Free gig is up for uphillers on Aspen Skiing Co.’s four ski areas in 2021-22
Skico will charge $69 for an uphill season pass; it’s included in Premier Pass
The gig is up for going skinning, snowshoeing or walking uphill for free at Aspen Skiing Co.’s four ski areas.
Skico announced Monday that it will charge a $69 fee for an uphill pass for the 2021-22 season.
“An Uphill Pass, no matter how many days you use it, will be $69, with $10 of this fee going directly to our local search and rescue organization, Mountain Rescue Aspen,” Skico’s website reads. “The Uphill Pass is included at no charge to all Premier Passholders; they simply need to opt-in when they purchase their pass.”
Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications, said Monday the pass is needed as a way to better manage and educate the people heading up.
“It’s not driven by a need to monetize it,” he said.
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People who purchase the Uphill Pass will receive an armband with a photo Aspen card that must be visible on a sleeve when on the four ski areas.
Skico also announced it will allow uphilling only between 5 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. from Nov. 1 through April 30.
“There will be periodic on mountain uphill enforcement sessions as well as ongoing Patrol, Guest Services, and Mountain Ops spot checks,” the website said. “Our hope is that people will respect this system and self-regulate their behavior.”
Hanle said the emphasis would be on educating people without a pass about the need to get one. They will be asked to turn around. Further enforcement will be determined by how the uphillers without a pass respond.
Uphilling has exploded in the past decade and really surged when the ski areas were shut down in March 2020. Last season it was difficult to find a spot in the Tiehack parking lot after 9 a.m. due in large part to the number of uphillers.
Snowmass also is popular with uphillers because it has multiple designated routes and, like Tiehack, allows uphilling throughout the day.
Skico’s move was foreshadowed in January when uphillers were urged to complete a voluntary online survey. It asked people if they would be willing to pay a fee to continue uphilling.
Hanle said Skico has no estimate on how many people will buy a pass. There was a spirited discussion of the uphill pass on an early version of Skico’s new policy on The Aspen Times’ Facebook page.
“Greed,” said one commenter.
“Safety,” countered another.
“This is nuts,” wrote another person. “Probably because so many stopped getting season passes because it got ridiculous and the benefits weren’t there anymore.”
A supporter wrote, “I don’t see the big deal with paying $69. Uphillers get several benefits. The Ski Co. is providing the venue, the safety factors, the groomed slope, the liability, etc.”
The biggest focus of the online discussion was whether Skico could charge a fee when so much of the land for its ski areas is national forest. Skico said it consulted with the U.S. Forest Service about implementation of the fee. Skico holds a special-use permit for the ski area operations.
The goal of the pass is increased education, safety and to “reduce the friction between downhill and uphill guests on the mountain,” according to Skico.
The company previously had one of the most liberal uphilling policies in the ski industry. People could go uphill for free, though certain rules were applied. There are designated routes at each of the four ski areas. Uphillers must be at the top of Aspen Mountain by 9 a.m. The new uphill pass will not entitle buyers to riding lifts.
“We have seen a large uptick in the volume of uphill traffic and use of our slopes in the past few years so it is time to put attention to managing the process for all guests,” Skico wrote on its website. “There are inherent costs involved in this, including signage, ski patrol workload, route maintenance, as well as impacts on parking and facilities. A structured uphill program with pass will provide a means to educate all guests to rules, communicate closures when they occur, inform conditions, routes, terrain management, special programs and events.”
A ski resort survey performed for National Ski Areas Association after the 2019-20 season showed 57% of results allowed uphill access while 40% prohibited uphill activity and 3% had no policy. Of those that allowed uphilling, 7% were on an unlimited basis while 50% limited times of day and routes.
Skico has more information about the uphill pass at http://www.aspensnowmass.com/seasonpass. In addition, the company will hold a virtual Uphill Town Hall on Oct. 14.
Aspen Skiing Co. will require people skinning, snowshoeing or hiking uphill to purchase a $69 pass this season.
Uphilling will be allowed between 5 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. from Nov. 1 through April 30, with other restrictions during operating hours and preparation times.
Passholders will be required to wear an armband with a photo pass on their sleeve. There will be spot checks by ski patrol and mountain operations.
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Mountain Rescue Aspen had a busy day Thursday responding to two separate incidents.