Mountain Lingo: A Crash Course
The most important thing visiting Whistler is just being in the mountains. That reconnection is primal, and key – feeling small, inhaling nature, relinquishing control.
Next, it’s imperative to have fun. It doesn’t matter if you’re ass-sliding the bunny hill or switch straight-lining an untracked chute, the fun creates the freedom.
Beyond that, style begins to come into play. Not so much how you look but how you move. In the mountains, style is about making something extremely difficult look as effortless as possible – smooth turns, tweaked grabs, easy flow. Style is hard to teach and takes a lifetime to hone; as such, there is no cheat sheet for style.
But there is a cheat sheet for mountain lingo which will increase your verbal style at least. Formed over the centuries and carried around the globe by epic storms and those who chase them, ski town vernacular is a mix of inventive and traditional, unique and universal.
Skiing and snowboarding are individual sports, there’s no competition to ride harder than or like anyone but yourself, but you may as well talk the talk. The good news is you’re really only around other people a fraction of the time – lift lines, chair rides, après – so a little extra mountain lingo goes a long way.
Your Mountain Lingo Cheat Sheet
Blower: One of the many words for snow. Mountain dwellers have dozens of words to describe almost as many varieties of snow. The trick is to let your ear guide you: if the word sounds appealing, the snow will be good (Less so if it’s referred to as “elephant snot.”)
Below is a snow quality index from 1-5 (5 is best) with some corresponding mountain lingo for snow:
- Chunder, slop, elephant snot, concrete, rain, death cookies, sludge, mashed potatoes
- Hard-packed, crud, dust on crust, hail, bulletproof, wind-loaded
- Tracked, soft-packed, chowder
- Sugar, corduroy, corn, butter, cream, velvet
- Blower, champagne, bottomless, cold smoke, pow
Shred: Riding or skiing hard and well, preferably in deep pow. Also: Carve, rip
Sick: Good, or better than good (but not epic.) Today’s gonna be sick, rip it up! Also: Sickter, gnarly, gnarbone, burly, serious, rad, badass, awesome, bitchin’, fun
Epic: Can mean anything except what it actually means. Also: All-time
Footy: Mountain lingo for useable film or video shots. “Hey bro, you get any footy today in the backcountry?”
Kodak Courage: When someone is inspired to push themselves well beyond their comfort zone due to the presence of cameras or filmers; generally not a good thing.
Freshies: Fresh tracks, a line in untracked snow. “I got freshies top to bottom on Blackcomb.”
Gondy: A gondola, usually prefaced with a location “Meet ya’ at the Creekside Gondy at 7:30 a.m.”
Bluebird: A blue sky day. “Let’s go home early, it’s gonna be bluebird tomorrow.”
Milkbird: A slightly hazy milky-sky day “It was total milkbird, but we still got some good footy.”
Greybird: Totally overcast. Offers flat lighting making it impossible to see where you are going in the alpine. “We sessioned the trees all day ‘cause it was super greybird.”
Madonna Bird: A ‘True Blue’ day, not a cloud in the sky. “Oh man, today was totally Madonna Bird. So sickter. We killed it.”
Socked In: When the mountain is surrounded by clouds. Visibility is out of the question. “We got socked in around one o’clock.
Glory Hole: A patch of blue sky and good light amidst an otherwise cloudy day. “A glory hole opened up right when we got to the top of West Cirque. It was all-time.”
Boot Deep: Fresh snow that is deeper than the tops of your boots. Or at least it should be, but exaggeration means this is usually only as deep as half your boots.
Knee Deep: Fresh pow as deep as the tops of your boots.
Balls Deep: Slightly less deep than waist deep.
Tits Deep: The person you are talking to either had a really good day, or is drunk.
Cennies: Centimetres, the way of measuring that is not inches. “Forty cennies of fresh and you expect me to show up for work? Sorry bro.”
White Room: The moment in a pow turn when the snow totally envelops you, and you can see only white. “Dude, I found a patch of balls-deep at the bottom there, total white room.”
Huck: To catch air (usually large) off a jump or cliff. Overcoming the nerves associated with serious hucking often requires a mind/body disconnect wherein the hucker often refers to themselves in third person and as an object, usually as “meat” or “my carcass.” “Let’s go huck our meat off Air Jordan.”
Air Jordan: Whistler Mountain’s most famous cliff, visible from the Peak Chair line-up named after local skier Jordan Williams, who first hucked the big double-drop cliff in 1985 on a pair of 210 GS skis.
