Image by, scomuir.com
By Andy Jameson
Backcountry skiing is the fastest growing segment of the ski industry. With the explosion of AT gear, it’s no surprise we’ve begun to see “wrong way” traffic on our ski slopes. Uphill traffic has increased for a variety of reasons. Backcountry skiers routinely take advantage of a ski area’s controlled environment. In such an environment, one can safely check equipment, practice technique, and keep up their physical conditioning, all before heading into more dangerous terrain. Non-backcountry enthusiasts have also found reasons to ditch the chairlift. Many long-time season pass holders have found that uphill skiing provides a different perspective on the mountain they have skied for years. Personally, I’m fond of a late night run under a full moon and early morning laps with my dog.
Unfortunately, ski area attitudes towards uphill skiing are incredibly inconsistent and still evolving. Current resort policies range from “we’ll arrest you” at Jackson Hole. To you like skiing? So do we, let’s skin a lap! For instance, Mad River Glen’s policy allows for uphill skiing before and after hours, but prohibits it while the lifts are running. Jay Peak is the complete opposite allowing uphill traffic only during operating hours. Some mountains require a full lift ticket, while Attitash requires a discounted trail pass, and Magic Mountain makes it clear that uphill is a free complimentary activity.
Given the inconsistent policies, before taking your AT gear to the local ski hill, here are a few questions to ask: Is there a policy in place? Do I need a lift ticket? Are there designated uphill routes? What’s the before/afterhours policy? Do I need to bring any special gear (e.g. headlamp, reflective clothing, etc.)?
A good summary of various policies can be found here http://www.ussma.org/resort-uphill-policies and a few examples are below.
Super Uphill Friendly – Magic Mountain, VT
If you pass a skier or snowboarder going the wrong way (uphill) at Magic Mountain, don’t be alarmed! Magic Mountain will be embracing uphill traffic via telemark, alpine touring (randonee), and split board snowboards this season and well into the future. Magic will be offering free access to the mountain for anyone willing to “earn their turns”. Magic’s classic trails and glades, as well as the backcountry possibilities on the back side of the mountain, make Magic the perfect location to take up this growing segment of skiing and snowboarding.
– Touring is a complimentary activity, however a regular lift ticket is required to access lifts before/after tour.
– When touring during busy times please stay to the sides of trails and pay close attention to downhill traffic.
– When touring at night use devices (headlamp or reflective clothing) to enable you to be seen by mountain operations staff.
– Stay clear of all mountain operations equipment including, but not limited to, groomers, snowmaking equipment, snowmobiles, and lifts.
– During regular operating hours dogs must remain on a leash at all times. Also, please pick up and bring down the mtn all dog poop.
– Do not litter!! Take all of your trash with you.
– If going backcountry, always inform someone where you are going; go with a group of at least 3 people and someone who knows the route; bring communications, extra water, food, medical supplies and warm clothes in case of emergency.
– For recommended routes and more details contact our ticket office during regular operating hours or e-mail us.
– Use Common Sense!! If you are not an expert skier or rider skilled in treeskiing and you are not in excellent physical shape, do not venture into side or backcountry
Middle of the Road Policy – Whitefish Montana
Skinning allowed but on designated routes at certain times. From their website.
6AM – 9AM: Toni Matt Route Only (for ascent & descent!)
9AM – 4:30PM: Toni Matt or East Routes
4:30PM – 7PM: East Route Only (for ascent & descent!)
A Little Background
Whitefish Mountain Resort is the holder of a Special Use Permit from the US Forest Service, in the Tally Lake Ranger District. That permit specifies that the resort and the USFS should cooperate to provide for public health and risk management within the permit boundary. The need for this sort of thing is greater than on other USFS-managed lands because there are man-made hazards here (grooming equipment, snow making equipment, downhill skiers, snowmobiles, etc.) that do not exist elsewhere on public lands.
In the years leading up to the 2009-2010 ski season, uphill traffic grew from a niche hobby to a downright popular recreational choice. As the sport became more accessible, more novice skiers began to participate. This increase in volume, combined with a decrease in average experience level, led to some problems that were becoming increasing common early 2010.
There are 5 potentially dangerous things associated with winter uphill traffic:
People getting too close to heavy grooming equipment in the evenings
Potential collisions between uphill and downhill traffic during the day
People getting too close to high-voltage electrical and high-pressure water lines during pre- and early-season snow making
People venturing into areas where avalanche control work is happening
People leaving ruts in freshly groomed snow in the evenings that can sometimes set up and be dangerous for skiers the next morning (mostly a spring freeze-thaw cycle phenomenon)
In March of 2010, we put our first uphill traffic policy into place. Although reluctant to restrict people’s enjoyment of the mountain in any way, we felt compelled to act after several very serious near-misses involving high-tension winch cat cables and skiers during the 2009-2010 ski season.
The current policy is the result of an ongoing process of refinement and change, driven by our own observations of uphill traffic, feedback from the uphill community, and input from the USFS.
The resort, the USFS, and the uphill community all share the same goal: To offer as much opportunity for all different kinds of recreation within our permit boundary as possible. We’ll continue to work toward that goal.
— The Staff of Whitefish Mountain Resort
What’s your mountain’s uphill policy?