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SnowFlurry 23 2016/17 | Lubricating powder & nap powder

The never-ending story about the demarcation of snow types

by Lukas Ruetz 04/07/2017
Spring is unbeatable with the presentation of snow of all conceivable categories. We dedicate ourselves to two variations that have nothing to do with the common powder but somehow subjectively belong to powder.

The pimple powder

The name comes from its characteristic surface structure: the loose, usually very cold powder snow is covered with pimples and/or waves. These are created by constant, weak winds. These are very, very slightly above the load-bearing capacity and therefore only transport small amounts of snow crystals. This results in the pattern on the surface of nap powder. Loose, light (= low density snow) powder snow - crystal forms: Fresh snow, felt or small, angular forms - is therefore transported in small quantities, but remains loose and unbound. The influence of the wind is too small to form drifting snow. This type of snow is usually found in higher, shady cirques. Pimple powder is particularly suitable for skiing, as it is often weakly built up, meaning the snow is looser and feels soft and airy on the descent.

Catabatic downslope winds are usually the cause of pimple powder. This type of wind can be conceptually categorized as the opposite of "thermals". Air parcels that cool down at higher altitudes (shady cirques and mountain basins or glacier surfaces) and flow towards the valley due to the increase in density and the resulting pressure gradient. In the height of winter, pimple powder is encountered to a far greater extent than in spring: the low sun only reaches a few areas of the terrain in December, January and February. This means that the air can cool down in much larger areas and subsequently sink. In spring, pimple powder is then usually only found on higher, very steep shady slopes.

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The lubricating powder

If it snows a few centimetres on a hard, stable snow surface in spring, lubricating powder can form from the second day after snowfall and is often limited to just this one day.

This is soaked powder snow that does not slow down the descent - in contrast to the soaked powder snow that is usually found in high winter. During the snowfall or on the first fine day afterwards, the few centimetres of fresh snow are already damp or quickly soaked through, but they slow you down immensely and are no different from glop. Due to the usually rapidly rising temperatures and the intense radiation in spring, the top one or two centimetres of fresh snow soak very quickly, while the lower centimetres of the small amount of fresh snow soak more slowly. If a first night with radiation follows, a wafer-thin layer of hard snow usually forms - i.e. a melting crust consisting exclusively of melting forms - which lies on the much less soaked powder snow (= the initial snow type can still be recognized, melting forms are still hardly present). If the sun shines the next day, the weakly developed melt crust on the surface is immediately soaked, while the powder snow underneath only slowly increases in moisture relative to it. This results in a wafer-thin film of melted snow on damp powder snow.

As you glide along on the surface with the ski base on this melted snow, the snow no longer slows you down, or only very slightly. Nevertheless, you sink in a little and the feeling is somewhere between sizzling firn and real powder snow. Lubricating powder only forms on a load-bearing old snow surface with a thin layer of fresh snow.

Note: Whether ribbed, lubricated or studded - there's something for everyone, even when it comes to snow.

This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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