There's a whole spectrum of snow conditions skiers will potentially find waiting for them up on the slopes, ranging from powder all the way to ice. The former is greatly preferred, since the icier and choppier the conditions, the more difficult and dangerous the skiing. Lots of factors affect snow conditions, including snowfall, temperature, altitude and ski traffic. A basic rundown of the various quality levels of ski area snow include:
- Powder: This is recently fallen snow that has a soft smooth surface. Pristine powder is greatly prized among skiers and snowboarders because it makes trying new tricks easier, and provides more cushiony landings should the stunts backfire. Fresh powder also facilitates cleaner turns and faster speeds.
- Crud: As more people cruise through an area of fresh powder, it eventually turns into what's charmingly known as crud. Crud is characterized by crisscrossing areas of tightly crunched snow amid pockets of remaining powder.
- Crust: Crust is one step down from crud. Changing temperatures force the uppermost layer of the snow to melt and refreeze, usually causing a brittle crunchy surface to form on top of softer underlying snow.
- Slush: If the sun's shining and skiers are starting to grow warm enough to peel off their heavy winter jackets, chances are you may see some slush in the course of the day as the snow begins to melt in spots. Slush is heavy and wet, which makes maneuvering on skis a bit of a hassle, but it's still not as bad as the worst snow condition.
- Ice: Ice (or, to be more technical, snow that has melted and refrozen numerous times) takes the cake as the least popular remnant of precipitation you can have hanging around on a ski slope. Ice is hard and slippery, which makes it eminently difficult to ski properly and more than a little painful when you fail.