Snowboarding skill levels explained

Snowboarding Skill Levels: Explained by an instructor

Last Updated on July 20, 2023 by James

Snowboarding advice is not ‘one size fits all’. Every rider has unique strengths and areas of improvement. As an experienced instructor, I advise you first to discover your snowboarding skill level – so you can find the right lesson or educational content for you.

Having a clear understanding of your ability gives you a reference point when you book snowboard lessons. You can find people to ride with who match your level. And ensure you are attacking the right terrain.

This educational post explains the snowboarding skill levels in plain English. You will learn exactly what category you fall into by completing a simple quiz. And I will share some tips on technical areas you may need to improve.

What are the snowboard skill levels?

  • Skill level 1-4: Beginner
  • Skill level 5-6: Intermediate
  • Skill level 7: Advanced
  • Skill level 8: Expert
Man Snowboarding

Snowboard Skill Levels 1-8 Explained

Beginner Level 1

Your first time on a snowboard. You are completely new to the sport and have never strapped on a snowboard before.

The first few hours of your snowboarding ‘career’ will be spent on the beginner slope. Make sure you get an instructor. It is not advisable to learn by yourself at this stage.

Also, expect to take a few falls. You have never done this before! It’s going to feel super weird being strapped into a giant board sliding down a hill.

The most important part at this stage is to have fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You will do laughable things and that’s OK – because you’re a newbie!

Skills learned at beginner level 1

  • How to strap on the snowboard
  • Basic snowboarding stance
  • How to balance while sliding
  • How to stop without falling

Advice for level 1 snowboarders

  • Don’t rush this stage. Creating a solid technique will serve you well later
  • Getting a good stance is crucial
  • Listen to your instructor – they are the expert

Beginner level 2

You already know how to stand on the board, slide down a very short slope and stop without falling. It’s now time to get a longer run on the bunny slope with some more control.

This level requires you to learn a technique called ‘falling leaf’. You will ride back and forth across the bunny slope on one edge of the snowboard. Going across diagonally each time means you will slowly head towards the bottom – without actually making any turns.

Level 2 is all about edge control. Learning how to balance on your heel edge and toe edge gives you control over your speed.

And you will bail less because your balance will improve!

Skills learned at beginner level 2

  • How to use the ‘magic carpet’ lift
  • Heel side falling leaf
  • Toe side falling leaf

Advice for level 2 snowboarders

  • Keep being patient. This stage can take days to complete.
  • Watch out for other riders coming down the hill while doing falling leaf. I’ve seen many accidents in my career!
  • Don’t forget your snowboard stance

Beginner level 3

This is where the real snowboarding begins!

Level 3 is all about learning how to turn. Making those beautiful ‘S’ shapes down the mountain becomes reality.

But not so fast! You will still be sticking to the bunny slope for now.

Learning to turn is the hardest part of snowboarding. You have yet to experience pointing your board down the hill – so fear is likely.

You will have completed level 3 when you can link frontside and backside turns down the bunny slope. You now finally feel like a real snowboarder.

Skills learned at beginner level 3

  • Frontside turn
  • Backside turn
  • Linking multiple turns together

Advice for level 3 snowboarders

  • Confidence is everything. Trust your ability and fully commit
  • Enjoy yourself. You finally get to slide down the slope looking somewhat accomplished!
  • Celebrate. Passing this level is the hardest step

Beginner level 4

Turning on the bunny slope has become easy. So it’s time to head out onto the mountain!

Beginner level 4 is about learning how to turn on green slopes and shallow blue slopes. You will learn how to use the chairlift for the first time.

You will start to find some rhythm and flow. Linking 10, 15 or 20 turns in a row without making a mistake.

Confidence should now be high and you fully control your speed. This is where most people fall in love with the sport.

Skills learned at beginner level 4

  • How to use the chairlift
  • How to turn on a green slope
  • How to turn on a shallow blue slope
  • Mountain safety

Advice for level 4 snowboarders

  • Safety is paramount. Look out for other riders and stick to appropriate trails.
  • Enjoy the view
  • Try to find your flow state
Snowboarding ability level 1

Intermediate level 5

You can link smooth, flowing turns on green and blue slopes. You can enjoy the view and relax without fear.

Intermediate 5 is about picking up the pace. You start feeling comfortable at speed and enjoy going straight downhill on occasion.

Stopping on command is no longer a problem and you have full control over speed and direction on blue slopes.

