As you’re learning to ski or snowboard, slope signs can be intimidating. If you’re a beginner, anything besides a green circle might get your hackles up and the mere glimpse of a black diamond could make you freeze in your tracks. So what exactly do these symbols and ratings really mean and how do you know when you’re ready to move from one level to the next?

In North America, the easiest ski trails are denoted by a green circle, intermediate trails by a blue square and advanced trails by a black diamond. Most ski areas also offer even more advanced terrain for experts, marked with a double black diamond or E and X for extreme terrain.

There is no hard and fast rule that ski areas follow for deeming one trail a green and another a blue or black – each resort divides its terrain depending on its own variety of slope angles. While it may vary from resort to resort, compared to the rest of the terrain at that mountain, the green trails are always the easiest, the blues are middle-of-the-road, and blacks/double-blacks are the most difficult.

What skills do you need to tackle each rating?

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Beginner runs are going to be wider and less steep than others.

© Vail Resorts

Beginner/Green Circle

You know how to get in and out of your ski or snowboard bindings and how to successfully load and unload from a chairlift or gondola. You can make controlled stops and initiate turns slowly but successfully. If you’re a skier, you’re using a wedge turn and if you’re a snowboarder, you’re growing your skills at linking heel to toe-side turns. You are comfortable gliding and can make it down a long slope.

Intermediate/Blue Triangle

You are comfortable turning (including tight, short turns) and are confident maintaining control at swifter speeds. A steeper pitch doesn’t scare you and you enjoy the challenge of tackling terrain that has not been groomed. If you’re a skier, you’re making parallel turns and if you’re a snowboarder, your heel-to-toe shift is smooth, fast, and comfortable.

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As you gain experience you can move on to more challenging terrain.

© Vail Resorts

Expert/Black Diamond

You feel completely confident on every blue you’ve skied up to this point and are entirely comfortable getting on and off of any chairlift, including T-bars, POMA lifts, and fast-moving chairs with steep and narrow exit ramps. You have rapid reflexes and can make tight turns around bumps and obstacles. You are confident on steep terrain and in every type of snow condition, from slick hard pack to deep powder.

Extreme/Double-Black Diamond

You are a seasoned expert who is so skilled and confident that you are able to offer advice to others on how to ski and ride. You have legs of steel that can stop on a dime in any type of snow condition or atop a cliff face. You enjoy negotiating narrow chutes and rock bands and have a keen sense of snow safety and terrain risks. You are more comfortable on skis or a snowboard than you are walking on your own two feet. Your turns don’t miss a beat even when you catch air or drop a few feet off of a cornice or rock.

How do I know if I’m ready to move up to the next level?

Making the grade up from intermediate to expert is often the biggest leap for skiers and riders and one that many people are afraid to make. You feel pretty good about your turning technique and skills on blues but are not certain that “expert” is truly the correct label for you. And that black diamond logo still looks a little scary.

How can you know you’re ready? What does it take to graduate to the next level? If you are confident on blue runs and can negotiate ungroomed terrain, including bumps and narrower, steeper pitches, you are ready to take those skills to blacks. It is largely a mental game.

How to get to the next level

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Take your time and become comfortable on your skis.

© Vail Resorts

As we previously mentioned, it can be difficult to know when you’re ready to move up a level. Here are a few tips to get you there:

  • Ask a resort ambassador, ski patroller, or liftie to direct you to the easiest runs at the resort of that color. Remember, a run rated black at one resort could be rated blue at another, so don’t let the label scare you.
  • Slow it down a notch. Speed isn’t the key here. Your goal is making solid, deliberate turns while maintaining your technique. Take a deep breath and be patient with yourself.
  • At the top of the run, scan the slope for the line you want to take, making a mental map of your turns.
  • Take a lesson. Ski and snowboard lessons are not just for beginners. If you’ve plateaued at the blues and are not sure where or how to notch that next rung in your skill set, a few hours of on-slope coaching can do wonders. Every resort has instructors who specialize in taking skiers and riders to the expert level.

Make sure you download the EpicMix app and collect pins as you gain experience and try new challenges at resorts across the country!

Originally written by RootsRated for Rent Skis.

Featured image provided by © Vail Resorts

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