The growing popularity of uphill skiing
What was once a lesser known gem of an activity, popular among locals is now becoming more and more accessible by visitors and beginner skiers alike. Across Aspen’s four mountains there are an abundance of uphill ski routes ranging in both steepness and length, providing probably the best uphill skiing in Colorado. The access to multiple mountains also makes Aspen/Snowmass the perfect place to begin skinning and make it a hobby!
So you want to get into uphill skiing? Have you gotten more confident on the slopes and want to try something new? Maybe you’re looking for an exciting new form of exercise, or even a way to get on the slopes after the lifts have closed! Whatever your interest, we’ll give you all our tips to make to most the of your skinning adventures in Aspen!
As they say, you gotta earn your turns.
The Benefits of Uphill Skiing: Why You Should Be Doing It Too:
The Uphill Technique
It may be a bit daunting to get out there for your first time and just walk up the mountain. Going uphill may seem like a physical challenge or even tough to learn, but by going at your own pace to get the technique down, you will quickly get the hang of it. It can be a tiring activity (which is a good thing) but by using proper technique it becomes much more comfortable and can take the stress off of your legs. Check out this quick video below from PSIA-AASI on how to practice the correct posture and be efficient with your exertion.
The Gear & Accessories You Need
It can seem a bit daunting to skin up a mountain for the first time or even to try solo, but with the right equipment and preparation you can get the most out of this pastime without fretting too much. You’ve probably got a lot of questions about how it all works. How do you ski uphill? How do you apply ski skins? What are the best ski skins? It may seem a bit confusing when you’ve never set up the gear before, and it’s so important to have all the right gear and knowhow, so let’s break it all down as simple as possible, and get ready to be mountain bound. It turns out to be easier than you’d think!
Uphill skis for the most part are very similar to your normal ski. They may look the same but there are a couple of slights differences.
The first being that you have small indents or spaces on either end of the ski for the skin itself to attach onto and stay in place. The other difference is that the binding on the ski has different mechanics. The heel part of your binding is able to turn so that your boot only clicks in at the toe. This allows your heel to be free and ultimately gives you to ability and movement to be able to bring your skis uphill.
Skins are the piece of gear that let you physically go up the mountain. They attach to the bottom of your skis and give you more traction allowing you to have grip on uphill slopes. They clip on and off very easily for uphill designed skis. The video down below helps you to understand how they work.
As you may have guessed, with different bindings also often comes a different set of boots. Some touring boots have a different heel for snapping into your bindings. It is becoming popular however for skis to have alpine touring bindings which allow for normal ski boots to click. This allows your skis to become a hybrid in a sense.
On Your Body
On the hike up, you will work up a sweat, so it would be smart to bring a bag to store any jackets. Often times just a t-shirt or jumper will suffice when skinning up the mountain. We like to carry our ski jacket up for the ski back down! As always check the weather before you head out.
For Your Head
Going up, you won’t need more than a hat as you shouldn’t be falling. A simple beanie should keep you nice and warm on most days. Going down is business as usual – bring your ski helmet!
On top of hats, sunglasses are also a key accessory for skinning in the sun.
Gloves are not a necessity going up the hill, but of course you’ll need down for the way down.
How Do I Change From Uphill to Downhill?
As you make it to the top of your route, you may be wondering how you transition from uphill mode to downhill. It turns out to be quite fast and also simple. After you unclip yourself from you ski bindings, you first remove your skins from the base of your skis as seen below. After that you simply swap or turn your bindings so that the heel of your boot will clip in and you’re ready to head down the slopes.
Where to Uphill in Aspen: Our Favorite Routes
This year and going forward, due to covid-19 any uphill skiers must follow designated routes when on any of the ski areas in AspenSnowmass. Not to worry, as Aspen has an abundance of routes for you to make to most of your skinning season. Here’s a selection of our favorite routes!
Buttermilk Mountain is the shortest of the four mountains, so in theory some of the hikes themselves are shorter. Well you might not climb as much in elevation, Buttermilk has a good mix of steep and gradual routes, which can be powered out a little quicker (if you’re feeling like you need a challenge).
West Buttermilk Route
The West Buttermilk skinning route is the easiest of all the designated skinning routes across Aspen. It has the lowest elevation gain total, as this hike starts from the West Buttermilk parking which is slightly higher up the mountain.
