Aspen stakes claim as premier human-powered playground as skiers ditch lifts, traffic to walk uphill

Jason Blevins
The Colorado Sun
An uphiller follows the designated route at Buttermilk/Tiehack in March 2018.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times file photo

Come get your sweat on in Aspen. Surrounded by wilderness, public lands and ski resorts, the City of Aspen is angling for opportunities in the surging world of backcountry skiing, hoping to establish itself as the North American capital for human-powered play.

With a calendar heavy with uphill races and events and a deep stable of conservation-minded locals eager for hard-earned fun, Aspen is trumpeting an “uphill economy” plan as a way to ignite the Western Slope’s outdoor recreation industry and build its next generation of visitors.

Imagine big-name outdoor companies setting up research-and-design hubs in Aspen. Imagine a new generation of vacationers coming to Aspen every season for an array of beginner-to-expert hiking, pedaling and uphill-skiing adventures. The so-called uphill economy plan has simmered in Aspen for years and is now emerging as a pillar for the city’s financial future alongside the booming backcountry ski movement.

“I am very committed to diversifying local economy in a way that attracts businesses and jobs and people who can help us preserve our small-town culture,” said Aspen’s outgoing three-term mayor Steve Skadron, who envisions a network of connected outdoor businesses spread across what he calls Colorado’s “underutilized golden triangle” between Aspen, Vail and Grand Junction.

“Perhaps something we do here can be the model for opportunities for our neighbors in coal country who need something as we ultimately transition away from coal. This is far beyond Aspen,” Skadron said. “This is becoming a conversation about Western Slope economic development. My dream is to have the entire Western Slope embrace human-powered uphill fitness. There is an opportunity for us to complement each other’s assets.”

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