Types of Snow Conditions for Skiing

Types of Snow Conditions for Skiing
One of the secrets of becoming an expert skier is to be able to handle all types of skiing conditions. While the steepness and the width of runs at your favorite resorts rarely change, chances are the snow conditions will.
The most common types of snow conditions are powder, crud, packed powder, hard-packed and ice. Each requires a special approach that is rooted in sound skiing techniques and proper choice of equipment. Here's everything you need to know about the different types of snow conditions you're likely to encounter.

Types of Snow Conditions

While every type of snow begins as a single water droplet, a number of things can affect it by the time it reaches the ground. Altitude, temperature, and other factors determine if the snow falls to the ground as light, powder snow or heavy "Sierra cement." After the snow has been on the ground, it can become "crud," "packed powder," "hard-packed" or "ice."


Powder Snow

What makes powder snow so enjoyable to ski is its low moisture content and structure. In the Rocky Mountains and other inland areas, the water content of powder snow can be as low as 5 to 7 percent. Each snowflake gently settles on top of other snowflakes. Contrast that with resorts that are located near the coasts, where the water content can be as high as 15 to 17 percent. High water content snowflakes are heavier, so they lock into other snowflakes, resulting in heavier snow.

Crud Snow

If powder snow is the ultimate skiing experience, then skiing crud is the bane of the recreational skier. Crud is the byproduct of skiers "cutting up" acres of untracked powder snow. Skiing crud is hard work. It means wrestling with your skis as they dive and shimmy through alternating snow consistencies. The snow can be light and fluffy one minute and heavy and firm the next. At resorts that groom their slopes, crud ultimately becomes "packed powder."

Packed Powder

Sometime during the life of a snowflake, it will be compressed, recycled and smoothed out into "packed powder." Packed powder snow is "groomed" using specially designed Snowcats to produce acres of flawless corduroy that's popular with baby boomer skiers. Packed powder runs are easy to ski and are perfect for producing "carved turns" on shaped skis. It also forms the "base" of most ski runs--the foundation for skiing the entire winter.

Ice and Hard-Packed Conditions

Once the weather turns warm, packed powder snow goes through a transition to heavier, denser snow called "ice" or "hard-packed" snow. Ice and hard-packed snow is formed over time as the relative water content of snow increases, coupled with the daily pressure of skiers' weight on the snow. Some resorts on the East Coast are famous for their "blue ice," or snow that you can literally see through. Ice is very difficult to ski and requires highly tuned skis with razor-sharp edges.


Article Written By Allen Smith

Allen Smith is an award-winning freelance writer living in Vail, Colo. He writes about health, fitness and outdoor sports. Smith has a master's degree in exercise physiology and an exercise specialist certification with the American College of Sports Medicine at San Diego State University.

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