In Skiing, what is a Black Diamond?
A ski slope with a black diamond rating is said to be one of the more difficult slopes relative to others around it. When considering ski run categories, this symbol has traditionally been used for the most difficult, though in recent years a double black diamond designation has been implemented. No matter if it is a single or double, however, it will still be one of the more difficult trails at a particular resort.
It should be noted there is no national or international system for rating trails. It is up to each ski resort or ski area to determine their own classification system and the trails will be marked relative to other trails on the property. This can sometimes be confusing, and it is possible that a trail of similar length, width, and gradient will be marked differently at two different locations.
The black diamond is one of several ski run levels. Others include the green circle, generally regarded as the easiest trails for beginners, and the blue square, which is an intermediate trail. In Europe, the system is somewhat different. While the trails are marked by the same color, the shapes may or may not be used. Green is still the easiest, followed by blue and black as the difficulty increases.
As far as ski runs go, the most challenging should only be attempted by skiers who have a fair amount of experience and are comfortable traversing trails rated at lower levels of difficulty. Due to the fact there is no standardized rating system, it is always good for skiers to start out on a lower rated trail when skiing in an unfamiliar area. This will give him or her an idea of how the ratings may work for that particular location.
A ski slope rated as a black diamond will often be one of the steepest on the hill. It may also be narrower than most of the other trails, requiring more frequent hairpin turns in order to control speed and positioning. Hazards may include cliffs, trees and rocks. The trail may or may not be groomed, depending on the resort's practices.
A double black diamond course is sometimes even substantially more difficult than a single, and these courses may have extremely steep slopes and often are not groomed. It is up to the skier to traverse the mountain in a responsible way and those attempting a difficult who are not ready for it are subjecting themselves to risk of serious injury.
Glades are ski runs on which a fair number of trees are left standing, but are usually thinned to allow some space to make turns. They are often also cleared of underbrush and deadfalls (though certainly not completely -- large fallen logs are common features of glades) to keep ski- and board-snagging branches from being hidden under a snow cover of normal depth. Different areas trim and maintain their glades to different degrees--some have very tight glades with lots of "snow snakes" and hidden rocks.
A terrain park is a run that contains man-made features such as half-pipes, single and double jumps, and exposed metal features for sliding along such as pipe or old resort benches. The purpose of a terrain park is to have an area to practice freestyle skiing and boarding, comprised of "tricks" such as flips of all forms, spins, jumps, and the "ducky." Such a run is usually fenced in to keep high-speed skiers and boarders from entering and exiting without slowing or stopping. This keeps them from "hitting" jumps and half-pipes at uncontrolled speeds, or being unable to stop amongst the features or other people waiting to take a turn to do a trick on a certain feature. Depending on the resort, some of the features can be extremely large: jumps of thirty feet or more, half-pipes a hundred or a few hundred feet long, etc.
Chutes are extremely steep, narrow corridors of snow, usually between rock formations of cliffs or boulders. Similar, but generally longer and larger, are couloirs. Couloirs are particularly associated with a high-alpine environment (above timberline), and tend to be avalanche paths. Even in-bounds, some couloirs will have a reasonably stable hanging glacier or cornice above them.
Finally, some areas have permanent snow fields or glacier skiing. Snow fields are present in a certain drainage or on a certain mountain face year-round, and grow and shrink in size with the seasons due to melt and snow deposition, but do not move in the form of snow and ice. Glaciers are defined as having an actual current of snow and ice. This stresses such rigid material as ice, in which large cracks form called "crevasses."
Crevasses can be extremely large, and there is always some danger of encountering them during glacier skiing and travel; however, the danger of falling into a crevasse will be limited (but not eliminated) when skiing in-bounds, as such features will be monitored and marked by the ski patrol of the area in question.
@ istria- What are glades and what is a terrain park?
@ GlassAxe- I just got back from a vacation at Bolton in Vermont. It is definitely a smaller resort than Stowe is, but the lines are much shorter, and the cost is much cheaper. I went with a few friends, and we spent most of our time getting used to the trails and in the terrain park. The last day we made it a point to hit up some of the resort's glades and the black trails. My favorites were the glades above devil's playground and preacher, but they definitely wore us out. Towards the end of the day, we were romping through the intermediate glades off Beech Seal and by the Terrain parks.
I spent most of my teenage and early twenties in Vermont skiing and riding some of the East's best resorts. I learned to ski at Bolton, and Stowe and Smuggs became my home turf. Through my years of skiing and riding, I gained enough experience to occasionally ski some of the double blacks, and plenty of the black diamonds at these resorts. One thing I can say about the double blacks at these resorts is they are all very different runs.
Trails like Stowe's renowned Goat are steep, winding chutes with plenty of boulders and cliff drops to contend with, while others like lookout and liftline are deceptively "straight", riddled with pitch changes, fallaways, ledges and the infamous staircase. You will find other trails that are defined by 35 degree plus pitch, fast bumps, and lots of powder. Your ability to ride one trail does not guarantee you will be comfortable on all the double blacks.
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