The pow-pow: Snow, by any other name, is not the same
All the important terms to know for your Lake Tahoe winter activities
For many in Tahoe, snow is everything. Residents shovel it, companies plow it, skiers play on it, resorts depend on it.
The phone book lists 86 snow removal companies, 39 snowboard shops, 26 snowmobile stores and 80 ski shops. Tahoe is speckled with 11 ski resorts, attracting millions of visitors a year and the winter activities in Lake Tahoe are abundant.
So it’s no wonder we have a few more names for snow than the regular American.
For instance, how many people in Texas would understand you if you said: “It’s dumping chicken feathers out there”?
What about “That pow-pow snow is sick”!
Or it’s “puking” on the mountain?
How about if you told them you just got “deep powder,” “big air,” or “sweet freshies,” or that you “dropped some sick lines”?
Snow – how much and what kind – can make a big difference in our lives.
“It makes a happy day or a sad day,” said Myles Hallen, a professional snowboarder on Sierra-at-Tahoe’s snowboarding team. “It doesn’t need to be happening all the time, just once or twice a week is fine, and the rest could be bluebird.”
Hallen, who won the U.S. Snowboarding Open in 1999, now has a 2-year-old son, Preston, who “shreds,” he said.
Our reality and our language are deeply intertwined, according to linguistic theory, said Scott Lukas, chair of the anthropology and sociology department at Lake Tahoe Community College.
When you live in, work in or play in snow, you know the lingo. From pow pow snow to handpack, it all makes sense to the locals on a snow day. This is because when your reality means knowing just how thick, how soft, how deep, how fluffy the snow is, you come up with words that will help you communicate that.
“Some of it is built in with the snow culture here,” Lukas said. “Their vocabulary is reflective of that reality. When they are out on the hills, there’s an intimacy they have with that environment.”
Erik Roggeveen, 29, the manager of terrain parks at Squaw Valley, says understanding snow is a crucial part of his life.
“It’s very essential, you need to understand the break down from winter crystals to spring slush,” Roggeveen said. “There are so many intricacies about snow. It’s one of the most beautiful things on the planet. I love being in it, around it, working in it.”
Then there are the scientists who measure the snow, gauging water content and scrutinizing snow crystals.
About 75 percent of the Western U.S. population depends on melting snow for its drinking water, according to Kelly Redmond, a climatologist with Desert Research Institute.
“We’ve talked about this whole thing of Eskimos having 31 names for snow,” Redmond said. “If you live in a dry climate, you probably have 31 names for drought. When you are constantly faced with something, each instance matters.”
The, consider how those who actively participate in Lake Tahoe winter sports feel after a big snow. Most skiers and boarders waking up after a stormy night do one thing first: look out the window. The second: check the snow phone or log on to the resort Web site. The big question: How deep?
Ski resorts are “all over the map” in the way they measure their snow, Hallen said. The measurement is taken when the snow falls onto a board and is then wiped off. Hallen was unsure how many followed scientific standard.
“There is a standard for measuring snow that you can’t measure it more often than every six hours,” Redmond said. “Because the more often you measure it, the more you get.”
Tahoe snow lingo:
bluebird: clear blue sky after a storm, implies lots of fun
powder: light, dry snow, considered the best kind by many
pow, or pow pow snow: powder
freshies: the fun of untracked powder
chicken feathers: large snowflakes
skier-packed powder: debatable term resorts give to snow days after the storm, not yet wet or icy, still chalky
corn: melted and refrozen snow, it’s shaped like corn. For many a close second to powder. Corn comes in spring.
Sierra cement: hard, wet snow
mashed potatoes: wet, thick snow
mung: even thicker, heavier, wetter
hardpack: packed down hard
breakable crust: thin icy top layer that melted during the day and refroze overnight
dust on crust: when it snowed a little on the crust
mush: watery snow
slush: even more watery snow
hoarfrost: water vapor that froze on top the snow, has unique rectangle-shaped crystals
plaster: wet snow that makes a good base, clings to the mountain
boiler plate ice: speaks for itself
Snow falling: all mean it’s coming down hard
other unprintable terms
carving: skiing or boarding on the metal edge of your gear, usually makes a long, beautiful curving arc
shredding: impressively coming down the mountain with zeal
ripping: similar to shredding
Pierre: skiing like a man on a synchronized French ski team
gaping it: losing control of your style, or not having any in the first place
busting pow: skiing or riding powder
boosting air: jumping off bumpy features like rocks
dropping lines: putting your own lines in fresh snow
schralping powder: having a good time
powder shots: getting fresh powder
face shots: powder hitting your face, flying over your head
face plant: falling and landing on your face, usually kind of hurts
boning it out or tweeking: grabbing at your board during a jump, contorting your body
steezin: overdramatized style of riding
booter: a jump
flair: bandanas and random outfit decoration, tends to get caught on chair lifts if you have too many
ski porn: movies that get you excited to go play in the snow
face rats: Heavenly’s mogul skiers on Gunbarrel
bro: a buddy
bro-bra: an attitude, overly cool and confident
rooster tail: plume of snow shot out while carving
whiteout: unable to see through the snow
avy control: bombing the hillside for avalanche danger
firn: precursor to glacier ice, compacted snow
rime: a coating formed on a snow crystal when it falls through water vapor
graupel: like hail but softer
Types of snow crystals:
Bullets, plates, cylinders, dendrites, needles, hollow columns, solid prisms, sectored plates, thin plates, solid plates
Originally published in the December 14, 2005 issue of the Tahoe Daily Tribune and regularly vetted for accuracy.