14ers.com have been assigned a difficulty rating using the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS), which has been in use in the United States for over 75 years.
The system uses "classes" ranging from 1 (easiest) to 5 (most difficult).
In some cases, routes are described a as
"Difficult Class 2", or "Easy Class 3" to provide more detail:
|Easy ||0-30 Degrees |
|Moderate ||30-45 Degrees |
|Very Steep ||60-80 Degrees |
|Vertical ||80-90 Degrees |
For ski routes, the simple Novice/Intermediate/Advanced/Extreme scale
is used. A novice-rated 14er ski route does not mean it's as easy as a green trail at the ski area - it means the route is recommended for novice backcountry skiers who have at least some mountaineering experience and solid skiing skills.
On the other end of the scale, extreme routes have a slope angle greater than 45° and likely include terrain features which may complicate
your descent. Skiing a 14er is much different than visiting the ski area and the route difficulties should not be compared directly to ski area standards.
For many ski routes, we have also included the "D System" by Lou Dawson. A specific set of skills is
required to ski in the backcountry and ski routes can be steep, dangerous, and difficult. On many routes, a fall could be fatal.THE STEEPS:
Slope angle plays a large part in the difficulty of a ski route. An advanced slope will often exceed 40 degrees. If a slope is over 45 degrees, it is usually difficult
to stop a fall.
A fall on a slope over 50 degrees could result in your demise.
The first time I looked down a long 55 degree slope, my brain had trouble forcing my skis over the edge.
Few ski areas in North America have any runs that exceed 55 degrees.
Silverton Mountain ski area, in Colorado, has some of North America's steepest ski area terrain - with maximum angles of 55 degrees.
Learn to ski steep runs at the ski area before heading to a steep backcountry route. It's vital to master the "jump-turn" technique.
The jump-turn is useful on steep, narrow routes where carving is difficult. Expect to see ski tracks on terrain that you consider unsuitable for anyone with a brain. Another person's idea of advanced or extreme
may differ from your own.
TERRAIN + CONDITIONS = LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY:
Steepness is not the only factor when determining the difficulty of a backcountry ski route.
At a minimum, consider the following factors when planning a descent: Slope angle, snow condition, avalanche danger, sun hit, cliffs, rocks, ICE or hard snow, route exits, run-out, wind, and visibility. It's a great idea to climb what you are going
If you feel it's too steep to climb, then it's probably too steep for you to ski. During a climb, you will
be able to identify the desired path of your descent.
You may also spot that drop-off that you can't see from the
top. It's critical to know when something is beyond your ability before you are in a tough situation. If you are an expert ski mountaineer, you will eventually peer down your first "no-fall" route. This is usually a good time to consider your future
in the backcountry. Don't fall.