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What is sastrugi (aka zastrugi)?

It’s not easy to ski or snowboard, but sastrugi is a beautiful feature of the winter landscape. Also spelled zastrugi, this type of wind-blasted snow resembles frozen waves. It’s often found on ridges and mountaintops.

As the wind erodes snow from the windward side of a ridge or other obstacle, it deposits the frozen material on the lee side, leaving behind swirling, irregular patterns that author James Rollins likened to a lemon meringue. The origin of sastrugi is the Russian term for “small ridges.”

Sastrugi is usually hard, but as the National Avalanche Center notes, looks can be deceiving: “Sastrugi is not always stable snow. Remember you only see the surface texture. Perhaps the wind only eroded an insignificant amount of snow and a buried weak layer still lingers below just waiting for a trigger. As usual, all slopes are guilty until proven innocent by the usual battery of snow stability tests.”

Images of sastrugi

At Winter Park in Colorado, one of my home mountains, the top of the Panoramic Lift affords great views of these frozen dunes at the top of Parsenn Bowl. Every winter, the ferocious winds sculpt the formations, but they’re never the same pattern.

Sastrugi-Zastrugi-Snowslang.com

Here’s another shot I took at Loveland Ski Area, which sits along the Continental Divide and is sometimes called Windland due to its gusty location.

Sastrugi at Loveland Ski Area. Photo by Mitch Tobin.

Sastrugi at Loveland Ski Area. Photo by Mitch Tobin.

This video of sastrugi skiing on Colorado’s Mount Massive is a good example of what it’s like to ride on this type of snow and ice. The clip is from Michael Steinman, who has performed the rather miraculous feat of skiing all of Colorado’s fourteeners.

I’m fond of photographing sastrugi, especially when the low angle of the winter sun accentuates the shadows. But I can’t say I’m a big fan or skiing or snowboarding on the stuff because it’s usually a bumpy ride that is apt to rattle my bones. It’s a bit like driving over rumble strips on the highway and I’ve even seen reports of people damaging their gear.

Sastrugi isn’t limited to snowy mountaintops. It’s also found on frozen lakes and sea ice, as well as polar regions, such as the formation below at the South Pole.

Sastrugi at South Pole

Sastrugi at South Pole. Source: Wikipedia

Sources

SnowSlang.com is an illustrated glossary of skiing terms and snowboarding slang. Deepen your knowledge and love for snow sports by opting-in for our email newsletter, subscribing to our RSS feed, and connecting with us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+.

By | 2016-12-06T20:16:22+00:00 July 14th, 2016|Avalanche, Snow, Terrain|0 Comments

About the Author:

Mitch Tobin, the editor of SnowSlang.com, is a communications consultant, multimedia storyteller, and avid skier/snowboarder. After working as a reporter at the Napa Valley Register, Tucson Citizen, and Arizona Daily Star, Mitch was communications director at California Environmental Associates and then started Sea to Snow LLC to provide consulting services to a variety of clients. He graduated from Yale with a bachelor’s in Ethics, Politics and Economics and earned a master’s in political science from U.C. Berkeley. Follow Mitch on Twitter @mitchtobin

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