This route takes up you the Teaser run, under the bridge and then carrying on through Ridge Trail and finishing at Cliffhouse Restaurant. This short hike provides exquisite views at the top and is significantly rewarding for the length of the uphill climb.
Elevation Gain: 1,027 ft.
Accessible Hours: All Day
Tiehack has become one of the most popular and accessible routes in all of Aspen. It can be done in 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending on your physical fitness. Conveniently, there is also 24 hour parking available right at the base of the Tiehack Ski Lift.
This is a short enough hike time-wise, but it’s also a lung-buster. There are a couple of slightly different variations on the route but the most common is to start ascending Eagle Hill, through to Ptarmigan and ending at Cliffhouse once again.
Elevation Gain: 1,683 ft.
Accessible Hours: All Day
Snowmass, being the mountain with most normal ski runs, also has to most uphill routes for you to enjoy. We picked our two favorite uphill routes on either side of the mountain, which let you experience as much of Snowmass as possible.
Elk Camp Route
The Elk Camp Route is extremely popular with the locals, and for good reason. On the shorter side, compared to other routes, this is a great starter hike for anyone trying Snowmass for the first time. Reward yourself with great views and also great food at the top! Starting from Base Village, you begin your journey up through Funnel, around causeway and finishing at Elk Camp Restaurant
Elevation Gain: 1,368 ft.
Accessible Hours: 9 A.M. – 4:45 P.M.
Sam’s Knob Route
A tougher uphill hike which finishes off at Sam’s restaurant, which has great food and unbelievable views. This is our favorite route in Snowmass and one we recommend to everyone who is growing their love for skinning. Begin your hike on Fanny Hill, up the Dawdler and continue to Lower Velvet Falls. After this, you work your way past Upper Velvet Falls, on to Coney Glade, Banzai Ridge and ultimately finish at Sam’s Knob.
Elevation Gain: 2,173 ft.
Accessible Hours: 9 A.M. – 4:45 P.M.
The famous Aspen Highlands with renowned skiing and views is accessible by a free bus, and also has year round parking making it a must for all visitors. This year with some restrictions, there is just the one route on Highlands Mountain. However, Highlands has arguably the best skiing in Aspen and is an absolute dream on a powder day.
Aspen Highlands Route
This uphill route is on the steeper side, but of you’re feeling up to the challenge then we implore you to make this uphill excursion. Starting at the base of the mountain, you make your way up through Jerome Bowl, continuing up Park Avenue and Memory Lane before making it to the top at Merry Go Round Restaurant.
This trail is accessible during operating hours, which means not only can you arrive at your own leisure but you can move at your own pace throughout the day! However, If you make it to top of Merry Go Round before 8:30am then you may continue to the top of Loge Peak, which has amazing panoramic views of the Elk Mountain Range.
Elevation Gain: 1,950 ft.
Accessible Hours: 9 A.M – 4:25 P.M.
The most central mountain overlooking downtown Aspen, has limited routes due to busier narrow slopes during lift operating hours, but if you can spare an evening and are looking for a tough workout, we can’t recommend Ajax enough.
Aspen Mountain Route
The Aspen Mountain Route starts right under the Silver Queen Gondola at The little Nell and works its way up the face of the mountain, through Spar Gulch and ultimately finishing up at The Sundeck at the top of the mountain. This hike has the most elevation gain of any of the designated skinning routes in Aspen, as is a real butt-kicker of an uphill route.
This route is not accessible during operating hours on the mountain ( 9am – 4:45pm ) but it is one of our favorites to do in the early morning or a Spring evening, especially if you want to really challenge yourself! The views at the top are some of the best you’ll ever see, and of course a longer hike means more skiing on the way down!
This is also a great route to do early in the offseason before the snow becomes too slushy to hike or ski. As our added tip, during a sunny Spring evening, for a shorter hike, with spectacular views of the city of Aspen, hike up the face as far as Kleenex Corner and take in the sunset! A much easier uphill with a tranquil overlook on the town.
Elevation Gain: 3,267 ft.
Difficulty: Very Difficult
Accessible Hours: Before 9 A.M. and after 4:45 P.M.
As an added tip, you can check out all current routes on the Aspen Snowmass App!
