backcountry skiing with the foothill freak

The Freaks'
Mostly Accurate
Ski Glossary


This page contains an introduction to the glossary. To see all the glossary terms, you must navigate by category from the list here or on the side bar:

On the massive cornice, my friend pointed excitedly. "Look. There's a pinhead!"

Pinhead? I'd never heard of a pin head before. And judging by this character before me, I had definitely never seen one before either. He was tall and lean, with a neat ponytail down to the small of his back, his chin buried behind a thick beard. Snow shedding red fabric was wrapped around the tops of his little leather boots up to his knees, and his thighs were coated in duct tape. His tattered goretex jacket looked around 10 years old, despite the fact that it was 1990 and goretex ski jackets had just been invented.

Suddenly, he pointed his long wobbly skis down the ridge and was off. Upon reaching top speed, he arched a smooth turn. He dropped his inside knee all the way to the ski, leaned his weight forward, and launched off the cornice, heartily soaring into the thin winter air.

I had no idea a human could survive such air time, much less subject themselves to it on purpose. And his incredibly skinny skis flapping about on the ends of his toes didn't look very helpful. I was pretty sure he had no intention of actually landing the jump, but while in the air he maintained excellent form . At the end of his 40 foot free fall, he completely cratered.

Rebounding quickly, beard white with snow, both arms shot up into the air and a triumphant "woooo hooooooo" bellowed forth. He promptly dug out a pole, righted his goggles, put a stray ski back on, and was off again. He descended the rest of the bowl while feverishly dropping a knee in each round turn. Then the first telemark skier I'd ever seen promptly dissappeared, leaving nothing but a trail of spindrift and a large legacy in his wake.

"So that's what a pinhead is." I thought. "I like pinheads!"

15 years later, I'm still learning new words that help explain this incredible sport of sliding on snow. Growing waves of newcomers, snow sliding super stars and ancient powder stash die-hards continue to add to this colorful language. Escalating feats of human endeavor as well as technological advances also fuel the need for new terms. And sitting on a chairlift for 9 minutes as well as hiking up a skin trail for hours continues to be the perfect incubator for creating new ways of talking about riding.

New technologies have helped snow sliders push the boundaries. The internet has become an incredible asset to the skiing community, allowing up to the minute trip reports, mountain cams, and even snow data that's free of resort marketing influence. This form of conversation also allows creative jargon to go from local slope to national awareness within seconds. Nothing is sacred in a conversation between snow riders, but creative story telling and lexicon usage can garner as much respect as impressive feats of riding.

But for every new voice that arrives to carry on the oral tradition of gliss, an old voice fades away. One evening, I discover an internet chat thread discussing the term "pinhead". The group's dialog starts off with someone asking what one is. Others join in, having no idea what the term means or where it comes from. Eventually someone explains how in days of old, tele bindings had pins that inserted into the toe of the boots, which were then clamped to the ski. Another in the forum reminisced about the skinny skis and the leather boots. Another the beard and the brown bag lunch. Slowly, from collective conscience, the fabled pinhead is recreated and the newbie gets the picture.

This is why the Freaktionary is here: to attempt to preserve this wonderfully diverse language. A dialectical time capsule, The Freaks' Mostly Accurate Ski Glossary is here to keep important terms like "gaper gap ", "poodle factor", and "the arlberg technique" alive and in circulation. It's also somewhat educational with origins and additional fascinating facts documented whenever possible.

Some of these words may be new to you. Others may be so ingrained that they seem like common knowledge. Read it, enjoy it, and use it to color some fables of your own.