Most pistes have numbers, so you can tell where you are on the mountain.

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Piste ratings & their meaning

If you are skiing for the first time, one thing you will quickly notice are all the markings along the piste and their different colours, which guide you down the mountain and indicate that you are within the limits of the prepared and controlled ski area. But what do they all mean? And why is it that it seems they vary from resort to resort?

The one thing all European ski resorts have in common is the rating from easy to difficult goes green - blue –red – black. The colour gives a good indication of their incline and hence the suitability of the slope for certain skill levels, so you can decide the right route for you. The other golden rule is that as you ski down the mountain on the same slope, if it changes in rating, it will get easier and never harder.

You won’t often find green slopes in Germany or Austria – if there are any then they are the nursery slopes and mainly used just by ski schools.

In Germany this indicates that the slope incline is >25% and in Austria >20%. These slopes are perfect for beginners, warming up, families with kids as well as practising new techniques- gliding, snow-plough and long wide turns. Nearly all resorts will ensure that the valley run is a blue run and is kept open throughout the season.

In both Germany and Austria red indicates a slope of medium difficulty and incline up to 40%. Already this demands more experience and is beyond beginner level. Red slopes may often have narrower passages and require skiers to be able to do short turns. They are a good spot for intermediate and advanced skiers to work on their technique.

The Harikaris and Kandahars of the ski world… here you test your ski grit on steep slopes over 40% incline and there is no forgiveness for beginners here… Sometimes blacks can be deceiving – a red-looking slope from the top might have a small passage in it, which is steep and narrow and therefore earns its black reputation. Others might be deemed black due to its tendancy towards moguls. If you are not sure, talk with the lift office before you go and see if you can check it out from above first.

That said, there is a fair amount of variation between resorts. The best way to work this out for yourself, is to ski the easier slopes first and see how they match the rating, if the reds are already tough, then that gives you a good idea of what to expect from the blacks!

Finally there are also ski routes which are marked as black dotted/ broken lines or sometimes highlighted in yellow. These routes are within the secured piste area (only checked against risk of avalanche), but are generally unprepared and unchecked. They are where you may find fresh powder without leaving the secured ski area- and are often quite mogully! A good place to start training for off-piste skiing.