Reservation systems, social-distancing requirements, and other COVID-19 protocols will make it somewhat challenging to secure a spot to ski at most Colorado resorts this season. To make up for fewer days at your favorite resort, you may be thinking about turning to backcountry skiing (or riding) as a way to score some powder runs. And assuming you’ve taken an avalanche class and read up on the basics, more power to you.
There is, however, an intermediate alternative: Plenty of Colorado ski resorts have designated uphill routes you can use to bypass the chairlift and power yourself—most commonly by hiking, ski touring using skins and hybrid bindings, or snowshoeing—to skiable terrain. It’s a good way to try out some of the backcountry basics in a relatively safe environment (i.e., avalanche danger is minimal). To help you get started, we compiled a list of general guidelines, along with resort-specific protocols.
General Uphill Skiing Guidelines
- Many resorts require a specific uphill pass (it’s often included under your season pass) as well as an armband, both of which must be carried with you. That pass does not necessarily give you access to the lifts, so read the uphill policy’s fine print.
- Resorts generally have designated uphill routes. Stick to them. During resort operating hours, make sure to keep to the side of the trail since downhill traffic has the right of way (and a lot more momentum).
- Be aware of blackout dates as resorts may restrict uphill access during busy times like the holidays. Resorts also reserve the right to close uphilling for avalanche control, snowmaking, and other mountain activities. They may also make changes to their uphill policy mid-season. Always check their website before gearing up to go.
- It’s up to you to keep yourself (and those you’re traveling with) safe. Ski patrol and other emergency services may not be available to uphillers, especially if you’re ascending outside of the resort’s operating hours. Respect all ropes and closures and give grooming, snowmaking, and other equipment a wide berth. Headlamps and high-visibility clothing are best for low-light ascents.
- Some resorts have limitations on modes of uphill travel. While skinning is permissible in most cases, read up on snowshoeing and foot traffic policies. And just in case your cousin from out of town suggests it: Don’t bring a sled.
- Well-behaved dogs are welcome at some resorts. Well-behaved owners must pick up their waste.
- As an uphiller, you’re still considered a skier under the Colorado Skier Safety Act. Know “Your Responsibility Code” and stick to it.
Resort-Specific Policies For The 2020-21 Season
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area: A-Basin requires that those skinning or hiking up carry their uphill access pass with them, as well as wear the specific armband. The uphill pass is included with the full, military, senior, and midweek season passes, but not the Ikon and Mountain Collective passes. You can also purchase an uphill-specific season pass for $59 online, and then pick it up in person at a ticket window. During operational hours, uphillers must stick to the eastern edge of the High Noon run between the base area and Black Mountain Lodge. Access above the lodge is not allowed while the chairs are spinning. Dogs are welcome outside of operating hours.
Aspen/Snowmass: The quartet of mountains outside of John Denver’s favorite ski town make uphilling a breeze: Gear up, stick to the designated routes during operating hours, and go. No armband or uphill pass required. There are some blackout periods, however, from December 26 to January 2, and February 13–14. The policies vary slightly for each of the mountains, so be sure to read the Aspen/Snowmass overview and then check the individual pages for Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk for routes and other details.
Copper Mountain Resort: As of this writing, uphill access at Copper is closed. They plan to announce their 2020–21 policy after the resort opens for the season on November 30, so keep an eye on their uphill access webpage.
Eldora Mountain: Given its proximity to the masses on the Front Range, including all those crazy super-athletes in Boulder, and the relatively small size of the resort, Eldora has a pretty involved uphill policy. You’ll need an uphill access pass ($179 for the season, $99 as an add-on to your traditional pass, or $25 for a day ticket) and will need to follow the designated routes and timeframes. Note that uphilling is closed on the weekends, as well as December 21 to January 4, January 18, and February 15. The resort doesn’t allow hiking on foot or with snowshoes.
Granby Ranch: Uphill access is included with your season passes. The resort has not yet decided if uphill access will be included with daily lift ticket purchases this season. The resort suggests uphilling guests check in at the ticket window before their first visit for more details.
Hesperus Ski Area: A pass is required to uphill at Hesperus ($35–$40). Make sure to have it with you when ascending. Uphilling is not allowed during the ski area’s operational hours. Dogs are welcome but must be leashed when in or near the base area.
Loveland Ski Area: Loveland plans to open its uphill access once their snowmaking operations have been completed, likely in mid-December. Uphill access is closed at this time. Stay up to date.
Monarch Mountain: An uphill ticket is included with your Monarch season pass or you can purchase an uphill-specific pass for $20. Just be sure to always have the ticket with you and use the designated Barrel Loop, Pano Route, or Mirk Route during operational hours. Dogs are prohibited while the lifts are spinning and discouraged all other times.
Powderhorn Mountain Resort: Before the season begins on November 27, uphill access is limited to the Red Eye trail. More trails may open up once the season is in full swing. Armbands are new for this season and must be worn while on the mountain. You’ll also need a pass, whether a $5 single-day ticket (must be reserved online in advance), a $29 uphill season pass, or your traditional downhill season pass. No dogs allowed from October 15 through April 30.
Purgatory Resort: No uphilling allowed. Bummer.
Ski Cooper: Ski Cooper has yet to finalize their uphill access plan for this season. As of this writing, uphilling will be allowed until opening day, which is tentatively scheduled for December 9. Uphillers are advised to steer clear of the equipment operating on the mountain in preparation for the season.
Steamboat Ski Resort: Although Steamboat typically allows uphill traffic of some kind, current season preparation activities make it unsafe at the moment. As a result, uphill access is closed for the time being.
Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort: Uphilling is allowed at Sunlight pretty much anytime except when snowmaking operations are underway. Uphill passes are included with your traditional pass, or, as of last year, cost $10 for a day pass or $50 for an uphill-specific season pass. Give Fido a treat and tell him you’ll see him when you’re back; no dogs allowed.
Telluride Ski Resort: Uphill access at Telluride is closed for now while workers prepare for opening day, which is currently scheduled for November 26. When the ski area does open up, uphilling will be available from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on designated routes near Lift 10. Dogs are allowed from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. and must have a harness or leash.
Vail Resorts: All Colorado resorts under the Vail umbrella allow uphill access outside of lift operating hours. Uphilling can start 30 minutes after the last lift closure. In the morning, uphillers must be descending to the base area at least 15 minutes ahead of the first lift opening. Opening day for uphill access varies by resort. More information, including designated routes, are available on the Crested Butte, Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge websites.
Winter Park Resort: New for this year, skiers must pre-purchase an Uphill Access Armband for $15 (proceeds go to Grand County Search & Rescue). The armbands are valid for the full 2020-21 season. Uphilling will be allowed starting on December 1 on almost all mountain terrain. You can’t bring pets during operating hours; Dogs under voice control are permissible starting one hour after lifts close and ending one hour before the lifts open in the morning.
Wolf Creek Ski Area: Guests can uphill for free during operating hours (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) as of this writing, but keep an eye on their website for updates.
Editor’s note: This article will be updated as more information becomes available.