Powdery, muddy or icy: Compact knowledge of the slopes: Nine types of snow

Powdery, muddy or icy: Compact knowledge of the slopes: Nine types of snow

Wet snow equals slush? Not exactly. And what does broken crust actually mean? A little snow knowledge clarifies.

Most winter sports enthusiasts know several terms for white on the slopes. After all, the enjoyment of a day’s skiing depends to a large extent on whether you seem to be floating through dusty deep snow as light as a feather or experience a hell of a ride on icy cracked crust.

So knowing the differences is useful.

1. Powder snow

Fine, dry, wonderfully light: powder snow is the dream of many skiers and snowboarders. It is formed when water binds to tiny dust particles at low temperatures and a lot of air is trapped in the delicate ice crystals. In the end, it makes up more than 90 percent of the entire snowflake.

Since the individual ice crystals in the powder snow hardly connect, you can’t even press them together into a snowball. They are blown off the windshield without wipers.

There is rarely powder snow in the Alps, but more often in the Rocky Mountains. In Canada and the USA, heli-skiing in British Columbia and Alaska regularly surfs through so-called champagne powder. Utah boasts the “Greatest Snow on Earth”.

But even in Japan people are proud of their powder. This is especially true for the island of Hokkaido in the north of the country, which attracts freeriders from all over the world to the “Japow”.

2. Cracked crust

If powder snow is heaven for winter sports enthusiasts, cracked crust is hell for many. Snow, also known as melt crust, is formed when the snow surface thaws due to solar radiation. At night it cools down and solidifies again.

The result is a crust of ice that obscures the soft snow beneath. The crust is usually completely unpredictable. If it remains stable between turns, it can suddenly collapse at the next bend. This makes driving in the cracked crust exhausting and a question of technique and strength.

3. Old snow

If fresh snow has had a few days to settle, it loses its fluffiness and acquires a smooth surface. The initially crystal-like structure acquires a firmer consistency through pressure and temperature changes. Old snow can come in different forms.

4. Sulz (wet snow)

If the old snow is very wet, it is called slush. It occurs, for example, in the warm midday and afternoon hours in spring. For some skiers, muddy slopes are a real pleasure, for others a reason to end the day’s skiing. Without the right technology, this subsoil really costs grains. Knowing how, it can also be enjoyed with a snowboard or wide skis.

5. Wet snow

This snow goes one step beyond Sulz. Water can be squeezed out simply by squeezing it in your hand – if that is necessary at all. Sometimes it just trickles out of the heavily soaked and heavy snow. Such snow is dreadful for skiers and is often a clear indication that the season will soon be over.

6. Cardboard Snow

If the snow is already a bit damp and heavy, but not really slushy, it is called cardboard snow. Very few can really do anything with it. It often settles in thick lumps on the underside of skis and snowboards. The driving experience is like fighting honey.

If you manage to increase the speed, the frictional resistance can usually be overcome. The corresponding ability is of course a prerequisite.

7. Snowdrift

Wind blown snow is caused by wind transport and can pose a significant risk in open terrain, especially from dry slab avalanches. Due to its irregular distribution, its occurrence cannot be determined exactly.

However, it is mostly found in leeward areas as well as in gullies and hollows. Snowdrift can also occur behind terrain edges. It is more common above the tree line than below. If you are really good at avalanche awareness, you can also see opportunities for great descents in the snowdrift.

8. Firn

In addition to powder snow, firn is the highest emotion for many pleasure skiers and the epitome of grandiose spring skiing. The individual grains of the snow, known in English as “Corn Snow” or “Spring Snow”, hang together in groups. However, it takes time for the perfect conditions to emerge.

Snow only turns into firn after a spring has lasted. During this time, it repeatedly becomes soaked and frozen and becomes very compact. Timing is crucial for playful driving pleasure: If you are too early in the morning, you will slide over frozen ground. If you’re late, you’re stuck in the mud. Over a period of several years, firn turns into glacial ice at high altitudes.

9. Artificial snow

As wonderful as natural snow is – in many places winter sports would simply no longer be possible without artificial support. The snow-making systems, referred to by many as “snow cannons”, have long been a familiar sight in ski areas.

In principle, the formation process of so-called technical snow does not differ too much from the natural variant. Small drops of water are frozen and turn into snow crystals.

However, they are round in shape – unlike their relatives with the hexagonal structure that trickle out of the clouds. This round shape gives them a higher density and makes them melt more slowly.

Artificial snow usually flows from round “propeller cannons”, but thin snow lances reminiscent of crooked lampposts can also be seen on the slopes. Artificial snow contains no chemical additives. However, a lot of water and energy is required for its production.

10: Bonus: Ice

Ski racing slopes have nothing to do with tourist slopes. They are near-vertical ice rinks purposely iced with water and salt, making them rock solid.

But of course there are also icy spots in ski areas. They occur, for example, when thawed snow freezes again, or in areas with heavy traffic. This makes drawing paths extremely demanding, especially for beginners. In glacier ski areas, the ice sheet occasionally comes to the surface.


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