Originally Posted by KevinF
As soon as you start judging based on terrain, you're entering a very gray area. Even blue rated terrain is wildly different across different areas. Black rated terrain is even more variable across different areas.
I think of the distinctions as being technique based -- i.e., what's the method for releasing the skis from one turn into their next turn? Can the skier manage pressure / absorb terrain, or are they getting bounced around by every little bump? Stuff like that is how I'd classify it.
As this is for ski lessons though... Is this a seasonal program or just a one-time lesson? Seasonal programs will probably spend the first morning or so sorting everybody out, so I wouldn't worry about it too much with them.
Kevin, as usual, I think you've nailed it. What kind of terrain you can "get down" really is only one factor in determining skill level. It's more a question of how you get down it, how you control speed ("direction or friction"), what your fundamental movement patterns are, and how persistent those movement patterns that you demonstrate on "easy" terrain are when the going gets tough. To an experienced instructor or a serious student who has developed good understanding of ski technique, skills (or the lack thereof) are almost immediately apparent, regardless of what terrain a skier is on. Good instructors can often assess their students remarkably reliably simply by observing how they walk to the lesson meeting place and put on their skis. (Yes, there are exceptions.)
In fact, skied with the head of a school who could pretty nicely sort people on the basis of how they stopped themselves in the lift line.
Much of what experienced instructors see is subtle, and not easily or quickly described. For that reason, mainly, typical "skill charts" and self-rating scales meant for the public don't go into much detail about the nuances of technique. They typically stick to the most obvious--although not necessarily most relevant or reliable--characteristics. That means "parallel or wedge," and "terrain you ski." Things like fundamental movement patterns, method of edge release and edge change, offensive or defensive speed control, origin and range of motion for various movements, biomechanical efficiency, versatility and adaptability, flow and rhythm, pressure management, timing, tactics, "touch," and other such often subtle characteristics don't usually make the list--although they are the things that jump out to someone with a well-trained and experienced eye.
Unfortunately, my own list, originally composed as a self-assessment guide for students of a large Colorado ski school, is not much of an exception, although it does delve lightly into turn shape, speed control, "offensiveness," and such. It is a fairly reliable start, though, and will get most people at least close to the right class level when they take a lesson, if they are honest with themselves. Notice that "Level 9" (most advanced) requires, among other things, that a skier can find real challenge on even the easiest green runs:
For what it's worth, and although it is even more subjective and vague than the Levels 1-9 themselves, I would say that Level 1 means "Beginner," Levels 2-4 are "Novice," Levels 5-7 are "Intermediate," and Levels 8 and 9 are "Advanced"--if those categories really mean anything at all!
I refer anyone interested also to the recent thread in which I first posted the chart above: Skier Level
. And, of course, there have been many, many more discussions of this same topic over the years.
Ultimately, it's all just skiing. All great skiers are perennial students, and all "beginners" as they strive for the next breakthrough, great or subtle. For anyone who is considering taking a lesson, please do not fret over getting your level "right." They'll figure it out quickly, and you should be quickly on your way to better skiing!