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Ski Slope Colors: A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Ski Trail Ratings

ski slope colors

Winter sports enthusiasts who like to ski and snowboard at least once a year usually do it because of the fun and thrill, not the long and arduous learning curve that comes with it. And perhaps that’s why skiing is well known as a sport of speed; traveling at high speeds on snow.

However, it is not because of the speed that it is called a sport, but because of the amount of skill required to perform it successfully. You need to have complete control over the execution of the sport, and one of the most important factors that influence that is the ski slopes.

While a snow-covered surface may be ideal for skiing, the conditions of the slopes matter greatly. As a result, most beginner skiers find it daunting, but it’s not like you have to learn calculus or rocket science to master skiing and snowboarding.

To make it easier for beginners, ski slopes are divided into different trails and color-coded to indicate the difficulty level of the trail. This allows you to see which trails are easy, medium, and hard and choose accordingly. Here is a detailed guide on what the ski slope colors mean.

Skiing doesn’t have to be any complicated as long as you start small and then expand your skills as you get comfortable with the sport. It’s only different slopes with different colors.

Ski Slope Colors Overview

Ski Slope Colors Overview

Now, there are many colors used in ski slopes to demarcate various route types. For example, blue expresses beginner or intermediate runs, red expresses a high-intensity slope and there’re also black and double black diamond which are often left for more experienced skiers.

These colors indicate a range of information, but many people are not aware of their meanings. So here, we’re going to give you a complete beginner’s guide to ski slope colors so you can pick the most suitable trail for you and have fun skiing even if you don’t know the first thing about it.

So, how do ski slope colors tell how challenging a slope is? You ask. Well, in the realm of skiing, there are three levels of difficulty: beginner level, intermediate level, and advanced level.

The ski resorts basically determine which slopes are easy and difficult, and these classifications are based on a variety of variables, such as terrain and ski track width, although there are some standards as well.

Since most skiers on beginner slopes aren’t very experienced yet, they are normally characterized by broader turns and are steeper than 45 degrees but mostly less than 35 degrees. The slopes on intermediate runs tend to range from 35 to 45 degrees (with a few exceptions).

Advanced routes often feature slopes between 30 and 50 degrees and are usually narrower and more difficult than the intermediate terrain adjacent. As such, they are typically only used by experienced skiers or those seeking a challenge beyond what an intermediate run can provide.

Overall, skiing can be really enjoyable if you get the hang of it, but as stated, there is a high learning curve. You’ll need to pick up new skills quite faster if you don’t want to fall behind.

For beginner skiers, it’s best to get off to the perfect start by selecting the right slope level. Beginners should preferably stick to the lower slopes, while advanced skiers and snowboarders who like steeper slopes and greater speeds should stick to the higher more challenging levels.

Difficulty Ratings That Skiers and Snowboarders Should Know

Difficulty Ratings That Skiers and Snowboarders Should Know

The sky run’s rating system is used to show how challenging slopes are. The ratings are broken down into color codes for more clarity. That way, skiers who are unfamiliar with the various ratings can easily use color coding to decide which slopes are most appropriate for them.

It’s good to note that although the ski runs are frequently split into green, blue, red, and black, there are occasionally exceptions, such as between Europe and North America, and Japan.

Green Circle Slopes

These are the beginner slopes and are most appropriate for those just getting the hang of being on snow. They are colloquially known as “green runs” or just “greens” and you may occasionally hear people calling them “Bunny Hill” or “Bunny Slope,” which typically refers to a particular area of the mountain (often close to the lodge or base area) that offers the simplest lines, meant especially for young or rookie skiers.

After getting used to the bunny hill, novice skiers can explore other parts of the mountain and find accessible routes that are typically broad (which is great for turning! ), and have a low, easy slope inclination (that is, not steep).

Blue Slopes- Beginner and Intermediate Slopes

Blue is the color code for intermediate slopes, so if you’re a novice or intermediate skier, blue tracks are for you. This slope rating here is the simplest to ski on and is also the most popular.

