The four mountains — Aspen (Ajax), Buttermilk, Highlands and Snowmass — attract droves of locals and tourists every year and — sans global warming — the appeal will not likely diminish anytime soon. Some people prefer to bypass the chairlifts and opt for the more time-consuming, yet less expensive option of hiking one of the mountains. Last season was the first year uphill users were required to pay for a pass.
Whether someone is skinning, snowshoeing or simply hiking up any of the Aspen Ski Company (ASC) mountains, they’ll have to pay a one-time seasonal fee of $69 to do so — $10 of which is donated to Mountain Rescue Aspen.
Part of the reason for the fee, as Jeff Hanle, vice president of communications for ASC told The Sopris Sun, is that oftentimes folks who forgo using the chairlifts still utilize other elements of the resort. For instance, if a wintertime hiker was involved in an emergency situation on the slopes, ski patrol would be the first responders.
“With the dramatic increase in uphill use on our mountains over the last few years, we saw there was a need to manage this use for safety and operational reasons,” said Hanle.
“Uphillers have an impact on our operations and utilize our facilities,” he continued. “Grooming, snowmaking and patrol all interact with uphillers in some capacity. Most importantly, with the increase in uphill traffic we need to manage safety concerns with downhill skiers and riders.”
According to ASC’s website, uphilling is permitted between 5 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. on any of the mountains, with the exception of Ajax which does not allow uphill use during operating hours.
Notably, ASC operates not only on private land owned by the company but also on public National Forest Service (FS) lands. As with other ski resorts, ASC manages its incorporated public lands through a special use permit issued by the FS.
“We allow ski areas to charge fees and control access to their permitted areas for the services they provide,” explained David Boyd, a public affairs officer with FS, “which includes chairlifts, ski runs … ski patrol and safety.”
Therefore, ski resorts can charge people to hike up the mountain regardless of whether the lands are public or private.
According to Boyd, Ajax manages 326 acres of public lands, Snowmass 4,745 acres,
Aspen Highlands 1,560 acres and Buttermilk 470 acres.
A benefit of requiring uphillers to purchase a pass is that it opens up a line of communication between them and ASC. This way, the resort can send notifications to users to inform them of closures or other pertinent updates.
“ASC’s ski areas are adjacent to public lands that are not subject to special use permits,” Hanle pointed out. “Generally speaking, anyone can access the skiing and hiking on the public lands outside of ASC’s special permit areas. However, they do so at their own risk as no ski area services like ski patrol are provided to respond to emergencies.”
He added that the access points for each of the four mountains are across private property.
Hanle said that a good portion of uphill pass holders received it as a complimentary add-on with their premier pass purchase. He added that a much smaller percentage buy the uphill pass on its own.
“If you check around, you will find that we have some of the most uphill-friendly policies in the country,” stated Hanle. “Not many resorts allow uphill use during operating hours.”
With that said, The Durango Herald recently reported that its local ski hill, Purgatory Mountain Resort, is one of two in Colorado that does not allow uphilling at all; Silverton being the other.
While uphilling is permitted on Vail Ski Resort, that access — like Ajax — is reduced to non-operating hours. Uphillers at Vail can begin their ascent once the mountain closes and must be down by the time it reopens.
Sunlight Mountain Resort charges uphill users $50 for a season pass and also offers single-day uphill passes.
“We want to maintain this access and to do so we need to proactively manage uphill use of our mountains,” concluded Hanle.
Last season, ASC issued 18,000 uphill passes total, with 2,000 of those being purchased independently of a traditional pass. This season, the resort issued 25,000 total, with 1,800 purchased independently.
For more information regarding ASC’s uphill policies visit, www.aspensnowmass.com/policies/uphill-policy