Five for Friday: Ski Language

Thumbnail image for gnar.jpgYou may have noticed that the blog has been a bit sparse lately. There are two explanations: 1) We are in a period of transition between interns, who do the bulk of the writing. 2) Last week I was on vacation!

Taking vacations is a very geographic pursuit, of course, and I always try to turn my personal experiences into “teachable moments,” as you may recall from previous blog posts on my trips to the UK, the BioBlitz, etc.

So, last week, I journeyed out West to visit a friend in Vail, Colorado–arguably the ski capital of the U.S. This friend, an ardent MWW supporter, is an East Coast native who had never put on a pair of skis before moving to mountain country.

You can imagine my surprise, and my delight, to discover that this friend had completely assimilated into a whole new culture at 8,000 feet above sea level, complete with a distinct lingo. I’m serious: there were points during conversations among Vail residents when I could barely follow the dialogue. So, like any good ethnographer, I asked what must have seemed like an incessant number of questions and took notes on this curious new ski-nation dialect. Below, five new additions to my vocabulary:

1. gnarly (adjective)
Used to describe anything really far out and amazing; an extraordinary stunt, or event. Also, onomatopoeia.

Use it in a sentence: “That was/is SO gnarly!”
*the root “gnar” can also be used as a noun–see below.

[definition adapted from the Urban Dictionary]

2. shred (verb)
To skate, ski, snowboard, surf or BMX (bicycle motorcross, a la former intern Cameron) aggressively.

Use it in a sentence: Tim totally shredded that last run. “SHRED IT!” – vocalized as an encouragement.

[definition adapted from the Urban Dictionary]

Put ’em together =
 “shred the gnar”

Dude [can apply to a guy or gal], let’s go shred the gnar!
Bro [short for “brother,” but meaning a friend], I can’t.
Last gnar session I tweaked my dome [bumped my head].
Bummer [shame].

3. champagne pow pow (noun)
Very dry snow, which is often so light that it can’t be made into a snowball.

Note: Pow pow is short for “powder.” Champagne pow pow is definitely a
mountain-state phenomenon; we rarely get this type of snow in the
Northeast where I grew up. Instead, we tend to get dense, wet snow and
bulletproof snow:

bulletproof (boilerplate)
 Hard, icy snow that could quite possibly ricochet bullets

Chopped-up powder.

I can hardly envision what this looks like–it’s also largely absent from the East Coast. But we do like a good clam chowder…

4. jib (verb)
To slide/ski down anything other than snow, e.g. rails, boxes, caution signs, and other features around the mountain.

[Definition adapted from Denver Examiner Article]

5. aprés ski (noun)
Literally ‘After Ski’. The end of the day chill-out session used to
celebrate another great day on the slopes. Typically involves
consumption of food and libations. [Some people prefer this to actually

I had to include this term for its obvious European influence. Vail,
and some other western ski resorts, are designed to evoke European
alpine villages, unlike any East Coast ski resorts I have visited. An
interesting play on geographic associations.

[Definition adapted from Denver Examiner article] 

Vail, and “ski nation,” are not unique among regions and hobbies in
having their own terminology and slang words. In fact, next week, I’m
headed to the National Council for Geographic Education conference in Puerto Rico, with its distinct brand of Spanish.

What are terms that you hear in your neck of the woods or among participants of your favorite sport/hobby?

Sarah Jane for My Wonderful World

Image courtesy

One thought on “Five for Friday: Ski Language

  1. hi,Sorry to borthering you, I am an editor of my school paper in Beijing Univercity. we are doing the subject named Skiing towns in the foreign countrys. So we googled out your blog named Five for Friday: Ski Language. And your pictures and articles are amazing. Could you please offering us some more photos? we hope the DIP of the photos would at least be 300.; . both of these e-mail adress are available. We will really appreciate if you could send us the pictures about your skiing trip as soon as possible.
    Because of our paper are nonprofit, we couldn’t pay for the photos. Thank you for taking your time.

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