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A piste in Serfaus, Austria Mindersjochabfahrt.JPG
A piste in Serfaus, Austria
Pistes on Bald Mountain, Idaho Baldmountainid.jpg
Pistes on Bald Mountain, Idaho

A piste ( /pst/ ) [1] is a marked ski run or path down a mountain for snow skiing, snowboarding, or other mountain sports.


This European term is French [2] ("trail", "track") and synonymous with 'trail', 'slope', or 'run' in North America. The word is pronounced using a long "e" sound so that it rhymes with "beast". [1]

Increasingly, North Americans employ its common European antonym, 'off piste', to describe backcountry skiing, especially when referring to skiing outside officially approved areas of a ski resort.


Ski piste.jpg
A piste in Pohorje, Slovenia, created with artificial snowmaking
Hemsedal MG 2700.jpg
A floodlit piste being groomed at nighttime
Die Fellhornbahn in Oberstdorf im Winter.jpg
A freshly groomed piste in Oberstdorf, Germany

Pistes are usually maintained using tracked vehicles known as snowcats to compact or "groom" the snow to even out trail conditions, remove moguls, and redistribute snow to extend the ski season. Natural snow is often augmented with snow making machines and snow reserves, early in the season or when the snowpack is low, and to ensure the snow lasts throughout the season.


Typically, grading is done by the resort, and grades are relative to other trails within that resort. As such, they are not classified to an independent standard; although they are likely to be roughly similar, skiers should be cautious about assuming that grades in two different resorts are absolutely equivalent.

North America, Australia and New Zealand

Piste ratings North America.svg
A comparison of typical ski trail ratings in North America, Australia, and New Zealand
June Lake Ski Sign.JPG
A typical sign indicating ski slopes and their difficulty
A piste in Collingwood, Canada

In North America, Australia and New Zealand, a color–shape rating system is used to indicate the comparative difficulty of trails (otherwise known as slopes or pistes).

The steepness of ski trails is usually measured by grade (as a percentage) instead of degree angle. In general, beginner slopes (green circle) are between 6% and 25%. Intermediate slopes (blue square) are between 25% and 40%. Difficult slopes (black diamond) are 40% and up. However, this is just a general "rule of thumb". Although slope gradient is the primary consideration in assigning a trail difficulty rating, other factors come into play. A trail will be rated by its most difficult part, even if the rest of the trail is easy. Ski resorts assign ratings to their own trails, rating a trail compared only with other trails at that resort. The resort may take into consideration the width of the trail, sharpest turns, terrain roughness, and whether the trail is groomed regularly.

Ski trail difficulty ratings in North America, Australia, and New Zealand
Trail ratingLevel of difficultyDescription
Green circle Ski trail rating symbol-green circle.svg EasiestThe easiest slopes at a mountain. Generally, Green Circle trails are wide and groomed, with slope grades ranging from 6% to 25% [3]
Blue square Ski trail rating symbol-blue square.svg Intermediate

More Difficult

Intermediate difficulty slopes. Generally, Intermediate trails are groomed, with grades ranging from 25% to 40%. [3] Blue Square trails make up the bulk of pistes at most ski areas.[ citation needed ]
Black diamond Ski trail rating symbol-black diamond.svg Advanced

Most Difficult

Amongst the most difficult slopes at a mountain. Generally, Black Diamond trails are steep (40% and up) [3] and may or may not be groomed.
Double black diamond Ski trail rating symbol-double black diamond.svg Expert Only

Extremely Difficult

These trails are even more difficult than Black Diamond, due to exceptionally steep slopes and other hazards such as narrow trails, exposure to wind, and the presence of obstacles such as steep drop-offs or trees. They are intended only for the most experienced skiers.

This trail rating is fairly new; by the 1980s, technological improvements in trail construction and maintenance, coupled with intense marketing competition, led to the creation of a Double Black Diamond rating.

