Winter School trip difficulties

Difficulty Distance Gain/Loss Hike Time Suitable for participants with:
Beginner < 2 mi Almost 0 < 1 hr Any fitness level, including those generally new to hiking
Easy 3 - 5 mi < 1500 ft 1.5 hr - 3.5 hr Basic experience 3-season hiking
Moderate 5 - 8 mi 1500 - 3000 ft 3.5 hr - 5.5 hr Basic experience winter hiking or extended 3-season hiking experience
Difficult 8 - 12 mi 3000 - 4000 ft 5.5 hr - 8 hr Extended winter hiking experience or basic winter hiking experience and seeking to travel above treeline
Advanced > 12 mi > 4000 ft > 8 hr Extended winter hiking experience, looking to refine their skills with the hardest trips above treeline

For more examples, see sample trips and suggested difficulties.

Why are there guidelines on trip difficulty?

To help standardize difficulty ratings, we've created a set of guidelines to help leaders advertise their trips. This system also helps participants understand what they are signing up for in a trip.

Consistent difficulty ratings allow participants to elect trips which challenge them appropriately and help them grow. For leaders, consistent ratings help attract participants who are well-suited to attend trips.

Does this replace the WSC determining A/B/C trips?

No. The Winter Safety Committee is still in charge of determining what leader rating is appropriate for each trip. Leaders should still provide the rating they believe is appropriate for their trip. However, the WSC is ultimately responsible for approving all trips as well as ensuring that leader-supplied ratings fit the described trip.

A trip's difficultly rating is completely separate from the official trip rating system.

Are these suggested ratings a formal requirement?

This classification system is a suggestion; there is no formal process to ensure that leaders use these ratings. Leaders that deviate from these guidelines should explain their rationale to participants. Suggestions on how to improve these guidelines are always welcome!

What about trips in between two categories? Overnights, bushwhacking, x-mode trips, etc.?

"Be a grump - bump it up!"

These guidelines provide a baseline for difficulty. Additional factors should factor into increasing the difficulty rating. For instance, a difficult trail on an otherwise moderate mountain should be regarded as a difficult trip. Leaders should generally bump up the trip difficulty once for each "special sauce" on the trip.


  • Garfield is a difficult trip from criteria including its long approach. Lugging overnight gear to the summit makes the trip advanced.
  • Lonesome Lake Hut would be an easy trip, since it is a day hike. Lugging overnight gear to the hut makes it moderate. Bushwhacking to the hut first would make the trip difficult.
  • Hale is a difficult hike due to the long approach in the winter. Cross-country skiing the 2.5 mile road walk would make the trip advanced, since participants must know how to ski and hike.