Piste colours, are they gospel?

Written by Joe Beer from Alpine Learning Curves

Piste colours – can you trust them?

When I started writing my #ALCblogbook project and I got to Dealing with Fear and piste colours as a subject I hit a problem that comes up all the time; “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” – what people think of piste colours is totally subjective and can have lots of deciding factors. The person’s ability is an obvious one, along with physical and emotional state that may vary from day to day and variable snow conditions/weather to name a few.

If you are a confident and accomplished skier then there is generally no problem, “all runs become white”, so no need to read further unless interested.

If I was hypothetically given the task to re-design the piste map what would I do? I came up with three ideas/solutions;

  • give the runs names that reflect their qualities (i.e. the meadow, daffodil = easy – T. Rex = hard)
  • have 8 colours, light green, dark green, light blue, dark blue, pink, red, purple and black
  • go down the % route or degrees of steepness

Or a mixture; 3 red runs side by side accessed off the same lift; Sleepy Tiger (pink) is 18 degrees at it’s steepest section and Veloceraptor (red) is 24 and Angry T. Rex (purple) is 28. Easier to choose from?

As an example: When I first came to Les Gets in 2000 the Reine des Pres run was marked on the piste map as a green run, then around 2006/7 it suddenly changed to blue! In my opinion and many others it is arguably green or blue depending on which part of it you’re on.

Without knowing what the criteria is (none of us know) it is a very hard task. Do we measure it backwards from a black run or forwards from a green? From whos perspective is this measured? An experts or nervous beginners or somewhere in between? Surely it has to be from a beginners!

If a beginner has skied a certain run then they can only measure or compare it to something they have already done. How do they pick another blue from the piste map? (They would assume that they’d all be similar if not exactly the same, right?). Wrong, all over the world runs vary in steepness including many that are side by side.

Note; not all runs have to be skied the whole way as they sometimes cross each other and for the nervous/weaker person what was easy today (perfect groomed slope) might not be so tomorrow (ice, slush or no visability). another factor is not just the run but getting there and back.

The things that make a run scary/hard vary too; narrow or a drop off/edge to the piste.

What follows is a mixture of feedback from clients, colleagues and of course my opinion on what piste colour runs should be marked as.

Les Gets:

Nursery areas, are what they are and could be yellow adding another colour and will have different aspects and steepness ranging from dead flat to easy light green ideally.

Les Gets has a great area for total beginners however, Magic carpet 1 and Magic carpet 2, are quite steep for 1st ever turns as you have to go all the way up, dark green or black when seen through the eyes of a day 1 beginner.

Close by, the 2 Rope tows, have much flatter terrain and also have the benefit of allowing you to get on and release where suits you (please think of others when you do this), yellow to light green.

Piste 64, green run – most of this run is pretty flat however, it has one steep-ish (only 50 mts) part, dark green/light blue close to the top.

It is also quite hard to access if you are a weak or nervous skier/boarder – using either a draglift (Mouille au Roi) that follows a blue run so if you do fall you have to ski a blue or walk down or, ride the De la Croix chair and a little walk/climb to the top of the drag.

Piste des Indiens area, although mainly for children these fun park runs including Piste Mauve (Milka run) are quite good areas if you can get there, as you will need once again to ride a drag lift (Grand Cry) or access it from the Criox chair. There are tricky bits and pieces to these but there is a good progression (ask the pros).Light green/dark green.

In here there is a green run Les Trappeurs, quite steep for a green, it’s at least a light blue similar to the steep part of Piste 64 but longer.

Gentiane, this is a very long blue run that starts way up at the top of Le Ranfoilly chair where it should be RED at least for the first 100 mts or so. From there it becomes a sedate blue but with a drop off to the right and a climb back up to the top of Nauchets chair. Following on it drops away becoming dark blue for 50 mts or so, then turning green for the return to the Croix chair area.

