The Outsider: WTF is uphill skiing?

To many in the mainstream winter sports market, the term “uphill skiing” is an oxymoron.

In the last half century or so, the resort experience grew the sport of downhill skiing exponentially by short cutting arduous uphill travel with mechanical rope tows and chairlifts. The old fashioned way of affixing furry skins or applying high friction wax to walk uphill on skis faded into a niche of an adventurous few.

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But what a comeback it made, albeit under a different moniker. Alpine Touring (AT), ski touring, skinning, backcountry skiing... As it soared in popularity over the last 15 years, the marketing of all these terms and the brands that manufactured the equipment for it seemed to avoid the word “uphill” at all costs.

It was still all about the down, man. The uphill slogging was just a means to an end. Now that notion has all but evaporated with some resorts in the U.S. going as far as allowing uphill travel on their slopes, providing you bought a pass of some description, of course.

The phrase “uphill skiing” is beginning to catch on in the mainstream. Last month, media giant Bloomberg published an article titled “Love or Hate It, Uphill Skiing Will Be Big This Winter.” In many ways this is simply another skiing discipline that is trickling down to lifelong mainstream skiers looking for a different way to explore and experience the mountains.

One writer from Forbes described his experience of meeting up with a group of locals at the base of the mountain in Breckenridge, Colorado, touring up as a social activity before locking down their heels and skiing down a freshly groomed run. Many of these folks then packed up and headed to work for the day having checked off their morning exercise with a short, yet rewarding ski run. The writer continued to ski as normal for the rest of the day on the lifts, satisfied after “combining my passion for downhill skiing with my quest for new ways to get a fun workout.”

Therein lies the differentiator. Backcountry skiing comes with assumed risks (including avalanche hazards) and can be an intimidating prospect for beginner ski tourers once they set foot outside the boundary.

Uphill skiing takes place on controlled resort terrain and is usually sanctioned by the resort itself.

It’s something that doesn’t really exist yet at Whistler Blackcomb (WB). For years there was a counterculture of poaching where pass dodgers would skin up to Midstation on Whistler Mountain then casually slide onto the line for the unmonitored Garbanzo Express.

That was quashed with the introduction of RFID scanners on all lifts. WB is currently addressing the feasibility of uphill skiing, but there is currently no policy or program in place around it. Skinning up into resort terrain before it opens isn’t allowed, but if the lifts are loading you have already have an active pass, you can probably skin up the side of a green run without upsetting anyone.

Vince Shuley occasionally skis uphill. For questions, comments or suggestions to The Outsider email or Twitter @vinceshuley.

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