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Winter in Aspen: It’s all up uphill in 2021

New to alpine touring? Here’s what you need to know.

Carolyn Sackariason
For Winter in Aspen & Snowmass

 


Like all outdoor recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the uphill skiing industry is seeing a record number of people wanting to make the slog up the mountain.

While the sport has seen increased interest over recent years, 2020 shattered projections by manufacturers and sellers.

“We are seeing a surge of people buying equipment early because brands are running out,” said Maile Spung, who runs Ute Mountaineer, a local shop founded by her father, Bob Wade. “Almost every brand is selling out, it’s pretty wild.”



She said the Ute will continue to stock popular brands of alpine touring skis and boots, and as usual, the store will offer demo sets for people to test out. (A local’s tip: The Ute applies the cost of the 24-hour rentals toward any purchase, which includes a free binding mount, skin cut and boot mold.)

Spung said trying the equipment before buying is a good way to make sure it’s the right fit for the user.



“We are encouraging people to be patient and try demoing because it does make a difference,” she said.

Those who are buying early are a mix between people who are replacing their old, outdated equipment and an influx of newbies to the sport, which is essentially climbing the mountain with a free-heeled binding and adhesive skins that line the bottom of the ski to provide grip on the snow.

Aspen Skiing Co. is one of the few ski area operators that allows people to climb its four mountains for free. The company even groomed some of the slopes when Gov. Jared Polis closed ski areas across Colorado when the pandemic struck in mid-March, creating a human-powered ski areas.

“The Skico has been very accommodating of the uphill community and not monetizing it,” Spung said.

With COVID, there are new restrictions this year on local ski areas, crafted with safety in mind.

The Skico also will offer for free red, blinking lights for people to be visible so snow-cat operators and other mountain operation crews can see skiers. Those are available at the Ute.

Among the hottest new products for this season, according to Spung, is the DPS Tour Series — a line offering a lightweight ski that has a smooth downhill ride.

Another that’s been selling out is Dynafit’s new Seven Summits ski set, which includes the ski, binding and skin.

The Ute also has the new Kastle backcountry ski, as well as the “tried and true” Blizzard and Black Crow models.

As Spung put it: “There’s something for everyone.”

NEW RULES


Skico has scheduled “blackout dates” for uphilling Dec. 26 through Jan. 2 and during President’s Day Weekend, Feb. 13 and 14.

Designated routes on all four ski areas will be marked with orange disks with an uphill symbol.

Aspen Mountain

All uphillers must be at the top of the mountain by 9 a.m., or make the ascent after 5 p.m. Uphilling is not allowed between 9 a.m. and 4:45 p.m.

Snowmass & Aspen Highlands

Uphilling at Snowmass is allowed during operational hours between 9 a.m. and 4:45 p.m.

Dogs are prohibited between 7:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. during the ski season. Before and after operational hours, dogs are allowed on-mountain.

Buttermilk

Uphilling is allowed all day, seven days a week.

Dogs are prohibited between 7:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m.


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