Gentiane (easy street), from here we can deal with it as if you’ve riden the Criox chair and turned right. This part looks daunting but is only steep (blue) for 10 mts or so, so could be side slipped, walked down with or without skis on. If you look far left the green part above comes down to meet you so if brave you can aim up there letting the terrain slow you down, be aware of others whatever you do on this bit.

From here the slope can look daunting too 1st time(but is really wide), although marked as a blue most of my clients mark the bit from here passing Piste des Indiens to the white cross on the hill as light blue or dark green. Allow your skis to run about half way to the cross so you don’t have to walk and stay above it and veer right. Look straight ahead to the gap in the trees past the 2 draglifts following the Bruyere blue until you reach a left turn following Piste 64. This part of Gentiane has the nickname “easy street”.

Bruyere and Gentiane, if you stay on any of the blue runs to the village they both have sections that would definitely be considered steep (red-ish), “horrible hill” for example on Bruyere from post 16 – 12 at the Folliets chair to Morzine! Or the first right under the red eggs (gondola) on Gentiane. Although these sections aren’t the whole length of the run they do contribute to them being at least PINK.

Bruyere, Gentiane, Fougere, from the Croix chair there a many different routes down if you mx and match switching/combining between these runs along with Piste des Indiens area and the Camel humps under the chair. You can get really inventive after you’ve mastered “easy street” – start easy finish challenged on the bottom of Fougere. Dark green/dark blue/pink great for preparing for later challenges. Tip; exhaust the possibilities here and build confidence before trying anything else, there’s lots.

 Violets, another blue from the Croix chair. This run allows you to access the “bowl” and has a funny off camber slope at the beginning, this could make it very intimidating for some and this part could be darkblue/pink.

However, there is a walking track (narrow but flatter) to the left that winds toward Rhodos (red) before it turns back cutting this tricky part out. After a long easy section you’ll see “slow” signs and after these it steepens again for another short part. If you get into trouble aim left up Rhodos where it joins to control your speed. From here it steepens again use the up and let tactic where it joins Ambresailles (red). If it looks too challenging following Violets at piste marker 3, 2, 1 as it can, carry on across Sautenailles (red be careful look left) down another narrow walking track on the other side. It sounds like madness but the bottom of Tulipe (red) is shallower than the 3, 2, 1 of Violets. Dark blue, pink in places.

Choucas (blue), If you can ride the long drag (Tete des Cretes) and skate/walk past Llotty’s restaurant or follow Violets and ride Nauchets chair to get to the same place, then you can use “chocholate box” blue. This is a road in the summer (TdF) and is a great confidence builder as it should be light green however, to get back to Les Gets and Morzine from is slightly harder, so have a good few runs with breaks at Llotty’s or any of the snack bars at the bottom.

Rhodos, although the top of this run can look daunting however, it is the first “red run” I take people on, normally in stages or short lengthening sections;

  • access via Violets narrow path, from piste marker 10 to marker 8 where it re-joins Violets
  • from top marker 15 to 10 giving the get out of using path back to Violets or adding 10-8
  • adding from marker 8 to the bottom (Nauchets)
  • other short challenges in other areas (i.e. Rosta blues)

At the top of this run to the skiers right there is a new blue run (Cyclamens) most clients that have used this run say it’s harder than Rhodos as it twists and turns whereas Rhodos is relatively straight and has a fairly consistent steepness. Rhodos dark blue Cyclamens pink. Cyclamens also crosses the Violets path and Violets, at this stage re join Violets don’t carry on, although it does join Bleuet (blue) that goes almost all the way to the bottom joining Bruyere/Gentiane.

piste colours

Piste colours

In the picture above I’ve drawn in the main piste colours of the runs but added others to show how every run has easier and harder sections including the blacks. It’s not totally accurate but gives the idea.

Hopefully I’ve given a flavour of what I’m on about, from here on I’m just going to list the piste and official (piste colour) and the colour that I/colleagues/clients think it should be at it’s steepest point when compared to similar runs. If it’s not on the list we agree and (blacks) do differ but are Black.

The next installment will carry on in the similar vein on some of the runs in Morzine and Avoriaz. I hope it’s useful…let us know your thoughts.