Black Diamond Skiing: The Complete Guide
Ah skiing, how we love you. The thrill of gliding through snow-covered mountains, the rush of adrenaline when conquering challenging terrains, and the incomparable connection to nature is what keeps us coming back for more every time.
As most of us get better, we start seeking out new challenges in our day to day. Black diamond, double black diamond, and triple black diamond ski runs might start to pique the interest of the adventurous skier. Understanding the differences between these three types of ski runs and how to approach them is essential to be able to embrace the challenges they pose.
Luckily for you, we’ve taken the time to put together this comprehensive guide to black diamond skiing.
What classifies a run as a black diamond?
Black diamond ski runs are designated for advanced skiers who are looking for a challenge beyond the intermediate blue square runs. These runs are known for their steepness, generally having a slope inclination of 40% to 60%, meaning there’s a 400-600 foot drop in vertical elevation for every 1,000 feet of slope.
They may also incorporate moderately narrow trails, small moguls, and uneven terrain, including rocks, cliffs, and trees. The snow conditions can also be quite varied, with the possibility of encountering different types of snow such as powder, hard-packed snow, or icy patches. Skiers who venture onto black diamond terrain need to be confident of their skiing abilities and adapt their techniques to tackle the obstacles they might face effectively.
It's important to note that difficulty varies, and a black diamond slope at one ski resort might be comparable to a different rating elsewhere. Ultimately, the classification of a ski slope is determined by the resort itself.
What about double black diamonds?
Double black diamond ski runs take the challenge up a notch further, aimed exclusively at expert skiers. These runs typically feature steeper inclines, often exceeding 60%, as well as more significant obstacles in the form of larger moguls, boulders, narrow chutes, and sometimes mandatory cliff drops.
These types of runs demand superior skiing skills, such as precise control over turns, adapting your skiing to the terrain, and quick reflexes. If you're feeling intimidated by steeper slopes, here's the perfect video to feel more confident. Additionally, double black diamond runs may require a higher level of physical fitness and endurance, as many of these require a hike into them, and falls and recoveries might be more frequent and challenging due to the complex terrain.
What is a triple black diamond?
While elusive, triple black diamond runs do exist in a few places across North America. They’re not technically a run classification, although Big Sky Resort in Montana officially added them to their resort maps in 2019.
The Big Sky definition for a triple black diamond is “exposure to uncontrollable falls along a steep, continuous pitch, route complexity, and high consequence terrain”. Many of these runs are incredibly technical and exposed - putting them at a higher risk of injury from falls, and harder to maintain with avalanche control tactics, meaning these treacherous terrains are meant solely for the most experienced and daring skiers.
The inclines at these runs can go beyond an astonishing 80%, making them some of the steepest slopes on the mountain. These runs often involve facing various obstacles and hazards such as large cliffs, cornices, and narrow, exposed couloirs, which can be incredibly dangerous if tackled without the necessary skills and caution. Most of these runs are in remote or backcountry locations, requiring additional knowledge and experience in navigation, mountain safety, and avalanche awareness. Here's our article for the best gadgets to stay safe and sane on the mountain, including the Mammut avalanche pack, Best 5 Ski Gadgets for 2023/24 season.
Are black diamond ski runs dangerous?
Anytime you set foot (or ski boot) on the mountain, you’re taking on a level of risk. If anyone has ever told you that strapping two narrow planks to your feet and zooming down a snow-covered slope is completely safe, they’re lying.
However, there is an extra degree of risk involved with any sort of black diamond runs, which mostly comes down to ability level. The more difficult, steep, and obstacle-riddled the run, the more confident and competent you need to be in your skiing ability. The key is skiing with control to make sure you can stay on your feet and avoid the obstacles that might be in your way.
Typically, if you’re skiing within resort boundaries, you won’t have to worry as much about avalanche risk, especially if they are good about resort management, and you avoid runs that are closed for safety concerns. However, as you progress into runs that are outside of resort boundaries, it’s best to proceed with caution and make sure you have the proper avalanche safety training, gear, and knowledge of assessing conditions before you go.
How to prepare for black diamond ski runs
As you move into the black diamond realm of the mountain, the biggest aspect of your skiing to focus on is being able to ski with control. The more controlled you are, the easier you will be able to navigate your way down a more challenging slope.
This just comes with practice, so as soon as you start working on your technique and feeling more comfortable on a range of different slopes, you will start to feel ready to push yourself. Read our article on how to Go From Intermediate to Expert Skier, with 3 Skills and Carv's help.
For now, let's give you a few tips to work on skiing with more control. Some of the key focus areas are as follows
Maintaining proper stance and balance
This is key to maintaining control over your skis as the terrain gets tougher. By leaning slightly forward and pressing your shins against the front of your boots with your hands in front of you, your balance will be evenly distributed over your skis to help you keep control as you make your way down the slope.
Adapting your skiing technique to the terrain
As you encounter more advanced runs, there may be multiple types of obstacles and terrain you have to navigate as you make your way down the mountain. Practicing things like short turns, rhythmic turns, and learning skills for skiing on ice or skiing in powder are good ways to prepare for the changes you might encounter on a black diamond slope.
Ensuring you have good flexibility in your ankles and knees is also crucial to absorb any bumps or dips you may encounter as you ski.
Control your speed
As the terrain gets tougher, you’re going to encounter more obstacles and have narrower pistes to work with. You’ll need to work on your pressure, turn shape, and edge control to help you control your velocity down the hill.
Ensure you are prepared for the terrain
If you are starting to tackle terrain that is more backcountry or in areas of the resort where there is not as much avalanche control, or a higher risk in the conditions, doing a guided backcountry tour or taking lessons from a certified instructor could be beneficial in equipping you with the knowledge to ski safely in these conditions.
Build your confidence
Psychology is a massive part of skiing, and building up the confidence to tackle a black diamond can be just as difficult as acquiring the skills yourself. The more time you spend on the mountain to build your confidence, the quicker you’ll be ready to take on the tough stuff. Remember, practice makes perfect, and confidence takes time. So go at it at your own pace!
Whether you’re just starting to venture into black diamond territory, or you’re a seasoned veteran, there’s something for everyone out on the slopes. If you want to keep on crushing your skiing goals, Carv is here to help, using our digital ski coach you'll be able to keep adding diamonds to your belt. We hope to catch you on the slopes this year!