The Aspen Buzz

The Local’s Guide to Uphill Skiing

It’s All Uphill From Here: Alpine Touring/Uphill Skiing is Aspen’s newest fitness craze.

IMG_2776“Hey, you’re going the wrong way!” a guy yells as he skis by as I’m skinning up Buttermilk—walking up the mountain on my Alpine Touring gear.

It seems like just as many people are walking up the mountain as skiing down it these days. Why would anyone in their right mind want to walk up the mountain when there’s a perfectly good chairlift, right? For most Aspenites it boils down to one thing: exercise.

Alpine Touring: History
Alpine Touring has a long history in Europe, where “randonee” equipment began. Essentially it’s a special binding that allows you to free the heel of the boot for walking with skins applied to the bottoms of skis to keep from slipping. This equipment was used “off piste” or in the backcountry where there was no chairlift access. In the United States, skiers have been using Alpine Touring equipment for backcountry skiing for years (especially in Aspen where an extensive backcountry hut system makes touring even more appealing) but it has only gained popularity for use in resorts in recent years as equipment designed specifically for fitness has become lighter and easier to use.

Earning Your Turns
The idea of walking up a mountain where there is lift access might have been laughable at some point, but it has gained so much popularity in recent years that it has become a sport onto itself, complete with uphill races and a whole slew of super lightweight, high-tech equipment. Skinning up Ajax at dawn before the lifts open (uphill skiers are not permitted on Aspen Mountain when the lifts are in operation) has become a ritual for hardcore locals who reward themselves with a big breakfast at Bonnie’s after what most people would consider a monumental effort (and before most of us even woke up).

Popular Skinning Routes
Tiehack: Buttermilk’s less crowded and easily accessible east side is the perfect pitch and distance for a short skin that’s still a great workout. The consistently steep pitch make this climb a heart-pumping challenge, but most people can make it to the top in under an hour. The Cliffhouse at the summit is a great place to reward yourself with a cookie and a hot cocoa before skiing back down the fast, perfectly groomed slopes. And on a powder day, this is the local’s best kept secret for fresh tracks, but you better get there early. After the lifts close, this is also a popular route for people who want to exercise their dogs, at least the fast running breeds that can keep up on the way down.

Aspen Mountain: The crown jewel of Aspen’s four mountains for uphillers, this consistently steep and fairly long (3,272 feet long) climb is not for the faint of heart. Because uphill skiers are not permitted on the slopes after the gondola fires up, it’s also only for early-risers. Most people will start around 7 a.m. to reach the summit in time. Now with the longer days of spring, though, it’s also possible to make the trek after the lifts close, too. A great place to see the sun set.

Snowmass: Snowmass allows uphillers all day, even when the lifts are open. And with multiple skinning routes, from Two Creeks to Alpine Springs, it’s a great option for someone who is just starting out and wants to explore.

Aspen Highlands: Designated uphill routes are open all day. This is a great intermediate option as it has a good variety of steeps and flats. Walking up to the Merry Go Round is a great option for a solid workout. The super hardcores will go “creek to peak,” a backcountry skin route that starts at Castle Creek and goes all the way to the top of Highlands Bowl.

Where to buy or rent equipment
Aspen Expeditions has a full line of super lightweight gear from Dynafit available for demo.

The Ute Mountaineer also has skinning gear available for rent or purchase.

For a complete uphilling guide to Aspen’s Four Mountains, visit