Know your snow: More than a few terms fly around when you talk about snow in Summit County
It’s a bit odd to think about how important snow has been for much of my career.
As a teacher at Detroit Public Schools, anytime a snowstorm was forecast for the area, we educators would flush ice cubes down the toilet, wear our pajamas inside-out and sleep with a spoon under our pillows in the hopes of currying the favor of whatever power controlled the weather between Telegraph Road and Lake St. Clair.
Every teacher I knew across the district shared in this tradition, and I came to understand that the only people who wanted a snow day more than students were the teachers.
Snow is even more important in Summit County, and I’ve learned more than a few terms that locals use to talk about it. Consider the following glossary to be the start of what could be a full dictionary unto itself.
Pow: While most of this list will be in alphabetical order, you really need to start with pow. Short for powder, pow comes in a variety of types. A few variants include:
- Fresh pow: Undisturbed, newly fallen, fluffy snow ready to be carved through.
- Packed pow: Several packed-down layers of fresh powder. Your typical ski area base.
- Loud pow: A light, crystalline snow that makes a sound almost like you’re skiing through a pile of tiny diamonds (at least in my imagination).
- Hot pow: Fresh spring powder that, if caught at the right time, can provide great turns with the benefit of warmer weather on the mountain.
Champagne powder: Really light, fluffy, dry snow that’s excellent for skiing. The flakes have a much lower water content than standard snow, meaning you can’t make a snowball out of it. The now-trademarked term was coined by a Steamboat Springs rancher who said it tickled his nose like Champagne as he skied.
Chop: Fresh powder that’s had a few runs down it. Not bad, but it may be a bit bumpy in spots.
Chunder: Austyn Dineen, the public relations director for the Breckenridge Tourism Office, describes chunder as “chewed up powder.” It’s soft and defined by the “chundery” feel you encounter as you plow through it.
Cold smoke: The wispy trails of snow that follow behind skiers and boarded while they’re carving fresh powder.
Cord: Short for corduroy, this describes the wavy pleats of a freshly groomed trail that is ready for fast, easy carving.
Corn: High Country slopes can see some of the best and worst conditions for skiing late in the season. Corn would be in the latter category as it’s been through a few freeze-thaw cycles and is more grainy than powdery.
Crud: Uneven snow that can develop after several people carve up powder, leading to several snow types combining in rapid succession going down a run.
Death cookie: A big chunk of ice or compacted snow.
Dust on crust: A light dusting of snow that covers up a firm, icy surface underneath. This can lead to some deceptive conditions for a novice skier not expecting a firmer base below the light layer of powder.
Free refills: Not technically a snow type, this is the weather conditions where it’s snowing hard enough to cover your tracks between runs, allowing you to carve a new line by the time you catch a lift back to the top. Dineen calls this “the holy grail of ski conditions.”
Mashed potatoes: Dineen says if you wait too long, hot pow in spring can quickly turn into mashed potatoes. The snow is just like it sounds: thicker, wetter stuff that tends to get a little sloppy as you slush down the slopes.
Steven Josephson is the arts and entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News.
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