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backcountry ski tour & ski descent rating systems

One of the things I'm currently interested in is a standardized rating system for backcountry ski descents and ski tours in North America. At the moment almost every backcountry ski touring guidebook in North America uses a unique rating system to classify tour difficulty. By comparison, in Europe there are several established rating systems that enjoy popular use in the various guidebooks and websites. I think North American ski guidebooks would really benefit from something like this. There are several possible rating systems to consider for this application. From Europe there are two established systems that would work well: 1. A combination of the Traynard System and the Alpine Grades for Ski Alpinism or 2. The Toponeige system. In addition to the European systems, Lou Dawson (along with Andrew McLean) has recently proposed the D-System. In my mind the best system would prbably be the combination of the alpine grades and the Traynard system. Check out this link to see what this system might look like. Follow the links below to learn more about these systems.

Rating System
Used by Parks Canada

Here are my impressions of the various rating systems:

Alpine Grade for Ski Alpinism combined with Traynard scale
This system has a lot going for it in my mind. I like the use of the alpine grades for overall tour rating. In British Columbia these alpine grades are now widely used in alpine climbing guidebooks so I think people are familiar with how they work. I like the Traynard rating for crux descent as well. It's pretty simple with only 7 levels, but it will give people a good feel for how hard a descent is involved and it's not so specific that people are going to end up arguing over what a route should be rated. The two components of this system are widely used in Europe. This system could easily be used with ski descents, ski tours and ski traverses. Click here for a proposed rating system for the Southern Coast Mountains that combines the alpine grades and Traynard scale.

Toponeige System
This is a well thought out system, which was created as an evolution from the Traynard Scale to offer more specific rating levels. I like the fact that it separated exposure and ski descent difficulty. It is very specific and has many more levels than the Traynard scale which will appeal to some people. I'm not the biggest fan of so many rating levels. I think it goes a bit beyond what is useful and moves into the realm of hyper-classification and comparison. I do think it's a bit confusing the way it is set up with 5 grades and subdivisions, but no more confusing than the rock climbing grades. It seems to me that this system could be easily modified by guidebook authors who are interested in using the toponeige system but aren't interested in having that many levels by dropping the .1, .2 or .3, thus creating a scale with 5 levels. This system is very popular in France. This system is much more suitable for use with ski descents and ski ascents, but is not particularly suitable for other types of tours.

This in a newly developed system by Lou Dawson. Lou has put a ton of effort into it and the system and consequently it is well thought out, well designed and well explained. It has a simple format and is easy to understand, it also addresses exposure which is a plus. The system has 23 levels which seems a little high to me and because it is new, it is not used by any current guidebooks. There are many similarities between the D-System and the Toponeige system which gives me the impression of reinventing the wheel. The system is appropriate for ski descents only and would not be suitable for rating traverses.

Forum Discussions

There are several forums where discussions about ski descent and ski tour rating systems are going on:

Ski Rating Discussion Threads
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