The fun isn’t limited to going downhill at our regional ski resorts. The growing trend of uphill skiing is gaining a considerable foothold at Colorado ski areas and resorts. Those who take part enjoy the increased exercise and solitude along with the chance to skip lift lines, get a considerable price break on access and bring their dog. Many guests also enjoy exercising amid the breathtaking mountain settings before or after the lifts close.
Uphill skiing, also known as “skinning,” “alpine touring” or “ski mountaineering,” involves bypassing ski lifts and climbing to the top of each run under one’s own power. Mountaineers and a small group of extreme skiers have been skinning for ages, to gain access to unspoiled areas. Ten years ago there were just a few folks heading uphill. These days several hundred people are skinning up ski slopes before they open on snowy weekends.
Though it’s still a relatively new industry, ski mountaineering has grown enough to encourage resorts to define their policies and procedures around the activity. Some, but not all, ski areas allow uphill access by means of cross-country skiing, skiing or splitboarding uphill with the use of skins for alpine skis, snowshoeing, or hiking. Near the Front Range, Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Copper, Eldora, Keystone, Loveland and Winter Park all provide options for uphill access—most are free. Rules vary from resort to resort, so before you start heading uphill, make sure to know the policy of the ski area.
Uphill access by means of skinning, snowshoeing and hiking has gained popularity at Arapahoe Basin in recent years. The ski area welcomes and supports individuals seeking to exercise and enjoy the quiet mountain setting. Alpine touring is free at the ski area, but an Uphill Access Pass must be obtained at the Season Pass Office. During operational hours, access is restricted to the eastern edge of the High Noon run, between the base area and Black Mountain Lodge. Except for terrain parks, the entire mountain is fair game in the early mornings and evenings. You can even bring your dog during non-operational hours.
“Skinning can be one of the hardest, but most rewarding and fun activities in your quiver, especially when you skin in-bounds and push yourself,” Arapahoe Basin Marketing & Communications Manager Adrienne Saia Isaac said. “But, the feeling of solitude, especially in the mornings, and the freedom to choose your own adventure in terms of the route you take, are totally worth the sweat! I love that the Basin encourages uphill travel, and is working to grow the sport. This is the place that taught me how to ski uphill, and I just love it.”
According to Issac, A-Basin has one of the easiest uphill access policies to navigate. “We also have affordable races like our Rise n’ Shine Rando Series that appeal to everyone from the hardcore endurance athletes to people just getting into the sport,” she said. “We also encourage uphill travel during our Moonlight Dinners, with two of the dinners accessible only by hiking or skinning.”
Other Summit County resorts limit alpine touring to after hours. Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Resort do not require passes while Copper Mountain requires a free pass and reflective armband, which is available at Copper Mountain’s Lower Patrol Room, 5 a.m.-5 p.m. during the winter season.
In partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, Eldora Mountain Resort is running a trial of uphill alpine touring this season. Unlike everyday operations for alpine, snowboarding and Nordic, Uphill Alpine Touring access will be offered on a modified agenda, including mid-week access, and for special events and competitions. Special rates and passes apply.
Loveland Ski Area requires its round-the-clock skinners to have an Uphill Access Card, available at no charge at the Ski Patrol Headquarters from 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. daily. Pass holders can enjoy two ascents. Route A goes to the top of the Ptarmigan run and Route B heads to the top of the Continental Divide. Uphill skiers can have dogs under voice command before and after operating hours at Loveland Basin.
Winter Park Resort allows access for uphill skiing and skinning on any open trail at all hours without a pass. Uphill skiers, snowshoers and hikers are asked to stay on the side of the trails when ascending and follow other safety rules. After lifts close and the mountain is cleared by Ski Patrol, dogs are allowed. They must remain on a leash at the base area and under voice command in all other areas of the resort.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in uphill skiers at Winter Park because it has become a key element of the healthy, active mountain lifestyle that attracts so many people to Colorado,” Director of Public Relations and Communications Steve Hurlbert said. “To many people who live in our area, the day is just not off to a good start without a morning skin up Winter Park and we’re happy to accommodate those who enjoy this fun and tranquil activity.”
Skinning and skiing on uncharted terrain or on groomed trails, after resort staff have gone for the day, should be left to expert-level athletes who have both avalanche-preparedness training and alpine rescue gear. Beginners should consider limiting their activities to daytime, operational hours.
Individuals who skin and snowshoe at a ski area, with or without a pass, are considered as a skier under the Colorado Skier Safety Act. Individuals who skin and snowshoe assumes the risk of any injury to person or property resulting from the inherent dangers and risk of the activity. Be aware, most resorts will not respond to emergencies during non-operating hours.
Keeping in mind the sport’s considerable risks, it is strongly recommended that all uphill access users utilize reflective materials on ski poles, clothing, and/or packs to heighten visibility. In addition to headlamps, flashing lights such as those commonly used on bicycles make it easier for other users as well as ski area personnel to see you and your party in the dark. Lastly, a whistle can be beneficial if the need arises to send an audible warning or signal.
Before heading uphill, learn the policies of the ski area you are visiting. By following the rules, you are preserving this opportunity for all mountain users.
REGIONAL ALPINE SKI AREAS w/UPHILL SKIING
28194 U.S. Highway 6, Dillon
888-ARAPAHOE • ArapahoeBasin.com
Breckenridge Ski Resort
1599 County Road 3, Breckenridge
970-453-5000 • http://www.breckenridge.com
209 Ten Mile Circle, Copper Mountain
800-458-8386 • coppercolorado.com
Eldora Mountain Resort
2861 Eldora Ski Road 140, Nederland
303-440-8700 • Eldora.com
100 Dercum Square, Keystone
970- 496-4386 • http://www.keystoneresort.com
Loveland Ski Area
I-70 west exit 216, Georgetown
303-571-5580 • skiloveland.com
Winter Park Resort
85 Parsenn Road, Winter Park
970-726-5514 • winterparkresort.com
Originally published in the March 2017 issue of the MMAC Monthly