecut is, essentially, the extent to which it is shaped like an hourglass. The difference between the width and the tips and tails versus the waist width dictate sidecut. More sidecut generally means shorter, snappier turns. Skis with less sidecut generally want to make longer turns...or ski pow.

Radius - Picture this: You tip a ski on its edge and let it turn in a complete circle. This number is the radius of that circle. More sidecut means a tighter radius, which breeds quicker/tighter turns. A longer radius means, yep, longer turns. Strong skiers can make all types of skis with different radii do whatever they want; this number simply conveys what the ski will be most oriented to do.

Titanal - If you thought titanal was a weird word for titanium...you thought wrong! (But we understand). Rather, it's an aluminum alloy that makes skis more damp and stable. When we say skis have metal in them, we're almost always referring to titanal.

Carbon - When used in ski layups, carbon functions much like metal. It can provide stability, but at a much lighter weight than titanal. However, on its own, carbon can be twitchy/pingy/overly energetic. So, many skis that incorporate carbon do so to add stability and save weight, but they also incorporate other materials to mellow out the carbon.

Wood core - In its most basic form, a ski is a plank of wood. Wood comprises the cores of most skis on the market, and different kinds of wood lead to different ski characteristics. Eg: harder, stiffer woods make skis more stable while softer, lighter woods can make skis easier to use and more forgiving.

Sidewall - The sidewall is the area of the ski that runs vertically above the edge, essentially the "side" of the ski. Different materials can be used in the sidewall, but most commonly it's a strip of ABS plastic that forms a full or partial sidewall. Generally, full sidewalls tend to grip the snow better and provide more torsional rigidity than skis with partial or cap sidewalls.

Taper - The surfy look. Taper refers to when the widest point of the ski is moved closer to its center (further 'down' from the tips, further 'up' from the tails). Found in wider skis, it increases the skis' ability to pivot and smear. It also decreases effective edge.

Swing weight - There's no metric to convey swingweight. Rather, it refers to how heavy or light a ski feels at its tips. Skis with higher swing weights are more difficult to flick around or turn quickly, especially in tight terrain, than skis with low swing weights.

Hybrid or 50/50 - Hybrid or 50/50 skis are also commonly referred to as 'lightweight freeride skis.' They are built to handle resort skiing well but are also light enough to use for alpine touring.

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