Full maps of all routes are available here, and routes can always change from season to season so make sure you check up on them before your adventure so get the most up to date routes! Alternatively, once off season begins, and the slopes & lifts close, new routes are available and become popular with the locals who want to shred that last bit of snow. Check out some routes that pop up or ask around the town for some tips on these new routes!
There are many backcountry ski routes around Aspen and Snowmass, for those of that are more adventurous. Our recommendation would be to master skinning on designated mountain routes, and when you are ready, converse with some avid uphillers to find the best backcountry routes for you. You could also try your hand at cross-country skiing and get a feel for how it goes being off the beaten track. In addition to this, look into backcountry hut trips during the winter and guided tours!
What are the Mountain Rules & Etiquette When Uphilling?
ASC allows skinning on all of its ski areas, with the rules of the mountains being updated consistently. When uphill skiing on one of the four mountains of Aspen, there are certain policies that everyone must know and abide by so that all skiers, uphill and downhill, can have the best possible experience on the slopes. Rules can vary, but some constant etiquette to familiarize yourself with before skinning include, but are not limited to the following:
- Uphillers must be aware of downhill traffic and avoid blind spots
- As with downhill traffic, uphill traffic must obey all on-mountain signage, including closed runs and rope lines.
- All uphillers must have a valid lift ticket or pass to ride up any lifts.
- Carrying children or babies in backpacks or carriers is not permitted on any mountain at Aspen Skiing Company.
- Uphillers must remain visible at all times, including during hours in which it is dark. Uphillers must stay on the side of the trail and single file. Lights and reflective clothing are recommended for nighttime ascents or early morning ascents.
- Uphillers must use designated uphill tracks stated on our 4 mountains. Designated trails are marked by orange signs, and in some cases, marked with rope to designate a lane
- Some trails may be closed to uphill traffic during pre/post season while snowmaking and grooming operations are in effect. Please respect these closures at all times.
Other policies can change from mountain to mountain and updates on these can be found here:
If you continue to uphill ski during the off-season, certain rules about times and routes may no longer apply, but your manners and etiquette must be kept – make the mountain enjoyable for everyone!
Now that you have chosen your route, and are feeling comfortable enough to head out there, it’s time to make a few last preparations before you can start your journey. Being properly prepared before skinning is vital, particularly on long excursions that may take up your whole day. Here is some advice to help make sure your hike is as smooth as possible.
Check the weather
Before you set out on your activity, make sure to have a final check on the weather. Nothing is worse then when you are about start skinning, it’s starts snowing, and you haven’t packed your jacket! Equally if it’s too hot and you haven’t got the right gear, you’ll feel all cluttered and hot! Checking the weather lets you prepare fully for the day ahead.
As opposed to normal skiing, you’ll need to pack a few more things than just your ski gear. You’ll be out hiking and skiing potentially for hours, so it’s important to bring everything you’ll need to stay safe and healthy. Firstly, you really don’t want to forget your water. Staying hydrated is a key part of exercise and doesn’t change on the slopes!
Don’t forget to pack yourself some sunscreen also. You may forget about being sunburnt as you are surrounded by snow, but trust us, sunburn can hit just as bad during winter. Sunglasses are a very useful accessory also!
If you are thinking of going a little more off-piste with your skiing then make sure you pack a signaling beacon and shovel – just in case.
Uphill Activities in Aspen & Things to Look Forward To
Once you are comfortable going uphill, you may want to expand your horizons and look for further activities that can get you out skinning. Aspen and Snowmass are full of various events, clinics and meetings all based around uphill skiing. Whether you want to explore more or simply master the craft, there are plenty of options for keeping yourself on the mountain.
Aspen SkiCo offers group clinics on various dates throughout the winter. These one day clinics will give you everything you need to know from technique to etiquette and uphill policies on the mountain.
Full Moon Hikes
On the night of the full moon, every month many skiers make the trip up Buttermilk Mountain. The full moon hike has become a great tradition in Aspen. Locals skin or hike up to the Cliffhouse Restaurant for a full moon dinner every month. Unfortunately the dinner’s have been on hold due to covid but this definitely something to look out for in the future.
If you are feeling confident in both your hiking and skiing abilities then it might be time to look into one of Aspen’s touring races. Every year Aspen has multiple events to put locals to the test in both fitness and downhill ski speed.
