Calgary Outdoor Club - Difficulty Ratings

It is challenging to quantify the difficulty rating for various events, but in keeping with our mandate of being a variety club, and not a hard-core single-activity club, our rating system/guidelines are described in detail below.

Notes:
- All difficulty ratings and examples are provided as a guideline for difficulty with an AVERAGE pace in AVERAGE conditions. Club volunteers will adjust their difficulty rating up for specific events if/when pace and/or conditions require.
- All difficult and advanced trips will only be open to those who meet the event coordinator's criteria: if this is your first event with that coordinator, you may be contacted before being allowed to participate.

 
 
Adventure Ski - Backcountry
Camp Ski - Cross-Country
Climb Ski - Downhill
Cycle - MTB Snowshoe
Cycle - Road Social - *All events = D1. Restriction on "exclusionary" events (singles events, gender-specific events, age-specific events are not offered)
Cycle - Urban Sport - Golf (D2=Recreational; D4=Competitive)
Equestrian Sport - Misc (D2=Recreational; D4=Competitive)
Gym - *All events = D2 Sport - Racquet (D2=Recreational; D4=Competitive)
Hike Sport - Run (D2=Beginners allowed; D4=Expectations for distance/pace/ability)
Hike - Backpack Sport - Swim - *All events = D2. Swim events at supervised pool only
Hike - Urban Sport - Team (D2=Recreational; D3=Intermediate; D4=Competitive)
Learn Volunteer
Meeting - *All events = D1 Water - Canoe
Scramble Water - Kayak
Skate - Ice Water - Raft
Skate - Inline/Roller
* Participants can make it as easy or difficult as they wish without impacting other participants.



Adventure

Adventure events are rated according to required skill level and/or risk.
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
2 Easy to Moderate Easy activity that doesn't fall neatly into a regular event type For example: Waterpark, RCMP Dog Training Demonstration
3 Moderate Moderate activity that doesn't fall neatly into a regular event type For example: Dog Sled Tour; Paintball
4 Moderate to Difficult Challenging activity that doesn't fall neatly into a regular event type For example: Guided Caving Tour
5 Difficult Difficult activity that doesn't fall neatly into a regular event type For example: Multiple D5 activities in one event (scramble + mountain biking)
6 Difficult to Advanced Advanced activity that doesn't fall neatly into a regular event type For example: Canadian Death Race




Camp

Camp events are rated according to the amount of knowledge and skill required.
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
2 Easy to Moderate Front-Country car camping For example: Dinosaur Provincial Park, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
3 Moderate Walk-in tenting For example: MA-WE-GA Tipi Camping, Elk Island Walk-In
4 Moderate to Difficult Winter Camping For example: Mount Kidd Winter Camping, Quinzee Camping
5 Difficult Multi-day, bikepacking, cycle touring For example: Golden Triangle, Elbow Lake Bikepacking




Climb

Climb events are rated according to skill and risk.
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
3 Moderate Indoor Climbing Wall, where participants can make it as easy, or difficult, as they wish, in a supervised environment For example: Calgary Climbing Centre
4 Moderate to Difficult Supervised Rock Climbing Lessons For example: Ridgeline Guiding, CRAG - Canadian Rockies Alpine Guides
5 Difficult Supervised Ice Climbing Lessons For example: Ridgeline Guiding, CRAG - Canadian Rockies Alpine Guides
6 Difficult to Advanced Rock Climbing For example: Wasootch Slabs, Even-Thomas Creek
7 Advanced Ice Climbing For example: Grotto Canyon, White Man Falls




Cycle - MTB

Mountain biking is rated according to terrain and technical difficulty
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
3 Moderate
 
Easy terrain. Easy hills, hard packed trail, beginners are often welcome.
Often equivalent to Eastcott's Backcountry Biking in the Canadian Rockies "easy/novice" rating.
For example, Riverview Trail
 
4 Moderate to Difficult
 
Some steep hills, tree roots, muddy sections, loose surface, narrow trail.
Often equivalent to Eastcott's Backcountry Biking in the Canadian Rockies "moderate/novice" or "moderate/intermediate" rating.
For example, Goat Creek
 
5 Difficult
 
Technically challenging. Steep hills, mud, roots, rocks/scree, loose surface, narrow trail.
Often equivalent to Eastcott's Backcountry Biking in the Canadian Rockies "difficult/intermediate" or "moderate/advanced" rating.
For example, Prairie View/Jewel Pass
 
6 Difficult to Advanced
 
Very technically challenging. Steep hills, mud, roots, rocks/scree, loose surface, narrow trail.
Often equivalent to Eastcott's Backcountry Biking in the Canadian Rockies "difficult/advanced" or "extreme/advanced" rating.
For example, Powderface Creek/Prairie Creek
 
