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Because it's 2017: Uphill Skinning at Resorts
Aspen-Snowmass will rent and demo Dynafit for uphill skiing starting this Winter. The news came out last week. One step closer towards wider acceptance of "fitness" skiers in resorts across North America. All year we have been hearing about major ski destinations across the US increasing their service offerings by allowing uphill skiing/skinning inbounds at an affordable price. "Major" as in Vail, Crested Butte, Beaver Creek and Park City. Sixty resorts in total. Yes, you read that right, 60 resorts allow you (with different policies) to skin uphill inbounds for a few well deserved descents.
It's awesome that resort uphill skiing is the fastest growing segment in the skiing industry right now. More people are staying fit while logging in a couple descents in the safety of a controlled environment, a resort. Many backcountry skiers don't get the 'why' behind this new trend. It is actually quite simple. Different motivations, less time, different risk tolerance, children skiing at the resort and training are all great reasons for resort ski-touring. I am myself a backcountry skier but you will find me a few mornings a week skinning up Sunshine Village because I also am a skimo racer and I have to train at fast skinning. What if you could hit Norquay before or after work for a quick lap? Bring a beginner inbounds to get familiar with touring gear? Demo backcountry skis both on the up and the down? Inbounds skinning allows all of these things!
So, what is the landscape for resort uphill skiing in Canada? They certainly seem to have it figured out in Quebec. Most major resorts already have a favourable uphill policy and allow skinning at a very affordable price. Tremblant, just north of Montreal, sees hundreds of people using its uphill routes during the weekends. Where things are decoupled from this trend are resorts allowing the same activity in Western Canada. To my knowledge, Castle Mountain in Alberta is the only resort officially allowing uphill travel inbouds starting this Winter! In most resorts, skinning up inbounds, at the side of a low-angled ski run still gets you kicked out by the ski patrol. In 2017, when 60 resorts in the US allow it...
At SkiUphill, we think that developing a stronger backcountry skiing community also means making inbounds uphill skiing possible. For the parents who drop their children at the chairlift and then skin up at the resort rather than going somewhere else to cross-country ski to the "fitness skier" who isn't comfortable in avalanche terrain, this would make ski touring a more inclusive sport. Even the most hardcore backcountry skiers would probably end up skinning up at a resort here and there.
The go-to answer when questioned about not having uphill policies is liability, which is easily remedied through the resorts existing waivers. Maybe uphill skiing is the new snowboarding? We have spent the last five months trying to meet with managers at Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, Norquay without any success. While backcounty skiing is becoming increasingly more accessible, connecting with those at the ski resorts is becoming more inaccessible, if next to impossible. This is worrysome to us as Western Canadian ski resorts are not recognizing trends in skiing despite 60+ resorts in the US and many in Eastern Canada having favorable uphill policies. The resorts here seem more interested in catering to existing customers rather than meeting the needs of future customers. Is this the canary in the coal mine? What is the future of Western Canadian ski resorts? We’ll let you decide.