On a sunny day in Snowmass last January, there had been no new snow for several days, so Jeff and I strapped on our stabilicers and hiked from our house to the top of Elk Camp, about a 3 mile hike (one way) with about 2500 feet of altitude gained. It’s a beautiful, somewhat strenuous hike, with incredible views to reward you when you reach the top. We spent a few minutes snapping photos, eating some trail mix, then started our 3 mile hike back home…downhill. In addition to being pretty hard on the knees, it’s not nearly as exhilarating as the hike up. You’re sweaty and cold, and the footing is treacherous. We had just started our descent when we met a young lady in shorts and a tank top (in January!), with skis strapped to her feet, skiing uphill! I had heard about skinning, but this was the first time I had seen someone actually doing it. (Amazing that I hadn’t noticed people doing it prior to that, now I see them EVERYWHERE!) I was fascinated!! When she reached the top, she simply peeled off the “skins” attached to the bottom of her skis, locked her heels into the bindings, put her clothes back on(!), and skied down! J and I continued our awkward hike down, with a few embarrassing non-graceful falls under the Elk Camp lift, and I decided to rent some equipment and give “skinning” a try.
As a newbie to Colorado in the winter, I didn’t know about skinning, but evidently it’s becoming more and more a “thing”. Here in Aspen/Snowmass, they often see hundreds of uphillers every day. So many that they’ve joined other ski areas to formally tweak their uphill policies. Here at Snowmass, we can uphill on any runs during operating hours, except Adam’s Avenue, as long as we stay to the side of the trail and a few other common sense safety practices. It’s the same at Buttermilk, except they have designated routes up the mountain. At Aspen Highlands, they want you to follow designated routes and be at the Merry-Go-Round restaurant (mid-mountain) before 9:00 a.m. if you want to go higher. Aspen Mountain is the most restrictive, probably because of the crowds and narrower runs. Uphilling is NOT allowed during operating hours. You must be at the top by 9 a.m. and follow designated routes. “Uphilling” can be with snowshoes, stabilicers (cleats for the bottom of your shoes), or skis.
After trying out several different set-ups last year, I decided to buy a set of more lightweight downhill skis, instead of the typical Alpine Touring skis. Skinning has it’s roots in backcountry skiing, and I’ve decided at 53 years old I most likely won’t be doing much of that. My desire is to get my workout in in the morning, then peel off the skins and ski all over the mountain. My K2 Line Celebrity skis are relatively light, and are good for all kinds of conditions. I’ve even taken them to the bumps of Zugspite, Slot, and Wildcat and they’re awesome! (Although the ski’s performance is awesome…mine has a long way to go! I definitely need more practice.) I went with the Dynafit two piece Radical bindings, which are much lighter, and they feel as secure as my regular bindings while I’m skiing downhill, whether bumps, groomers or powder. The Black Diamond Nylon skins are cut to fit and easily stick to the back of the skis.
Yesterday was the perfect day to skin up to Elk Camp, the sun was the bright blue that I feel can only be seen on a sunny day in the Rockies, and the wind had died down from earlier in the week. It was glorious. Other than the time I wiped out going up a particularly steep slope under the Two Creeks chair, losing a ski and spending too many awkward minutes on what felt like a 75 degree hill, the views at the top were glorious. I hope to do all four mountains this winter, but I need to train a little more before I attempt Aspen Mountain. At my speed I would probably have to start at 4 a.m. to make it to the top at 9!