A Guide to the Different Types of Snow

Know what you're skiing on.

Skiing in powder snow
Getty Images / mbbirdy

If you're an avid skier, it's important to know about the different types of snow--and there are a lot. This knowledge can help you interpret the latest ski reports. More importantly, it can help you become a better skier as you learn to recognize the challenges (and joys) that different snow types present.

Ball Bearings - Little firm balls of snow that form around or under skis.

Blue - Clear ice, the ground is visible underneath it.

Breakable Crust - Top is frozen solid but underneath there is soft powder.

Brown - Mud showing through, often during springtime.

Bulletproof - White, but so densely packed it is hard to carve into.

California Concrete - Heavy wet snow that is created by a Pacific storm.

Chokable - Powder that is so fine and deep you could choke on it.

Chop - Powder that has had several fresh trails carved through it, but few lumps.

Chowder - Heavy, wet, lumpy snow.

Colorado Super Chunk- Heavy, wet snow about two days after a spring storm.

Cornice - A formation of windblown snow, also known as an overhang, that is unstable and hard to see from the windward side.

Cauliflower - Snow found near the base of the snow gun, lumpy and ungroomed.

Champagne Powder - Snow with extremely low moisture content, often found out West.

Cold Smoke - The airy trail of powder that follows skiers in fresh powder.

Corduroy - The finely ridged surface of the snow after a snowcat has groomed a trail.

Corn - Wet and granular, as it melts during the day it may become sloppy and heavy.

Crud - Powder that has been heavily skied on and needs to be groomed.

Crust - Soft snow that has a frozen top layer caused by freezing rain or melting and refreezing.

Dust on Crust - A light covering of loose snow on top of the snow that has a hard, icy outer layer.

Freshie - Virgin new-fallen snow on the mountain found first thing in the morning.

Frozen Granular: Snow with a consistency like sugar.

Granular - Snow that has big flakes that resemble rock salt.

Grapple - Small hail or sleet that may be rounder and thicker than typical hail or sleet.

Hardpack Snow - Firm compressed snow that is almost icy.

Loose Granular  - Small, loose pellets of snow created by the grooming of wet or icy snow.

Mashed Potatoes - Lumpy, soft snow usually found in springtime.

Penitents - Tall blades of snow found at higher altitudes.

Pillow Drift- A snow drift across a road.

Poo Ice - Packed, dirty snow.

Pow-Pow or Pow-Fresh - Loose and fluffy powder.

Powder - Freshly fallen, extremely soft snow formed by tiny flakes. 

Packed Powder - Snow that is compressed and flattened either by ski traffic or by grooming equipment.

Salt on Formica - Looks and feels like loose white salt granules sliding on top of a hard surface.

Sierra Cement - Similar to mashed potato snow but cold, very heavy, wet, and often found in the Sierra Mountain range.

Slush - Snow that is starting to melt, very heavy and very wet.

Smud - Brown or muddy snow.

Snirt - Snow covered in dirt, most often during the spring months.

Snowdrift - Large piles of snow near walls or curbs formed by the wind.

Souffle Dure - Naturally packed, firm snow that occurs after a snowfall on a steep, north-facing gullies called couloir.

Styrofoam - Looks and feels like skiing on Styrofoam and sounds very hollow or empty.

Surface Hoar - Corn-flake shaped frost that forms on the surface of a snowpack on cold, clear nights.

Snow Grains - Very small, white, grains of ice.

Snow Pellets - A form of precipitation that is created when supercooled droplets of water collect and freeze on a snowflake.

Watermelon - A reddish/pink snow that smells like watermelon, caused by red-green algae.

Wet Granular: Very wet snow, often found in spring conditions, that packs easily.

Wet Powder - Powder that has been rained on, making it very fast and hard to ski on.

Wind Slab - A layer of stiff, hard snow created by deposition of wind-blown snow on the leeward side of a ridge. 

Yukimarimo- Balls of fine frost formed at low temperature in places like Antarctica during weak wind conditions.

Zastrugi - Snow surfaces created by wind blowing into ridges and grooves.