The History Behind Ski Trail Designation

Most skiers are surely familiar with the basics of the grading system for each trail on a mountain, but does everyone know how that originated? Believe it or not, it came from the mind of Walt Disney.

If you’ve spent a day on the slopes recently, you likely have an idea of how the ski trails are designated. If you have not done much snow skiing or need a quick refresher, trails are marked by a green circle (easiest), blue square (medium difficulty) and a black diamond (high difficulty). These are fairly common within ski resorts in North America with minor adjustments, but you might not realize where this system originated.

Believe it or not, the idea came from the Walt Disney Company for a potential ski resort. Prior to his death, Walt Disney put together plans for this project, and part of it included the ski trail designation, which was quickly adopted by the National Ski Areas Association.

Prior to 1964, there was no universal grading system, so each ski resort usually had its own unique way of notifying the public on which trails were the easiest or most difficult to navigate. If not, skiers had to either go down the slopes themselves or ask via word of mouth to find the areas to go based on their skill level.

The National Ski Areas Association had been formed and set forth on creating a system to identify the difficulty of different trails and came up with a green square for the easiest with the next step being a yellow triangle. The next highest difficulty was a blue circle with a red diamond telling skiers to take significant caution. It was a short-lived grading system as the NSAA soon used the Walt Disney Company’s idea, which included some in-depth research.

The Walt Disney Company tested the psychology of the system that showed circles are perceived as soft, and green is a more mellow color, making that the sign of the easiest trail followed by the blue square and black diamond to symbolize some of the most difficult hills to travel down.

Some ski resorts will make their own grading system for each trail with slight variations off the most popular way in designating how difficult a ski trail might be. It’s been decades since they were implemented, but most continue to go off of the plans set forth by Walt Disney, which still stand today.

Picture Credit: Google Creative Commons Licenses, Pixabay

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