Skin to Win

Intro to Uphilling: How to Get Into the On-Mountain Workout Craze

However controversial the trend is at other resorts, Aspen Skiing Company has fully embraced the sport.

By Brook Sutton February 15, 2017 Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2017 issue of Aspen Sojourner

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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. 

The Gear

The most popular ways to uphill are with traction devices attached to your footwear and using ski poles for balance, or by skinning up on an Alpine touring or telemark setup. Gear is continually evolving in terms of user-friendliness and performance. “Skis and boots are still lightweight, but they ski down like Alpine gear,” says Dirk Bockelman, manager of Aspen Expeditions.

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Image: Courtesy: G3

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.

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Image: Courtesy: G3

G3’s Alpinist nylon plush climbing skins ($153–$175) are tried and true.

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.

The ROAMr 100 ski ($629–$649) from G3 is lightweight for skinning uphill, powerful and stable for the ride down.

Dynafit’s TLT7 Expedition CR boot ($750) climbs nimbly and has reliable downhill chops.

Off-Resort Alternatives

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).

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).

Feb 28: Mother of All Ascensions
Hike up Snowmass with a Mardi Gras flair ($30).

Mar 12: Full Moon Dinner at the Cliffhouse
Ascend Buttermilk via the Tiehack route and enjoy dinner and free hot chocolate at the top.

Apr 8-9: Aspen Ascent Weekend
The City of Aspen and Aspen Skiing Company are teaming up to extend the season for a full weekend of free access at Buttermilk 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. 

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