The mountain will wait for you: The pleasures and perils of skinning Tiehack for breakfast |

The mountain will wait for you: The pleasures and perils of skinning Tiehack for breakfast

You definitely earn your turns uphilling at Buttermilk/Tiehack.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Gulping down icy breaths while fighting gravity up a mountain with the word’s most uncomfortable footwear and long slabs strapped to your feet sounds like an apt description of torture.

For our community, it is the way to spend a Friday morning. 

I once mentioned to a colleague that I wanted to try skinning this season, and when Ute Mountaineer announced their sponsorship of the Feb. 17 Friday Morning Uphill Breakfast Club, he emailed me. 

“Check out their website for details. Might be a good way to explore the sport,” he wrote. (Shout-out to you, Scott! Thanks again!)

To me, it seemed like a way to combine my masochistic love for hiking with the joy of skiing. My knees are crunchy from numerous patella dislocations over my lifetime, and hiking downhill hurts even more than uphill. Skinning is the best of both worlds: a great workout outside and time to clear my head, followed by bombing a groomer instead of shuffling down a trail on delicate knees. 

I walked down the block to be one of the first to request the free uphill ski rentals on Thursday afternoon. 

After I told the Ute employee a comically wrong boot size, he let me try on the clown boots before admitting that he suspected I misremembered. He got me boots three sizes smaller than what I originally requested, gave me a quick tutorial on how to get in and out of the bindings, then sent me off.

The Times’ publisher, Allison Pattillo, is a practiced uphill skier herself and told me to get to the Tiehack parking lot around 7 a.m. to give myself plenty of time to go slow and steady.

I felt the time cushion was necessary since winter is not my season of peak physical form, though implying that I have ever been in peak physical form is disingenuous.

Andrew Aldercotte, Amber Aldercotte, center, and Emily Sayrs skin up Tiehack. The Friday Morning Uphill Breakfast Club at Buttermilk’s Cliffhouse is a favorite.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

On Friday morning I made it to the lot just after 7 a.m. and found myself parked right between two carloads of Ute employees. I recognized them from the day before when they so enthusiastically helped me and other first-time uphillers get geared up.

My excitement quickly morphed into shyness as they popped into their skis with ease and chattered among themselves, eager to skin quite literally from the trunks of their cars up to Cliffhouse.

I knew I would need help stepping into the skis and wanted reassurance that I set up my bindings correctly, but their comfort–level intimidated me. Why would they deign to help some noob when they were off the clock?

I hemmed and hawed at my car, and texted Allison to see if she and her daughter had arrived yet. Looking like a “Jerry” (does that term even apply to skinning?) in front of my boss seemed more palatable than asking the literal experts a dumb question.

One of them eventually asked me if it was my first time skinning and if I needed help. Someone with less social anxiety would have capitalized on that moment, but not I. Allison had texted back that she was there and the comfort of a not-stranger beckoned.

At the base of Tiehack I made out Allison’s eyes under a hat and a gaiter. It was cold that morning, as we all were out before the sun hit the slopes. She helped me and someone else new to the sport click into our skis, then told me to go ahead with a head start.

I knew I would be slow, but I kind of hoped that I would be in a crowd of first-timers to offset my glacial pace. Well, that was not the case.

As I slowly dragged my skis along, swarms of people forked around me as they glided up the mountain. I brought my Camelbak and stopped for water breaks seemingly every few breaths. 

In a town like Aspen where people relocate for the proximity to world-class outdoor recreation, it can be intimidating to try something new. I moved to Vail first to be closer to my sister, then to Aspen for a job … not to learn how to ski uphill. 

Getting into the activities that make our mountains so fun can be cost-prohibitive, but it can also be confidence-prohibitive. It takes a lot of self-assurance to be visibly “bad” at something, especially when everyone else seems to be so good. 

I kept my head down, focused on my breathing, and tried not to dwell on the dwindling number of uphillers behind me and the growing number of people in front of me. The runner who flew past me on just sneakers and spikes did not help, though I was impressed.

Near the top of Ptarmigan (I think), I evened out with another woman and made a comment like, “We have to be almost there, right?” Misery does love company.

We both stopped for a breath and chatted about how it was our first time skinning. Her friends skinned regularly, and she said that their normal pace was double what they were going with her.

“Maybe we’ll get to be that fast someday,” I joked as we kept on. 

Aspen Times Staff Writer Josie Taris, with Publisher Allison Pattillo (left), will definitely uphill again, and again.

Turns out, we were almost there. After a last push up a final hill that caused me to backslide a bit, my newfound partner in slowness and I (Mariah if you are reading this … I’m sorry! But we were slow!) had Cliffhouse in our sights.

I clicked down the risers on my bindings and glided over to the ski rack, just giddy with a sense of accomplishment.

I could not stop grinning as I fought to catch my breath. Riding the endorphin high of more than an hour and a half of intense exercise, I had plenty of confidence to ask the nearest person to remind me how to get out of the bindings.

It turned out to be another Ute employee. R.J. was helpful and genuinely interested in my inaugural uphill experience. Lesson from the parking lot learned.

And when I walked into Cliffhouse, the breakfast club had not wound down to a few lingering tables like I imagined while inching uphill. Allison, her daughter, and her friend had just gotten their food. Ute staff were handing out the breakfast club tickets that uphillers exchange for the $7.50 meal and taking names and contact information for raffles. 

I did not miss the party!

I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, though I would caution uphillers that the french toast is borderline too filling immediately after such exertion, and could not shut up about how much fun I had. 

The mountain does not care how long it takes you to conquer it. Weather permitting (please do not read my musings and summit a 14er in a storm), it will wait for you.

Follow the signs and you will get there, eventually.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

I encourage anyone reading who feels a little apprehension at being the slowest on the mountain or nervous at the thought of asking for help to take from me and just go. This community is full of lovely, generous people who want to share their love of nature with you. 

And no matter how slow you go, no matter if you do or do not finish, you did better than you would have by not going at all. So go try a new thing!

I did not pass a single person on my first hike up to the Buttermilk Friday Morning Uphill Breakfast Club. And I likely will not at my second, either. But I might pass myself and my time from the week prior, and that is good enough for me.