Tips for Reading Ski Resort Trail Maps

Mammoth trail maps

Reading trail maps is the last thing people are worried about ahead of their trip to a ski mountain, but there is more to trail maps than just funny names. In fact, if you only take a trail map at face value then you could find yourself on a trail that you’re not experienced enough to ride or even an area of the mountain you’re too experienced for.

Everyone wants to make the most of their time while skiing or snowboarding, so we’ve made a list of tips for reading trail maps to help you do just that! Check it out below ahead of your trip to the mountain!

You Can’t Judge a Trail’s Difficulty by Incline Alone

Most people associate the color of a trail with how steep it is, but the truth is that how difficult a trail is depends on more than just that.

On beginner and intermediate trails, a run can begin as a blue and lead into a green or vice versa. If you’re an intermediate rider and you want to avoid the crowds and long lines that frequent beginner runs, then you’ll have to pay attention to the entire trail when viewing the map. In other cases, a black diamond expert trail could be as steep as a blue intermediate trail, but terrain on it such as moguls or trees could require expert skill to ride. For this reason you shouldn’t think of a trail’s difficulty as only how steep it is. The terrain and other trails nearby could have a big effect on your experience riding them!

Where You’re Riding Determines How Difficult the Trails Are

Even though every mountain uses the same color code to classify how difficult their trails are, they don’t all use them the same way.

Every mountain wants to have a diverse set of trails to offer. They also want their trails to match the skills of their average visitor. If you’re in the United States though, then it’s a simple fact that the mountains in the western half of the country are bigger than those in the east. As a result, a smaller mountain on the east coast will call a trail that would be a blue on a larger mountain a black diamond. Conversely, a blue run on a large mountain might feel like a black diamond if you’re used to riding at smaller mountains.

Before you commit to a trail, make sure you’re aware of what the terrain is like overall at the mountain. The trail rating system is reliable, but there is room for subjectivity based on what type of mountain you’re riding at!

The Color Code Isn’t All You Need to Know

Trail maps tell you more than where to go and how difficult the run leading there is.

For example, you may see an area covered in orange or yellow. This could mean that multiple trails merge and slow riding is required. If you don’t know that one of these areas are on your trail, then you might speed through and run into trouble with the ski patrol or even get into an accident. When you look at a lift on a trail map, you’ll also see a number of people shaped icons near the lift’s pickup area. The number of people shown next to the lift is the number of people who fit on each lift chair. Since lifts that carry fewer people often have longer waits, you’ll need this information to avoid long lift lines. Pay attention to more than just the trail color markers when you’re viewing the trail map to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into on the mountain!

Click here to find all the trail maps for Mammoth Mountain and surrounding areas.

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