Skico allows uphilling, but some areas remain closed
November 20, 2014
Aspen Skiing Co. has one of the most inviting policies among ski resorts for uphill traffic on the slopes, and it's going to stay that way for the foreseeable future, according to Rich Burkley, Skico's vice president of mountain operations.
"Uphilling" — by putting skins on skis or placing special gear directly on hiking boots and then traveling to the top of a ski area — has surged in popularity at ski areas around the country. Most have responded by charging fees, banning uphill travel during hours of operations or both.
"We're one of the few ski areas that allow (uphilling) during ski-area operation hours," Burkley said.
At ski-industry gatherings or meetings hosted by the U.S. Forest Service to talk about ski areas' issues, Burkley said he is often quizzed on why Skico is so lenient with its policy. Skico views uphilling as an important and surging part of the Aspen-Snowmass culture, he said.
"Five years ago, you knew everyone on the hill," he said of the uphill crowd.
He noted that the popularity has changed drastically.
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"What Smuggler (Mountain Road) is in the summer, uphilling has become in the winter," Burkley said.
Other resorts are experiencing a similar surge.
"Uphill use by means of skinning has gained popularity at Crested Butte in recent years," says the website of Crested Butte Mountain Resort. "(The resort) welcomes and supports individuals seeking to exercise and enjoy the quiet mountain setting. Uphill users can help preserve this opportunity by following these simple guidelines."
All ungroomed trails are closed for uphill use at Crested Butte. Uphilling is allowed on other trails before 9 a.m. and after 4:30 p.m. Travel is restricted to designated routes during the ski area's hours of operation.
Crested Butte requires an uphill pass, which is included in the price of a regular downhill pass. Customers who don't get a downhill pass must pay $100 for the uphill-only pass. When they pick up the pass, users must sign a waiver that exempts the resort from any liability in case of an accident.
The U.S. Forest Service approved rules last year that allow ski areas that use public lands to charge a fee for uphill travelers when they are reaping some benefit of the ski area, such as groomed slopes or parking. Ski areas in the eastern U.S. pushed the policy, Burkley said, after a lack of snow a couple of seasons ago forced all users onto ribbons of snow. Uphillers wanted access to the same ribbons that downhill customers were using, he said. That created a safety issue.
Skico's only concern with uphilling activity is safety, Burkley said. There haven't been any injuries reported because of collisions between uphillers and downhillers, he said.
"We haven't had any issues, really," Burkley said. "For the most part, it's been a harmonious relationship."
To try to ensure safety, Skico requires uphillers to reach the top of Aspen Mountain by 9 a.m. and the Merry-Go-Round Restaurant by 9:30 a.m. if they plan to continue higher. There are designated routes at Highlands, Tiehack and Buttermilk. No routes are specified at Snowmass because there are so many portals and the sheer number of trails reduces concentration of traffic, Burkley said.
Burkley said Skico isn't contemplating an uphill pass or a fee. Even if it wanted to implement such a policy, enforcing it would be difficult. There are 25 access points to the four ski areas, he said.
"Policing this is not a goal of ours," Burkley said.