7 Advanced
 
Extremely technically challenging. Steep hills, mud, roots, rocks/scree, loose surface, narrow trail.
Often equivalent to Eastcott's Backcountry Biking in the Canadian Rockies "extreme/expert," rating.
For example, Jumpingpound Ridge/Cox Hill
 




Cycle - Road

Road biking is rated according to distance, pace, hills and hazards (ie. traffic)
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
3 Moderate Highway ride. 30k-50k For example, road ride on Highway 66
4 Moderate to Difficult Highway ride, often in the mountains. 50k-100k For example, Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Lake Louise
5 Difficult Highway ride, often in the mountains. 100+ km For example, Icefields Parkway




Cycle - Urban

Urban biking is rated according to distance
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
2 Easy to Moderate An urban bike ride on city trails. Less than 30k. For example, bike around the Glenmore Reservoir
3 Moderate Urban ride. 30k-50k For example, Calgary pathways and neighborhood streets




Equestrian

Equestrian events are rated according to required skill level and/or risk.
2 Easy to Moderate Guided easy trail ride
3 Moderate Guided moderate trail ride
4 Moderate to Difficult Unguided horseback riding for experienced horsemen
5 Difficult Competitive
6 Difficult to Advanced Advanced terrain, experienced riders only




Hike

Hikes are rated on a grid according to distance and elevation gain. Although terrain is not considered in our grid, coordinators will adjust their difficulty to reflect special terrain considerations.

Note: Hover your mouse over the D links in the chart to see examples of which hikes fall into this category. For the examples given, elevation gains were based on actual measurements, rather than on net elevation gains provided by many guide books. They are also rated according to our "actual" end point on typical events rather than just to the end of an official trail (which is frequently all that is provided in the guide books).
Hike Distance
Elev.
Gain
  0-6km 6-12km 12-18km 18-24km 24+km
0 - 350m D2 D2 D3 D4 D5
351 - 700m D3/D4 D3 D4 D5 D6
701 - 1050m D5 D4 D5 D6 D7
1051m+   D5 D6 D7  
Rating Codes
D2: Easy to Moderate
D3: Moderate
D4: Moderate to Difficult
D5: Difficult
D6: Difficult to Advanced
D7: Advanced




Hike - Backpack

Because backpacking can incorporate a variety of "base" locomotive activities (e.g., hiking, snow shoeing, backcountry skiing and/or cross-country skiing), we do not keep separate difficulty ratings for backpack events. Please see the difficulty rating for the event's locomotive activity (ie. hiking) for difficulty rating and note that backpack events will be rated higher for difficulty depending on:
- distance covered per day
- elevation gain
- packing every day vs pack-in-and-stay events. For example:
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
3 Moderate Easy to Moderate base locomotive activity based on Distance and Elevation
4 Moderate to Difficult Moderate base locomotive activity based on Distance and Elevation
5 Difficult Moderate base locomotive activity to Difficult based on Distance and Elevation
6 Difficult to Advanced Difficult base locomotive activity based on Distance and Elevation
7 Advanced Difficult base locomotive activity to Advanced based on Distance and Elevation




Hike - Urban

Urban hikes (walks) are rated easier than mountain hikes because of the extra considerations introduced by any activity in the mountains.
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
1 Easy Less than 8km distance and negligible elevation gain For example, Inglewood Sanctuary
2 Easy to Moderate Approx 8-12km with gentle elevation gain (100m-150m gain to 1km distance), or less than 8km with more cumulative elevation gain and steeper slopes (150m-250m gain to 1km) up to 500m total gain. For example, Weaselhead
3 Moderate More than 12km, more than 500m of cumulative gain, or hill-training events with constant steep elevation gain, regardless of total amount For example, Glenmore Reservoir or Douglas Fir Trail




Learn

Learn events are rated according to required skill level and/or risk.
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
1 Easy Classroom, Seminar, no hands-on For example: Cycle-touring presentation
2 Easy to Moderate Classroom or seminar with hands-on For example: First Aid course
3 Moderate Moderate hands-on For example: Wilderness First Aid course
4 Moderate to Difficult Challenging hands-on For example: Avalanche Rescue training




Scramble

Scrambles are rated according to technical difficulty, degree of exposure, and length of the route. For all scrambles, there will be significant elevation gain (usually at least 1000m, but more commonly around 1500m, and occasionally upwards of 2000m). Routes that are not in optimal condition (dry and free of snow) will be rated more difficult than the same route under ideal conditions. Specs below are from Alan Kane's "Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies".
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
5 Difficult
 
 
Difficult hiking on scree, loose rock and/or slabs with minimal exposure and a lot of elevation gain
 
