Ask Josh - October 2002

Ask Dr. Flake
Ask Josh

One of my young neighbors showed me his new twin tips and said there had never been anything like them. But I swear I had a pair in the '70s. Is it the same concept?
-Laurie Snedeker, via the Internet

No need to swear, Laurie, you probably did have a pair. Olin's Mark IV, Rossi's Smash, and Hart's Freestyle were but a few of the popular mid- to late-'70s skis with turned-up tails. As for whether they were the same concept, you can tell the juvenile next door there isn't a hell of a lot new under the sun. The reason to turn up the rear end of a ski is so you can treat it like the front end for tricks. In the '70s, it was the hotdoggers with their acrobatic hijinks who benefited from a tail that wouldn't jam in a mogul or catch on the snow when landing pole flips or performing crossovers. Nowadays, it's park and pipe hucksters who demand flagrantly flared true twin tips like the Salomon Teneighty or the Rossi Scratch for their baffling abstraction of a sport that demands landing jumps switch. Ironically enough, though, twin tips last appeared as the swishy, upturned behinds of ballet skis back in the '80s. So today's way-aggro youth are schussing on the tails of yesterday's fey acro youth. Go figure.

Late last season, I was skiing near my home in Taos when a thunderstorm blew in, depositing two inches of a snow that came down like tiny Styrofoam pellets, yet skied like (Jolly) Green Giant cream-corn. Dreamy. Have you ever skied this stuff, and does it have a name?
-Katie Cox, via the Internet

You are not far off the mark with your cream-corn analogy, because that dreamy stuff is called graupel, which means "little grain" in German. And while I've skied it, I've never experienced the quantity you lucked into last year. Usually it falls for just a few minutes at a time, rarely doing more than bouncing across the hardpack in shallow, swirling drifts. Graupel-it's also known as soft hail-is formed when teensy-weensy (sub-50-micron) supercooled droplets of water in the atmosphere adhere to ice crystals. Remarkably, the droplets have so much surface tension they remain liquid at temperatures down to minus 40 degrees Celsius. When they hit the ice crystals, though, that tension is disrupted enough for the droplets to freeze instantly and form amorphous pellets a few millimeters across and 20 percent as dense as solid ice. Look for the stuff during winter thunderstorms (though that's not an absolute precondition), and get ready to ski some grau.