Variations Ski trail rating symbol-square diamond.svg VariousVariations such as doubling a symbol to indicate increased difficulty, or combining two different symbols to indicate intermediate difficulty are occasionally used, as is often in Colorado at Winter Park resort and other Colorado ski resorts. One example is a diamond overlapping a square to indicate a trail rating between a Blue Square and a Black Diamond, colloquially a 'Blue-Black'. This is used by several eastern resorts, especially in New York with notable examples being at Windham and Hunter Mountain Ski Resort. Many resorts throughout Colorado use a double diamond with an "EX" in the center to mark a run with extreme terrain, even more difficult than a double diamond. Other resorts, such as Smugglers' Notch, Vermont, Le Massif, Quebec, and Mt. Bohemia, Michigan, use triple black diamonds. The combination of symbols is comparatively rare at U.S. ski areas; most ski resorts stick to the standard 4-symbol progression (with the exception of the common EX runs in Colorado).

Non-standard symbols for standard ratings may be encountered at some ski areas. Bogus Basin, a resort near Boise, Idaho, uses orange diamonds on trailhead signs considered to be more difficult than double black diamonds; however, those trails are indicated on the trail map as double black diamonds. [4] Jiminy Peak, MA uses two variations of normal trail ratings; one is a blue square with a green circle inside of it used to represent an easy-intermediate trail. The other is a blue square with a single black diamond in it, used to represent an intermediate-hard trail.

Terrain parks Ski trail rating symbol-terrain park.svg Various Terrain parks are whole or portions of trails that can offer a variety of jumps, half-pipes, and other special "extreme" sporting obstacles beyond traditional moguls. The trails are typically represented by an orange rectangle with rounded corners.

Usually, the terrain park will carry its own trail rating, indicating the level of challenge. A terrain park with a Black Diamond or Double Black Diamond rating would contain greater and more challenging obstacles than a park with a Blue Square rating. Typically, a skier would be able to descend through a terrain park without necessarily negotiating any of its features, making this a possible easier way down than other options.


Piste ratings Europe.svg
A comparison of typical piste ratings in Europe
Begrenzungsmarkierungen blaue Skipiste.jpg
Blue piste markers in Kronplatz, Italy
Black piste Agate in Flaine.jpg
Sign for a black expert slope in Flaine, France

In Europe, pistes are classified by a color-coded system. The actual color system differs in parts for each country, although in all countries blue (easy), red (intermediate) and black (expert) are used. Shapes are often not used, sometimes all ratings are circles as being defined in the basic rules of the German Skiing Association DSV. [5] The three basic color codes of the DSV have been integrated into the national standards DIN 32912 in Germany and ÖNORM S 4610 f in Austria.

In Scandinavia, a similar system is used with the addition of shapes, simplifying the identification of snow covered signs (see table below).

Slopes marked green, blue or red are groomed in all countries; blacks are groomed in Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Scandinavian resorts, while in France most black slopes are not groomed, but some are. All other classifications are generally not groomed. Sometimes slopes are marked on piste maps as dotted or as dashed lines, this also signifies that the slope is not groomed.

