According To SnowSports Industries America (SIA), uphill skiing and backcountry skiing is becoming more and more mainstream, influencing everything from resort policy to gear.
More than half of North American resorts now allow uphill skiing, and alpine-touring equipment sales grew 13 percent last season, on top of a 200% growth the previous season. 70 mountains in North America have published uphill skiing policies and offer uphill passes for free or a nominal fee, and many are noticing significant upticks in uphill activity. 900,000 skiers and 1.1 million snowboarders report skiing or riding in backcountry areas.
The concept is simple: Use specialized equipment to skip the chairlift and hike up to the top of a run. Ski down. Repeat. How much you hike is up to you.
The trend is booming throughout Colorado, with resorts from Aspen to Crested Butte adding it to their official lineups. Ten years ago it was a few hardcore fitness enthusiasts. Nowadays, on a snowy Saturday, several hundred people are skinning up ski slopes before the areas open. Resorts are establishing designated uphill routes and requiring lights and reflectors.
Dan Sherman, vice president of marketing at Ski.com, said the rising trend can be attributed to gear improvements that make ski touring more accessible:
“Uphill skiing has long been part of European ski culture,” he said. “But as gear is becoming more versatile and accessible, we’re seeing more and more vacation-goers taking an interest in North America.”
The Forest Service, which oversees 122 ski areas on public land, last year released rules that allow ski areas to charge nominal fees to climbing skiers who access groomed slopes. Ski areas can’t charge people to hike on Forest Service land, but resorts can charge if the hikers use facilities or groomed slopes.
Companies such as Dynafit and Tecnica are increasingly producing tech bindings and boots that let skiers use the same equipment for ascents and descents. And these are not cross-country skiers. With skins attached to skis and bindings capable of both free-heeled climbing and a locked-down descent, the alpine touring equipment used by these ski mountaineers is much burlier than the skis and boots used by cross-country skiers.
And the trend is helping to fuel a boom in the ski retail world. Sales of touring equipment, including avalanche-safety accessories like beacons and shovels, rank as the fastest-growing category in snowsports retail. Even snowboarders can get in on the fun, with boards that can split into two pieces and look like short skis, perfect for hiking up slopes. And as a result, alpine skis and boots are getting lighter, influenced by backcountry-gear technology. In America last year, 12% of all ski boots bought, 93,000 pairs, were specialist touring ones.
The industry is enthusiastic about the trend. Kim Miller, CEO of Scarpa, said, “Uphill policies and passes are models of innovation among snowsports resorts. Uphill pass holders are able to get to know their gear and how it works in real-world conditions that are more controlled and less risky than backcountry terrain.”
But beyond the backcountry connections, more skiers now enjoy going uphill for exercise and fun. Fitness-minded skiers who head uphill for a workout find it is the best way to access a mountain’s most pristine terrain.
Uphill resort skiing can be a safe stepping stone for people looking to learn to ski tour, as well as a great workout. And bring your dog, too, if the resort allows.