Skico talks about new uphill ski pass during virtual town hall session

The $69 pass — free for Premier Pass holders — will be required to uphill beginning Nov. 1

Three friends skin up Tiehack before opening day of Buttermilk in Aspen on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

With winter uphilling continuing to grow in popularity, especially since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Aspen Skiing Co. is making it a priority to better manage those numbers on its four ski mountains. And, beginning this season, this will include a required $69 uphill pass for what has long been a free endeavor.

Skico addressed the new pass, along with other uphilling concerns, during a virtual town hall Thursday evening via Zoom that allowed the audience to write in questions. The session was led by Katie Ertl, Skico’s vice president of mountain operations.

“We are just stair-stepping our way into this decision to really manage the volume that we’ve been seeing and allow for a conversation in education,” Ertl said. “The reason you are starting to see things become more controlled is so that we can allow for the downhill guests to have a great experience while the uphill guest is on the mountain. It ties into safety; it ties into predictability.”

The bulk of the roughly 45-minute town hall was about the new uphill pass, which Skico first announced in August. Anyone purchasing the Premier Pass — including the Premier Senior — or anyone with an employee pass or a dependent of an employee, will be able to opt in to the uphill pass at no additional charge.

All other passes, including the popular Ikon Pass and the local seven-day pass, will require a separate uphill pass purchase. One quirk is that the $69 price tag is all or nothing, regardless of when it is purchased. For now, there will be no single-day option for uphillers.

Of the $69, $10 of that is a required donation that goes toward Mountain Rescue Aspen.

The pass, which will include an orange, reflective band that uphillers must wear on their person, will be required on the four area ski mountains beginning Nov. 1 and going through April 30. The pass won’t be required for uphilling outside of that window, should snow allow for the activity. The orange band, which can be worn anywhere on the body or even attached to a backpack, will be handed out when uphillers pick up their pass.

On Buttermilk, Highlands and Snowmass, Skico has a strict uphilling time frame of 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., with dogs not allowed on mountain between 7:45 a.m. and 5 p.m. On Aspen Mountain, there is no uphilling allowed between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., as has been the case for many years. No uphilling will be allowed on any of the four mountains between 10:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. to allow for a safe working environment.

“We really want to give our operations crew, snowmaking and cat and grooming crew a chance to work without any issue around uphillers coming up late at night,” Ertl said. “That is new to the program.”

An uphill skier heads out of the Snowmass Base Village area in April 2020 when the resorts shut down because of the pandemic.
David Krause/The Aspen Times

Skico will again ask uphillers to stay on one of the 10 designated trails this season. There is one each on Aspen Mountain and Highlands, three on Buttermilk and five on Snowmass, one more than last winter. Aspen Mountain also has a dedicated downhill trail via Copper for those descending before 9 a.m. due to the mountain’s narrow channel through Spar Gulch.

Ertl said they are looking to improve the uphill signage, especially on the top half of the mountains.

“Last year was really the first time we’ve asked everyone to stay on designated trails going uphill,” Ertl said. “If you are one of those climbers who heads up Aspen Mountain and you get to the top before 9, we are asking you to ski down the Copper side, so down the east side of the mountain. What that will do is just take you out of the fray that is coming back up the hill.”

Unlike last season, there will be no blackout dates for uphillers this winter, including over Christmas. A different set of exclusions and blackout dates still apply to the traditional downhill passes.

Anyone taking part in sponsored events, such as the Audi Power of Four ski mountaineering race or the upcoming Summit for Life uphill race, won’t be required to purchase an uphill pass to participate.

While some skiers may take issue with the added rules and regulations surrounding uphilling, Ertl wanted to reiterate that Skico is committed to making the Aspen system a haven for uphillers.

“We are in huge support of uphilling,” Ertl said. “Our goal is to continue to allow opportunities for folks to use our mountains within the ski area boundaries as a training ground, as a personal mental health opportunity and a physical health opportunity.”