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Types of snow, help!
Posted: 18 January 2011 10:05 PM  
Total Posts:  2234
Joined  2003-10-24

I’m currently building PisteHors 3.0 and am looking for definitions of types of snow and what they mean for trip reports. Here is what I have currently. I’m looking for names and their definitions.

Crud - Snow that has been chopped up by other skiers
Corn - Transformed spring snow where the first inch or two has melted
Ice - What it says
Graupel - pellets of hard snow
Hardpack - Hard snow, steeper slopes require good technique to ski safely
Powder - Fresh snow that has fallen without wind
Heavy Powder
Hoar - Snowpack is made up of hoar crystals (TG Snow), either surface or depth (aka loud powder)
Surface crust - thin crust on other type of snow that is generally easy to ski
Breakable Crust - Crust that breaks under skier weight and is difficult to ski
Crust - Crust that generally carries skier weight
Windblown - Surface has been sculpted by the wind, generally hard to ski
Slab - Snow consolidated by the affects of wind etc
Slush - Melted snow

Does it make sense to give the total depth plus the “surface depth” - meuble in French. That is how far you can push your pole into the snow.

Posted: 19 January 2011 11:56 AM   [ # 1 ]  
Total Posts:  11
Joined  2010-12-30

Nope. I can’t think of any others apart from porridge/cement which I suppose could be considered “Heavy Powder” or “Slush”. Looks like you have them all covered.

Posted: 19 January 2011 12:14 PM   [ # 2 ]  
Jr. Member
Total Posts:  45
Joined  2010-01-22

How about “thin cover”. OK, not a type of snow but useful to indicate worn areas which may be skiable with care.
And although I realise the name of the site is PisteHors, but would you also want to cover man-made snow in your list?
What about very well skied snow that is skied out beyond crud - or is that hardpack?

Posted: 19 January 2011 01:18 PM   [ # 3 ]  
Total Posts:  2234
Joined  2003-10-24

Thanks for the feedback. Do the names seem correct? I really want people to be able to give an idea of the ski conditions. How about a “ski” rating from 1-5 (1 barely skiable crud to 5 perfect corn/pow)

Posted: 19 January 2011 03:02 PM   [ # 4 ]  
Sr. Member
Total Posts:  270
Joined  2008-01-31

I like the idea of surface depth (and learning a new meaning for meuble). Way better than “awesomely deep” - (How do I know what’s awesome for you?).

For me, “crud” isn’t necessarily about lots of ski tracks—could be slushy—often both. Seems to me the concept of “lots of ski tracks” deserves an unambiguous term of its own (with a 1-5 quantitative scale?)

“slab” strikes me as a more technical avalanche concept—a very important one, but not usually accurately observable by someone out on a ski tour. Since it’s about the possibility of a larger mass of the snowpack to move as a cohesive unit. Pretty difficult to determine from casual observations out on a ski tour (short of digging a pit, which I assume has a whole other set of technical words (in each language).

Some other trickiness:
“hardpack” and “corn” could be describing the same snowpack, but at different times of day or with different overnight refreeze conditions.

“skiability” strikes me as kinda tricky, and easily distorted by ego. Like I’m better than lots of backcountry tourers at skiing down (even enjoying) slushy track-up snow, but not so confident on steep hardpack.
I’m imagining a scenario where I read a “skiability” of 4 out 5 (or is it 10?), go to that place the next day and get pretty scared on a hardpack slope of taking a long slide down into old frozen debris. Then phoning the original reporter in the evening, and having him tell me, “You mean you found that scary—seemed like no problem to me.” What about hitting frozen debris? “Oh that wouldn’t have hurt you.” (Like he’s slid into stuff like that before).


Posted: 19 January 2011 07:48 PM   [ # 5 ]  
Sr. Member
Total Posts:  270
Joined  2008-01-31
davidof - 19 January 2011 01:18 PM

I really want people to be able to give an idea of the ski conditions.