You may want to consider going to a blue run on your next trip, especially if you would like to avoid the crowds. And since blue runs are less steep than red or black runs (and therefore involve less physical strength, balance, and skill level), they are likely the easiest of all slopes.

This implies that even if it is your first time snowboarding or skiing, you will probably be able to navigate this type of trail with no issues at all!

Red Slopes

Still, for the intermediate skiers and snowboarders- those who want to push themselves without fully committing to advanced runs should choose red slopes.

The best part about red slopes is that they offer an intermediate challenge while still giving the pleasure of skiing- without the hazardous characteristics associated with advanced terrain- especially if you’ve mastered the basics of the sport or have had a few seasons under your belt.

Simply put, the red runs are appropriate for you if you believe yourself to be among the intermediate skiers out there.

Black Slopes

These ones are for expert skiers and snowboarders. It goes without saying that only advanced skiers should attempt black runs.

While it is simple to slide off of them- given their steep slopes and the softness of the snow- it’s also common to come across black slopes that are covered in ice or other dangerous objects like pebbles.

So unless you do have the skill level or training necessary to be on slopes designated as “black slopes”, do not try!

Black Diamond Slopes

Black diamond runs, sometimes known as blacks (but never just “diamonds”), are difficult terrain left for experienced skiers and snowboarders who are more confident of their own abilities.

These could be steep slopes that are either groomed or ungroomed and may even contain barriers like rocks and trees.

Although it takes skill and experience to confidently choose your ski route and navigate a black trail, many blacks are still reachable for intermediate skiers who are rather prepared for a challenge but would like to take it gradually.

Some ski resorts will classify the more gentle slopes of their high alpine bowls—terrain that is above treeline, wide open at the top, and shrinking downwards—as black diamonds while reserving the more aggressive, expert slopes in the same bowl for double black diamond designation. Yes, two distinct descents down the same slope can each receive a separate rating!

North America Slope Designations

North America Slope Designations

As we’ve stated, slope levels are used to show the steepness and difficulty level of a slope. They are often rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most severe in North America.

The slope’s angle, length, and height are used to assign a severity rating to it. When a slope has an angle of more than 25 degrees, it is said to be steep, whereas a slope with an angle of less than 15 degrees is said to be flat.

The North American slopes also tend to feature color codes to make things clearer as follows:

Green Circle

Well, you’ll need to start from the green circle if you’re a newbie. Green circles basically offer mild slopes with broad, flat turns and are often located on a resort’s novice side. They provide easy slopes that don’t involve much speed or turning skills, making them perfect for beginners.

In fact, the easiest slopes on your mountain are called “green runs,” and they are typically only for beginners or young children. They are also referred to as bunny hills- as previously stated- although they may also be categorized as part of the resort’s intermediate area.

The green runs are best for beginners who wish to learn how to ski. After that, you can change the trail difficulty to the blue runs i.e once you feel more confident in your skiing skills.

Blue Run or Blue Square

Some places such as Australia, New Zealand, and North America don’t have red runs; instead, the blue square is used. Therefore, the runs with a blue square in the label are intermediate slopes. You will realize that ski resorts will mark the majority of their runs with a blue square.

It’s good to note that a blue square run is more difficult than a green circle run, but it is still suitable for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. In other words, a blue square is actually not that difficult, but it’s still challenging enough to keep those with some experience interested.

Also, these blue square runs give inexperienced learners room for error while posing no significant risk of injury in the event that something goes wrong in the course of the sport.

Black Diamond

The Black Diamond run, one of the toughest lines on any ski slope, is typically located at high altitudes since it frequently dwells on peaks with more difficult terrain. You’ll need to get yourself ready for a workout if you are planning to ski this kind of slope.

If you’re looking for a real challenge in New Zealand, Australia, and North America, then you might want to check out the black diamond slopes. Needless to say, they are usually the most challenging designated runs in the ski area.

While the degree of difficulty of this trail varies from mountain to mountain, all Black Diamond slopes share the same basic characteristics, including steep inclines and intense curves that are covered in snow or ice.