Ski piste difficulty ratings in Europe, excluding Scandinavia
Piste ratingLevel of difficultyDescription
Green Ski trail rating symbol-green circle.svg Learning/beginnerFrance, Poland, Spain, and UK only.
These are usually not marked trails, but tend to be large, open, gently sloping areas at the base of the ski area or traverse paths between the main trails.
Blue Piste Europe 2 blue.svg EasyThese are almost always groomed. The slope gradient does not normally exceed 25% except for short wide sections with a higher gradient.
Red Piste Europe 3 red.svg IntermediateSteeper or narrower than a blue slope, these are usually groomed, unless the narrowness of the trail prohibits it. The slope gradient does not normally exceed 40% except for short wide sections with a higher gradient.
Black Piste Europe 4 black.svg Advanced or expertSteep, may or may not be groomed, or may be groomed for mogul skiing. In Austria, Italy and Switzerland black pistes are nearly always groomed, as non-groomed pistes are marked as skiroutes or itineraires (see below); in France, some black pistes are groomed, but most are not. Black can be a very wide classification, ranging from a slope marginally more difficult than a red, to very steep avalanche chutes like the infamous Couloirs of Courchevel. France tends to have a higher limit between red and black.[ citation needed ]
Orange Piste Europe 5 orange.svg Extremely difficultAustria, Switzerland, and certain other areas only.
In a small number of areas, orange is used to mark pistes that are more difficult than black.
Yellow Piste Europe 6 yellow.svg Skiroute,
itinéraire, or
In recent years, many areas reclassified some black slopes to yellow slopes. These are ungroomed and unpatrolled routes which are actually off-piste skiing, but marked and secured from avalanches. Famous examples are the Stockhorn area in Zermatt and the Tortin slopes in Verbier. In Austria, skiroutes are usually marked with orange squares instead. It is also common to mark these routes with a red diamond or a red diamond with black edges, the latter being more difficult.
Orange square Piste Europe 7 orange square.svg
Red diamond Piste Europe 8 red diamond.svg
Red diamond with black edges Piste Europe 9 red diamond with black edges.svg

Alpine slope classification in Europe is less rigidly tied to slope angle than in North America. A lower angle slope may be classified as more difficult than a steeper slope if it requires better skiing ability because, for example, it is narrower, requires carrying speed through flatter sections or controlling speed through sharp hairpin turns, or features off-camber slope angles or exposed rock.


In Norway, Sweden [6] and Finland, [7] a system is used with similar colours as elsewhere in Europe, but with shapes as well.

Ski piste difficulty ratings in Scandinavia
Piste ratingLevel of difficultyDescription
Green circle Ski trail rating symbol-green circle.svg Very easyUp to 9° (16%) slope.
Blue square Ski trail rating symbol-blue square.svg EasyUp to 15° (27%) slope.
Red rectangle Piste Scandinavia 3 red rectangle.svg Moderately difficultUp to 25° (47%) slope.
Black diamond Ski trail rating symbol-black diamond.svg DifficultOver 25° (47%) slope. Triple black diamond may also be used in some areas.
Double black diamond Ski trail rating symbol-double black diamond.svg Very difficult


Japan uses a color-coded system, but shapes do not usually accompany them. Some resorts, mainly those catering to foreigners, use the North American or European color-coding system, adding to the confusion. The usual ratings are:

Ski piste difficulty ratings in Japan
Piste ratingLevel of difficultyDescription
Green Ski trail rating symbol-green circle.svg BeginnerThese are usually near the base of the mountain, although some follow switchback routes down from the top.
Red Piste Europe 3 red.svg IntermediateAt most ski areas in Japan, these constitute the majority of the slopes.[ citation needed ]
Black Piste Europe 4 black.svg ExpertExpert slopes. These are the steepest and most difficult slopes at the ski area. The difficulty of these compared to like-classified slopes at other ski areas is heavily dependent on the target audience.

Japan has more than 1000 ski areas (115 in Nagano Prefecture alone), [8] many of them small and family-oriented, so comparisons between slope classifications in Japan and "equivalent" slopes in Europe or North America are minimal.

See also

Related Research Articles

Cross-country skiing Form of snow skiing

Cross-country skiing is a form of skiing where skiers rely on their own locomotion to move across snow-covered terrain, rather than using ski lifts or other forms of assistance. Cross-country skiing is widely practiced as a sport and recreational activity; however, some still use it as a means of transportation. Variants of cross-country skiing are adapted to a range of terrain which spans unimproved, sometimes mountainous terrain to groomed courses that are specifically designed for the sport.

Alpine skiing Sport of skiing downhill

Alpine skiing, or downhill skiing, is the pastime of sliding down snow-covered slopes on skis with fixed-heel bindings, unlike other types of skiing, which use skis with free-heel bindings. Whether for recreation or for sport, it is typically practised at ski resorts, which provide such services as ski lifts, artificial snow making, snow grooming, restaurants, and ski patrol.

