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Saturday, November 24, 2012
Uphill traffic laws

By Madison Kahn

New rules are regulating how and when skiers can skin uphill at ski areas.

Colorado's Arapahoe Basin recently opened the mountain to uphill access to skiers and snowboarders -- and with that, also announced the development of a new uphill policy. A-Basin is just one of several western ski resorts that have introduced new uphill restrictions for customers in the past couple of years.

Intended to improve communication between guests and the ski area's staff, A-Basin's new uphill policy exists in the form of a pass, which users can obtain from the season pass office. Like those used at Crested Butte, Loveland, and Sunlight, A-Basin's free pass helps the mountain identify uphill guests, outlines safety issues and concerns, and restricts users to specific trails and times of day.

A-Basin's ski patrol decides each morning by 6 a.m. whether or not and where to allow uphill access. Certainly areas are always off limits and there are also no dogs allowed on the mountain during operating hours.

"With the increase in uphill use, narrow terrain corridors and dramatic terrain transitions, we felt it was no longer appropriate to mix both uphill and downhill use above mid-mountain during operating hours," said Alan Henceroth, Arapahoe Basin's Chief Operating Officer, in a recent press release.

A-Basin's annual uphill/downhill adventure race.

After seeing a spike in uphill use last season, Henceroth, who himself enjoys hiking in the backcountry, conducted a survey and open house to address the growing uphill concern. "You'd see four hikers going side by side on a groomed trail -- that's when I knew we had to do something," Henceroth told ESPN. His survey found that only a quarter of uphill users hiked during operating hours, while 75 percent went in the morning and another 25 percent used the mountain after hours (some went twice a day). "There's been an obvious change in the way people use the mountain, so we're just doing our part by keeping up with our customers," he added.

Other Colorado ski areas have already implemented changes in their policies to meet this growing uphill demand. Loveland issues a free uphill access pass much like A-Basin's recent development, with specific uphill access trails and hours. The mountain also strongly recommends reflective ski poles, clothing, and packs, as well as headlamps, flashlights, and whistles.

Copper Mountain has tweaked their policy in recent years to require similar reflective material of their skiers. Though the mountain doesn't use a pass system, Copper does restrict all uphill traffic to before and after operating hours (with no skinning November and December), and also prohibits dogs on the mountain.

Keystone and Breckenridge limit uphill use to before and after operating hours, designate specific skinning trails, and require certain parking permits for their dawn and dusk skiers. Both resorts began allowing uphill access earlier this month when they opened the mountain to downhill skiers, and according to Keystone spokesperson Tucker Burton, the resort has already seen a surge in early-morning skinning popularity.

Aspen/ Snowmass, on the other hand, touts one of the most liberal uphill policies in the country: Hikers must remain on the sides of several designated uphill trails, and are asked to be at the summit no later than 9 a.m.