Beginner’s Guide to Uphill Skiing
Well before the sport of uphilling surged in popularity, Aspen Snowmass embraced the activity across its four mountains. Now that uphilling is more mainstream, Aspen Snowmass continues to foster this mode of recreation with supplemented trail systems, clinics, ski school lessons, equipment rentals and social activities. Aspen Snowmass and the town of Aspen — as a whole — has gotten behind the sport, with Mayor Steve Skadron taking a lead:
Our vision for the uphill economy initiative is to preserve our mountain-town culture and make Aspen the epicenter of uphill fitness in North America. It’s really about economic development tied to our mountain roots, without the development. When I uphill, my mountain adventure is freer, heartier and more authentic.Steve Skadron
WHAT IS UPHILLING?
Uphilling — also called skinning or alpine touring — is climbing up a mountain with skis, skins, boots on your feet and poles in your hands. Once at the top of your climb, a simple transition of your gear allows you to ski back down the route you ascended. Uphilling requires a ski/boot/binding setup that is different from what you would normally use for downhill skiing. The boots have an adjustable cuff that can be locked stiff for skiing — or unlocked for walking. Similarly, a specialized alpine touring binding has two modes as well — one for skiing with a locked down heel and the other for uphilling where an unlocked heel allows for an easy walking stride. Specialized climbing skins are used for traction on the ascent and are removed when it comes time to ski.
WHY DO PEOPLE UPHILL?
In addition to a great workout to “earn your turns” for the ski down—you are also getting outdoors, breathing fresh air and taking in beautiful mountain scenery, there’s a sense of accomplishment. Making your own way up the mountain gives you time to take in the scenery and nature around you before you fly past it all on the downhill. In-resort uphilling is also a good introduction to the equipment and physical effort required if you are curious about heading into the backcountry.
WHAT GEAR DO I NEED FOR UPHILLING?
An alpine touring setup consist of:
• A pair of skins sized to the skis
• Adjustable length ski poles (helpful as shorter poles are useful on the downhill, while longer poles are best for the ascent.)
WHAT ARE SKINS?
Long strips of material adhered to the bottom of skis for uphill travel, called “skins” were historically made of animal skins or fur. Nowadays, skins are made of a synthetic nylon “carpet like” material — with one side that sticks to the base of your ski with a specialized glue and the other side is a thin carpet-like material that slides forward on the snow with your uphill stride but does not allow you to slide backwards because of the direction of the textile. Once you’ve reached the summit, peel off the skins, fold them up and make an adjustment to the binding, which will allow you to step into the ski for typical downhill skiing.