A Rough Guide To Ski Slope Safety Ratings

Ski-Slope-Safety-Ratings-AlpineInfusionSo, you’ve chosen your destination and ski resort, kitted yourself out with all the right gear and put in some serious hours on the cross trainer to build up your strength and cardio. The crisp, white snow awaits; but where do you start?

Conveniently, every winter sports resort has a ski slope difficulty rating system that will allow you to identify whether a particular run is suited to your skill level. Most resorts will have a range of slopes, chosen to cater to a wide range of skills.

Another challenge for beginners is that different countries use different grading systems. So, how can you tell what is what?

Colour slope ratings (Europe)

In Europe, resorts use a colour system to help skiers pick the best slope for their ability. From the easiest to most challenging, they are coded:

  • Green: A green route will signify beginner or practise slopes. If you’ve never been skiing before, you’ll want to start here.
  • Blue: These runs are likely to be well-groomed with a shallow slope with a gradient of less than 25%.
  • Red: These routes are steeper or narrower (or a combination of both) than blue slopes. Suitable for intermediates, they are usually groomed with a gradient that will not exceed 40%.
  • Yellow: Recently, many black routes have been reclassified as yellow. This colour signifies a run that is not groomed, is unpatrolled and considered off-piste within a marked area.
  • Black: While best suited to experts, what is classified as a black route is ambiguous. In some resorts, they might only be slightly trickier than a red route. In others, it could be terrifying. A good rule of thumb is to judge a black route to the red route in the same resort.

It is worth knowing that the grading system will never get harder as you head down the mountain. If you are at the top on a blue run, you will always be able to make it to the bottom on either a blue or a green run. This is a golden rule of European piste grading.

Colour/shape slope ratings (North America, Australia, New Zealand)

Used in North America, Australia and New Zealand, these slope ratings are generally more reliable guides to difficulty than those in Europe:

  • Green circle: These are the easiest slopes of the resort. They are wide, groomed and feature a shallow gradient between 6% and 25%.
  • Blue square: These groomed slopes are more challenging, with gradients between 25% and 40%. There will be several blue square runs in most resorts for intermediates.
  • Black diamond: These are among the most challenging slopes on the mountains and will invariably be near the top. These advanced slopes will not be groomed and feature gradients of 40% and up.
  • Double black diamonds: Recommended for experts, double black diamond runs are extremely demanding; steep, lined with hazards like trees, with narrow trails and the chance of crosswinds.
  • Triple black diamonds: It goes without saying that these are incredibly challenging, for confident experts only. There are only a handful of triple black diamond runs in the world.

Photo source: avalanche.net.nz