Double Black Diamond

The double black diamond grade is the hardest slope and is only recommended for expert skiers. Therefore beginners and even sometimes advanced skiers should avoid double black diamond runs.

Runs rated a double black diamond are only appropriate for expert skiers and snowboarders because they are typically narrow and exposed, and frequently have numerous impediments.

Given that it is more challenging to control your pace on double black diamond terrain, it is considered to be more dangerous than the other slopes discussed above.

European Ski Slopes

European Ski Slopes

This is yet another way of measuring the steepness of a slope. In Europe, the slopes are measured in degrees with 0 being the flattest and 90 being the steepest. Moreover, these levels have color codes to make things simpler, just like the slopes in North America.

Green Slopes

Well, this is the best part to start if you’re a beginner or taking a young child for a skiing session. As it is obvious, green slopes are the best for learning because they are so simple.

These slopes often have a fairly wide slope with a mild gradient. They are also mostly kept in good condition (well-groomed) so that the snow is uniform and friendly to ski on.

You’ll realize that most of the beginner lessons take place on these green slopes as they’re specifically designated by ski resorts. To reach the summit (the top of the hill) you will either stand on a conveyor belt or else be elevated up with a drag lift pass.

These novice skiing sections might be at the bottom of the mountain and sometimes at the top. However, accessing them at the top will always be quite simple.

Some easy tracks that connect several ski slopes may also be labeled as green trails. These can be too narrow and with a very shallow gradient, so they aren’t always the best for learning.

Blue Run

After the green, the level up is blue slopes. Although there are some exceptions, blue runs are usually simple and won’t feature a gradient that is steeper than 25%.

In Europe, the Blue Slope Level is the most popular and the simplest. In general, beginners who have never skied or snowboarded before can also start here. Moreover, blue runs are typically situated next to beginning lifts so you can seek assistance if necessary.

Red Runs

In Europe, red runs are used to demarcate intermediate slopes. These are generally more challenging and have a steeper gradient than blue routes. A red ski route typically has a gradient between 25 and 40%- blue runs are usually a little bit narrower than red runs.

Red slopes are excellent for gaining a lot of speed but thereafter may become lumpy and rutted. Red runs, however, are groomed, making early-morning corduroy blasts a blast.

Black Run

Now if you’re an expert skier or a seasoned snowboarder looking for a challenge, go for a black run. Even if they are on the same mountain as other runs, black runs have enormous variations.

Here, you can expect steep gradients, ice, and moguls. Not forgetting that some French ski resorts don’t groom all of their black runs, which makes them much more challenging.

Overall, blacks are only for expert skiers, as you are already aware. They have a gradient of more than 40%. So going on a black slope is really not a smart idea if you’re just starting off.

Double or Triple Black Diamonds

These ones are rare but the Scandinavian nations have double and triple back slopes. These are extremely difficult slopes that should only be attempted by skilled skiers and snowboarders.

In fact, the difficulty of black diamonds is indicated by a number of levels. The slope angle of a double or triple black diamond can be 50% steeper than that of a single black diamond.

In addition to being more challenging to maneuver on, you’ll need a higher skill level to stay on double/triple black diamonds because of how tough it is to stop yourself from sliding down. You could easily lose balance or grip on your skis or snowboard due to their steepness.

Ski Slope Levels In Japan

Ski Slope Levels In Japan

Japan uses a color-coded system for skiing and snowboarding that’s similar to that of Europe. However, sometimes it can be confusing because some resorts operate under the American system. So it’s always a smart idea to check out the maps of ski resorts to know how they grade the slopes.

Other Kinds of Slope Designations

Other Kinds of Slope Designations

As you can see, the blue ski slopes are the most common. They’re the easiest to learn, especially for beginners who are just getting started. Also, if you come across a green run, know that such slopes are typically for children or those who have never gone skiing before.

Otherwise, ski resorts determine for themselves how challenging a certain slope is. Aside from the color-coded slopes, ski slopes will be there in a variety of names, based on the level of ability required, the terrain, as well as the slope’s inclination.

Therefore, while you look for the ideal location for this winter, you can run into different names, such as bunny slopes (for starters), or terrain parks and freeride zones (for experts). Let’s further clarify the slopes we’ve just stated so you can feel the flow:

Bunny Slopes

Most people begin their skiing adventures on these easy runs. Typically, they are not too long or too steep, and they don’t call for specialized gear like ski helmets and wrist guards. Bunny slopes are great for beginners and can be compared to green slopes.

Freeride Areas

For expert skiers who want to try something different or more difficult than normal, these are the ideal locations. The freeride zones are simply great if you’d like to take on some tricky slopes.

Terrain Park

This is a space or section created exclusively for jumps and stunts. There’re many different kinds of terrain parks, but they all often have rails and boxes that skiers can use to do tricks.

Additionally, since we are discussing various slopes, it’d be great if we mentioned one from Austria. The ski slope in question, “Harakiri,” is the hardest of all in the country, with a slope steepness of 78%.

Orange

You may also come across orange zones in some ski resorts. Although they are very uncommon, orange slopes can be found in Switzerland, Austria, and a few other European nations. If you haven’t had much experience skiing, don’t even consider trying one of the orange slopes. These are pretty gnarly.

Yellow

Yellow slopes are also quite uncommon, especially in Europe, and are mostly categorized as black runs. Although they are in the official skiing area, these slopes are typically off-piste.

Yellow slopes are never groomed and are never patrolled by ski resort staff. However, they do take care of them in terms of avalanche control.

Wrap Up

Wrap Up

So as you can see, there’re a lot of different factors that go into ski slope grading. In general, the color of the slope will tell you how steep it is, but of course, it is important to remember that ski slope grading is subjective and may differ from one country to another. The good news is, it is easy to understand the ski slope color system if you know what you are looking for!

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Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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Emily K.
Emily K.
1 year ago

Just got back from my first ever ski trip and it was amazing! The green circle slopes were perfect for getting the hang of things. I wish I had this guide before I went; it would’ve made understanding the slopes so much easier. Thanks for putting this together, Lisa Hayden-Matthews!

JohnathanTheBear
JohnathanTheBear
1 year ago

I always thought the slope color coding was like a mountain’s mood ring. More colors, more moods! Black diamonds? That’s the mountain saying, ‘Are you sure?’ Great breakdown of the colors!

MTN_LVR43
MTN_LVR43
1 year ago

This is super helpful! Planning a trip to Europe and wasn’t sure about the red runs. Now I know what to expect. Cheers!

Jess
Jess
1 year ago

So, are blue slopes much harder than green? First time going out this season and trying to get an idea. Thanks!

Alex_P
Alex_P
1 year ago

Spot on with the designations. One thing to note for beginners, even within the same color, not all slopes are created equal. Always do a run check at a new resort to gauge their rating scale. And remember, conditions can change the difficulty drastically!

SammieJo
SammieJo
1 year ago

Anyone got tips for hitting the terrain parks for the first time? I wanna try but kinda scared lol

PisteExplorer
PisteExplorer
1 year ago

In Europe, the red runs can be a mixed bag – sometimes they’re almost like a blue, other times closer to a black. It’s always a bit of an adventure finding out. Thanks for highlighting the differences between regions!

Craig99
Craig99
1 year ago

Really useful article for someone planning a ski trip on a budget. Knowing what these slopes mean can really help plan better and avoid surprises. Thanks for the guide!

Tara_Lynn
Tara_Lynn
1 year ago

I’m planning a family ski trip and would love to know more about the bunny slopes and how kid-friendly they are. Any resorts recommended for young beginners?

SnowTrailz
SnowTrailz
1 year ago

Great article, Lisa! Just a small point to add, double black diamonds in North America can sometimes be comparable to the extreme ski routes found in Europe, something not covered here. They often involve cliffs, steep gullies, and require significant skill. Safety first, always!

