What Do Ski Slope Colors Mean? Trail Guide for Beginners

by Simon Naylor | Updated On: April 6th, 2022
black diamond ski run

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Every new skier has to understand the ski slope colors before they venture beyond the baby slopes. Not checking if you’re descending on a beginner, intermediate or expert run, could leave you in a pickle – or worse – mortal danger.

Ski slope colors refer to the steepness of the gradient and the level of difficulty. Green is an easy shallow & wide slope for beginners. Blue is for intermediate skiers who can turn on steeper faster gradients. In Europe, Red is for very good confident skiers that like a challenge. Black or Double Black Diamond is for expert skiers who can handle very steep, uneven gradients.

There are some differences between what classifies as a specific color depending on the country and the resort. Not all blues, reds or blacks will ever match up exactly in difficulty because every piste follows the natural gradient of the mountain.

A trail will be rated by its most difficult part, even if the rest of the trail is easy. (source)

However in all ski resorts in the world, Green is the easiest terrain designed for beginner skiers, while Black is the most difficult and steepest terrain meant for highly competent expert skiers.

Most resorts around the world fall into the two main categories I’ve laid out in the tables below:

Europe + Most of the World.

Europe Ski Piste Color Angles

Where Sign color Difficulty
& Most of the world.
Green Beginner
Blue Early Intermediate
Red Advanced Intermediate
Black Expert
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North America: Canada & USA.

Canada + USA Ski Trai Colors

Where Sign color Difficulty
🇨🇦🇺🇸North America
Green, white center. Beginner
Green Novice
Blue Intermediate
Black Diamond Advanced
Double Black Diamond Extreme

ski rating coloradoExceptions: In some resorts like Colorado at Winter Park resort, they use a black diamond inside a blue square to indicate a trail that sits between a blue and a black in difficulty. Similar to a European red run. 

Some resorts like Boise, Idaho use an orange diamond to indicate a trail that is more difficult than a double black diamond. Treat these as extreme warnings. 

Green Trails / Beginner Slopes.

Where Sign 
🇳🇿New Zealand
Green circle.
🇨🇦🇺🇸North America
Green white center + Green

Green slopes are wide & shallow beginner runs and have a gradient range of less than 25%. 

Every new skier needs to start somewhere. Preferably somewhere with a shallow gradient, plenty of wide open space and room to learn, play and fall!

In every resort, the green slopes are for new skiers learning the ropes. They typically have a large area of flat to shallow gradients at the bottom where first-day skiers congregate.

You can start off on a magic carpet (travelator or flat standing lift) to take you on your first few runs.

After that, you can upgrade to a chairlift to reach the top of the green run once you’re comfortable with the basics of sliding and snowplough.

Green runs typically have slow-moving lifts for you to learn how to get on and off without ending up in a broken mess.

Beginner lifts have attentive staff that is always on the lookout for wobbly new skiers and will shut off the lift at a moments notice -so you don’t swing back around hanging off the bar by your ankles!

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You’ll typically spend the first few days of learning to ski mostly on the green runs getting to grips with your balance and learning to turn.

Fellow beginners skiers are slow moving but in peak season you will have plenty of fallen obstacles to try and avoid with your new found snow plough.

Be aware of fast approaching skiers at the end of their long runs, but don’t be scared of them – they can ski around you much easier than you realize (that is unless you panic and make a sudden unexpected movement).

Blue Trails / Intermediate Slopes.

Where Sign 
🇳🇿New Zealand
🔵 Blue circle.
🇨🇦🇺🇸North America
🔷 Blue square.

Blue slopes are considered intermediate runs and have a gradient range of 25-40 percent. 

Once you’ve got a hand of your left and right turns, you can look ahead and avoid others, then you’re ready to try your first blue run.

In Europe look for a blue circle. In North America (Canada & USA) look for a blue square.

The lifts will be running much faster (up to twice as fast) so be prepared as you get on and off that you have less time to get into position.

Coming off the lifts you need to keep your skis together and not snowplough off as you’ll trip up any snowboarders or skiers either side of you. Slide off and come to a stop once you’re 5 meters or more away from the lift.

On the blue slopes, skiers around you will be much faster and the gradients steeper than what you’ve been used to up until this point. Try not to stop in the middle of the piste and never stop where oncoming skiers can’t see you.

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red ski trail

Red / Advanced Intermediate Slopes.

Where Sign 
🇳🇿New Zealand
🔴 Red circle.
🇨🇦🇺🇸North America (similar to steep blues or shallow blacks)

Red slopes are considered advanced intermediate runs and have a steep gradient for confident skiers.

Red pistes are found everywhere except North America – the equivalent there would be a steep section on a blue run or a shallow section on a black diamond run.

Red runs are for confident skiers who can link their turns quickly and are able to control their speed on steep gradients.

Red runs usually have some difficult bumpy terrain, parts of the slope can be twisted or narrow (rather than meandering).

Red runs are not for new skier learning to parallel turn, or for skies that can’t hockey stop either side, at will.

powder ski slope

Black Trails / Expert Slopes.

Where Sign 
⚫ Black
🇨🇦🇺🇸North America
◈◈ Black diamond.

Black slopes are expert runs and have a gradient range exceeding 40%.

Black runs are very steep and designed for expert skiers who have years of experience or who ski at a very high level.

In North America, Double Black diamond – is the designation for the highest difficulty of skiing. This could be ‘off-piste’, extreme moguls or other highly challenging conditions.

Black runs are deadly for new skiers, dangerous for beginners and very tough for intermediate skiers.

Get confident on blue or red runs before moving up to black trails.

black blue ski trails


More signs.

terrain park signIn some resorts, if you see black or orange rectangles with rounded corners this signifies the way to a terrain park with ski jumps, half-pipes, and other obstacles.

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Final thoughts

It’s clear that new skiers should get to grips with their piste colors as soon as possible.

Always know what color piste you’re on before descending. Not knowing could lead you towards a scary situation.

While the colors are universal across ski resorts (except no red in North America) be aware that one resorts classification may be more challenging than another resort.

Another important point to note is that in different snow conditions, the same run could dramatically change in difficulty.

Skiing over fresh powder naturally slows your skiing whilst skiing over long icy patches can be very difficult even for great skiers.

Take note of the weather conditions and only move up to the color of run that matches your level of skiing.

Don’t be pressured by friends or peers encouraging you to hit a steeper run if you don’t feel good about it..oh & wear a ski helmet.

Have fun and enjoy the mountain.

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