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Two Uphillers admire the view at Aspen Snowmass

It’s All Uphill From Here

Mixing the serenity of the slopes with an epic working, uphilling has become increasingly popular in the Roaring Fork Valley and among our guests. Learn more about this sport with our beginners guide.
Two Uphillers admire the view at Aspen Snowmass
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A pair of "skins" helps give cross-country skis the traction they need to make hill climbing possible. See below.

Well before the sport of uphilling surged in popularity, Aspen Snowmass embraced the activity across its four mountains. Now that uphilling is more mainstream, Aspen Snowmass continues to foster this mode of recreation with supplemented trail systems, clinics, ski school lessons, equipment rentals, and social activities.

What is Uphilling?

Uphilling—also called skinning or alpine touring—is climbing up a mountain with skis, skins, boots on your feet, and poles in your hands. Once at the top of your climb, a simple transition of your gear allows you to ski back down the route you ascended. Uphilling requires a ski/boot/binding setup that is different from what you would normally use for downhill skiing. The boots have an adjustable cuff that can be locked stiff for skiing—or unlocked for walking. Similarly, a specialized alpine touring binding has two modes as well—one for skiing with a locked down heel and the other for uphilling where an unlocked heel allows for an easy walking stride. There are also specialty setups for snowboarders who wish to uphill called "splitboards." Specialized climbing skins are used for traction on the ascent and are removed when it comes time to ski.

Why Do People Uphill?

In addition to a great workout to “earn your turns” for the ski down—you are also getting outdoors, breathing fresh air, taking in beautiful mountain scenery, and garnering a sense of accomplishment. Making your own way up the mountain gives you time to take in the scenery and nature around you before you fly past it all on the downhill. In-resort uphilling is also a good introduction to the equipment and physical effort required if you are curious about heading into the backcountry.

What Gear Do I Need?

An alpine touring setup consist of:

  • Skis
  • Boots
  • Bindings
  • A pair of skins sized to the skis
  • Adjustable length ski poles (helpful as shorter poles are useful on the downhill, while longer poles are best for the ascent.)

What Are Skins?

Long strips of material adhered to the bottom of skis for uphill travel, called “skins” were historically made of animal skins or fur. Nowadays, skins are made of a synthetic nylon “carpet like” material —with one side that sticks to the base of your ski with a specialized glue and the other side is a thin carpet-like material that slides forward on the snow with your uphill stride but does not allow you to slide backwards because of the direction of the textile. Once you’ve reached the summit, peel off the skins, fold them up, and make an adjustment to the binding, which will allow you to step into the ski for typical downhill skiing.

How Do Alpine Touring Bindings Differ From Downhill Ski Bindings?

Ascending the mountain in this fashion is made possible due to specialized bindings that allow a free, unlocked heel for upward mobility, and then lock the heel back into the binding for the descent.

Where to Rent Uphill Gear?

Dialing in the right gear for uphilling can seem intimidating, but the team at Four Mountain Sports can help you from start to finish. We now offer uphill equipment for sale from Salomon and Black Crows to Technica and Marker.

To rent gear, check out local shops like Ute Mountaineer and Cripple Creek Backcountry.

Learn more

Where to Uphill?

To ensure uphill and downhill skiers are aware of each other and to minimize conflict between uphill and downhill traffic, all four mountains have designated and marked uphill routes. While all four mountains allow uphilling, an annual Uphill Pass is required and each mountainhas its own rules. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these policies before heading out.
When uphilling at Aspen Snowmass, you can pick a route that finishes at one of the many on-mountain restaurants to warm up before readying yourself to ski back down.

Is There a Proper Form?

Unlike hiking where you lift your foot with each step, the idea of skinning is closer to Nordic skiing. You will want to keep the ski close to the snow and glide over the surface to maximize efficient use of one’s energy.

Before You Skin

Uphilling at Buttermilk

Uphilling at Buttermilk

It’s important to check the weather conditions and the temperature before you head out, so you dress and layer appropriately. You will get quite a workout alpine touring, followed by some serious windchill factor on your descent.

What To Bring

  • A backpack or day pack of 15-20 liters. Enough to carry layers, water, a helmet, etc. for the hike up and ski down
  • Layers of clothing, like a vest or light jacket for the uphill; heavier jacket for the downhill; and a buff, which can act as headband or neck gaiter
  • Sun glasses
  • Sunblock
  • Chapstick
  • Energy bar(s)
  • Water bottle (or Camelback–be mindful of freezing tubes in colder weather.)
  • Tissues or a bandana
  • Light pair of gloves / heavy pair of gloves
  • Ski pants and jackets with zippered air vents and armpit zips are helpful
  • If uphilling at night, wear a headlamp and reflective clothing (if possible). You need to see and also be seen by groomers, employees on snowmobiles, and other skiers

Getting Into Your Gear

  • Start your uphill skin day wearing your lightest layers like light gloves and a baseball cap. You will sweat, and your body heat will be much higher on the ascent. Once you get to the top, you will immediately start to cool and want to put on those extra layers for the ski down.
  • If renting gear, make sure the shop technician demonstrates how to use your gear—especially the bindings. Alpine touring bindings vary greatly from brand to brand.
  • You can find instructional videos or tips on using the gear via the internet.
  • Be familiar with how your boots switch from walk to ski mode and how the buckling system operates.

Best Way to Get Into Uphilling

If you are looking for adventurous and social outings and to meet other like-minded uphillers, check out the full moon dinners or the Friday morning socials.

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