Ski Trail Signs

The Green, the Blue, and the Blacks

Ski Trail Signs -- a vista view from atop a ski mountain

Snowbrains recently tweeted out the following:

Ski trail signs -- image of Snowbrains' Tweet
The Snowbrains’ Tweet
which links to their article.

The gist of the article is Big Sky is going to require skiers accessing the Big Couloir, the North Summit Snowfield, and the Upper A-Z Chutes to check in with the ski patrol, go with a buddy, and to wear an avalanche transceiver. This I know for sure has been practice with the Big Couloir but I do not know if this is new for the A-Z Chutes and the North Summit Snowfield.

The article also says Big Sky is going to start using a new symbol (essentially a triple black diamond) to demarcate those trails and areas. In some of the discussion on this I have seen a lot of derision saying this a marketing gimmick. Of course marketing was in on this, I’m sure they love being the only resort with marked “triple diamond” runs. However, the Snowbrains article (and this a Big Sky ski patroller comments on the requirement) also talks about the need for the ski patrol to manage the amount of people on high-consequence terrain.

Overhaul the Ski Trail Marking System!

Ski Trail Signs -- Against snow covered pine trees
The green was very easy the black had one steep and bumpy section
This leads me to ponder the need for an overhaul of the North American ski trail rating system.

To rehash for the uninitiated, trail ratings at resorts are subjective. Also, they are graded on a curve and ratings only relate to other runs at that same resort. There also many different factors that go into rating a run. Width, pitch, obstacles on the trail, etc. As long as you understand that double-black at your local Midwest ski resort is often less challenging than blue runs on big mountains and you will be okay. The recommendation when at a new ski resort is to start on green and then work your way up the challenge scale.

Expanding the trail rating system is a good thing! Ski resorts should not start by adding a new advanced category (that is pure marketing, they don’t need a new rating to require avalanche beacons and ski patrol check-in) but start with blue! I have been to two big mountain resorts. At both resorts I have witnessed a vast difference in the beginner blue and advanced blue trails. At Whitefish I have found one or two blue trails appear to be more black than blue and one famed black is more of a blue (especially when it is groomed, but it wasn’t too bad when there was wild powder on it either). Again, a similar style, single, double, and triple blue for entry, intermediate (intermediate squared), and advanced blues respectively. Green run challenge at most resorts I’ve been to seem to be very close to each other (or maybe that is because I’m a well experienced skier I can no longer resolve the challenges to beginner skiers?) and so they do not warrant the same breakdown except to perhaps differentiate from bunny hill greens and non-bunny hill greens.

Obviously there can never be a perfect trail rating system. Trail conditions are too varied and too variable. Run width, conditions down the run, pitch, typical snow and weather conditions all factor into how difficult a given run is. Also, there will always a run that is “Hors catégorie” (HC or off the charts) difficult. Still, ski resorts should increase the number of ratings from its current standard four range to perhaps a ten. 1-2 are greens (bunny hills and all other greens), 3-5 is the blue range 6-8 is the black diamond range, 9 is the double black, 10 is triple black or “HC”.

Regardless of how a trail is rated you need to judge for yourself if you can handle it. I don’t like to say “stay within your ability” (then who would ever get off of the bunny hill?) but stay close to your ability and don’t be this guy.

So, good idea?

Good Stuff!

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