Because the CMC offers so many trips, we use several criteria in our trip descriptions to classify our various types of trips, focusing on round-trip mileage and total elevation gain. No classification system is perfect, and trip difficulties can vary greatly depending on the season and other factors. If after reading the trip description you have any questions about a trip’s difficulty, contact the trip leader.
Hikes (including some trips that require rock-climbing skills) are normally classified as A through D:
- Class A: Up to 8 miles round trip and 1200 ft. elevation gain. (Prior hiking experience is usually not necessary.)
- Class B: Up to 12 miles round trip and 2500 ft. elevation gain. (Moderate to strenuous physical activity. Some prior experience is beneficial.)
- Class C: Up to 15 miles round trip and 3500 ft. elevation gain. (Strenuous to very strenuous physical activity. Prior experience and training is beneficial.)
- Class D: Over 15 miles round trip or 3500 ft. elevation gain. (Very strenuous physical activity often including exposure or requiring use of technical skills. Knowledge based on prior experience and training is highly beneficial.)
If you also see the letter “E” after the classification (such as C-E or D-E), the trip involves exposure (i.e., risk of falling) and may require advanced climbing skills.
Within each of the above letter classifications, hikes are also described subjectively as Easy, Moderate, and Difficult in comparison to other trips of the same classification. Thus, a Difficult B hike is harder than an Easy B hike.
The following shorthand descriptions may also be used to describe the difficulty of the terrain on a hike:
- On Trail: The trip is mainly on improved trail in reasonable condition. Any portion of the trip not on trail is easy “like trail” conditions.
- Off Trail: Below timberline (about 11,600 feet in Colorado), the trip may involve bushwhacking or travel through forested terrain. Above timberline, the trip may cross open tundra or involve Class 2 hiking under the Yosemite Decimal System: i.e., moving on or around small boulders where the use of hands may be used, but only to maintain balance. No special hiking or climbing skills are required. Exposure is usually minimal or nonexistent.
- Scrambling: The trip involves Class 3 climbing: i.e., climbing that is relatively easy with plentiful handholds. Although a rope is rarely required, Class 3 climbing may be intimidating for less experienced mountaineers. Always consider bringing and wearing a climbing helmet to ensure your own safety. A fall on a Class 3 route usually results in a minor injury, but can on occasion result in serious injury or death.
- Semi-technical: The trip involves Class 4 climbing: i.e., within the realm of technical rock climbing, but with relatively plentiful handholds. Some people will desire a rope, but usually just for protection on the descent. Participants must wear climbing helmets. A fall without the protection of a rope on a Class 4 route usually results in serious injury or death.
Ski Tour Classifications
Ski tours use a classification system to describe the skiing skills and stamina required for participation in a trip. If you are unsure whether your skiing abilities (especially turning and stopping skills) are suitable for a trip, please contact the trip leader.
- Easy I: 1 to 3 miles round trip on generally flat terrain. Suitable for beginners.
- Easy II: 3 to 6 miles round trip and up to 600 ft. elevation gain.
- Easy III: 6 to 8 miles round trip or 600 ft. to 800 ft. elevation gain.
- Moderate I: 800 ft. to 1100 ft. elevation gain.
- Moderate II: 1100 ft. to 1500 ft. elevation gain.
- Moderate III: 1500 ft. to 1800 ft. elevation gain.
- Advanced I: 1800 ft. to 2500 ft. elevation gain.
- Advanced II: Over 2500 ft. elevation gain.
Advanced ski tours are generally on more difficult terrain and participants have developed efficiency and acquired skills for their safe backcountry ski travels. To go on an advanced ski trip you must be able to break trail for a period of time and must have excellent Nordic/downhill skiing ability. In addition to the CMC ten essentials, you should carry a shovel and avalanche beacon and know how to use them, plus any extra items required by the trip leader.
Additional Terms Used in Denver Group Ski Tour Descriptions
With the popularity of backcountry downhill skiing on the increase, the Denver Group has added a set of downhill ski ratings to the classification system. These ratings are optional and can be used for any level of ski tour. In addition, a “ski mountaineering” classification has been established for very specialized ski trips where some technical climbing skills or training would be required. These ratings are:
- Green Downhill: Skier should be able to ski proficiently on beginner (green) slopes at downhill ski areas. Skier can make a solid stem turn and traverse via kick turns off-trail on untracked slopes. Must be able to distinguish easy terrain from more difficult terrain that a novice can’t handle.
- Blue Downhill: Skier should be able to ski moderate terrain (slopes of up to 25 degrees with trees and other obstacles) at a reasonable speed without frequent falls. Should have some experience with poor snow conditions such as wind crust, deep “cement,” and variable snow conditions.
- Black Downhill: Skier should be able to make linked turns in difficult terrain (slopes steeper than 25 degrees, treed slopes, gullies, couloirs). Considerable experience with poor snow conditions. Should have completed the CMC Avalanche School or equivalent.
- Ski Mountaineering: The skier should have considerable experience in routefinding and trailbreaking. Experience with winter camping. Should have completed the Basic Mountaineering School and the AT/Ski Mountaineering School or have equivalent technical climbing, mountaineering, and skiing experience. Should have completed the CMC Avalanche School or equivalent.
Snowshoe trips use the following classifications:
- Easy: Up to 5 miles round trip and 600 ft. elevation gain.
- Moderate: Up to 8 miles round trip and 1200 ft. elevation gain.
- Difficult: Over 8 miles round trip or 1200 ft. elevation gain.