Snowboarding no longer makes you tired. There is no burning in your legs and you feel like you can do this all day long.

You feel ready to take on new challenges. And have the confidence to push yourself.

Skills learned at intermediate level 5

  • Managing speed without losing control
  • Balance on uneven terrain
  • Linking carved turns on shallow sections

Advice for level 5 snowboarders

  • Turns should feel less skiddy and more ‘carved’
  • Injury can happen at this stage due to overconfidence. So pace yourself
  • Use this time to work on technical deficiencies (e.g. stance). They will hold you back later if you don’t fix them now

Intermediate level 6

You can do intermediate blue slopes in your sleep. And relish sliding down more challenging terrain.

You can get yourself down black diamonds safely. It doesn’t always look pretty, but you have good control.

Heading into the choppy, bumpy snow on the side of the piste is now possible. You have enough balance to control your speed on uneven terrain.

More adventurous snowboarders find themselves looking for small jumps. You are not throwing down tricks just yet, but starting to get a few feet of air.

You will be able to make it from top-bottom of a run without falling or needing to take a break.

Every type of ski lift has been mastered and you can ride the whole mountain.

Confidence is now high and you start to experiment and explore. You will be learning how to ride switch with your instructor. And discovering which type of snowboarding you enjoy the most.

Skills learned at intermediate level 6

  • Riding black slopes with control
  • Navigating bumpy terrain
  • Small jumps
  • Introduction to riding switch
  • Carving on steeper sections

Advice for level 6 snowboarders

  • Level 6 usually takes multiple years to complete
  • Start to establish your unique technique
  • Take occasional lessons so you can get pointers on areas for improvement
  • Try snowboarding on every terrain and see what you enjoy the most
Snowboarding intermediate skill level

Advanced level 7

You are easily able to ride every slope on the mountain. Black diamonds are no longer an issue. Steep slopes are tackled with full control and cause you no fear.

You have progressed from bumpy terrain to full-blown mogul fields. Powder days are exciting and you have no concerns about going into the backcountry. You can make solid turns through tight tree lines.

Going into the park has become something you enjoy. You can hit small and medium size jumps with style. And have the ability to hit boxes, rails and features.

Carving turns at high speed is something you do without too much thought. And you can get good grip on shorter turns – so they are looking less ‘skiddy’ and more ‘C shaped’.

Advanced riders live and breathe snowboarding. You have worked so hard to get to this level and put in so many hours of practice. So you have proven you love the sport.

Riders at this level have a great knowledge of equipment. They usually have multiple snowboards and do their own waxing and edging.

Snowboarding is becoming a way of life.

Skills learned at advanced level 7

  • Gripping short turns on steep slopes
  • Carving at speed
  • Riding deep powder
  • Good technique in moguls
  • All terrain park features

Advice for level 7 snowboarders

  • Start developing your style
  • Learn more about equipment
  • Share your knowledge with those in need
  • You are not an expert yet. Keep working on your technical issues
Snowboarding advanced skill level

Expert level 8

You are an amazing snowboarder. One that everyone aspires to become.

Everything on the mountain is easy. You can easily navigate any terrain in all conditions.

Snowboarding is now a way of life. Getting to this level means you have spent years on the mountain. You have likely been snowboarding since you were a child.

Skill level 8 riders become specialised in a specific area. Most will choose either park, backcountry or alpine and start honing their skills in that niche.

Most experts go on to have career involvement in snowboarding. You already have the ability to train and qualify as an instructor, or could potentially be an athlete.

Experts make snowboarding look easy. People on chairlifts watch them ride down the mountain and dream of being at their level.

Experts normally spent the entire winter snowboarding. They either live or work on the mountain.

You can tell someone is an expert because they constantly talk about snowboarding on social media. They are in all the snow forums and constantly post videos of themselves hitting big jumps.

Skills learned at expert level 8

  • How to be an instructor
  • Improving athletic performance
  • Being a thought leader around snowboard technique

Advice for expert level 8 snowboarders

  • Paint the sport in a good light
  • Be respectful of beginners
  • Enjoy your life. You’ve made it!
  • Expect a few serious injuries. That’s expert snowboarding for you
Snowboarding expert skill level

Other snowboard skill level systems

The 1-8 ability level rating I have explained is the most comprehensive system used. But it’s not the only one.

I have also worked in snowboard schools that are using alternate rating systems.

Using a 1-7 ability level system is also popular. This is how it translates into your ability level so you know which group to join:

  • Level 1: Never snowboarded before
  • Level 2: 1 day of snowboarding already been completed. Can straight slide and stop on the bunny slope.
  • Level 3: Able to do falling leaf on the bunny slope. Starting to link turns but not consistent.
  • Level 4: Consistent turns on the bunny slope. Now able to get down green and shallow blue slopes.
  • Level 5: Learning to carve on blue slopes and can get down a black diamond but not with style.
  • Level 6: Black diamonds become easy. Going off small jumps and choppy terrain on the side of the slope
  • Level 7: Can snowboard everything on the mountain. Comfortable with trees, deep powder, jumps and high-speed carving.

Some snowboard schools will only offer 4 levels. My opinion is that this is not optimal, because you can end up with mixed-level groups. But here are the levels:

  • Beginner: Never snowboarded before or can only manage the bunny slope
  • Intermediate: Can link turns on green and shallow blue slopes
  • Advanced: Can ride blue slopes with ease and want to improve ability on black diamond and off-piste slopes
  • Expert: Can ride everything on the mountain. Powder, jumps, black diamonds and moguls will all be part of the lesson.
Snowboarding

Why do I need to know my snowboard skill level?

Knowing your skill level helps you make good decisions. Here’s how:

1. Choose the right lesson

Snowboard schools will ask for your ability level. This will be used to place you into the right group. Or make sure you get the right instructor.

Being 100% honest about your level is so important. It’s always better to underestimate your ability than overestimate. There is nothing worse than being in a group that is above your level – you will hold everyone up. And endanger yourself by attempting slopes above your skill level.

And remember that not all instructors have the same ability level. Newer instructors can teach basic lessons, but might not be capable of helping advanced riders progress into experts.

You just have to be realistic about what you are cable of riding. And be very clear about what you are looking to achieve.

My top tip as an instructor is to tell your coach or snowboard school exactly what you want to get out of the lesson. Once they understand your goals – they can pair you with the right people to support your success.

2. Choose the right equipment

The equipment you use has a massive impact on performance. Every level requires different equipment.

Choosing expert equipment as a beginner will get you in trouble. You will struggle to manage the board. And you will spend a fortune on unnecessary gear.

As you become more advanced, equipment becomes more specialised. Boots that don’t fit or a board that’s not capable at speed will hold you back.

It’s advisable to take your level from this post to the snowboard store when you make a purchase. Good shops have experts who can recommend the right gear based on your level.

Make sure you tell them what type of terrain you love riding. And what you want to achieve during your time on the snow.

3. Select the right slope

The mountain is dangerous. I have seen countless people get in trouble by overestimating their ability and getting stuck on a slope they can’t ride.

Walking down the slope is not cool! And it’s very dangerous. So be careful what you attempt.

Select slopes that are well within your ability level. If you are intermediate, don’t attempt a black diamond until you have the guidance of an expert.

Beginners should always stick to the bunny hill until guided by their instructor. Be very aware of your level and stick within your limits.

Don’t be a hero. Accidents do happen.

4. Know what to work on

Learning your snowboard ability level gives you an idea of where to improve.

‘Don’t run before you can walk’ is solid advice.

Those still at the beginner stage should stick to basic technique. The same goes for intermediates most of the time.

Jumping ahead to challenging terrain will hamper your progress long-term. You have to learn the basics first.

Set clear goals based on your level. And work towards them patiently.

It’s so hard to fix bad habits once they are formed. So get it right the first time by working on the right areas.

Skilful snowboarders

Why you should trust me

I have worked with hundreds of riders after working as an instructor for over a decade.

One thing I can tell you is that knowing your level matters.

Injuries happen when people don’t know their ability. They attempt the wrong slopes, go too fast or join the wrong group. These are recipes for disaster.

You need self-awareness to learn. Understand your faults and work on them. Know your level and set sensible and achievable goals.

My biggest piece of advice is to be humble. Select a level that you believe is slightly lower than reality. It’s better to be the strongest rider in the group than the guy holding everybody up.

Summary

You now know your snowboard level. Congratulations!

Knowing is great – but you also need to take action.

Start joining the right groups and working on progressing to the next level.

I hope you are reading this next year having made progress!

And I would appreciate your feedback. Leave a comment below letting me know your thoughts about the different levels!