Summit for Life
The Summit for Life is an annual race which occurs on Aspen Mountain. Entrants try to summit Aspen mountain on skis while also raising vital fund for organ & tissue donation. The race was virtual this year in the sense that participants record their own time going solo. This even is for a great cause and something to look out for next year.
AUDI Power of Four
The Power of Four race is an annual premier endurance event unique to Aspen and Snowmass. It is a race that truly tests the limits and skills of Aspen’s athletes. Under different categories, participants will hike up and subsequently ski down all four of Aspen’s mountains in a one day event. A smaller race, called the Power of Two, also takes place on Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain.
Where else Can I uphill near aspen?
There are also many options with a short travel from Aspen where you can get your uphill fix. Similar to the four mountains of Aspen, other ski resorts and mountains will let you skin uphill during certain hours.
Sunlight Resort near Glenwood Springs is a great day out, and we recommend a trip to Loveland or A-Basin for a new uphill experience.
For the more experienced uphill skiers why not check out backcountryskiingco.com for details on common peak to ascend.
What is the best skinning route for a beginner?
The best routes we recommend for beginner uphill skiers would be the West Buttermilk Route or else the Elk Camp Route in Snowmass. We also love a quick hike up to Kleenex Corner on Aspen Mountain on a sunny evening.
What months can you uphill ski in Aspen?
Skinning is an activity that is available all winter in Aspen. So you have access to the snowy slopes from November until April every year.
What’s the difference between skinning & cross-country skiing?
Although both forms are great exercise they have slightly different goals and outcomes. Cross-country skiing is aimed more at covering large amount of distance over flat ground, whereas uphill skiing is a pure uphill ascent followed by a ski down on the slopes as normal. They both use different skis, bindings and techniques. Be careful not to confuse your gear when doing either!
Should I buy or Rent skinning gear?
For your first couple of times, why not use some rental skis so that you get a pair that feel right for you. Different sizes can he harder to uphill with for some people and of course you have to think about your level of skiing on the way down. After you feel comfortable, look into buying your own set of skis and skins. Good options can be found for all levels. Check out end of seasons sales if local sports shops such as Four Mountain Sports.
Where Can I Rent Skins & Skis in Aspen?
Uphill ski rentals can be found in most ski shops across Aspen and Snowmass during the season. Four Mountain Sports will have all of the latest options and give you great recommendations on where to go and the right gear for you.
What is backcountry skiing?
Backcountry skiing or “off-piste” skiing is skiing done outside of the typical ski slope boundaries. Skiers that want that little extra adrenalin, hike to find unmarked and un-groomed runs to chase the best powder they can find. It’s relevant here as most backcountry skiers will skin up to their destination peak.
The best backcountry skiing in Aspen?
Some of the best backcountry skiing in Colorado can be found along the Castle Creek Valley on the way to Ashcroft. For experts we suggest trying Five Fingers which is beyond the Highlands Bowl. Always prepare properly and know your routes before heading for backcountry skiing.
Can I uphill ski during off season in Aspen?
In theory, yes. Aspen SkiCo does not usually maintain the slopes or any ski patrol during the off season when you may still have a couple of weeks of skiable snow. That being said, they do not enforce any measure to stop you from going on the mountain. Many locals will skin up during off season for that last bit of skiing. Getting on the mountain after the season is at your own risk.
Can I get Uphill Skiing Lessons?
Of course! There are many group clinics in Aspen to get you into the great activity of uphill skiing. You can also book private lessons with one of Aspen’s ski pros at AspenSnowmass.com
So Are You ready to get out there and start uphill skiing?
Are you looking forward to skinning up any of our four mountains? Having your choice of runs, possibly at any time of day? Do you want to have your own time and space on the mountain?
Imagine, no long lift lines. No crowded slopes and lovely fresh powder all to yourself. Picture yourself not only skiing beautiful lines, but rewarding runs after a great day’s exercise. An all round beneficial activity great for your mind & body.
Now that you’ve got all the info on how to prepare and where to go, start exploring the designated uphill routes on the four mountains of Aspen and find out why uphill skiing is so popular.
Once your experienced Aspen and even Colorado are truly your oyster as there so many trails and slopes to explore. Work your way through harder terrain and you will soon be addicted to this activity we all know and love in Aspen. Get out there, respect the mountain & happy skiing!