A-Z of Skiing: P is for Piste Map

One of Britain's best ski writers once claimed that he could always find his way around a ski area but was capable of getting lost inside his hotel. The latter, possibly; but the former? One would have to be a magician to conjure so unerringly three dimensions of reality from the two-dimensional work of imagination known as a piste "map".

One of Britain's best ski writers once claimed that he could always find his way around a ski area but was capable of getting lost inside his hotel. The latter, possibly; but the former? One would have to be a magician to conjure so unerringly three dimensions of reality from the two-dimensional work of imagination known as a piste "map".

The most common complaint about these maps is that their colour-coding misrepresents the difficulty of the descents. Strictly, this is an unfair criticism: when a ski area's pistes are rated as easy (green), medium (blue), difficult (red) or very difficult (black), that usually does convey their relative difficulty. But one resort's red is another's black. The temptation to take an "average" slope and then rate all the others in relation to it is irresistible, because every resort wants the piste map to suggest that it has runs suitable for skiers of all abilities - even if it doesn't.

Secondly, squeezing a mountain range into two dimensions has a seriously distorting effect: what appears to be a consistent, straight skiing face can, in reality, turn through 90 degrees or more. In ski areas which spread across both sides of several valleys, the effect can be highly misleading. The solution would be to show conceptual models rather than "photographic" images; but resorts seem reluctant to make the necessary investment.

The absence of points of the compass from piste maps is also irritating, because it makes assessing snow and weather conditions difficult. Far better to use a proper, 4cm=1km plan (which will mark the lifts though not the descents); by comparison, navigating with a piste map is like walking around London using an Underground map for guidance.

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