When engaging in your preferred method of sliding down a mountain at a ski resort, you may notice that the trails have coloured backgrounds behind the trail number on the trail marking signs. These are not just to make them look pretty, they are there to tell you how difficult the run you are on is.
Signs can vary slightly from country to country and even slightly from resort to resort, but if you know the basic definitions you will be fine. Remember, one resort's level of difficulty could mean something different in another resort. For example, I was skiing a blue run in St Anton, Austria, which would have easily been classed a red in say Tignes, France.
Still it's a good idea to have a basic inkling of what you are letting yourself in for:
- Nursery Slope (aka. Bunny slope) - This should be fairly obvious in its location and will probably be covered in Ski School kids and instructors. If you're not having lessons it's best to stay away.
- Green (Green circle, Double green circle) - The easiest slopes will usually be marked with a green sign, thus indicating the run will not be too challenging and will be good for beginners.
- Blue (Blue Square) - Intermediate runs. If you feel comfortable on a green, step up to a blue run. These can feel anywhere between beautifully easy and very challenging for a beginner/intermediate skier. The first run I ever went down was a blue and it was very scary.
- Red (Red circle - Europe, Black Diamond - USA) - Intermediate/Difficult. These seem to be a happy medium between blue and black. Good if you are wondering about branching out into the blacks, but just want a little test first.
- Black (Black circle, Double black diamond) - Difficult. This is where the runs start getting scary. You don't want to take off your skis on one of these runs because you never know if you'll be able to stand safely on the slope without them. Usually very steep.
- Diamond (Europe only) - In Europe, a diamond classification is usually matched with a colour (red or black). These runs are only semi piste-bashed, meaning you get less groomed runs, usually with a bit more movement in the snow's top surface.
- Triple Black Diamond (America Only) - Do you want to die? Then these are the runs for you. Almost vertical drops, probably icy and faster than a rabbit in the sack - Only for experts.
Once you think you can handle all these runs with ease, it might be time to start thinking about going into the off-piste or backcountry to get some sweet sweet powder.
Thanks to Interrobang for telling me about triple black diamond runs.