Resorts must manage ups and downs of skiing

Uphill travel at resorts is getting more popular, and creating safety issues.



Uphill travel has become an issue as modern skiers want to climb the slopes for fitness and slide down for fun.


Ski areas across the U.S. are in an uphill battle to get a grip on the growing number of skiers and snowshoers who use the resorts’ plowed roads, facilities and groomed slopes without purchasing a lift ticket.

Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park in Washington is going through a comment process to draw up rules and perhaps set fees for uphill travel within the downhill skiing concession area it leases.

“Mostly it’s a safety issue,” said Brad McQuarrie, the ski area’s general manager. “But there are lots of thoughts on how to deal with it.”

Ski resorts across the West have dealt with snowshoers and especially with skiers who put climbing skins on skis with AT or other free-heel bindings to climb and descend the groomed slopes.

For example:

• Sun Valley Resort’s dramatic increase in uphill trekking on Bald Mountain forced a policy change this season that bans uphill skiers during operating hours, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Montana’s Big Sky and Bridger Bowl resorts prohibit uphill travel in the ski areas.

• Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana has designated two routes uphill skiers may use to access powder runs under their own power. A U.S. Forest Service official warned skiers this season to stick to those routes to avoid additional rules.

• The Forest Service proposed a rule change this winter that would allow ski areas that lease lands from the federal agency to charge a fee for the uphill skiers.

• Some Colorado ski resorts require uphillers to get a lift ticket. Others restrict times and routes. Arapahoe Basin and Copper Mountain require uphillers to acquire a free hiking pass and sign a waiver. Steamboat asks uphillers to check in with the ski patrol for an update on conditions after which they’re given an all-day uphill-skiing armband pass for free. Breckenridge no longer allows uphill traffic while the lifts are running.

• Inland Northwest ski areas generally have flexible policies on uphill skiing, but Schweitzer has a “no uphill travel” policy at all times within the resort’s boundaries.

A recent assessment by the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association on resort uphill policies indicates numerous states with this patchwork of approaches, many of which are spelled out deep in websites, if at all. The most common regulations allow skinning only before and after lifts close.

Rich Burkley, Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of mountain operations, said their four resorts have had policies in place for about 20 years because “uphilling” has been so popular.

Burkley told the Associated Press that the growth in the number of people skinning or snowshoeing up has grown “exponentially” in recent years.

Travis Nichols, a product buyer for Mountain Gear, says the Spokane, Wash.-based outdoor equipment retailer has recognized the boom in sales of AT ski gear and snowshoes.

“That’s why I’ve become involved with Mt. Spokane as they work to develop rules,” he said.

Nichols said the biggest growth in snow sports is in the backcountry and especially in the “slack country, free-ride skiers.”

“These people are looking for new experiences and good skiing with an emphasis on getting their heart rate up,” he said.

AT ski gear, with bindings that lock heels down like alpine bindings for descents, has become so advanced that a growing number of fitness-fanatic skiers are using them at some resorts all day long, using muscle power to climb back up the slopes after every run, Nichols said.

“These are alpine skiers looking for a new experience,” he said. “They want to ski downhill fast and aggressively, but get up on their own.”

Nichols sees these skiers as a growing market for outdoor equipment retailers as well as for ski resorts such as Mt. Spokane.

Nichols said he hopes the resort can be persuaded to be even more liberal with its policy and embrace uphill skiing as a potential revenue source, a way to keep existing customers happy and perhaps draw new skiers to the slopes.

“Terrain parks and snowboarding were opposed in the beginning, but now a resort can’t stay in business without them,” Nichols said.

The policy should encourage skiers to embrace the rules rather than turn them away so they slink from resort facilities and poach runs, he said.

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