At 7:00 a.m. on January 1, 2016 three skiers started skinning up Mt. Washington Alpine Resort on Vancouver Island. They wanted to start the year off right: watching the sun rise over the peak before skiing powder down a backcountry run. They never made it.
A ski patroller on early morning sweep sent them home disappointed. Mt. Washington doesn’t allow the use of its runs before the lifts open. But a growing number of resorts do, catering to escalating interest in skiing uphill. Yes, uphill.
Why would someone want to ski up? For most, it’s a way of training for ski touring, say for a planned trip out west, the Alps or just for the weekend. For a dedicated few, it’s the only way to stay competitive for randonée or ski mountaineering racing. For others, it’s simply a way to stay fit, like running or mountain biking. Regardless, a resort provides easy access, reliable snow conditions and lower avalanche danger than backcountry areas. Still, other hazards exist: snowmobiles, winch cats and groomers, and during operating hours skiers going the opposite direction.
Although it’s a common sight to cross paths with uphill skiers in the Alps, even on busy runs, Canadian ski areas do not allow uphill skiing at any time. Indeed, David
Dornian, the head of Ski Mountaineering Competition Canada, doesn’t know of any resort in the west that allows it, though he does believe some of his racers have permission to train on-hill. In the east Mont-Sainte-Anne now allows uphill skiing on two dedicated skinning trails that traverse through the trees to the mountain’s summit, although a specific uphill skiing pass must be purchased at $8 a day, $30 a season or free with an alpine ticket. And at some Ontario hills, snowshoeing is more popular; several have dedicated routes leading to the top of the lifts.
This reluctance, however, may be about to change if what’s going on south of the border is any indication. Dozens of resorts from coast to coast now allow uphill skiing. Each resort’s policy differs: some require a pass, others a waiver, some just set aside a specific route. If the idea of skinning up the resort sounds better than working out the heart and lungs at the gym, it may be the perfect time to talk to your hill’s ski patrol.