The SlopeLab Rating System

About the Rating System

Here at SlopeLab, I rate each ski resort on a 1 through 10 scale for nine different categories.

  • Beginner Terrain – Usually, this refers to green runs, but on certain mountains, this can also reference easier blue runs. Quality of the ski school is also considered.
  • Intermediate Terrain – How good is the mountain for intermediate skiers? (Usually corresponds to blue and easier black runs)
  • Advanced Terrain – This is probably the widest defined category of terrain, but typically corresponds to black diamond difficulty.
  • Expert Terrain – Typically double black diamond terrain, this is the most extreme terrain on the mountain. True expert terrain often includes 40+ degree pitch, and may include chutes, cliffs, or other hazards.
  • Tree Skiing – How good are the tree runs? This refers to trees of all ability levels, and can refer to marked or unmarked tree runs. Some of these might require a local tour guide to find!
  • Bowl Skiing – we’re referring to the true “alpine” experience here. Most often, this means above the tree-line terrain with a “big-mountain” feel. Bonus points for a top-of-the-world view.
  • Crowds – How bad are the lift lines? And equally important, how much room do you have when skiing a run?
  • Snow Rating – Calculated using complex analysis of 20+ years of data from Tony Crocker’s amazing In addition to Total Annual Snowfall, I also consider consistency of snowfall, snow quality, mountain elevation, and direction of the mountain. The end goal of this rating is to answer a simple question – what are you chances of scoring great skiing conditions on any given trip?
  • Ski Town – Does the area have that magical “ski town” feeling? Is it a unique area that even non-skiers will enjoy visiting? The ski town score takes into account quality of lodging, restaurants, scenery, nightlife, and in general, stuff to do when you’re not skiing.

Together, those nine categories combine to score out the tenth (and most important) category – The Overall SlopeLab Rating.

How is the Overall SlopeLab Rating calculated?

Originally, I planned for the Overall Rating to also be scored 1 through 10, just like all the other categories. However, I quickly realized this didn’t quite capture the nuances of the different mountains. If the overall ratings were going to provide any relative meaning, I couldn’t just round them off like some meaningless estimation.

I was going to need a more detailed scale.

Eventually, I settled on a 1 through 99 rating. (I intentionally left out the 100 rating, because if I’ve learned anything in all my ski travels, it’s that there’s no such thing as the perfect mountain.)

That 99 point measurement is intended to capture the essence of the mountain itself, combined with my own personal preferences.

It is not a simple average of the nine component categories. That methodology would make no sense at all, because as anyone who’s ever been on a ski trip knows, your own final impression isn’t based on “an average” of experiences.

Instead, it’s thrown in a pot with your expectations going in, the mountain’s highlights compared to your expectations, and then mixed with a little extra magic that’s hard to define.

(To use a quick example, should Jackson Hole’s 2 out of 10 beginner terrain count against it? Jackson hole isn’t a beginner’s mountain, and no self-respecting rating system should judge it as such. Similarly, you go to Alta for the snow quality… its perfect 10/10 snow score should unquestionably provide bonus points for its final rating.)

And so, the Overall SlopeLab Rating represents a scientific and not-so-scientific approach to, as was this site’s mission all along, calculate this skier’s favorite ski resorts in North American.

Aren’t you biased?

Of course! And that’s the whole point.

I believe whole-heartedly that anyone following my rankings will find themselves amazing mountains to ski. But at the end of the day, these are my personal rankings, subject to my own personal preferences in a mountain.

What are those preferences and biases? Let’s get them out of the way:

1. I’m not a professional skier. I don’t even feel comfortable with the term “expert.”

Instead, I love long, fast blue groomers, mellow black moguls, and occasionally challenging myself on double black terrain.

I can respect a mountain with gnarly expert terrain, and its availability is certainly considered in a mountain’s final SlopeLab Rating, but I’m not personally jumping off any cliffs.

While a lot of places attempt to rank mountains based primarily off terrain the vast majority of skiers will never even consider skiing, there’s no question my ratings are biased towards the more common skier.

2. I’m definitely biased towards tree skiing.

It’s like hiking through the forest, except a whole lot more fun.

3. I’m horribly impatient with lift lines.

I go on vacation to ski, not stand in a crowd.

4. I’m a sucker for scenery

While not an official SlopeLab category (mostly because every mountain is so beautiful in its own way) there’s no question that I’m subtly biased by a fantastic mountain view.

So there you have it. One skier’s system for finding the best ski resorts in North America. 

If you haven’t already – Check out the mountain rankings