RileySkiFan88
RileySkiFan88
11 months ago

Aiming to move from blue to black slopes this season! This guide’s going to be a big help in setting my targets. Can’t wait!

Chaz
Chaz
11 months ago

One day, those double blacks won’t know what hit them. It’s all about pushing limits.

Gene_the_Scene
Gene_the_Scene
10 months ago

What makes a slope classified as double black diamond? Is it just the steepness?

Lucas_Adventure
Lucas_Adventure
10 months ago

Fascinating read! I never realized how universal slope color coding was across different countries, though with some variations. It’s a neat aspect of skiing culture that transcends language barriers.

Margot_W
Margot_W
9 months ago

I remember my first black run like it was yesterday. The thrill, the fear, and the sense of accomplishment afterwards. It’s wonderful that resources like these are available to guide new skiers.

TonyTechLove
TonyTechLove
9 months ago

For those new to skiing, there are some excellent apps that help you track which slopes you’ve done and even compare them to the standard ratings in this article. Might be a good companion piece, Lisa. Could save some beginners some surprises on their first trip.

Izzy_Inspire
Izzy_Inspire
8 months ago

Like the ski slopes of life, we all start on the greens, facing our fears until we can tackle the blacks. This article is a metaphor for growth, showing us that with the right guidance and perseverance, no slope is too steep. Beautifully written, Lisa.

DanTheMan
DanTheMan
8 months ago

Anyone else just skip to the terrain parks? That’s where the real fun’s at 😂

PriyaT
PriyaT
7 months ago

Reading about the ski slope colors took me back to my first ski trip in Japan. The serenity of the green slopes at the foothills of Mt. Fuji was a stark contrast to the adrenaline-pumping excitement of the red slopes elsewhere. The journey from one color to another was exhilarating!

SlopeExplorer
SlopeExplorer
7 months ago

This makes me want to explore more ski areas beyond my local ones. Really curious about the double or triple black diamonds mentioned for Europe.

Mia_B
Mia_B
6 months ago

Love that this covers slopes worldwide! Always wondered how they compared. Now I know.

GavinRunFree
GavinRunFree
5 months ago

Your section on freeride areas is spot on. It’s not just about the thrill but understanding the landscape and making informed decisions. Skiing off-piste requires knowledge, respect for the mountain, and the right gear. Always good to remind folks to be prepared.

KaraD
KaraD
5 months ago

Do ski resorts usually offer classes for absolute beginners? Really want to learn but not sure where to start.

Alex_P
Alex_P
Reply to  KaraD
3 months ago

Most resorts have ski schools for all levels, including first-timers. Group lessons are a great way to start, and you’ll move up to those green slopes in no time!

The_Wanderlust_Wolf
The_Wanderlust_Wolf
5 months ago

There’s a unique thrill in comparing the slopes around the world. Each has its own personality, from the sun-doused greens of the Alps to the daring blacks of North America. Articles like these are a treasure trove for someone seeking to understand the global ski culture.

ElliotV
ElliotV
4 months ago

It’s intriguing to consider how technology could further standardize slope ratings globally. Perhaps an AR app that overlays difficulty ratings directly as you look at the slope? Great article sparking some ideas here.

Joey_M
Joey_M
4 months ago

Reading about slope difficulties kinda reminds me of choosing the difficulty level in a video game. Start easy, get a feel for it, then ramp up the challenge. Except here, the ‘game over’ screen is a lot colder and more painful. Love the guide, makes navigating ski resorts seem way less daunting.

LizSkiHappy
LizSkiHappy
3 months ago

As someone who’s only tackled green and blue slopes, I’m really looking forward to stepping it up a notch this winter. This article’s been super helpful in setting my sights on what’s next. Can’t wait to hit the reds!

Barry_the_Boarder
Barry_the_Boarder
3 months ago

For all the newbies out there, don’t neglect learning about slope rescue signs and what to do in case of an avalanche if you’re going off-piste. Safety first, thrills second.

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