 
A scramble that is rated "Easy" in Kane's book. For example, the south peak of Mount Indefatigable
6 Difficult to Advanced Frequent use of handholds required, possible exposure but not usuallyenough to be a fatal. Some route finding involved
 
A scramble that is rated "Moderate" in Kane's book. For example Eiffel Peak or Mt. Temple
7 Advanced
 
 
Much use of handholds required, sections may be steep, loose and exposed, or rock could be smooth and downsloping. Fall distance may be significant enough to be fatal. Route finding skills are generally necessary to determine the most practical and feasible way for specific sections. Anyone with vertigo or a fear of heights should avoid these scrambles A scramble that is rated "Difficult" in Kane's book. For example Mount Whtye or Mt. Stephen




Skate - Ice

The degree of difficulty in ice skating generally is affected by conditions only - each participant can, of course decide how fast/hard they want to skate. Beginners are always welcome on ice skating events.
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
2 Easy to Moderate Groomed ice For example, Olympic Oval
3 Moderate Outdoor ice For example, Bowness Lagoon




Skate - Inline/Roller

Inline Skating is rated according to trail conditions, hills, traffic exposure, intended distance covered and intended pace.
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
2 Easy to Moderate Intended for beginners. Small distance, smooth flat trail with little/no hills/traffic. For example, Carburn Park
3 Moderate Not intended for beginners. Greater distance, some experience required for dodging debris, children,
traffic. Some hills. Also includes indoor roller skating.
For example, Glenmore Inn to Chestermere Trail
 
4 Moderate to Difficult Experienced skaters only. Greater distance, faster pace. Debris, children, traffic and some hills. For example, Edworthy Park
5 Difficult Experienced skaters only. Greater distance, fast pace. Debris, children, traffic and significant hills.; For example, Glenmore Reservoir
Circuit




Ski - Backcountry

Backcountry Skiing is rated according to distance and elevation gain.
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
5 Difficult Shorter (ie. under 10km) distances and moderate elevation gain (under 1000m). For example, Highwood, Gypsum Mine, Bow Summit
6
 
Difficult to Advanced
 
Longer (ie. 10 - 20km) distances and greater elevation gain (1000m - 1500m).
Easier overnight trips.
For example, Black Prince(steeper
and treed terrain)
7
 
Advanced
 
Very challenging (ie. 20+km and/or 1500m+ elevation) and/or more challenging
overnight trips.
For example, Burstall Pass, Commonwealth Creek
 




Ski - Cross-Country

Cross-Country Skiing is rated according to terrain, trail conditions, distance, amount and type of hills, and expected pace.
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
2 Easy to Moderate Intended for beginners. Groomed trails, green (easy) trails only. For example, green trails at Kananaskis Village
3
 
Moderate
 
Not intended for beginners. Generally on groomed trails, green and blue trails, expectation for pace and distance posted. For example, blue and green trails around Peter Lougheed Info Center
 
4 Moderate to Difficult Experienced skiiers only. Often trails are ungroomed, significant distance and hills. For example, Brewster Creek
5 Difficult Experienced skiiers only. Often trails are ungroomed, significant distance and hills. Greater distance and elevation gain. For example, Chester Lake




Ski - Downhill

When downhill skiing, it is generally up to the individual how difficult the day will be. They choose which runs to take and how many of them.
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs
3 Moderate Beginner to blue runs, or all levels welcome
4 Moderate to Difficult Mostly blue runs
5 Difficult Mostly black to double-black diamond runs
Note that any events planning to ski out-of-bounds should be classified as a backcountry ski event (not downhill) and all COC safety and avalanche policies apply accordingly.




Snow Shoe

Snow Shoe events are rated on a grid according to distance and elevation gain. Although terrain is not considered in our grid, coordinators will adjust their difficulty to reflect special terrain considerations.

Note: Hover your mouse over the D links in the chart to see examples of which trails fall into this category. For the examples given, elevation gains were based on actual measurements, rather than on net elevation gains provided by many guide books. They are also rated according to our "actual" end point on typical events rather than just to the end of an official trail (which is frequently all that is provided in the guide books).
Distance
Elev.
Gain
  0-6km 6-10km 10-14km 14-18km 18+km
0 - 200m D2 *D5 D2 *D5 D3 *D5 D4 D5
201 - 500m D3 *D5 D3 *D5 D4 *D5 D5 D6
501 - 800m D3 D4 *D5 D5 D6 D7
801+   D5 D6 D7  
* Difficulty rating higher due to avalanche terrain
Rating Codes
D2: Easy to Moderate based on Distance and Elevation
Terrain considered to be generally free from avalanche hazards per COC Winter Safety policy
D3: Moderate based on Distance and Elevation
Terrain considered to be generally free from avalanche hazards per COC Winter Safety policy
D4: Moderate to Difficult based on Distance and Elevation
Terrain considered to be generally free from avalanche hazards per COC Winter Safety policy
D5: Difficult based on Distance, Elevation and Terrain
Simple (Class-1) Avalanche Terrain (per COC Winter Safety Policy) allowed when avalanche risk is low
D6: Difficult to Advanced based on Distance, Elevation and Terrain
Simple (Class-1) Avalanche Terrain (per COC Winter Safety Policy) allowed when avalanche risk is low or moderate
D7: Advanced based on Distance, Elevation and Terrain
Simple (Class-1) Avalanche Terrain (per COC Winter Safety Policy) allowed when avalanche risk is low or moderate