Ski resort Resort developed for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports

A ski resort is a resort developed for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports. In Europe, most ski resorts are towns or villages in or adjacent to a ski area – a mountainous area with pistes and a ski lift system. In North America, it is more common for ski areas to exist well away from towns, so ski resorts usually are destination resorts, often purpose-built and self-contained, where skiing is the main activity.

St Anton am Arlberg Place in Tyrol, Austria

Sankt Anton am Arlberg, commonly referred to as St. Anton, is a village and ski resort in the Austrian state of Tyrol. It lies in the Tyrolean Alps, with aerial tramways and chairlifts up to 2,811 m (9,222 ft), yielding a vertical drop of 1,507 m (4,944 ft). It is also a popular summer resort among hikers, trekkers and mountaineers.

Obertauern Winter sports resort in Austria

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Les Trois Vallées Ski resort in France

Les Trois Vallées is a ski region in the Tarentaise Valley, Savoie département of France, to the south of the town of Moûtiers, partly in the Vanoise National Park.

Ski touring

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Tignes Commune in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

Tignes is a commune in the Tarentaise Valley, in the Savoie department in the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France, known for the highest skiable area in Europe and the longest ski season in Europe. It is located in the Savoie region with good transport links in and out of Lyon, Geneva and Chambery.

A snowcat is an enclosed-cab, truck-sized, fully tracked vehicle designed to move on snow. Major manufacturers are Pisten Bully (Germany), Prinoth (Italy) and Tucker.

Whiteface Mountain

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Les Arcs

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Les Deux Alpes Ski resort in France

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Snow grooming

Snow grooming is the process of manipulating snow for recreational uses with a tractor, snowmobile, piste caterpillar, truck or snowcat towing specialized equipment. The process is used to maintain ski hills, cross-country ski trails and snowmobile trails by grooming the snow on them. A snow groomer is usually employed to pack snow and improve skiing and snowboarding and snowmobile trail conditions. The resulting pattern on the snow is known as corduroy, and is widely regarded as a good surface on which to ski or ride. Snow groomers can also move accumulated snow made by snow machines as part of a process, called "snow farming".

Couloir Steep, narrow mountain gully

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Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise Commune in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

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Speikboden (South Tyrol)

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Cross-country skiing trail

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Jahorina ski resort

Jahorina ski resort, officially named Olympic Center Jahorina, is a mountain resort and the largest and most popular winter tourism resort in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The ski resort is situated on the slopes of Jahorina mountain in Dinaric Alps. It is located 15 km (9.3 mi) from the municipality of Pale in the Republika Srpska entity and 30 km (19 mi) from the Sarajevo International Airport. The Jahorina ski resort hosted alpine skiing competition during the 1984 Winter Olympics.

This glossary of skiing and snowboarding terms is a list of definitions of terms and jargon used in skiing, snowboarding, and related winter sports.


  1. 1 2 "piste noun". Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2018-01-17.
  2. English language Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS) website Archived 2013-01-23 at Archive.today
  3. 1 2 3 . "Appendix G: Mountain Specifications Summary, Draft Environmental Impact Statement for The Timberline Express Proposal" (pdf). USDA, U.S. Forest Service, Mount Hood National Forest. March 2005. p. 26. Retrieved 2006-12-10.
  4. Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area. 2010. Alpine Guide
  5. "Die Markierung von Pisten und Loipen",[ dead link ] Deutscher Skiverband, Journal, 8. August 2005
  6. "Nedfartsmarkeringar". web.archive.org. 2014-03-02. Retrieved 2021-02-01.
  7. "Wayback Machine" (PDF). web.archive.org. 2014-03-02. Retrieved 2021-02-01.Cite uses generic title (help)
  8. Ski areas and resorts in Japan