It is important to keep in mind the difference between grades and actual difficulty. Grades give a relative indication of the requirements of a route or itinerary, under normal conditions. Actual difficulties are of course highly dependent on the conditions (weather, ice…) as well as on the fitness and technical abilities of the party. Unlike a grade, which is constant for a given itinerary, difficulties can change considerably from one day to the next.
Made popular by François Labande through his guidebooks, the grading system offers two different grades: a global grade which describes the overall difficulties of the itinerary (using the same logic as the global alpine climbing grade) and a descent grade which describes the most difficult stretch of downhill skiing on the itinerary.
The global grade offers an overall estimation of the difficulties of an itinerary and how sustained they are, as well as altitude and the normal duration of the itinerary. The grade uses the same letter coding as the global alpine climbing grade but they do not overlap (see warning below).
F: Easy (facile)
PD: Slightly difficult (Peu Difficile)
AD: Somewhat difficult (Assez difficile)
TD: Very difficult (Très Difficile)
ED: Extremely difficult (Extrêmement difficile)
EDx: Extremely difficult extended : ED4, ED5, ED6, ED7…
Grades are nuanced using + (harder) or - (easier).
Warning: The global grade for skiing is for skiing, not for mountaineering. A snow couloir can easily be graded D for skiing while it’s mountaineering grade would not exceed PD or AD.
Toponeige grading system
Made popular by Volodia Shahshahani, the grading system includes three grades: a technical downhill (skiing) grade, an up-hill grade (not used on camptocamp) and an exposure grade. More details can be found (in French) on the website of Volopresse Editions.
Technical skiing grade # for the downhill portion of the itinerary
The grade includes 5 levels. The first four have three subdivisions (for example 2.3 or 3.1) and the fifth level is open-ended.
Ski 1. Initiation. Slopes do not exceed 30° with no narrow sections. Vertical descent is less than 800m.
Ski 2. Few technical difficulties. Slopes do no exceed 35°.
Ski 3. Some technical sections. Long slopes at 35° with very short sections at 40-45°.
Ski 4. Couloir or steep skiing : slopes between 40 and 45° over more than 200m vertical.
Ski 5. Starts with slopes of 45°-50° during more than 300m vertical or above 50° for more than 100m vertical.
The exposure grade does not take into account objective hazards (stone fall, seracs…) but only the consequences of a the skier falling.
Exposure 1 : Exposure is limited to that of the slope itself. Getting hurt is still likely if the slope is steep and/or the snow is hard.
Exposure 2 : As well as the slope itself, there are some obstacles (such as rock outcrops) which could aggravate injury.
Exposure 3 : In case of a fall, death is highly likely.
Exposure 4 : In case of a fall, the skier faces certain death.