After a few trips to the ski hill, chances are you’re getting ready to graduate from the green circle. Maybe not quite to those gnarly black diamond runs—there’s plenty of time for that down the road. In the meantime, intermediate runs marked with a telltale blue square are the way to go. Blue runs tend to be a little steeper and sometimes narrower than their green counterparts, and you’re more likely to encounter occasional patches of trees or ungroomed bumps. The rewards are totally worth it: blues are often longer, and they’ll open up whole new swaths of terrain to explore.
Before you take the plunge, study up a little on the best blue runs at your local ski area. Ask a ski patroller, mountain ambassador, or a friend who’s ridden there for years: What should be my first blue run? They’ll know what’s been groomed recently, what’s icy right now, and which runs have a short-but-steep pitch that might be intimidating for newly minted intermediate skiers. Some ski areas also have blue-black runs, which are indicated by a black diamond inside a blue square. Those runs aren’t quite advanced, but they’re often steeper and less frequently groomed, so they’re probably not a great introduction to intermediate skiing. How do you know if you’re ready? Here are some things to keep in mind before taking a deep breath and heading down that first blue run. Good luck!
You’re Comfortable in Your Gear
It’s almost impossible to learn when you’re uncomfortable. That’s a core tenet of education; Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory that says we can focus on self-improvement when our basic needs are met—things like food, water, and shelter. Apply that theory to skiing or snowboarding, and it includes things like not being too cold to focus on making turns and using gear that fits comfortably and works well. Before you start tackling harder runs, make sure your boots aren’t too tight, your socks aren’t leaving you with blisters, and your gloves are nice and toasty.
Your Endurance is Improving
Just as running in hilly terrain is harder than jogging on a flat path, skiing or riding blue runs is more physically taxing than the greens you’ve been practicing on. If you’re noticing that you don’t need to stop as often, that your calves and quads aren’t burning quite as soon, or that you’re rarely out of breath at the bottom of a run, chances are it’s time to head down some blues. Not quite there yet? Cross-training (especially lunges, squats, and cardio) goes a long way.
You’re Always in Control
Green runs tend to be nice and wide, allowing plenty of room to make big turns or practice carving on terrain where you’re unlikely to fall. They’re also typically groomed, gently pitched, and are thus less likely to have obstacles like patches of ice. That’s what makes them the ideal terrain for learning to ski. Once you find that you’re always in control—not faltering on small ice patches, turning exactly where you want to, rarely taking a fall—you’re well on your way to being ready for blues.
You Know Some ‘Survival skiing’ Techniques
Blue runs vary by difficulty depending on the resort you’re skiing at and the area of the country you’re in (steepness can range from 25 to 40 degrees), but for the most part, you’re unlikely to find moguls or long pitches of super-steep terrain. Still, it will serve you well to know a few techniques to get out of a bind. If you’ve spent some time practicing kick turns, “falling leaf,” and the occasional side slip, you’ll feel more prepared to take on trickier terrain.
Get a Little Help from Your Friends
If there’s one surefire way to improve at almost any activity, it’s by surrounding yourself with people who are more experienced. Watching friends’ techniques and pushing your limits on more challenging terrain make improving your skiing or riding much more fun, and you’ll have the added benefit of being in good company if you need a little coaching on the way down. Friends who have been hitting the slopes longer may also be able to recommend good introductory blue runs to boost your confidence.
Be Willing to Take a Step Back and Ask for Help
As with progression in any sport, it can be frustrating to reach a plateau, and even tougher to reach the next level. When you start stepping up your game from green runs to blues, chances are it’s going to feel hard for a little while—because the terrain is, objectively, harder. If you think you can cut yourself some slack and know it’s all part of improving your skiing or riding, that’s a good sign that you’re ready to take the next step. Keep in mind, too, that taking a lesson with a pro will almost certainly improve your technique. Consider signing up for one after you’ve tried a handful of blue runs.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated in partnership with Rent Skis.