DOWNHILL? SKI UPHILL
Alpine touring is catching on at Colorado ski resorts
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, http://www.powderhorn.com.
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 (skicb.com) 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.