The purpose of this article is to help you more accurately identify the different snowboarding skill levels and, more importantly, where you currently fit in terms of snowboarding ability.
First let’s look at why you might want to know your skill level and then have a closer look at the different levels.
Reasons Why You Might Want to Know Your Ability Level
Reason Number 1: The Right Snowboard Gear
Probably the most important reason you need to know your level of ability is to help you choose the right snowboard, bindings and boots.
The right board can make learning much easier for beginners and if you are an expert rider you want a board that can do everything you need it to.
One of the specs you will see when you are buying is whether the board is for Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced or Expert. Often it is the case the board may cover a range – i.e. Beginner to Advanced.
When you are hiring a board, one of the first questions you are asked is ‘What is your ability level?”
If you are a beginner, check out the following on how to choose a beginner snowboard.
Reason Number 2
The second reason is for goal setting. If you are someone who likes to set goals to help yourself improve (which is a great idea as you will progress much faster if you have something to aim for) then you will need to know where you are.
In order to get to where you want to be, you need a map with 3 things on it:
1. Where you want to go (your goal, your aim, your target);
2. A plan of how to get there; and
3. Where you currently are (the “you are here” on your map)
If you don’t know where you are then you won’t know what direction you need to go in to arrive at your target. Discovering your ability level fulfils number 3 above.
Reason Number 3
If you are looking to take lessons then it is very beneficial to know your level so you know which level of lesson is the best for you – a lot of lessons even state what ability level that they are designed for (usually on the 1-7 system [see below]).
There could also be other reasons why you would want to know your snowboard ability level – maybe even just curiosity. Whichever reason you fit under you will be able to get a better gauge of just what your level is in the next section.
Finding out Where you Fit
Generally speaking, from what I have seen anyway, there are two different systems used to rank snowboarding abilities. The first is using the Beginner to Expert system and the second is using the Level 1-6 or 1-7 system.
Beginner to Expert System
In this system you are either ranked Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced or Expert.
When you are searching for a snowboard to buy you will notice that they sometimes determine the level of ability that the snowboard is designed for. This can be anything from Beginner to Expert and a combination e.g. Advanced to Expert.
The other place you will see these is on the mountain itself. Typically downhill runs are classified as either Beginner (Green) Intermediate (Blue) Advanced (Black Diamond) or Expert (Double Black Diamond). Some mountains/countries might use different color codes.
These tie in somewhat with the ability levels but it is definitely a blurry line.
Anyway let’s get into the thick of it. These would be my definitions of the different levels.
Beginner (levels 1-3): Also see levels 1-3 below. If you are starting to link turns but are still not that comfortable doing it then you are at the high end of beginner. If you are struggling to stay on your feet for more than a couple of meters and struggling to stop without falling then you are at the beginner end of beginner! We’ve all been there!
Intermediate (levels 4-5): If you are at the beginning of the intermediate spectrum then you are comfortable linking turns smoothly on relatively non-steep terrain but you are probably still skidding your turns (if you were to look back up the mountain you wouldn’t see thin lines).
If you are at the high end of intermediate then you are comfortable linking turns on any Blue Runs, you can turn sharply and you can navigate Black Runs – just maybe not that gracefully just yet! You will probably still be skidding a lot of your turns here too – but you will be beginning to carve your turns.
You may be starting out with some small jumps in the park and you are learning or have learned to ride switch. Plus you may have started to venture into the backcountry.
Advanced (level 6): An advanced rider is very comfortable and smooth with linking turns even at high speeds and on steep terrain, and you have or nearly have mastered the art of carving. Black runs have become second nature.
At the high end of advanced you may even survive on Double Black Diamond runs however, like the intermediate rider on black diamond runs you are not entirely confident on them. Backcountry (Off Piste) is however definitely an option (and a fun one!) for the advanced rider particularly at the higher end.
You are also comfortable landing most small to large jumps, riding switch and handling other small to large park features (if you are into freestyle riding). You may now also be competent in the pipe if you have chosen to go in that direction and you have access to one.
You have probably found your preferred style of riding so you will be developing more in that direction.
