3.02.2016

Skiing with the Brits - Step One, Know the Lingo

As I prepare for my third European ski tour, I am reminded that although Americans and the British both speak English, the two groups use different language when talking about skiing and gear.


One of the delights of travel is the opportunity to pick up new words whether they be in another language or are merely different ways of saying things in your native tongue. To me, this is a nice way to keep the mind sharp and the imagination lively.

The Brits and skiing you may ask?  Yes, I am heading on a guided hut trip with a company out of the UK. Interestingly, there are several companies from that country that offer reasonably priced guided ski tours. These companies run numerous hut-to-hut ski tours throughout Europe, which  are lead by IFMGA certified guides. They run good operations and I feel safe in their hands

On my two previous tours, clients joining me have mostly been British and are pleasant company so if I'm going to ski with the British, I might as well be up to date on their lingo.

Below are the terms have have learned over the years. Interestingly, I find that many of them to be old-fashioned sounding in a quaint way. Feel free to add your lingo (British or otherwise) in the comments section of this post. (Update: If you're wondering about the second step, you can find it here.)

Gear
  • Kit - This is your stuff. Your gear -usually high performance gear. As in "kit and caboodle." From time to time you'll hear road bike racers use "kit" in conversation but overall it is not commonly used in the United States.
  • Rucksack - Your pack. Where you put all of your kit. When I think of rucksack, I picture a simple, cavernous canvas backpack free of excess straps and accouterments. The stereotypical wearer of a rucksack has a big scruffy beard, a small knife attached to his belt, a tin cup dangling off of the rucksack, and a pair of well-worn leather hiking boots. He's been hiking in the mountains "long before most folks around here were even born."
Technical Equipment
  • Harscheisen - This is a great one. Can you guess what it is? Probably not. Harscheisen is the tongue tangling way to say "ski crampons," a piece of gear that is not widely used by American backcountry skiers. Ski crampons are an extremely simple piece of equipment (No moving parts, easy to use, and made of good ol' aluminum) that is incredibly handy for skinning up firm snow in the springtime. 
4.14.16 update! I had always wondered by mountains guides refer to ski crampons as "harscheisen." All other pieces of gear are called by their English name. For instance, an ice ax is always an ice ax and no one refers to it as an "eispickel." According to our guide, the reason most of them call ski crampons "harscheisen" is to avoid confusion with ordinary boot crampons. Ah ha! Makes sense when explained that way.
  • Head torch - We say headlamp. I imagine miners with head torches. Useful for midnight bathroom runs while in the huts.
Clothing
  • Neck buff - A neck gator. I'm not a fan of neck gators but many folks like them.
  • Trousers - The packing list recommends you bring some waterproof trousers. While the term is familiar to many Americans, I imagine it was more widely used in years gone by. I think many of us would agree that it calls to mind an image of a pair of stodgy dress pants. The kind of term your great uncle would use.
Health & First Aid
  • Sun Cream - It doesn't take much imagination to conclude that they are referring to sun block. 
  • Plasters - This term was new to me during my first hut tour in 2012. Moleskin or a similar sort of padding used to help prevent rubbing of ski boots and alleviate pain from blisters.
Other Terminology
  • Keen - When I let the company know of my interested in joining one of their tours, they were pleased to know that I was "keen" to do some ski touring .
  • Cream Crackered - Wiped out. For the tour I am going on, for instance, it recommends the skier is able to skin for four hours with a 10kg rucksack with out becoming cream crackered. You'll need to have some energy left for the descent.
4.14.16 Update - Sure enough, my group on the Gran Paradiso hut trip was entirely Brits so I picked up even more lingo. Here's the latest...

  • Faff - To unnecessarily waste time. To mess around. On ski tours, as with many group outings, folks have the tendency to "faff" around in the morning and get off to a late start.
  • Pushing a boat out - To do something a bit more extravagant than usual.  A frugal member of our group was thought to be "pushing a boat out" when he ordered a cappuccino one evening.
  • Elevenses - A coffee break or other short break. Usually taken around 11 a.m. I was told that this is a tradition that is popular with tradesmen.
  • Pecky or peckish - A bit hungry. Ready for a snack. Notice the pattern here? Food, food, food. Ski touring day after day is hard work so it is little wonder we ate often.
  • Tatty - A bit scrappy or rough around the edges. After six days of skiing, minimal showers and only one change of clothing, most ski tourers look a bit "tatty."
  • Pants - Something that is bad or rubbish. I was already familiar with this term from Nick Hornby novels and it is one of my favorite pieces of British slang. To the Brits, underwear is also known as "pants," something I was reminded of by my group when I referred to my ski trousers as "pants."
  • Punters - A term for a customer.