Levels of Difficulty

Ski areas throughout the world post color codes on the runs to indicate their degree of difficulty. The basic American system is:

Green Circle - easy or beginner terrain.

Blue Square - moderately steep slopes for intermediate skiers.

Black Diamond - steep runs for advanced intermediates and experts. Two Black Diamonds - the steepest. Trail signs often include such words as FOR EXPERTS ONLY. Believe!

Yellow Triangle - areas to be avoided for a variety of reasons, such as the presence of major bare spots, ice, or other unsafe conditions.

In Europe, trails are marked green for easy terrain; red for moderate to low expert levels; and black for expert. A red triangle with a black border means that a trail ranges from top expert to extreme.

Neither mountain slopes nor the ski runs on them have the same degree of decline from top to bottom. Thus, a green run may have short sections that are really intermediate. And the intermediate may have some drops that could be classified as expert. At the same time, be aware that an expert run may start out almost as an easy green; around the bend or over the hill, though, the steeper pitches begin.

Types of Trails

Ski Trails also are known as slopes, or runs, in the United States. Pistes are what you ski in Europe. Our advanced skiers may head “off trail” to ski areas not maintained. In Europe, they go “off piste.”

Bowls are generally treeless slopes without specifically groomed runs. Glades are a more challenging way to ski to the bottom of a mountain: You ski through the trees rather than down the open runs. Glade skiing is only for skiers who can whip their skis around one hairpin turn after another. Some resorts clear out the underbrush; others leave the skiers to find their own brand of fun challenging the underbrush and trees.

Moguls or Bumps. These are the mounds of snow that cover well - used slopes. The terms are used interchangeably. As skiers curve their way down the slopes, on each turn their skis kick up a slight mound of snow. After a few hours of this the little mounds become big mounds, known as moguls. As the moguls get bigger, the skiing gets tougher.

Grooming. To most skiers this is the most important thing a ski area can do to turn every trail into a slope of joy. It means smoothing out the trails - carved into bumps and moguls by skiers or after a heavy snowstorm - with snowcats, caterpillars that drag an unusually wide metal slab behind them. Special snowcat equipment is used to grind up icy snow and convert the crud into a skiable surface.

Although some grooming may be done during the day, grooming machines usually roar up and down the slopes after the lifts shut down. All night long you can stare up at the snowy heights and see the headlights of the ’cats as they roam the mountain. For those who love the thrill of fast, smooth trails, get on them early.

While grooming is almost universal on green and blue trails, most resorts also groom some of the blacks. An increasingly popular technique is to groom only one side of a black run - leaving the mogul side for the experts and the smooth slope for the skilled intermediates who can handle the pitch but not the bumps.

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