Aspenites have embraced hiking up our local ski resorts for about as long as we’ve enjoyed skiing back down. Now, with gear innovations and friendly policies making this workout more accessible to everyone, uphilling by your own power has moved squarely into the mainstream.
“It comes with a greater sense of achievement than working out in a gym,” says Ted Mahon, a noted ski mountaineer and local uphill enthusiast. “You’re not only finishing a workout, you’re also reaching the top of a mountain.”
For many ski area operators, uphilling has been a controversial trend, with some resorts prohibiting it for safety reasons. The Aspen Skiing Company not only allows uphill traffic at its four resorts, but also encourages it with generous policies and dedicated private lessons.
Rent Alpine touring gear—skis with free-heel bindings, boots with ski and hike modes, and climbing skins—at Aspen Expeditions, Performance Ski, the Ute Mountaineer, and Four Mountain Sports’ Aspen location. Then familiarize yourself with the equipment before setting out. “If your boots aren’t buckled correctly or your bindings aren’t right, you’re doing more work than you need to be,” notes Mahon.
Befitting its location, the slopeside Westin Snowmass has added traction-enabling Stabilicers to its gear lending program.
Don’t underestimate the importance of your apparel, either. As Mahon says, “If you’re not cold when you start, you probably have too many layers on.” Keep those layers in a pack, because the descent will be chilly.
G3’s Alpinist nylon plush climbing skins ($153–$175) are tried and true. genuineguidegear.com
The svelte women’s Kestra 20 pack ($150) from Osprey holds layers, water, and helmet for an uphill trek, or skis or a snowboard for backcountry outings. ospreypacks.com
The ROAMr 100 ski ($629–$649) from G3 is lightweight for skinning uphill, powerful and stable for the ride down. genuineguidegear.com
Dynafit’s TLT7 Expedition CR boot ($750) climbs nimbly and has reliable downhill chops. dynafit.com
If you want to explore away from the ski areas, understand the risks of backcountry travel and hire a guide. Local guide services realize that fitness is as strong a motivator for some as untouched powder is for others. “It’s worthwhile to refine your technique, so your experience is less about the operation and more about fitness and the experience of being outside,” says Stephen Szoradi of Aspen Alpine Guides, which offers backcountry ski tours. Aspen Expeditions is also on the health kick with its non-resort uphill fitness ski tours.
2017 Uphill Events
Feb 18: The Inferno at Highland Bowl
The uphilling is fast and the descent down the Bowl is faster in this modern classic ($25). aspensnowmass.com
Feb 25: Audi Power of Four Ski Mountaineering
Ascend and descend each of Aspen’s four ski resorts in one day—not for the timid ($240-$275/team of two). aspensnowmass.com
Feb 28: Mother of All Ascensions
Hike up Snowmass with a Mardi Gras flair ($30). snowfusion.com
Mar 12: Full Moon Dinner at the Cliffhouse
Ascend Buttermilk via the Tiehack route and enjoy dinner and free hot chocolate at the top. aspensnowmass.com
Apr 8: K9 Uphill
This long-running event for dogs and their people includes a rousing romp up Buttermilk, post-climb barbecue, and raffle; proceeds benefit the Aspen Animal Shelter. krabloonik.com
Apr 8-9: Buttermilk Mountain Uphill Weekend
The City of Aspen and Aspen Skiing Company are teaming up to extend the season for a full weekend of free access and an official "Festival Village" with rental options, demo booths, and clinics. Although the lifts will not be running, crews will groom 70% of the terrain to all three portals: Tiehack, Main, and West for all-mountain access. aspensnowmass.com