Uphill guides on Buttermilk now required to get permit
Inquiries from guides were the main reason the U.S. Forest Service decided to require permits for people who want to guide uphill snowshoe and ski trips on Buttermilk Mountain.
However, a number of people illegally running tour operations on the mountain also played a factor in the agency’s decision.
Jim Stark, winter sports administrator with the Aspen Ranger District, said the Forest Service has been receiving inquiries for years about such a permitting program. The Forest Service and the Skico have been discussing the issue since last year. The Aspen Ranger District announced its permit plan for Buttermilk yesterday.
He also said the talk around town is that a lot of personal trainers and fitness gurus are leading groups or individuals in uphill trips on the ski areas.
“It would be pretty safe to say there’s 15 or 20 entities doing it,” Stark said. “Some of them just don’t know it’s illegal.”
The permits will limit group size to five clients and one guide, Stark said, with no limit on the number service days per season. There is still no restriction on individuals hiking or skiing up on their own.
The permit also requires guides to have $1 million in liability insurance. Attorney David Bellack, vice president and general counsel for the Skico, said the liability policy was Stark’s idea, but the Skico established the amount. One million dollars is a pretty basic level for liability insurance, he said.
“This is the first time we’ve really offered the opportunity for people to do business on National Forest land in years,” Stark said. To his knowledge, Stark said, uphill guiding permits are not offered elsewhere in Colorado at this time. But neither is uphill snowshoeing or skiing, in most cases.
“I think it’s really a good move on the Skico’s part to continue to allow people to walk up,” Stark said. But the permitting process will be a way to ensure that people are instructed in safety, both in uphill travel and in lift-loading technique for the descent, he said.
Stark said the Forest Service wanted to initiate the permitting process on all four Skico mountains. But, as it stands now, Buttermilk is the only one the Skico wanted to tackle.
Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands have rules in effect which restrict uphill traffic to the early morning hours, he said. On Aspen Mountain, uphillers must be to the Silver Queen Gondola building at the top of the mountain by 9 a.m.; on Highlands, uphillers must reach the Merry-Go-Round Restaurant by the same time.
So Buttermilk and Snowmass are the only places where uphill guiding permits would be feasible. The two mountains probably have 80 or 90 percent of the guided uphill business in the community, Stark estimated.
The permitting idea was initiated by the Forest Service, Stark said, but the Skico did a great deal of work toward making it a reality. The Skico assembled safety information and policy explanations that will accompany the waiver that all customers must sign, he said.
Bellack said the information is in a handout that advises uphillers to travel along the side of the ski run, not to stop in areas where visibility from uphill is poor, generally to use care and be watchful. It also recommends that uphill guides be prepared to perform first aid and makes it clear that dogs are prohibited, Bellack said.
If snowshoers want to ride a lift down the mountain, Bellack said, they must be with an outfitter, have a ski pass or ticket, or sign a downhill lift release form, Bellack said.
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