Toponeige Rating

Technique > Toponeige Ski Touring Rating System

The Toponeige rating system for ski tours was largely developed by Volodia Shahshahani? a Grenoble based ski mountaineer who pioneered many extreme routes in the 1970s in the Dauphiné mountains of France and is still very active. The system has been improved by his collaboration with a number of local ski mountaineers and is in widespread use in the region and on the websites:, and

The system breaks each tour down into climbing difficulty (cotation marche), ski difficulty (cotation ski) and danger (exposition). The system is used by the Topoguide books published by Volopress. In the United States the ski mountaineers Andrew McClean and Lou Dawson have proposed a similar scheme.

Ski Difficulty

This is split into four levels each with 3 sub levels (4.1 – low, 4.2 – average, 4.3 – high) and a fifth section that is open. All gradings assume transformed (spring) snow or powder.

Level 1: Beginner routes but on mountain terrain with the associated difficulties. Slopes do not exceed 30°(around black piste grading in France), routes, including forest tracks, should allow room to turn. There is less than 800 meters of climbing. Both the danger from falls etc and from avalanche should be low.

Level 2: No real technical difficulty and slopes should not exceed 35°. However the altitude climbed as well as the dangers may be serious.

Level 3: Start of ski mountaineering. Technical sections, long slopes of 35°, short sections of 40-45°. Dense woodland, steep forest tracks.

Level 4: Couloir skiing of steep slopes. Extended sections of 40° with the possibility of short passages to 50°. Very technical routes on mid-mountain areas. Dense woodland with moderate slopes.

Level 5: Very steep slopes, long sections of 45-50° and or significant passages at more than 50°. This section is currently split into six sub-levels (since 2007) with the possibility of extending the levels further upwards should this prove neccessary. Levels 5.1 to 5.4 are in most common usage.

Some examples of 5.5 or 5.6 rated descents

  * Aiguille de l'Olan Ecrins 5.5
  * Aiguille Verte Nant Blanc, variante Tardivel  Mont Blanc 5.6/E4 (5.5 on Skitour)
  * Col de l'Aiguille Verte Face nord (du col ouest) 5.5
  * Ferdenrothorn 3180 Berner-Oberland 5.6

Climbing Difficulty

W: Walk, generally no need for special equipment such as crampons, suitable for snowshoes, boring for snowboarders
P: Easy, on glaciers or slopes of 30 degrees +, good for more adventurous snow shoe walkers
PD: Fairly Easy, over slopes from 35 to 40 degrees with sections of 45 degrees
AD: Pretty Hard, slopes with sections from 45 to 50 degrees, some use of ice axes
D: Hard, may require ropes and climbing equipment, rappels etc

This is used to rate only the climb section of the route or sections that are not normally skied. It is useful where a route is a traverse or loop as you may only be climbing certain sections. An example is the Cretes de la Marmottane-Tour where the skiing is rates 2.3 but the climb to the Breche de l'Argentiere is rated PD (it would be a 3.3 ski descent).


In general terms one should consider that it is impossible to stop a fall on a 35° ice slope or from 45°on spring snow. From 50°a fall that is not immediately stopped, even in deep snow, is impossible to stop.

Apart from slope steepness there is the risk of obstacles (cliffs etc) which can contribute to injury in the case of falls or avalanches.

Danger 1: Apart from rocks and trees no real danger. The danger is directly linked to the slope – on steep slopes and hard snow the risk of injury is serious.
Danger 2: The fall line includes rock outcrops or small cliffs that will increase the risk of injury in the case of a fall. Couloirs with moderate corners also fall into this category (risk from side walls).
Danger 3: The route is above serious cliffs or in twisty couloirs where there is a serious danger of hitting the obstacle. Death in case of fall is fairly certain.
Danger 4: High cliffs or narrow couloirs or other obstructions. Death in the case of fall is certain.

The exposure to danger increases the difficulty of a route as it inhibits a skiers mental ability to make turns.

Other Dangers

  • The altitude climbed also has an impact on the difficulty as a tired skier or snowboarder is more likely to make mistakes.
  • Very short but very steep passages are easier than long steep sections.
  • A narrow couloir is harder than an open face of the same steepness.
  • In spring the center of a couloir may be unskiable due to a goulotte (ice fall) forcing the skier or boarder onto the steeper sidewalls.


Long tours with different slope directions may impose difficult timing constraints to find transformed snow and avoid wet snow avalanches. In winter nightfall is around 17h00 and makes it difficult for rescue helicopters to operate. Less light is also available for skiing, especially on north and east facing slopes.

In late spring longer climbs should be started before dawn.


Cold and poor visibility increase the difficulty of a route. Poor weather also makes it difficult for the rescue services to operate.

Snow conditions

  • On shallow slopes powder and crusty snow are more difficult to ski.
  • On steep slopes deep (powder) snow makes the slope easier to ski. Crust may also be easier on steeper slopes as the skier has more kinetic energy to break through the crust.

Climbing Speed

250-300 meters/hour for beginners on good snow following a track or for average skiers making a track in powder snow. The descent will be around 1500 meters/hour with 30 minutes break at the summit

500-600 meters an hour for good skiers with 2000 meters/hour for the descent.


Volopress has guidebooks covering the following areas:

  • Chartreuse-Bauges-Aravis-Bornes (ISBN : 2-912063-10-8)
  • Belledonne (ISBN: ISBN : 2-912063-09-4)
  • West Dauphiné (ISBN: ISBN : 2-912063-02-7)

All the routes on are described from our own observations so these guidebooks provide useful complementary information (where the route is covered).

Further Information

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