At Altitude

Uphill Skiers Now Charged a Fee at Aspen Snowmass Resorts

After years of free access, skinners and hikers must now pay to ascend Aspen, Buttermilk, Snowmass, and Highlands before the trip down.

By Cindy Hirschfeld December 21, 2021 Published in the Winter/Spring 2021-22 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Iyou’ve skinned up Buttermilk during the past couple of winters, it may come as no surprise that ski patrollers have counted as many as 600 fitness enthusiasts at the summit during warm, sunny days. The mountain’s patrollers weren’t the only ones taking note. With the boom in uphilling over the last few years, the Aspen Skiing Company decided to get a better handle on things. New this season: a $69 uphill pass.

No single incident spurred the change, says Katie Ertl, SkiCo’s senior VP of mountain operations. “We recognized that the volume of uphillers was something we needed to better manage,” she adds. “We see this as a pathway to greater communication and education on safety and awareness.”

So will a passless uphiller be turned around on, say, the final stretch up Aspen Mountain? Unlikely, says Ertl: “Our purpose isn’t to harass anyone.” Skinners and hikers are asked to display the pass in a reflective orange armband while climbing each ski area’s designated routes, and mountain employees will check for compliance during regular duties.

Premier ski pass holders automatically receive the uphill add-on. Anyone attending the ongoing Friday breakfasts and moonlight dinners at Buttermilk’s Cliffhouse will need to buy a pass, but not for participating in one-off events like Summit for Life or Mother of All Ascensions. Also new: no uphilling between 10:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. (sorry, night owls), and an additional Snowmass route that starts at the Divide lot.

While some have questioned the legality of charging to walk on public lands, Ertl emphasizes that the uphill pass is not an access fee but rather payment for services—grooming, bathrooms, patrol—that SkiCo provides. “Just 2.6 percent of the terrain in the White River National Forest is in ski-area boundaries,” she notes. “So there’s a lot of forest out there for folks who aren’t interested in paying or are OK with being in the backcountry.”

One good reason not to gripe: 10 dollars of every uphill pass sold is donated to the local search and rescue group.

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