WHAT IT TAKES: Being able to get down anything doesn't make you an expert. You've got to be able to handle anything—Eastern trees, deep Wasatch fluff, Sierra cement, B.C. steeps—and make it look easy. It doesn't just mean beating everyone down a run. It's handling speed with relaxed grace and unwavering balance.
Experts are neither fearless nor foolhardy. They read terrain, assess risk and channel fear-generated adrenaline to positive ends. They know their limits and abilities, and learn by watching, listening and discussing, perpetually growing as skiers.
Experts also understand their gear and can easily discriminate between skis and boots that work and those that don't. They know when a ski is out of tune or a boot is too stiff and how to correct it.Fall short in any of these areas and you should refer to yourself as "advanced.
HOW TO GET THERE: Find expert mentors, consult with the best teachers, and travel widely, experiencing a variety of terrain and conditions. Attend clinics, such as Jackson Hole's Steep and Deep (jacksonhole.com), Stowe's Boot Camp (stowe.com) or Doug Coombs' Steep Camps (dougcoombs.com). Ski everywhere you can, always pushing the limits of your comfort zone, always exploring new terrain and snow. Watch expert skiers closely and analyze technique. Get boots that are snug and customized. Demo skis at every opportunity to find the ones that suit you perfectly, and learn how skis should be prepared. Most of all, don't be a fair-weather skier. Train in gates, never miss a powder day, and generally log a lot of miles on-slope. Ski in all weather and all conditions. That which doesn't kill you may yet make you an expert.