Ski Slope Levels

Ski Slope Levels & Ski Trail Ratings Explained

Last Updated on March 25, 2021 by James

Mountain resorts use a multi-colour system to determine ski slope levels within a resort. It tells you which trails are appropriate for your ability level or ambition.

Knowing the different ski slope colours is vital for your safety and enjoyment. It will give you an idea of what to expect before you head downhill, making sure your day doesn’t end in disaster.

In this guide, we explain the different ski slope levels that you will see across the globe. We will tell you what to expect from each slope and give you instructor advice on the skills required to navigate every colour on the mountain.

North America Ski Slope Levels

North America Ski Slope Levels

Green Circle

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Average Gradient: 6-25%
  • Ability Requirements: Snow Plough Turn

Green circle is the easiest slope you will find in resort. They are shallow, groomed and wide.

It is the first slope you will attempt once you leave the beginner area. With plenty of space and a forgiving gradient, it’s a great place to master the basics.

Green circle slopes will often be the first place you will learn how to use ski lifts. You will usually be tasked with using button lifts, t-bars and chair lifts to scale the mountain.

In general, it’s best to move onto green circle slopes once you are able to control your speed and direction through the beginner area. Learning how to stop and turn using a snow plough generally takes one or two days.

With your speed under control, you can use the beginner slope to practice turning technique. Once your confidence has improved, it’s a great place to learn how to go from snowplough to parallel.

Blue Square

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Average Gradient: 25-40%
  • Ability Requirement: Plough Parallel Turn

Blue square is the most common ski slope level in most resorts. It’s also the busiest.

They are usually well-groomed and have a gradient suitable for intermediate skiers. You will often find them much longer than a typical green circle slope.

At this stage, it’s likely that you might start to use a gondola lift for the first time. Blue slopes often start higher on the mountain and give you access to a much larger ski area.

Before you attempt this slope level, it’s best to master the ‘plough parallel’ turning technique. Once achieved, it will give you the tools required to control your speed on slightly steeper terrain.

Basic blue square slopes provide a great place to master parallel turns. As your confidence and ability improves, they give you the space and gradient to perform carving turns.

Ski slope levels sign
Blue slopes are usually the most common

Black Diamond

  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Average Gradient: 40% or higher
  • Ability Requirement: Parallel Turn

Black diamond slopes provide a challenging test for most skiers. The gradient can vary greatly between slopes, but even the minimum of 40% demands solid ski technique.

Many black diamond slopes lack the grooming of easier terrain. You can often expect to encounter crud or moguls here, which will significantly increase the difficulty level.

At this stage, you will be coming down from the top of the mountain. You will have access to almost the entire ski area and should be making the most of your trail map.

In order to navigate this terrain type, a solid parallel turning technique is required. The steepness of your chosen slope should dictate turn shape, with a ‘short’ turn radius required to navigate steeper sections.

Double Black Diamond

  • Difficulty: Expert
  • Average Gradient: 40% or higher
  • Ability Requirement: Short Parallel Turn

Double black diamond is the highest ski slope level in most North American resorts. They are supremely challenging and can be highly dangerous for anyone that doesn’t possess expert ability.

You will find these slopes often have challenging snow conditions. Variables, bumps and wind-swept ice are all possible due to the lack of regular grooming.

Adding to the challenge, it’s common to see trees and rocks throughout the slope. Narrow chutes are also a common feature that will put your technique to the test.

Once you reach this level, you should have already mastered every type of ski turn. You should have mastered the technique required to ski crud, moguls and ice.

Double black diamond slopes also pose a significant mental challenge for most skiers. If you’re lacking confidence in your ability or have any physical injuries, you’re likely to come up short on this unforgiving terrain.

Europe Ski Slope Levels

Europe Ski Slope Levels

Green

  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Average Gradient: 6-20%
  • Ability Requirement: Snow Plough Stop

Green slopes are the easiest European terrain, aside from the beginner area. They are well groomed, wide and shallow enough for all ability levels.

It’s a common myth that green slopes don’t exist in Europe. However, that’s simply not true. Click To Tweet

The major skiing nations of Austria, Switzerland and Italy don’t use green slopes. France is the main provider, with the well-known resorts of Megève and L’Alpe d’Huez having multiple (among others).

It’s also worth noting that Andorra is synonymous with beginners due to its impressive green slopes. It even houses an impressive 5mile (8km) green slope in the resort of Vallnord-Arcalís, which is the longest in the Pyrenees.

Once you’re able to snow plough stop, most green slopes provide a great place to learn how to turn. With long flat sections that will kill your speed, it’s a fun and safe learning environment.

Some short ‘beginner’ green slopes are serviced by magic carpets and are usually found near the resort village. However, many resorts have long sweeping greens that are accessed via chairlifts, button lifts and t-bars.

Blue

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Average Gradient: 20-30%
  • Ability Requirement: Snow Plough Turn

Blue slopes are used extensively across Europe. It is the most common and most popular ski slope level in most resorts.

They are usually groomed regularly and are often wide enough for sweeping turns. Although it’s worth noting that some resorts also have narrower blue slopes that carve a path through forest areas or traverse around the mountain.

