Mayor’s uphill effort gaining some traction

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times
City officials hope to grow Aspen into an epicenter for uphill fitness, where world-class athletes train and reputable brands develop. Local ski mountaineering duo Max Taam and John Gaston, who won the 2014 Power of Four, are shown at recent competition.
Aspen Times file |

Mayor Steve Skadron’s effort to grow Aspen as an epicenter for uphill fitness is gaining momentum, with the city’s hiring of a part-time employee to handle logistics and the potential for a local ski-mountaineering festival this spring.

Skadron has been working with Community Development Director Chris Bendon on conceptual plans for a festival that features local and regional athletes, short-course equipment testing, product showcasing and a nighttime uphill followed by dinner. The nighttime race is inspired by the nachtspektakel, a traditional European-style ski event. Last year, in Crested Butte, ski-mountaineering company Dynafit hosted a nachtspektakel to kick off the Grand Traverse, a 40-mile race Skadron entered with Crested Butte Mayor Aaron Huckstep.

Skadron called the festival concept a small start in a long-term vision for Aspen, where he sees uphill athletes training and reputable brands establishing a presence in the Roaring Fork Valley. Bendon said the effort would promote Aspen as a world-class laboratory for ski-mountaineering equipment.

“Long-term, we would like to see Aspen as the epicenter of uphilling in North America,” he said. “We’d like to see research and development happening here. We’d love to see product testing happening here — the best equipment developed in the world being tested in Aspen.”

Bendon said that as Skadron has worked outside his role as mayor, he’s found less time to spearhead the effort. Bendon, too, has found it hard to commit time to planning the event, so the city recently hired former Aspen Daily News writer and Aspen Chamber Resort Association press agent Damien Williamson to “keep the effort fresh.” He will work five to 10 hours a week at about $20 an hour, Bendon said.

“It still may be a combination of me, the mayor, Damien, other folks at the city — it’s probably still a group effort,” Bendon said. “It’s not that we’re just allocating the whole thing to him.”

Williamson said he was hired about three weeks ago and has been serving as the liaison between the city and potential partners.

“My big, overarching goal is to take the mayor’s plan and work with Chris and make it a reality,” Williamson said, adding that they are taking six-month, five-year and 10-year looks at the mission.

Along with communicating to manufacturers, Williamson has been in talks about lining up live music and film for the festival. He said local athlete Mike Marolt has been working with the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum on a short film about the history of uphilling, which dates back to the 1930s in Aspen.

Skadron said he has reached out to European manufacturers Dynafit and Ski Trab as well as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Office for Economic Development and International Trade. He called the initial push “non-cash intensive,” and the idea is to provide limited city support at first and then have the uphill industry carry the torch moving forward.

“I want to get all the players involved, and I don’t necessarily want the city planning the event,” Skadron said. “I want the market to be doing that, but I would offer some city support to an appropriate degree to help initiate the effort.”

The mayor said that the vision should not be limited to ski mountaineering. With local events like the Aspen Backcountry Marathon, America’s Uphill and the Power of Four Mountain Bike Race, he said uphill fitness in Aspen extends beyond winter sports.