Expert (level 7 & up): Downhill expert riders live for the adrenaline of Double Black Diamond Runs, challenging backcountry excursions and might even get into slalom or racing.
The downhill expert rider has mastered the art of snowboarding at speed, on steep and uneven terrain and facing any number of obstacles and his or her board is like an extension of his/her body.
The downhill expert carves like a dream and can tackle virtually any terrain that you throw at them.
The Freestyle expert gets their thrills from large or extra large park features like big jumps, rails or boxes. Riding in either direction is almost as natural as the other, the freestyle expert switches smoothly from riding switch and in his/her normal direction.
More expert tricks come in too and with the bigger jumps creates more time in the air and therefore more time to do more spins, twists, grabs and flips.
Professional riders fit at the highest end of this scale (and are really on a scale of their own) and are doing all sorts of things that would be considered crazy even by a rider who has just entered the expert spectrum.
Levels 1-7 System
The other system I’ve seen used is the 1-7 grading system. This gives a wider range than the beginner to expert ratings, so allows a more accurate reading.
The beginner to expert descriptions above have their corresponding level number in brackets – and the number system below has the corresponding level from above for ease of classification.
- Beginner Level 1: This is your first day (or first couple of days). You are brand new. You start out learning how to control your speed and get some distance down a slope without bailing! You are learning how to stop yourself without falling.
- Beginner Level 2: You are now relatively comfortable snowflaking, that is guiding yourself down the slope on the same edge. You are becoming more adept at being able to stop yourself without falling. You are probably starting to try linking turns but not very successfully just yet.
- Beginner Level 3: You can now link turns in both directions (i.e. from your heel edge to your toe edge and your toe edge to your heel edge) on gentle slopes. You are probably branching out into the intermediate runs but not so comfortable linking turns on those yet.
- Intermediate Level 4: You are now comfortable linking turns on any beginner or intermediate slope and you can do so at increasingly high speeds. You are getting better at navigating more uneven terrain.
- Intermediate Level 5: You can now link turns at reasonably high speeds and on steeper slopes. You are very confident on intermediate and beginner runs and you can tackle the black runs too (maybe just not entirely gracefully just yet!) You may also be venturing into the backcountry (off piste). You are able to turn sharper now too and you are starting to be able to ride switch and do ollies, small to medium jumps and you may even be doing 180s. You are starting to carve your turns.
- Advanced Level 6: You are now a very confident snowboarder who can tackle almost any terrain and you are comfortable riding and turning at speed, small to medium jumps, sharp turns, carving and riding switch is becoming second nature. You can and often do use the mountain like a park if you are so inclined.
- Expert – Level 7 and up: Depending on your chosen style you love and are confident on uneven terrain, medium to large jumps, 180s, 360s and more, high speeds, sharp turns, steep challenging slopes, rails, boxes, moguls, powder, backcountry – you name it, you concur it. There’s still always room to improve but you have mastered snowboarding and your board has become an extension of your body.
What’s Your Snowboarding Ability Level?
Hopefully, this information has helped you to more accurately classify your own ability level. Of course you may be at one level in some aspects and another at other aspects.
It’s best to be honest about this with yourself. If your picture of where you are on the map is accurate it will make it easier to navigate to where you want to be.
It will also help you to make a more accurate board purchase.
Finally, if you are looking to take lessons then it is better to be in a lesson level that is best suited to your progression. If you rate yourself too high, you may end up doing things beyond your level and miss out on things that you really needed to learn. If you rate yourself too low, you won’t be challenging yourself to improve.
Personally I classify myself as higher level intermediate (level 5) bordering on advanced (level 6). I am confident on black runs and uneven terrain off the groomers and in the backcountry, fairly competent riding switch, confident on small, medium and large jumps in the park and ollies off rollers, turning sharply and at speed, carving, boxes in the park, grabs, 180s, manuals.
Where do you Fit?
I am always curious to know how others are progressing. If you want to, you can leave a comment below describing where you think you fit in the spectrum. We are all at different levels so there is no right or wrong place to be. Any general comments, questions or feedback are, as always, very welcome.