Understanding the Italian Scale Used for Ski Mountaineering
Looking a heart pounding adventure or maybe a gentle climb and cruise is more your speed? To understand which is which in Italy, have a look at the difficulty scale used. Italy makes use of the Blachère scale. The Italian ski touring scale provides only three difficulty levels, plus the addition of A for alpinist components ( but more on that later). Compared to other country’s more complex rating systems, Italy’s grading provides only a very general overview, inclusive of the uphill and downhill part of your ski tour.
The scale is named for the French civil engineer who created the scale in 1940, Gerard Blachère. Originally used in both France and Switzerland, these countries have since traded the system for something more complex. But Italians like to hold onto tradition, so they have stuck with it.
Using the scale
As noted, the scale has only three levels, so if you are not familiar with the area, you can find more detailed info on sites like Gulliver. Of course like any rating system, all is subjective and varies greatly depending on conditions (both yours and the snow’s).
Of course always, always, always consult the avalanche bulletins. The bolletini di valanghe , are issued by each region during the winter season. AINEVA provides links to the avalanche bulletins that the regions of Central and Northern Italy provide.
Backcountry legal requirements
Italy requires you to bring an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe with you if you venture into the back country. If you are caught without them you will be fined and further complexities and fees result if you need to be rescued and are not prepared. In recent years, Italian regions have charged more for mountain rescues for those who were deemed unprepared and without the proper equipment.
Go with a Guide
If unfamiliar with the area you have the option of going with a UIAGM-IFMGA certified alpine guide. A good guide will know the area, the powder stashes and which faces that are relatively safe and which are risky, helping you to have fun and steer clear of danger.
- MS Medio Sciatore (Average skier) No slopes steeper than 25 degrees, wide slopes, nothing too steep or narrow.
- BS Buon Sciatore (Good skier) Good technical skills and can ski slopes up to a 40 degree pitch. You can manage narrow couloirs for short sections.
- OS Ottimo Sciatore ( Excellent skier) You should rip. Or at least be able to ski slopes steeper than 40 degrees, frequently with exposure. You may also find in this description included passaggio obbligato, meaning there are parts of the tour that offer only one way down and this section could be tricky or a very technical and exposed section.
An ‘A’ for Alpinist
While Sci Alpinismo is the term used to cover both ski touring and ski mountaineering in Italy, it is really only the “A” or Alpinista rated routes that include the mountaineer aspect .
The addition of the letter A means the skier must be prepared with needed skills and equipment for the environment. Ropes, harness, ice ax and crampons should be brought along for encountering some or all of the following: crevassed glaciers, climbing sections, and steep pitches.
- MSA: Medio Sciatore Alpinista (Average skier alpinist)
- BSA: Buon Sciatore Alpinista (Good skier alpinist)
- OSA: Ottimo Sciatore Alpinista (Excellent skier alpinist)
Ski and Ride Safe
As you can see Italy’s rating system, leaves a lot of room for variation. Do your research before you go, check the latest avalanche bulletin, be prepared with the right gear and enjoy the incredible scenery of the Italian Alps.
If looking for non snowy excursions, check out Understanding the Hiking Trail Rating System in Italy.