3 Safety and Right of Way

Skier Responsibility Code

Skiing in its various forms is a dangerous sport with inherent risks. The risks include loading, riding, and unloading from ski lifts; variations in the snow, steepness, and terrain; ice; moguls; hazards such as rocks, trees, debris (above or below the surface), bare spots, lift towers, utility lines and poles, fencing, snow making and snow grooming equipment, and other forms of natural or man-made obstacles or other skiers. Regardless of how you decide to enjoy the slopes, always show courtesy to others and be aware that there are elements of risk in skiing that common sense and personal awareness can help reduce.

The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) first developed “Your Responsibility Code” in 1962 to help skiers and snowboarders be aware of the risks associated with snow sports. Observe the code listed below and share with other skiers and riders the responsibility for a great skiing experience.

Your Responsibility Code (2022)

  1.  Always stay in control. You must be able to stop or avoid people or objects.
  2.  People ahead or downhill of you have the right-of-way. You must avoid them.
  3.  Stop only where you are visible from above and do not restrict traffic.
  4.  Look uphill and avoid others before starting downhill or entering a trail.
  5.  You must prevent runaway equipment.
  6.  Read and obey all signs, warnings, and hazard markings.
  7.  Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
  8.  You must know how and be able to load, ride and unload lifts safely. If you need assistance, ask the lift attendant.
  9.  Do not use lifts or terrain when impaired by alcohol or drugs.
  10.  If you are involved in a collision or incident, share your contact information with each other and a ski area employee.

Also know that:

  • Crossed skis means someone needs assistance.
  • If you are injured have someone cross his or her skis above you or lay their snowboard above you. This makes it easier for the ski patrol to find you and makes others on the hill aware that you are there.
  • Send someone to the nearest lift operator and give them exact location, noting trail name, tower number, skiers right or left of run, etc.

Winter sports involve risk of serious injury or death. Your knowledge, decisions and actions contribute to your safety and that of others. If you need help understanding the Code, please ask any ski area employee.

International Trail Marking System

Signs and maps bearing green circles, blue squares, and black diamonds are the primary way that U.S. resorts communicate their ski trail ratings.

The difficulty ratings are primarily based on the grade or steepness of the trail, but also takes into account other factors such as width of the trail, sharpest turns, terrain roughness, the direction of the fall line, and whether the trail is groomed regularly. The steepness of ski trails is usually measured by grade (as a percentage) instead of degree angle. In general, beginner slopes (green circle) are between 6% and 25%. Intermediate slopes (blue square) are between 25% and 40%. Difficult slopes (black diamond) are 40% and up. However, this is just a general rule of thumb. At most resorts, you’ll find that about 25% of the trails are designated green, about 50% are blue, and about 25% are black.

There are a number of important considerations regarding trail marking:

  1. Each mountain rates its own trails, so the exact meanings are relative within each mountains’ system. These symbols describe only the relative degree of challenge of a particular slope or trail compared with other slopes or trails at that ski area. If a mountain is steep all over, the green-circle trails will be a distinct challenge for novices. They are the easiest trails at that resort, but they may be too difficult for someone who is a beginner.
  2. A run will be rated based on its most difficult section. A run rated as intermediate or expert may be so because it has one difficult part, and thus it may not be off-limits to you.
  3. A few ski mountains in North America combine these symbols (e.g., a black diamond on top of a blue square to indicate a level in between the two).

Control and Right of Way

Definition of Right of Way

Any skier, snowboarder, or anyone else that is below you on the slopes has the right of way. They typically will not be looking backward, meaning they will have no idea there is someone behind them. It is your responsibility to adjust speed and direction to avoid them, even if they fall right in front of you.  According to the Responsibility Code, a skier (or snowboarder) should always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects. Because of this, it is best to keep a fair amount of distance between you and the skier or snowboarder in front of you (at least 6 feet).

It is important to keep in mind that everyone should also follow these rules:

  • Always stay in control when on the slope. It is your responsibility to know what speed and slope difficulty you can handle.
  • Do not stop where you obstruct a trail or are not visible from above. If you do feel the need to stop, try to stop at the top of the next section of the slope that’s visible from above (e.g., the crest of a hill).
  • Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.


In this video, we see the skier react and adjust to the snowboarder who fell.


Whereas, in this video we see the snowboarder adjusting to the skier ahead who is moving at a slower speed.



1. National Ski Areas Association (n.d.). Your responsibility code. https://www.nsaa.org/NSAA/Safety/Your_Responsibility_Code.aspx


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Skiing and Snowboarding Copyright © by Dr. Renee Harrington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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