Every ski resort in the world uses some sort of color-coated system to display the difficulty level of its runs. This helps skiers know what kind of situation they might be getting into before they choose to ski a particular slope.
I’ve been skiing for most of my life, and I’ve been to resorts all over the world. I know through first-hand experience what ski slope colors mean, and I also know the color differences based on where you ski in the world.
I’ll explain exactly what ski slope colors mean in this post. I’ll show you the two most common color-based systems that you find at resorts all over the world. This information can help skiers better understand the terrain at a ski resort.
Let’s dive in.
Ski Run Color Systems
Before explaining precisely what the ski slope colors mean, it’s essential to know that these meanings and colors can vary depending on where you are skiing in the world.
It’s also important to understand that the purpose of these colors (no matter where you are skiing) is to tell you how difficult the run is before you ski down it. This is good for safety and for helping you decide what sort of skiing you want to do.
There two major color ranking systems are the North American and European. These vary slightly, so you need to know what the specific colors mean based on where you live or plan to be skiing often.
North American Ski Slope Colors
The North American ski slope color system exists in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. If you ski in any resort in these locations, you’ll see the colors described below.
Greens are the easiest runs in this system. They are suitable for beginners and feature easy terrain that is often groomed, wide open, and not steep. Green runs are great for learning the basics of skiing and the first runs you’ll ski on if you are just learning.
Green runs usually don’t have too many obstacles or variable terrain. They also are less steep slopes, so you can’t ski as fast. These are ideal conditions for beginners and make for a very mellow skiing experience.
Every resort will have a very basic green run intended for brand new skiers. This of often called the bunny hill, beginner’s area, or learning slope, and it’s the easiest run on the mountain.
Blue represents intermediate difficulty runs in North America. These are more challenging than greens and require a decent amount of skill to ski down. They can be groomed or ungroomed and will be steeper than greens, allowing for more speed.
Blue runs can cover quite a bit of ground regarding what type of terrain you will see. A groomed blue is great for learning how to ski fast or make carving turns. But you will also see moguls, trees, and ungroomed conditions here.
Blues can range from somewhat challenging to pretty challenging depending on their snow conditions, terrain, and steepness. You need to be pretty confident to handle them and trust your skiing abilities.
Black runs are the most difficult slopes at the resort. They are also shown as black diamonds and can be listed as either regular black or double black runs. Double black runs are even more difficult than single black diamonds.
Blacks are not suitable for beginners, and you need quite a bit of skill to ski down them. These runs will have the most challenging terrain you can find within resort boundaries, and you need to be an advanced or expert-level skier to handle them.
Black runs can be very steep and highly variable. You won’t find many groomed blacks, and they will often be packed with bumps, dropoffs, rocks, trees, and unmarked obstacles that pose challenges for even advanced skiers.
Double blacks often have extreme conditions that require expert-level ability. You need to be very capable and confident in your skiing abilities to tackle a double black diamond. There is little room for error, and falling down on one can be bad.
European Ski Slope Colors
The European ski slope colors are used in Europe, Japan, and other Asian countries. This system is slightly different from the one I described above, even though it covers the same type of terrain.
Blue is the beginner color ranking for this system. Blues are the easiest runs that you will find at a resort in regions using this system. They are usually groomed and not very steep, making for a great place to learn the basics of skiing.
Blues will not have very many obstacles, and the terrain will be relatively wide open and easy to navigate. The length of these runs can vary, but they are almost always gentle slopes that won’t be very fast.
Red runs are unique to this system and are the color you won’t see on runs in North America. Reds are intermediate difficulty and are steeper and more challenging than blues. These can be both groomed and ungroomed.
Reds will be steep enough to allow for quite a bit of speed. You need to be pretty comfortable with basic skiing, turning, and stopping techniques to handle a red. They can also have variable conditions and have moguls, trees, and even dropoffs.
Black is the most difficult color ranking in this system. You can see single black, double black, and even triple black at a resort. Single black is an advanced-level run that can be very steep and challenging a require a high amount of skill.
Black runs are rarely groomed, resulting in terrain and conditions that can be extremely variable. You always need to be ready for anything on a black run and be very confident in your skiing abilities, so you don’t get in over your head.
Double and triple blacks are even more challenging than single blacks and are considered expert-only terrain. These runs can have unmarked obstacles like rocks, cliffs, and trees with terrain like chutes and bumps that require high levels of skill.
Why You Need to Know Ski Slope Colors
Knowing ski slope colors gives you a good understanding of the terrain on the mountain. This allows you to ski within your ability level and not go down a run that you aren’t really capable of navigating.
These colors can also help you plan a ski day or even an entire ski trip. If you are exploring new resorts to visit, you can look at a trail map and see what sort of terrain it offers. You can then pick and choose where you want to go for the day or compare different resorts.
Some ski resorts will mix these colors to provide an even more detailed description of the run. For example, a green/blue will be more difficult than a green but less difficult than a blue.
Knowing the color of a slope before heading down it is helpful for every skier but is especially important for beginners who are just learning. Always check this before you head down a run.