Maybe thinking about different “dimensions” of different parts of the snowpack could be more helpful than finding a single word to cover the whole experience.

part A - soft layer (presumably on surface, but perhaps
could also describe underneath a surface crust)
1) surface depth (by ski pole) - (could be None).
2) type of softness: dry snow versus wet recent snow versus old corn
(perhaps add special snow types: graupel, surface hoar, etc)
3) lightness versus heaviness
4) ? stickiness? hitting underlying hard layer? etc.

part B - underlying (or surface) hard layer:
1) supportiveness / thickness—range from:
* None - no hard layer detectable.
* “zipper” crust - thin layer that is easily breakable
(not difficult to ski, but nicer if absent)
* breakable crust (in an inconsistent way difficult to ski)
* mostly supportive, sometimes breakable
* supportive (consistently)
* thick (could be expected to still be supportive even
after some melting on a warm day)
2) hardness / edge-ability—range from:
* soft-ish (with an even softer or rotten layer underneath)
* easy pleasant edging (recent sharpening not necessary)
* reliable edge-grip for a strong skier (with decently sharp skis)
* “icy” hardpack - tricky, inconsistent edge-grip even for a strong skier.
* exposed old neve : “alpine” ice from multiple seasons
* “water” ice : formed in current season by radical melt-refreeze
(very low air content, virtually impossible to edge with a ski)
3) ? etc ?

Z - overall snowpack:
1) variable versus uniform
2) smooth versus wind-erosion versus debris
3) exposure (thinking mainly of a sliding fall—this “dimension” would be a combination of slope steepness, surface hardness on this particular day, and consequences of what a sliding fall would hit or go over. Perhaps sort of like TopoNeige “exposition”, but applied with knowledge of the specific snowpack on this particular day).
4) ? etc ?

Overall seems complicated - (like actual ungroomed snow). Maybe too complicated for this purpose. Or maybe whoever is entering the report only selects those “dimensions” which seem relevant, and ignores the rest.

I’ve tried to stay with things which are reasonably observable by an amateur tourer (like me) without performing special procedures like digging a snow pit. (therefore nothing about “depth hoar"). Perhaps could add “amateur” observational dimensions which might be useful for avalanche forecasting (e.g. “surface hoar").


[ Edited: 19 January 2011 07:52 PM by KenR]
Posted: 20 January 2011 01:20 PM   [ # 6 ]  
Total Posts:  21
Joined  2010-02-04

What’s “packed powder”? Slightly windpacked powder or powder that has been tracked? If snow influenced by skiers is counted then at least moguls are missing from the list. Same goes for different types of avalanche debris (still soft/frozen, wet vs. dry avalanche).

[ Edited: 20 January 2011 01:26 PM by pierre]
Posted: 20 January 2011 02:19 PM   [ # 7 ]  
Total Posts:  26
Joined  2010-11-25

Silly question, but is this just so that terms used in TR’s can be standardised for those reading, or it there a more integrated use of them in the site, present or future?


Alpine skier, looking to start skinning.
Ski Reviews | Snowboard Reviews

Posted: 24 January 2011 10:39 PM   [ # 8 ]  
Total Posts:  55
Joined  2004-01-10

I think you have it sorted - keep it simple. Depth as suggested re meuble is good. Could graupel also refer to machine made snow? Today’s experience on trying to ski on a surface of breakable crust that wanted to saw your ankles off on a bed of rutted ice dictates too many expletives that would offend some readers.

Posted: 01 February 2011 10:20 PM   [ # 9 ]  
Total Posts:  4
Joined  2011-02-01

An addition to your “Windblown” definition could be Sastrugi, as it’s often known
Death-cookies, generally referring to icy chunks left behind by piste-groomers skiing inbound…

Slightly OT, but this link is to an amusing “100 eskimo words” for snow tongue rolleye

[ Edited: 01 February 2011 10:25 PM by geoffers]
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