When the temperatures warm up, the snow changes, too – and with it, the skiing. A short explanation of terms.
Some people say there’s no better time to enjoy winter sports than the spring. With any luck, the sun shows its face more often in the spring, but most importantly, the temperatures are much more pleasant and yet there’s still plenty of snow, especially after a winter like this one. But the snow’s also been around for quite a while, which is why it’s good to know a couple of things about it.
When everyone’s talking about crust, for example, they also mean a type of snow. The German word for it, harsch, sounds exactly like this snow sounds when it breaks underfoot – hrrrsch. Crust is old snow which has melted and then frozen again at least once, as often happens in the spring. Crust builds up a brittle layer, a sort of scab, with the remaining powder snow lying beneath it. It’s slippery and so not always completely stable. Ski tourers are advised to use crampons in these conditions, as they provide better grip on ascents.
Corn snow is sometimes a bit of a misnomer: strictly speaking, it means snow which has survived at least one summer, or one melt period. So it can be found on glaciers and permanent snowfields. The word is also often used, though, for a type of snow which is called “sulz” or “frozen granular” in specialist circles. What’s meant by this is thawed, slightly wet and then refrozen snow, which becomes granular as a result, and which is the product of warmer temperatures. As long as this layer is thick enough, it provides excellent support. But when the snow is wet deeper down, the risk of avalanche increases.