Kicker: A jump, also: booter. “Let’s go session a kicker and work on our 3’s.”
* 3’s, 5’s, 7’s, 9’s – short for the rotations of tricks: 360, 540, 720, 900 degrees
Yard sale: Mountain lingo for a crash or wipe out where one’s gear, typically including goggles, gloves, poles skis – is lost and scattered all over the slope. “Sorry, I’m late. I stopped to help this kid collect her stuff. Total yard sale.”
Slackcountry: A misnomer. Often used to describe the backcountry directly adjacent to the ski hill. Be wary, there is nothing “slack” about backcountry terrain, anywhere. Underestimating the mountains is dangerous. Whenever you leave the resort boundaries, you are in the backcountry, even if you access the backcountry from the resort.
Dude 1: “Wanna go hit some slackcountry lines after lunch? It looks epic up there.”
Dude 2: “Uh, no thanks man. And you shouldn’t go either. You don’t have a shovel or any rescue gear.”
Poser: One who tries too hard to get noticed. “That poser just tried to get me to head out into the backcountry with no gear.”
Tree Well: A depression or void area of loosely packed snow at the base of big trees that is impossible to get out of, similar to quicksand. These suck and can totally kill you so always ski or ride with a buddy when you’re in the trees.
Quiver: The variety of skis or boards one possesses, specialized for different uses, conditions. “The Splitboard is the last piece I need for the perfect quiver.”
Après: French word for “after”, short for “après-ski” the gathering of everyone at the base of the mountains to share food and drink while revelling in the glory and stories from the day on the hill. Generally considered the greatest time verb. “Après at the Longhorn is going off right now.”
Ham-boned: Drunk: Also known as hammered/shitfaced/wasted/tuned. “Closed down the bar in my ski boots bro, I got so ham-boned last night!”
Coug: Short for Cougar, an older lady who preys on young riders. Often leaping out from behind a speaker in the bar. A cougar usually wears clothing made for two generations younger than her age and extra tight.
Dude 1: “How was your weekend?”
Dude 2: “Bagged two cougs at the same time!”
Dude 1: “Epic.”
Rooster: Older dude still wearing his ski boots, lurking around at midnight and trying to pick up.
Chick 1: “Ugh, that rooster totally rubbed up against me.”
Chick 2: “It looks like he was just falling over…”
Bro: Any dude.
Dude: Any bro.
Chick: Any woman.
Scooch Leg: A snowboarding term meaning fatigue or sore, caused by excessive “scootching” forward on flats or slightly uphill slopes. “Dude, Burnt Stew is Sick but I got total scooch leg getting out of there.”
Gorby: Smug term for inexperienced skier or one who rides in an oblivious manner. This one is universal to nearly all ski towns and seems to originate in the 1980s as an abbreviation for “Geeks On Rental Boards.” “Lot of Gorbies up there today but the snow is good.”
Gaper: This term is relatively new and thus still evolving. A “gaper” seems to have originated as another term for “gorby”. More recently however, the Gaper has become a more ironic, hipper version. A gorby on purpose, dressed with a knowing wink and out ripping with the reckless abandon generally displayed by tourists. Check out their style in our Guide to Spring Skiing Attire.
Note: There is one visual style tip worth noting actually – if fitting in with the locals is a goal, ensure there is no forehead showing between the tops of your goggles and the bottom of the toque (aka beanie) or helmet. Any space created between your goggles and toque or helmet is known as the ‘Gorby Gap’ and is extremely undesirable.
Shots: Can be shots of liquor in the bar, faceshots of powder on the hill, or photos/video (footy) captured by a photographer/videographer. “It was faceshots all the way down, so sick. And we got four usable shots in the afternoon for the movie. Let’s celebrate! Six more shots of Jack!”
Going Underground: Mountain lingo for entering a Whistler Nightclub (with the intent to party). Whistler’s nightclubs are almost exclusively located in basements (Buffalo Bills has windows but you still go down stairs to get there). “Uh, hi. Where are we? What time is it? Oh my god, I promised myself I wouldn’t go underground last night…. Can I borrow three bucks for the bus?”
And the list could go on forever. The digital age is evolving language almost as fast as anyone can understand it but, at the same time, communication is key in the mountains and if a word works, it can last for generations. So brush up on your mountain lingo and we’ll see you on the slopes tomorrow. The forecast is calling for clear skies and 15 cennies of fresh. Get some!
Feature Image: Abby Cooper