Aspen Skiing Co. taking temperature of uphillers

Online survey seeks to collect data on habits, asks about willingness to pay or donate for access to slopes

Aspen Skiing Co. is trying to learn more about the habits of “uphillers” and whether they would be willing to pay to play in the future.

Skico invited people on its “uphill update” email list last week to fill out a 24-question online survey. Skico asked people which ski areas they visit, how often, at what times and which routes. The email list was compiled at the beginning of this season.

The survey also gauged if people would be willing to start paying for access to the slopes to walk or skin uphill.

Sent out Wednesday, the survey is simply the first step in reaching out to determine how to manage the uphilling explosion more effectively and safely, said Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications.

“It’s a huge growing sport and activity,” Hanle said Friday. “Right now we’re kind of flying blind.”

Aspen-Snowmass has one of the best reputations in the ski industry for embracing uphillers — people who affix climbing skins to their skis and split boards or hike up the slopes. Each of the company’s four ski areas has designated routes. Uphillers are welcomed anytime during operating hours at Buttermilk, Snowmass and Aspen Highlands. They must reach the top of Aspen Mountain by 9 a.m.

The ranks of uphillers surged at the end of last winter when ski areas in Colorado were forced to close March 15 because of the coronavirus pandemic. People sought ways to stay active and out of the house. Waves of newcomers were attracted to uphilling when the lifts stopped spinning.

Skico endeared itself to newcomers and veterans by continuing to groom a few select trails at its ski areas despite the closure to lift-served skiing.

Hanle said the number of people slapping on the skins and hitting the slopes continues to grow. It’s not uncommon on some weekend days to see more people shuffling up the slopes of Tiehack than sliding down.

The survey is an effort to gauge the number of participants and people’s habits.

The fact that Skico is surveying uphill enthusiasts shouldn’t be interpreted to mean changes will definitely be made, he said. Skico will conduct the survey, assess results, start discussions and determine if any management changes are needed, he said.

“There’s no timeline attached to this,” Hanle said.

The ski industry is all over the board on uphill policy. During the 2019-20 season, 57% of resorts allowed uphill access — 7% on an unlimited basis and 50% on a limited basis through designated routes or times of day. Another 40% of resorts prohibited uphill access, according to the annual Kottke End of Season Survey performed by National Ski Areas Association. The remaining 3% of resorts had no policy.

Skico historically hasn’t charged for uphilling, but the inclusion of two questions in the survey suggests company officials are at least thinking about a change.

One question in the survey asks, “What is your willingness to support uphilling activities and expenses associated with uphilling within the resort?”

The response choices are: “Create an affordable uphilling pass; An uphilling season pass included as a benefit of my Premier Pass; A suggested donation at the start of the season to the Environment Foundation or Caring for the Community Fund; I am unwilling to pay or donate anything to support uphilling activities and management within the resort.”

The survey follows up that question by asking, “If an uphill pass was required at Aspen-Snowmass, what would you be willing to pay or donate if it was NOT included as a pass benefit?” Respondents are asked to select a figure for how much they would pay for an uphilling pass and how much they would be willing to pay for a “suggested donation to a nonprofit.”

Skico is also trying to figure out what services people want and if there is money making potential for the company.

A question in the survey asks, “Which of the following uphill opportunities would be of interest to you? Uphill/AT lessons through the season; Avalanche 1-3 certifications; Additional uphill dinner experiences; guided side and backcountry opportunities; Expanded uphill/AT retail opportunities at Four Mountain Sports; Skin-up movie theater; New uphill only routes on each mountain; New uphill routes in the trees of sidecountry.”

Other questions ask what could be done to improve safety for uphillers and whether people bring their dogs with them. Dogs are prohibited during operations hours.

Skico sent out a different survey to another email list of customers Thursday that included a question meant to determine how alpine skiers feel about uphillers.

“If you do not currently uphill, what are your thoughts towards those who uphill during operational hours at the resort?” that survey asks.

The answer options are: “No opinion, uphillers don’t have an impact on my ski or snowboard experience; OK with uphilling as long as it’s conducted in a safe manner; I have safety concerns when there up uphillers on the trail I am skiing down.”


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