Volunteer

Adventure events are rated according to required skill level, physical challenge and/or risk.
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
2 Easy to Moderate Community Service with little physical challenge For example: Garage Sale, Food Bank
3 Moderate Community Service with some physical challenge and/or hazard For example: River Clean-Up
4 Moderate to Difficult Physically challenging activity For example: Kananaskis Trail Maintenance




Water - Canoe

Canoe trips are rated according to distance, hazards and technical difficulty. Our ratings for canoe trips are Difficulty Descriptions are based on the International Scale of River Difficulty
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
3 Moderate Short/easy trips on stationary or slow-moving water
 
For example a few hours in calm or light winds on the Glenmore Reservoir
4 Moderate to Difficult Rivers with at most Class I rapids: Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy For example, the Bow River in Calgary under NORMAL conditions
5 Difficult Rivers with at most Class II rapids: Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed
 
For example the Kananaskis River between Canoe Meadows and Seebe under NORMAL conditions
 




Water - Kayak

Kayak trips are rated according to distance, hazards and technical difficulty. Our ratings for kayak trips are similar to the American Canoe Association or British Canoe Union systems of awards, but does not follow these exactly.
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
2 Easy to Moderate Beginner classes only
3 Moderate Paddling on calm, flat water in winds not exceeding 5 knots. Scenic estuaries, calm bays, flat water, rivers and other protected waterways. Paddlers should be comfortable paddling forward at a 2 knot pace, using forward and reverse sweeps to turn the boat, launching and landing on shallow grade beaches, and swimming next to a boat upon capsize. ACA Level 1
4 Moderate to Difficult Paddling on water ranging from flat to waves 1 foot or less, and winds not exceeding 10 knots. Along shore paddling and small crossings (2.5nm or less). Paddlers should be comfortable paddling at a 2 knot pace in calm conditions, rotating their boats 360 degrees with sweep strokes, performing a wet exit, and re-entering their boat with assistance. Paddlers should also have the beginnings, but not mastery, of strokes such as the low recovery, controlled reverse paddling, and drawing. ACA Level 2
5 Difficult Paddling in waves to 3 feet and winds to 15 knots. Paddling along semi-exposed coastline,in tidal areas, and crossings up to 5 nautical miles. Paddlers should be comfortable paddling at a 3 knot pace in moderate conditions, have solid boat handling skills on flat water, be able recover from capsize using a hip snap and brace, reverse paddling, drawing, performing a Eskimo rescue, T-rescue and self rescue on flat water. Paddlers should also have the beginnings of the following skills: using a tow rig, a roll, bow rudder turn, low brace turn, draw on the move, hanging draw, and the stern rudder as well as some experience paddling in small waves. ACA Level 3
6 Difficult to Advanced Paddling in waves to 5 feet and winds to 20 knots. Paddling along exposed coastlines with crossings up to 8 nautical miles, tidal currents to 3 knots, navigating by chart and compass, and starting to learn good judgement and leadership while at sea. Paddlers should be comfortable paddling at a 3-4 knot pace in moderate conditions, have the beginnings of good boat handling skills in rough water, using a tow rig, be able to roll, prevent capsize with a brace/hip snap, perform paddle, bow and stern presentation Eskimo Rescues, and have good awareness of other boaters. ACA Level 4




Water - Raft

River rafting trips are rated according to distance, hazards and technical difficulty. Generally, a river rafting trip is rated one level easier than the canoeing rating. Trips rated higher than Moderate must be organized by a certified river rafting company.
Difficulty (D) # Name Specs Notes
3 Moderate Rivers with at most Class I rapids: Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy
 
For example, the Bow River in Calgary under NORMAL conditions
4 Moderate to Difficult Rivers with at most Class II rapids: Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed
 
 
For example the Kananaskis River between Canoe Meadows and Seebe under NORMAL conditions
5 Difficult Rivers with at most Class III rapids: Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims
 
For example the Middle Canyon of the Kicking Horse River
6 Difficult to Advanced Rivers with at most Class IV rapids: Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require "must" moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills
 
For example the Lower Canyon of the Kicking Horse River

 
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