The tremendous growth of popularity in alpine touring gear, has created a host of issues for ski resorts to discuss in regards to uphill access. An increasing group of uphill users, are navigating the complex rules and courtesies of sharing our ski slopes after-hours. With heavy machinery in operation on the slopes, the risk to employee and guest safety discourages most ski areas from embracing the idea of uphill access. However many of our local ski areas exist on public lands, and accessibility is mandated. So should ski areas offer regular uphill access?
To the average skier or snowboarder, uphill access in a ski area boundary may seem like a perplexing context. Why use your legs to get turns, in places where chairlifts already can take you?
Uphill access at ski resorts can serve an important purpose. For those still learning how to use their touring gear, uphill access on groomed slopes is an easier introduction, often less remote or difficult than back country touring. Mainly uphill access at ski resorts is an opportunity to ski or board in avalanche safe zones, no beacon required. If you are looking for some exercise with your ski turns, uphill access is the new jogging. Skinning up your local ski area won’t reward you with awesome powder like the back country, but it can be a consistent way to get out and exercise safely.
To the unaware, uphill access at ski areas seems like a wonderful concept overall. When you start to consider the infrastructure of ski areas and the potential hazards of this new recreation, uphill access is obviously a much more dangerous activity. Snow-cat groomers, snowmobiles and snow making equipment are often running long after and before any guests arrive. As much as ski areas want to accommodate the public for uphill access, hill maintenance for paying guests will always be paramount. No grooming operator, ski patroller or snow-maker wants to be liable for injuring a guest. With limited space, low visibility and poor sight lines, accidents and injuries between ski area personnel and uphill access guests are unfortunately too common.
So is it possible to accommodate uphill access guests, keep our slopes groomed and make everyone happy? The answer is yes, but the key to a solution is patience on both sides.
If you are an uphill user, be a steward to your local hill and represent your community well. Checking in with resort staff beforehand, reading up on policies and knowing your stuff goes a long way. Perhaps your local ski hill is restricting uphill access at a particular time, it is probably for good reason. Winch cats can slice you in half and taking a snowmobile head-on will sideline you for the rest of the ski season. Many mountains are adding uphill policies to incorporate guest demands, so be thankful, buy a beer in the bar or support the shop. Uphill access may not always require a lift-ticket but your local hill needs revenue to keep running.
The growth of alpine touring popularity is exciting to watch. With lighter touring gear more widely available than before, it seems undoubtedly this trend will continue for a while. As more people begin skinning the local ski areas, its more important than ever we preserve the safety and culture of this activity. With good collaboration between guests and ski resort staff, uphill access seemingly can be an issue free topic. Just don’t be that guy breaking the rules, or letting your disobedient dog roam free.