Alpine touring is catching on at Colorado ski resorts

Downhill is generally how skiers travel on the slopes, as is the case at Powderhorn, which opened last week. However most Colorado ski areas are seeing an increase in the number of skiers who opt to go against the grain, skiing uphill after the lifts stop running. Some areas offer free uphill, or alpine touring, passes, but others charge a nominal fee. Alpine touring skiers need to be aware of rules at the various resorts.

Uphill skiing at Monarch Mountain resort has its own designated traffic lane. Fat tire bikes are allowed outside of regular operating hours.

Crested Butte Mountain Resort offers a complete package of uphill skiing options, including lessons, races and special full moon tours offering views such as this of the ski area at night. (photo by Trent Bona, special to the Sentinel)



Uphill access by means of skinning, snowshoeing and hiking is allowed at Powderhorn. The ski area welcomes and supports individuals seeking to exercise and enjoy the quiet mountain setting. All uphill travel is done at each individual’s own risk. Mountain users can help preserve this opportunity by following these simple guidelines:

1. You are required to have a complimentary uphill access ticket. This ticket is available at the Powderhorn Ticket Office during normal operational hours.

2. You are considered a skier and you must abide by the “Skier’s Responsibility Code.”

3. During operation hours, uphill access is restricted to the hiker’s right (downhill skier’s left) of Bill’s Run, Red Eye, Lower Greenhorn, Wonderbump, Lower Dude, and Tenderfoot. You must ensure that you are visible to downhill traffic at all times.

4. The mountain may be closed to uphill access when avalanche control, snowmaking, race training, or other special activities are taking place.

5. Ski Patrol clears the mountain of all guests and employees at the end of operating hours every day. If you are on the mountain at this time you will be advised that the area is closed and there will be no further ski patrol assistance.

6. Users accessing the mountain outside of normal operating hours do so at their own risk. Operational conditions may be variable including, but not limited to: closures removed for grooming operations, unfinished grooming activities, and limited visibility.

7. Uphill users are warned that snowmobiles, snowmaking equipment, snow grooming, winch cat cables and other equipment may be encountered at any time on the mountain and you are responsible to stay clear of such equipment.

8. Entering closed terrain is prohibited. It is the user’s responsibility to know what is open or closed.

9. Terrain Parks are closed outside operational hours.

10. Dogs are not allowed on the mountain, leashed or unleashed, from November 15 through April 30.

11. Sledding is not permitted on any part of the mountain at any time.


The gloaming brings a new light to your favorite ski area, a softness and quiet unmatched during the day when the runs are blasted by skiers intent on making the most of their $100-a-day lift ticket.

But after the lifts stop, and early in the morning before the maelstrom begins, a small population of winter sports lovers are out on the mountain, taking advantage of what man and nature have provided.

Uphill skiing, or alpine touring as some ski resorts call it, is in danger of becoming more than a sideline sport enjoyed by fitness buffs, early risers and intense Thoreau-like rebels protesting three-digit lift prices.

A recent report from Snowsport Industries America said sales of uphill-style ski equipment jumped by more than 200 percent last year.

Significant, yes, but still a small fraction of the reported 53.6 million snowsport visitors last year at U.S. resorts and the $4.5 billion they spent on ski equipment.

Still, it’s estimated that 70 ski resort in North America now have official uphill skiing policies as resorts see an increase in skiers going against the grain.

One big reason for the rising trend is the development of uphill-friendly equipment. Forget the days of the 10th Mountain Division slogging along on metal-edged wooden skis and Shrek-sized parkas.

Today, it’s modern technology meets consumer demand.

“We’re seeing manufacturers respond to the consumer by producing equipment that is really light and exciting to use,” Chris Linsmayer of Colorado Ski Country USA, said. “I just bought my own uphill gear and I can’t wait get out and use it.”

For longtime skier and boot guru Kent Foster at The Board and Buckle in Grand Junction, the current trend is just a continuation of what he saw long ago.

“We all grew up climbing up to ski down and while most of us enjoyed telemarking, there comes a day when either snow conditions or our own bodies prevent us from doing it,” he said.

He sees equipment manufacturers offering new lines of alpine touring skis, binding and boots catering to the uphill skier, including boots with comfortable quick-lock heels that go from uphill to downhill in a snap.

“It’s still a specialty sport, and some people always will question the wisdom of walking uphill when Powderhorn just installed a new high-speed lift,” Foster said with laugh. “But you’ll see (Powderhorn owner) Andy Daly walking uphill when he’s here. He knows the benefit of seeing the ski area from another vantage.”

Powderhorn “loves uphill skiing,” said resort spokesperson Ryan Robinson.

“We offer free uphill tickets and have a number of designated routes for uphill traffic,” Robinson said. A link to the uphill policy is found on the resort website,

Crested Butte spokesperson Erick Mueller said the resort “sees a ton of uphill traffic, partly because the Grand Traverse (40-mile race to Aspen) starts here and all the locals are out training.”

The resort ( has an uphill skier map and offers full-moon on-the-mountain excursions.

As the demand for uphill skiing grows, ski resorts have responded with some rules and regulations.

Some resorts have established uphill routes, others require off-hour skiers to wear headlamps or reflective clothing.

Uphill passes are free at some areas (Arapahoe Basin, Loveland) while other charge a nominal fee (Crested Butte is $10 a day or $100 for the season) in an attempt to make skiers aware of their responsibilities.

Every resort is different and not all resorts allow uphill traffic, so it’s best to check before you go.

And ask about their fat-tire bike policy, too.

A list (as of November) of Colorado resorts allowing uphill skiing: Arapahoe Basin, Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, Snowmass, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone, Loveland, Monarch, Powderhorn, Steamboat, Sunlight and Winter Park.


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