Every year, between 130,000 and 160,000 injuries and around 20 fatal accidents (excluding avalanches) are recorded on French ski slopes.
On the slopes, just as on the road, it is essential to know and respect the signage and markings to reduce the risk of accidents. Whether it’s trail markers, green, blue, red, or black signs or avalanche flags, each sign has its own meaning that is crucial to know for skiing safely.
The key signs you need to know on the slopes
The first category of signs found on ski slopes is directional signs. These include directional arrows, which are placed at every intersection and fork to show the way to different slopes. There are also what are known as “trail markers” and “trail posts”.
In France, ski slopes are classified into four categories according to their level of technical difficulty. These are identified by coloured trail markers on each edge of the slopes. These categories include:
- The green markers: Easy slopes
- The blue markers: Intermediate slopes
- The red markers: Difficult slopes
- The black markers: Very difficult slopes
In addition to providing information about the slope’s difficulty, these signs also indicate the name of the slope you’re on and, in some areas, the name of the resort.
The trail markers are also numbered in descending order from top to bottom (with marker 1 located at the bottom of the slope). These numbers help skiers estimate the length of the slope and how much distance is left before the bottom of the slope.
In the event of an accident, these markers also help ski patrollers find injured individuals on the ski slopes. Thanks to the information on these signs, they can have an accurate idea of their exact location within the ski area.
As well as the trail signs, each slope has “trail posts” or “trail marking posts.” These posts show the edges of the slopes when they are not naturally obvious, helping skiers to avoid going off-piste.
Similar to trail markers, the posts that border the slopes are colour-coded to indicate the technical level of the slope. The difference is that the boundary posts on the right side of the slope (in the direction of descent) also have an orange device at their top to make them more visible in case of reduced visibility.
Next, there are danger signs designed to signal potential hazards on or off the slopes. These danger signs can indicate the presence of an obstacle, an intersection, insufficient snow coverage, or provide information about the state of the snow cover.
Signage on the pistes
On the slopes, these signs can take various forms, including:
- Yellow and black trail posts;
- Triangular signs, which are also in yellow and black;
- Fluorescent orange nets or banners which are used to manage skier traffic, restrict access to a slope, or instruct users to slow down near junctions (of slopes or ski lifts), the start of a ski lift, a snow front, or a beginner area, for example.
Signs are also used to inform skiers about potential dangers off-piste, specifically to inform backcountry skiers about estimated avalanche risk levels. The aim of these signs is to provide skiers with precise, reliable, easily understandable, and real-time information.
There are five pictograms, corresponding to five risk levels (very high, high, considerable, limited and low):
These pictograms are displayed on information screens located at the base of ski lifts, and they are all accompanied by a colour code and a clear informative message which is translated into English, German, Italian, Catalan, and Dutch regarding the significance and extent of the risks.
Head to the Alps this winter
In every ski resort, you can easily find out where you are thanks to the slope maps. These maps, which are often located near ski lifts, provide valuable information about the layout of the ski area.
They show the location of ski lifts, including their names and types (chairlift, gondola, etc.). The maps also show the layout of the slopes, their difficulty levels, locations of safety and rescue stations, as well as rest and dining areas.
Many other signs provide skiers with additional practical information such as the opening hours of the ski area, the opening hours of each lift, the daily weather report, or simply the time. Like the slope maps, these boards are often located at the foot of the lifts.
What to do in the event of non-compliance with the signage on the tracks?
In the event of an accident due to non-compliance with slope signage, you should immediately contact the rescue units.
In ski resorts, safety and rescue operations are the responsibility of the municipalities and are financially supported by the resort’s ski patrollers. Public rescue services only intervene if the situation is more than the resort’s teams can cope with or if the incident occurs outside the ski area.
The number for the Ski Patrol Service varies by resort and can be found on all slope maps. We suggest noting this number upon your arrival so that you have it throughout your stay, wherever you are.
If you can’t find the direct number you can also dial 112 or 15, or go to the base of a ski lift to alert a resort staff member who can spread the alert.
To help rescuers do their job efficiently, you will need to pass on certain details:
- The identity of the accident victim: name, first name, gender, and age;
- The nature of the injury;
- The cause of the accident;
- The location of the accident: the name of the slope and the number of the nearest trail marker. Trail markers are installed along the slopes, approximately every 100 meters.
We hope you found this guide helpful and now feel fully prepared to ski down the slopes safely!
However, safety on the slopes is not just about respecting the signs. To reduce the risk of accidents on the slopes, it’s also essential to:
- Check the daily weather conditions for the ski area and any avalanche warnings provided by Météo France;
- Have all the equipment you need: a helmet that fits, gloves, sunglasses or goggles, and skis that are suitable for your physique and skill level;
- Choose slopes that match your skill level;
- Above all, always stay in control of your direction and speed and manage your speed.
If you’d like to know more about safety measures on the pistes, try these articles: