Trail signs

No matter which ski mountain you go to, there are different trail colors to let skiers know what to expect downhill.

When you start skiing and get beyond the instructional stage, you're going to head up to the mountain and find a number of trails to pick from.

Picking the right trail for you means matching your ability level, as well as avoiding a potential major mistake. Skiing is a fun sport, but it can be dangerous if you don't take it seriously.

Ski slope

Before you are faced with the decision which trail to pick, here's what you should know about the ski slope colors.

Ski Slope Colors

Ski slopes

You'll find three basic colors, and four in Europe. 

Keep in mind the colors are relative to that mountain. Since each mountain is different from the other, a green on mountain could be a blue on another. So don't assume if you've conquered a certain type of trail on one mountain that you can do them on any other mountain.

Green Circle is the beginner trail that is wide and lacks and steep drops. This is designed for skiers of all ability levels.

Blue Square is the intermediate trail, with a steeper gradient than the green circle trails. You'll likely be able to get faster speeds, but the trails are usually wide.

Black Diamond are the challenging trails meant for experts. There can be steep drops, obstacles, and otherwise uneven conditions. You'll sometimes see Double Black Diamond to differentiate between the demanding trails.

Red is a level between Blue and Black in Europe. Some mountains in North America will use a Black Diamond inside a Blue Square.

Green Circle

Green circle

When you start skiing, a green circle trail is meant for novices and anyone else who wants to ski it.

You'll find a wide path with the shallowest angle, making it perfect for new skiers. 

When you're starting out, these are the trails you want to ski over and over again to get a mastery of, as they should be the right fit for almost any ski level.

Ski mountain

There is usually an understanding on these beginner trails that this is a place to learn, so the ski lifts move slower to allow for easier process of getting on and off. In fact, expect the lift to stop a few times as people fall getting the hang of it all.

Once on the slope, most people are new so skiers traverse the slope slowly. 

Experienced skiers will find green circle trails tame and possibly even boring.  It's important to know that a lot of the advanced trails end in green circle trails, so slowing down and watching out for slower skiers is a must.

Blue Square

Blue square trails

Blue square trails are what most people graduate to once they master the green circle trails.

It is important to remember that blue trails are a relative rating, meaning what is blue square on one mountain might be more challenging on another mountain.

You'll find chair lifts that will go all the way to the top of the mountain, and the speeds of these lifts tend to be faster than green circle lifts. Don't be scared, it's nothing crazy, but you should have a good mastery of getting on and off a chair lift.

Blue square trail sign

Blue slopes have a steeper gradient, which means you're likely to go faster. 

Another major difference between blue and green trail is you have to be more cognizant of other skiers, especially if you need to stop for a break. Move to the side and always stop in a spot where people coming downhill can easily see you.

When you're new to blue trails, take things slowly until you get a good idea of how the trail goes. 

Black Diamond

Black diamond

Just like how you if you need to ask how much a luxury sports car is you probably can't afford it, if you have to ask how challenging a black diamond trail is, you probably should avoid them.

Black diamond trails are meant for expert skiers, with very steep slopes.

Not only are they steep, but you will commonly find obstacles along the way, such as moguls.

You will be expected to navigate all the challenges here, and absolutely not for anyone that is still figuring out the basics.

How to pick a trail

Green circle trails

I find it very easy to pick the green circle or black diamond trails, because you should know off the bat which type of skier you are for either one.

Before you head to the mountain, it's a good idea to look over the mountain trail map to get a sense of where each trail is located and find a starting point.

Beyond that, you're going to want to assess your skill level and try to be as realistic as possible. The most difficult aspect of picking a trail is when you visit a mountain for the first time. Each mountain has its own "feel", and it's not uncommon to master one mountain and struggle with another.

Ski Signs

If you're going to get to the summit of any mountain, expect a blue square trail. Green circle trails at the very top of a mountain are a rarity.

Don't be afraid to ask the mountain staff for advice if you're unsure about which trail to pick. They can guide you based on what you're looking for.

Ultimately, it's best to go for the safer bet until your confidence is at a point where you know you can handle the trail.

It's a smart idea to scout the trails as you go up the ski lift to get a birds-eye view of what's to come if you were to ski down later.