Uphill skiing is one of the fastest growing aspects of the winter sport. People strap on Alpine Touring (AT) or Telemark gear, skins and essentially hike up a mountain to “earn their turns.” Look up at Red Lady Bowl and there is no shortage of tracks from people making the uphill trek. In this valley, skinning is becoming a very popular sport in the vast backcountry but people use the trails at Crested Butte Mountain Resort for uphilling as well. So the resort is in the process of updating its policies concerning the sport. According to CBMR vice president and general manager Ethan Mueller, more than 550 people have picked up the free uphill ski pass provided by the resort. That entails participants looking over the rules and signing a copy of the uphill policies.
Starting this week the company wants to amend the policies to reflect changes that come with the numbers. So they will start charging people for the uphill use. Now, if you have any sort of season or daily pass product with CBMR, the uphill is included. If you don’t have a pass, then the resort will start charging for the use of hiking up safe, groomed trails. They are considering a $75 annual fee or $5 per day. “We don’t anticipate making any money as a result but we feel people take it more seriously if they pay something for the access,” said Mueller. “We’ll probably start looking closer at passes and being a bit more strict with the rules. Frankly, it is a numbers situation and when there are hundreds of people skinning uphill, that’s not something we can just ignore.” CBMR still has to get final approval from the Forest Service to impose new rules since they have a permit with the government agency. That is not expected to be a problem. One of the more interesting changes about to be implemented is a designated route that uphill skiers can use during the day when the lifts are running. Currently climbing on the mountain is prohibited when the lifts are turning, so climbers hit the trails very early in the morning or after 4 p.m. Under the new rules, climbers will be able to start at the Base Area and follow a route to the top of Painter Boy and its Ten Peaks warming hut at any time. That route will climb through the trees on the Columbine run and is about a mile in length. It is hoped that the Forest Service will approve the amended Winter Ops Plan soon and the new route will open this month. The biggest changes come on powder mornings and to those who like to hike uphill with their dogs. In the past uphillers could climb the front of the mountain to the top of the Silver Queen even when ski patrol was preparing for a powder day. The patrol would be focused over on Paradise Bowl and would be using bombs. Bombs and skiers don’t mix, so from now on, when patrol is conducting control work in the morning, uphill skiers must climb no higher than Yellow Brick Road at the top of the Upper Park ski run or Red Lady Express if hiking with a dog. As for dogs, the resort wants them to have a light on their collar and keep to one of two designated dog routes. Dogs and their owners have to basically stay on the north side of the ski hill. Dogs can climb up Warming House Hill to Houston and then head up Paradise Bowl to the Silver Queen. Or K-9s can climb Warming House Hill, go up Peanut and then over to the top of the Red Lady Lift. They can continue up to Paradise Bowl and the Silver Queen from there. Dogs and their owners should come down the same way they came up. “We didn’t want to prohibit dogs from using the hill since we know so many people like to climb with their pets,” said CBMR director of planning John Sale. “But that was becoming one of the biggest conflicts between users on the mountain so we felt by keeping the dogs in designated areas, it would satisfy everyone’s desires to some extent.” Mueller and Sale pointed out that skiers had to be aware of resort employees working on the mountain during the morning and afternoon. Such interaction is more likely in the early season when snowmakers are very active on the mountain. But throughout the year, there are times employees will be snowmobiling around the resort. Snowcats are also very active when climbers are using the mountain. “We see this as a great way to expand the product,” said Mueller. “We want to perhaps implement some of the policies in our resorts back east but it is really taking off here in Crested Butte. “Our primary focus is on safety,” emphasized Mueller. “We want every person and dog to be as safe as possible on the hill. Overall safety is one of the appeals of skinning on the resort.” While the Forest Service turned down lift-served skiing on Snodgrass Mountain, the resort is grooming the road up the hill to accommodate uphill skiing. That is still a free alternative to the main mountain. Eventually, the resort would consider using Snodgrass to grow the uphill skiing trend even more. “While it’s been growing pretty fast here, we are still trying to figure out the best ways to get our hands around the whole uphill aspect of skiing. We think we are heading in the right direction and are pretty excited to be on the cutting edge of embracing this element of the ski industry,” concluded Mueller.