Snow versus terrain

People often discuss ski properties and refer to the terrain they ski. Just about as often, though, it is assumed that a specific type of terrain means just as specific a type of snow that they (want to) ski. That’s where mismatches and disappointment are born.

Terrain and snow

Terrain can be steep, bumpy, tight, wide open, flat, long rollers, winding narrow couloirs, and many more things. Snow can be icy, packed, perfect corduroy, refrozen slush, actual wet slush, mashed potatoes, wet powder with a groomer underneath, heavy lumpy powder, fluffy powder on top of old bumps, soft heaps on an icy surface, scraped-off old stuff with rocks coming through…

My point: terrain features and snow properties are two separate things. Yes, they may occur in certain combinations more often than in others. But they are two separate variables when it comes to translating them into ski attributes of something that a to-be-selected ski should be good at. 

Off-piste and powder

Here in Europe, most people go off-piste (outside the marked runs) to find untracked powder. But it is not a given that you’re going to find powder off the marked runs. If it hasn’t snowed in a while, actual powder can be hard to find. Sounds obvious enough, right?

Then why do people take there 115 wide powder skis off-piste in these non-powder off-piste conditions, when they have a pair of perfectly good 95 mm almountain skis in their basement as well? Is it wishful thinking, habit, or just thinking about the fact that it’s off-piste more than about the snow they’re likely to encounter instead?

It works the other way around as well. The best use of my powder skis has actually been on-piste. Well within the marked runs of the resort, below the treeline (for visibility reasons mostly), but in a series of huge powder dumps. Nothing off-piste about them, but they were the best powder runs I ever done. And like I said, the best use of my powder skis. 


My point is not just to get the skis for the snow you will be skiing. It is to separate different factors and variables in the preconceptions that we have, in this case, terrain and snow properties.

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