Glossary of Terms

Being new to the outdoor world can sometimes feel like learning a new language. Here are some common words used in the outdoors and their respective definitions. Can't find a definition you're looking for? Reach out to me on my About page, and I'll add it!

AIARE - The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education. Provides standardized avalanche education for professionals and recreationalists, among other avalanche related services.

Apron - A term used to describe the lower part of a couloir or a rock monolith. This is often the lower angled, more fanned out part of the area.

Aspect - The direction that a slope is facing. For example, when you're climbing the South Spur of Mt. Adams, you're climbing on the South Aspect.

Avalanche Beacon or "Beacon" - A device that winter recreationalists carry that sends out a signal that other beacons pick up. This is handy if you get buried in an avalanche.

Bergschrund - The very top of a Glacier that separates from the rest of the snowpack leaving a large gap that is often hard to cross. While this can occur on non-glaciated slopes as well, they aren't technically bergschrunds, but are often referenced as such.

Beta - Climberspeak for information. Because, ya know, climbers need to feel special by having fancy words ;)

CBS - Cold Butt Syndrome. Butts just kinda get cold sometimes. This often occurs in people who have a higher precentage of body fat in their butts. No shame here peeps, as the great Lizzo says, "Thick thighs save lives". Also, down skirts do indeed have a function, peeps.

Chunder - blocky, usually hard and icy crud that is often found at the apron of a couloir or avalanche path. Usually very hard to ski well.

Couloir - gullies that run down mountain slopes. Often, they are narrow with rock faces on either side, but they can be quite wide as well. Generally, they are great fun as a ski objective.

Cornice - A snow formation that occurs on mountain ridges. The snow builds up on the leeward side, and when warming occurs, will fall down slope.

Crevasse - Large cracks that form in glaciers often on slope convexities.

DNF - Runner-speak for Did Not Finish. Generally applied when not completing an official race, but can be applied to not completing a goal as well.

Dry Glacier - This occurs when the winter snowpack completely melts out on a glacier and only the glacial ice remains. It is convenient because there are no hidden crevasses. Not very common for the PNW, however.

Névé - Firm snow that has not turned to ice. This usually is described as having a "styrofoam" feel to it. Great for kicking steps up a steep slope.

NWAC - Northwest Avalanche Center. Compiles avalanche and snowpack information throughought the winter for the Northwest region of the United States.

Penitentes - Snow formation that looks like a field of sharply pointed snow. These often form on high altitude flat surfaces (i.e. Rainier's crater), and look like priests in hoods "paying penance", hence their name.

Propagation - When a weak layer in a snowy slope breaks simultaneously. Often seen as "shooting cracks" that spread out when weight is put on the slope. Not a good sign for avalanche stability.

PNW - Pacific Northwest region of the United States of America! Only the best.

Runnel - Often caused by rain and often called "rain runnels". This is when large rain events happen and cause rain to pool and run down a snow slope, leaving streaks and ridges down the slope.

Sastrugi - A snow formation that occurs when wind blows across a surface and creates ridge-like ripples. Can be tricky to ski if it is very firm.

Serac - A large area prone to icefall on a glacier. These are often found at the end of a glacier, or if the glacier has calved in half.

Sun Crust - This forms when a slope gets melted out by the sun, and then refreezes at night. Difficult to ski on if it breaks under your weight.

Sidehilling - When you're traversing across a slope, and the skintrack is generally angled so that one leg does a majority of the work. In most cases, one leg is a little higher than the other.

Ski Cut - When you have done your do-diligence and feel confident about the snow stability, but want to do one last check before you enter a zone (typically a couloir). The skier travels quickly across the top of a slope to a safe zone to see if anything triggers.

Skiers / Climbers Left or Right - When someone says "skier's left", they mean facing left while looking downhill,. "Climber's left" is implying that you're looking uphill.

Skinning - This is when backcountry skiers go uphill on their skis. They strap a fuzzy fabric called "skins" on the bottom of their skis, and these grip the snow to go up. Originally skins were made up of animal skins, but nowadays it is largely a mix of nylon and mohair.

Sluff - Loose snow either wet or dry, that falls downhill when initiated by a trigger. Often this trigger is a skier, and often it is inconsequential, though can cause problems if it builds enough to push a skier.

Snow Bridge - This forms when the winter snowpack builds over crevasses and provides ways for climbers to cross the crevasse on the snow. Beware though, they do melt out in the summer!

Snowpit - A pit dug deep in to the snow used to evaluate the layers of the snowpack. There are multiple tests that can be done to test the stability of a snowpack by using a snowpit.

Traverse - When one travels sideways along a slope or ridge. This can be climbing, skiing, running, hiking, etc.

Type 2 Fun - When something isn't enjoyable while you're doing it, but is enjoyable looking back on it. Type 1 is when it is fun all throughout.

Whippet - a ski pole that has an ice axe head attached to the top. This makes it so that you can ski down a slope with poles, but you have an axe head in case you fall down the slope.

Wind Skin - Little chunks of wind slab that break off on the skintrack or descent. These sometimes aren't a concern if they don't propagate, but are a piece in the puzzle of figuring out the snowpack. This is sometimes mistaken for a sun crust, which feels similar but forms differently and has different consequences.