Easy blue slopes are a great place to learn how to parallel turn. They usually have smooth snow conditions and plenty of practice space, providing it’s not too busy.

It’s also common to see experienced skiers using these slopes to perform carving turns. The spacious size and consistent snow provides a great place to ski at speed.

Once you are able to ski blue slopes, you will have access to a large amount of ski terrain. They are usually accessed by chairlift. Although gondolas, button lifts and t-bars can prove more popular in some resorts.

Red

  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Average Gradient: 30-45%
  • Ability Requirement: Parallel Turn

Once you can ski red slopes, you will usually be able to access most of the mountain. Most ski resorts will have a red slope coming down from the summit, allowing you to explore more of the mountain.

Red slopes are almost always groomed. Although can vary in width, but most are fairly wide. If a red slope is narrow, it will usually be on the shallower end of the gradient range.

You should never attempt a red slope until you can parallel turn. If you are less experienced, a wider slope will allow you to perform a traverse after each turn to control your speed.

Shorter turns are often necessary on steeper or more crowded red slopes, which will require a greater skill level. It’s advisable to pick a slope that is shorter or less challenging to practice short turns before attempting anything steeper.

Red ski slope
Red slopes can vary in gradient and width

Black

  • Difficulty: Expert
  • Average Gradient: 45% or higher
  • Ability Requirement: Short Parallel Turn

Black is the highest ski slope level in most European ski resorts. They can vary greatly in gradient and snow condition, depending on the country or resort you visit.

Some black slopes are well groomed, but are made challenging due to their gradient. Others will lack any kind of grooming, making choppy terrain and natural moguls a common feature.

 Since black slopes have such great variation, you should be prepared for every eventuality before you start skiing. You should already be comfortable with producing short turns on red slopes and be able to ski a variety of snow types.

Many steep black slopes are left exposed to the wind, making icy conditions a common theme. In this case, a properly serviced set of skis can make all the difference.

If you fall on a steep section, it’s common to slide a long way down the slope or loose one of your skis. You need to be mentally prepared and attack the slope with confidence, otherwise you are sure to struggle.

Japan Ski Slope Levels

Japan Ski Slope Levels

Green

  • Difficulty: Beginner/Intermediate
  • Average Gradient: 6-25%
  • Ability Requirement: Snow Plough Turn

Green is the easiest ski slope level in Japanese resorts. They are always groomed, usually wide and normally fairly shallow.

Since Japan uses a ‘3 colour’ ski trail rating system, the green colour can sometimes feel ambiguous. Generally, they are relatively shallow and are often a great environment to master turning technique.

It’s advisable to learn how to snow plough turn and stop on a beginner area before heading to the green slope. Once you’re able to control your speed, many Japanese greens are a great place for intermediate skiers to practice parallel skiing.

Chairlifts, button lifts and t-bar lifts are a common sight here. You will find the Japanese lift attendants to be patient and helpful, which is useful when you’re a new beginner.

Although Japan is famed for its off-piste and powder skiing, it’s also a great place to learn the basics. Many resorts have long and gentle green slopes that are perfect for beginners.

Japan has some great learning slopes

Red

  • Difficulty: Intermediate/Advanced
  • Average Gradient: 25-40%
  • Ability Requirement: Plough Parallel Turn

Red slopes are often slightly more accessible in Japan than the rest of the world. You will find many of them have a similar difficulty to North American/European blue slopes.

Japanese red slopes are almost always groomed. They can differ greatly in width, which is something to keep in mind when selecting your route.

Unlike many other nations, it’s possible to attack some of Japan’s easier red slopes with a ‘plough parallel’ technique. However, spending an extra day improving your skills on the green slope is still worthwhile.

Due to the comparatively low altitude of Japanese ski resorts, you will often find red slopes that descend the entire mountain. They are usually accessed by gondola or chairlift.

When attempting to ski down for the first time, it’s advisable to do so with an instructor. The transition from green to red can be big, so having someone assess your ability beforehand is vital.

Black

  • Difficulty: Advanced/Expert
  • Average Gradient: 40% or higher
  • Ability Requirement: Parallel Turn

Black is the most difficult ski slope level in Japan. They can vary greatly in width, gradient and snow condition.

You will find many black slopes in Japan are not groomed. Due to the high amount of snowfall, they are often left for powder skiers to enjoy.

Black slopes in Japan tend to be located near the top of the mountain. They provide the most direct route downhill and are often artificially carved through dense forest.

If you want to be comfortable on a Japanese black slope, you need to be adept at skiing different snow types. Deep powder, tracked snow and naturally formed bumps are all possible.

Narrow treelined chutes are another common theme with the most challenging slopes. Be prepared to make short turns in tight spaces if you want to be successful.

Summing Up

Ski slope levels can vary greatly between different resorts, countries and continents. However, they do provide you with a rough idea of what to expect before you head downhill.

The key to any great ski trip often lies in the slopes you choose. Sticking to colours and gradients within your ability range will result in a safe and enjoyable experience.

You should always take the time to master the technique required for a new slope beforehand. Spending a few extra runs practicing a gradient you feel comfortable with will usually benefit your long-term skiing.

Now you’ve got an understanding of the ski trail ratings, you’re one step closer to a successful skiing adventure.