Buttermilk uphillers clash with groomers | AspenTimes.com

Buttermilk uphillers clash with groomers

Janet Urquhart
The Pipe Dragon works it's way up the Superpipe at Buttermilk Sunday night, Dec 26, 2004, carving and smooting the walls of the pipe. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

Conflicts between the grooming crew at Buttermilk and uphillers lured to the slopes by a full moon apparently came to a head on Sunday night.On Monday, the head man at Buttermilk was pleading for considerate behavior from uphill enthusiasts, whether they’re hiking or skinning up the mountain during the daytime or after hours.Several uphillers during Sunday’s full moon complained about receiving a pointed lecture from frustrated snowcat operators after the hikers left footprints in the fresh corduroy of the terrain park that rises up from the base of the mountain on a skier’s left. Two men in particular, who asked not to be named, said they exchanged heated words with a cat operator after refusing to retreat on the groomed snow and take another route up the mountain.”Some young girl came chasing after us in the grooming machine, telling us not to walk up the corduroy,” the hiker said.”I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” he added incredulously.”We know they’ve been doing it for years and we’ve not been happy with it for years,” said Hans Hohl, mountain operations and ski school manager at Buttermilk. “Our cat operators take great pride in the work they do,” he said. “On a full-moon night, the whole mountain is covered with footprints.”The Buttermilk hike is a popular workout with locals who hike or skin to the summit, accessible in an hour or less for the reasonably fit. While the ski area is operating, hikers can catch a ride down on the lift or walk back down. Skiers and those carrying boards can slide down.The mountain also attracts early morning uphillers, who enjoy tracks before the lifts open, but it also gets use in the evening, especially when the moon is full or nearly so. It’s also in the evening that the grooming crew begins preparing the ski area for the next day’s activity.It was in the terrain park, where the superpipe is located near the base of the mountain, that groomers and uphillers butted heads Sunday night.Not only does uphill traffic mar the fresh corduroy before the paying guests can use it the next day, uphillers can be in danger when they’re walking in the vicinity of the groomers, Hohl said.A “winch cat” is used in the superpipe – it’s pulling itself up the pipe on a cable.”Those cables do break – they let go,” he said. “That cable will snap around like you wouldn’t believe.”The cat operator is protected behind a double windshield in the cab, but the cable can slice a person in its path in half, he said.The Aspen Skiing Co. doesn’t have to allow uphill traffic, Hohl noted. People have the misconception that the mountain is all public land, but the lower slopes of Buttermilk are private property owned by the Skico, he said. Still, no one wants to close the mountain to uphillers.”Yeah, we could deny access, but that’s not what we want to do,” he said. “We want everybody to enjoy the mountain.”However, it’s important for daytime uphillers to stick to the designated route, chosen because it’s the safest way to avoid collisions between uphillers and downhill traffic, he said.Hohl stressed the need for hikers at night to stick to runs that haven’t yet been groomed, and to resist the urge to cut turns in the soft-as-butter corduroy. “When you come down, don’t go right behind the cat, as tempting as that snow is,” he said.Those ski tracks and footprints freeze overnight and take away from the experience for skiers and snowboarders the following morning. Frozen pockmarks left by hikers in the terrain park landings can also pose a safety hazard, he said.Early morning uphillers don’t have the same detrimental impacts, as the snow has set up by then, Hohl said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com