Skiing: Understanding Trail Symbols

By Charles Hopkins Published 01/19/2007 | Sports

Skiing is a great deal of fun. It is exhilarating and challenging but it can also be very dangerous. This is especially true if you dont know the symbols for the difficulty rating of ski trails. In a matter of seconds, you can find yourself on a trail that is very dangerous for your skill level simply by not understanding or adhering to the trail difficulty symbols.

It is also important to note that there is no governing body or organization that rates the difficulty of any ski trails. Instead, the trails are rated by the ski resort that owns the trails. Furthermore, those trails are rated as they compare to other trails at that resort only so its not an overall national rating, where it would be rated against all trails in a given country. Unfortunately, it is feared that many resorts do not accurately rate their trails in order to attract more skiers.

For this reason, it is always a good idea to start with the easiest trails possible at the resort and work your way up to find the one that is suitable for your level of experience. If you dont do this, you may find yourself either skiing on trails that arent nearly challenging enough all day, or you may find yourself in grave danger!

When ski trails are rated, there are several factors that are considered. The grade of the slope is the first consideration, but the length and width also are important, as well as snow conditions and whether or not the resort grooms the trail in question. Tricky turns may also be considered.

At the trail head, there will be a sign posted that has a symbol on it. That symbol is an indication of the difficulty rating. However, you may encounter more than one symbol while on a trail, as it branches off. For instance, a trail that starts off with a difficulty rating of easy may branch off into more difficult trails, which you can choose from, later. It is important to pay attention to ensure that you stay on the trails that are suitable for you. Those are signs you dont want to miss!

In the United States, the difficulty rating symbols are as follows:

  • Green Circle Easiest
  • Blue Square Intermediate
  • Black Diamond Difficult
  • Two Black Diamonds Expert
  • A Black Diamond inside of a Blue Square Variations of Intermediate and Difficult
  • A Green Circle inside of a Blue Square Variations of easy and intermediate
  • Orange Rectangle Terrain Park

In Europe, symbols are not used. Colors are used instead. The difficulty rating colors are as follows:

  • Green Baby Slopes or learning slopes
  • Blue Easy
  • Red Intermediate
  • Black Expert
  • Yellow Expert, ungroomed, and unpatrolled slope.

In Japan, where there are more than 600 slopes, only three colors are used. Those are Green (Easy), Red (Intermediate), and Black (Expert). Symbols are not used in Japan. However, in both Japan and Europe, resorts that cater to foreigners often use the American symbols, as well as the national symbols.