Snow & Conditions


Photo courtesy Alta Resort, Utah

Frozen granular, packed powder, packed granular…what’s it all mean? We hear this mumbo-jumbo in ski area snow reports, and we know the difference between powder and granular, but how about the rest of this snowspeak? Here it is, skiers…the conditions are listed alphabetically, along with the abbreviation you would normally see in a newspaper or resort report. We then describe the conditions in ways you’re familiar with — whether it will support a ski pole, whether your skis sink in, boots sink in, etc. — and then we follow that with a 1-10 rating for the condition generally; 1 being unskiable, 10 being a deep dry untracked Alta powder.

Average Base

Mid range of the stated base (see below). At some ski areas, the depth is measured at mid mountain, and this is reported as the average.


The low and high estimated range of total natural and snowmaking base depths on trails that are open. This is stated as a range in inches.

Corn (corn)

Corn snow, usually found in the spring, is identified by large, semi-loose granules during the day which freeze together at night, and then loosen again during the day, but still have enough adhesion to make the skiing easy. Once corn loses its adhesion, it becomes LSGR, which is no fun at all. Some ski resorts report sloppy spring conditions as corn. Note that true corn will support a planted ski pole, and your ski boots won’t noticeably sink. Ease of skiing: varies between 4 – 6

Frozen Granular (FG)

Frozen granular is a hard surface of old snow formed by granules freezing together after a rain or warm temperatures. It is generally grayish in color. Frozen granular surfaces can vary widely, but generally, all FG surfaces will support a ski pole stuck into the surface. FG can be regroomed without forming ice chips. It can be pleasurable to ski on, depends on temperature. If you can’t stab a ski pole into it, or if the ski pole won’t stand up, it’s not FG. Ease of skiing: varies greatly between 4 – 8

Hard Pack (HP)

When snow becomes very firmly packed. Like Frozen Granular, you can plant a pole in Hard Pack with some effort. But unlike FG, HP is white in color. HP has not melted and re-crystallized, it is tightly packed via grooming and/or continuous wind. Your ski boots will not punch into HP. Ease of skiing: varies between 5 – 7

Ice (I or Icy)

Ice is a hard, translucent, glazed surface created either by freezing rain, frozen ground water, or by melting and re-freezing. Don’t confuse ice with frozen granular (FG); FG is opaque whereas I is translucent. Ease of skiing: 1 – 3

Loose Granular (LSGR)

Snow thaws, then refreezes and re-crystalizes as granules that do not cling together. LSGR is frequently the result of an accumulation of sleet. This is also created by machine grooming of frozen or icy snow. Has no form or body; will not support a pole planted into it. Sometimes referred to as “that loose snow cone stuff” and it is probably the toughest surface to ski on. When slopes are a combination of Ice and Loose Granular, the skiers opt for the ice. Ease of skiing: varies between 1 – 2

Machine Groomed Granular (MGG)

Loose granular that has been repeatedly groomed so that it is somewhat more packed and allegedly more skiable than LSGR. Created after a thaw and re-freeze when the resort operator mashes the heck out of the snow with grooming equipment over and over. If it supports a ski pole, it’s ok. Otherwise, it’s troublesome. Ease of skiing: varies between 3 – 6

Man Made Granular (MMG)

Same as Machine Groomed Granular immediately above, saying that it has been pulverized by man into its present form.

Packed Powder (PP)

A dry snow, either natural or machine-made, that has been packed down by skiing or grooming. The snow is no longer fluffy, but it is not hard. It will support a ski pole, although sometimes the pole might fall. Your skis will not generally sink into PP, but your ski boots usually will to some extent. Ease of skiing: varies between 7 – 10

Primary Surface

Stated when there are conditions you can expect on at least 70 percent of the terrain.

Rotten Snow

This is a non-standard term generally used during a spring skiing or a severe thaw. It refers to warm, rain-saturated snow. In many cases the ski area waits for the water to “drain” out of the snow before grooming or opening a slope.

Secondary Surface

Conditions you can expect on at least 20 percent of the terrain, or stated when even a very small amount of adverse conditions may negatively impact the skiing, such as ice or thin cover.

Variable Conditions (VC)

No primary surface (at least 70%) can be determined as one specific surface condition, VC is used to describe a range of surfaces that can be encountered. Unfortunately many ski areas report VC in lieu of a much less desirable condition such as I or LSGR. Ease of skiing: 4 – 6

Wet Granular Snow (WETGR)

Loose or frozen granular snow which has become wet after rainfall or high temperatures. This usually results from rainy days or a thaw, and is generally easy to ski on. Ease of skiing: 6 – 8

Wet Packed Snow (WETPS)

Snow, either natural or machine-made that has been packed and gets wet from rain or misting conditions. You can usually stab a ski pole into it, and it is generally skiable until temperatures drop drastically. Ease of skiing: 6

Wet Snow (WETSN)

Powder snow which has become moist due to warm sunshine, a thaw or rainfall, or snow which fell with a high moisture content. Will not support a ski pole right at the surface, skis sink until pressure forms a support layer, and boots will sink more deeply. Common in the east and midwest, known in the west as “Sierra Cement” and “Cascade Concrete.” Can be quite troublesome until it is packed a bit by skiers or grooming. Ease of skiing: 4

Windblown Snow (WBLN)

Wind blows the surface snow into a varied surface of drifts and firmly packed base snow. Pay attention and react quickly to ski this stuff. Ease of skiing: 4

Lift Tickets at Discount: This is a “clearinghouse” of sorts that many ski areas use to raise cash by selling discount tickets in advance, called Liftopia. If you haven’t used this service, it is important to knowfor certain that you are going on a specific date. The deeply discounted tickets must be purchased in advance; generally up to two days out. The sticking point is that some ski resorts only make a limited number of tickets available to Liftopia for any given day, so they might be sold out if you wait too long…so, as soon as you are absolutely, positively sure that you will be skiing on a certain day, click this link to get deeply discounted tickets. I’ve used this service many times, but again, ONLY when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. You need to have access to a printer to print out your receipt, and you have to take identification with you to the mountain. I’ve knocked a third off the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it’s well worth checking if you’ve got a date nailed down.

Top photo CC BY-SA 3.0