Uphill Skiing Crested Butte

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | February 26, 2013      
Last night on Crested Butte ski mountain, campfire for the uphillers. About 30 people.

Last night on Crested Butte ski mountain, campfire for the uphillers. About 30 people showed up. Beer and food was available. I can see this getting big. Thanks CBMR for making the effort! (Photos by Joe Risi, click most to enlarge.)

When it’s 6 degrees F and you’re hiking up under a ski lift instead of riding the cable, something is right. Not to fault ski lifts, they’re ok and surprisingly efficient (when they’re well occupied), but as recent blogination here has alluded to, at WildSnow.com we do try to stay more on the human powered side of things while acknowledging we live and enjoy the amenities of industrial civilization. That includes baby-butt groomed ski runs to stroll up and carve down with no more concern than you feel at your morning yoga class. (And sometimes with the same “scenery” if I do say so myself, boys.)

Day route is well signed, only about 900 vert but it terminates at food and shelter.

Day route for uphill skiing is well signed, only about 900 vert but it terminates at food and shelter.

To that end, we’re visiting Crested Butte Mountain Resort (Colorado) and checking out their uphilling scene. Unlike most resorts, where uphilling is either banned or tolerated, CBMR has chosen to make uphill skiing and hiking a well supported part of their total guest amenity package. As we covered in a previous post., they’ve established before and after hours routes and a daytime route. An uphilling gear demo center is operating (Scarpa & Trab), and they’re throwing a full moon campfire party once a month at an easy destination a short hike up the hill.

Before the cynics out there attack us like the banshee screeching sword swinging mobs of Genghis Kahn, please know we’re clear that uphilling resorts is not backcountry skiing. Nonetheless, we regard it as part of our spectrum as it’s a feeder to the sport and also an excellent alternative cardio-social activity when backcountry skiing is too dangerous or too inconvenient. Mostly, it’s just fun, we do it, it keeps us fit, so we cover it. Thanks CBMR for welcoming the activity with open arms.

It ain't Valhalla but it ain't wrong.

It ain't Valhalla but it ain't wrong.

The next day we uphilled on CBMR’s designated all-day open route, a few images:


Signage at the start.


Overlooking Crested Butte.


View of Mt. Emmons, AKA Red Lady.


CCBMR General Manager, Ethan, pointing out potential uphilling routes withing the ski area's permit area on Snodgrass


Skiing up through the forest.


A lovely, secluded section that's quite aesthetic for uphill skiing.


The end of the trail.


A morning tour that ends with a view and a double espresso is a good tour.


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25 Responses to “Uphill Skiing Crested Butte”

  1. Tim February 26th, 2013 10:30 am

    your characterization that “uphilling is either banned or tolerated” at “most resorts” seems overblown.

    where, for instance, apart from jackson hole, is uphilling banned? i think we’re talking about a small handful of resorts. sure, it’s ridiculous that someone gets arrested for uphilling at jackson, but jackson is also a place with unique and legit public safety concerns connected to avalanche control work.

    as for “tolerated,” while i applaud CB for taking a community-based approach to mapping out their uphilling policy (even as the dogs component seems to rankle certain outsiders), i do not see how their policy makes uphilling any more progressive or inclusive than what has been in practice for decades at the four aspen resorts. my sense is the rules are just largely unwritten at most resorts, and unwritten rules are often just fine enough.

  2. Jack February 26th, 2013 11:23 am

    Love the slogan: “it ain’t Valhalla, but it ain’t wrong”.

  3. bryan February 26th, 2013 12:34 pm

    I wish Crested Butte were in a position to ban uphill skiing…but they aren’t. They can’t seem to sell the great skiing that they already have, and it never snows in CB, so making uphill traffic part of your “marketing” effort makes sense.

    If you think about the uphill traffic in terms of 1. snowfall and 2. terrain on offer, resorts like Jackson Hole don’t NEED to offer uphilling!

    I wonder…is uphill allowed in Chamonix? 🙂

    Crested Butte and Colorado in general, better get warm to the uphilling idea quickly.

  4. Paul Cardosi February 26th, 2013 3:59 pm

    I will be forwarding this wildsnow post to the managers at Mt. Hood Meadows where uphill skiing is very clearly banned. (As is uphilling outside the boundary, then ducking the rope into the area–even with a lift pass) Hopefully they will be inspired by CB’s policy. I would buy a season’s pass to be able to uphill here; as we can’t always find a BC partner. Thanks for highlighting this issue.

  5. JCoates February 26th, 2013 4:05 pm

    Bryan, not sure if your question was sarcastic or not, but yes…uphilling is allowed at Chamonix (and every other resort in Europe that I know of). Jackson’s policy seems a bit unbelievable in the “land of the free” but I guess that’s what we get when we stopped teaching our kids about personal responsibility and that all action sports involve some form of personal risk.
    Not trying to be uncaring, but every time the family of a avalanche/tree well/ etc victim sues the resort it happened on, the resorts pay out the money but then turn around and get it back from the rest of the skiers by increasing ticket or parking prices. Ultimately it’s the skier’s responsibility for there own safety, and this is the way it is in Chamonix.

  6. Lou Dawson February 26th, 2013 5:25 pm

    To be clear, uphilling at most European Alps ski hills is a non issue, and there are even some ski hills with restaurants perched on top that are de-facto ski resorts without lifts due to the massive number of uphillers.

  7. Colin February 26th, 2013 5:58 pm

    There are many, many ski resorts/ski ares that ban uphill traffic quite thoughtlessly. I went to the Schweitzer patrol the day before Zach, Seth and I were planning a mission and they seemed to have no clue what we were talking about , and hence told us we better not do it. We even offered to purchase nordic passes and use the nordic trails to access the backcountry (dense woods around the boundaries of the resort made us want to skin up on trails) but even that was forbidden.

    Fortunately we found a trail which was completely legal that was about 10 ft outside their boundary for most of the way up. Then we ski’d in the Catski bowls, and the Cat drivers didn’t mind one bit! It made no sense

    Even a small local hill like Mt. Spokane bans uphill travel, despite there not being any avalanche terrain!

    The problem seems to be a lack of familiarity with uphill travel by ski area management. Unfortunately both at corporate and non-profit ski areas in many regions!

  8. Lou Dawson February 26th, 2013 6:51 pm

    Tim, we surveyed a vast sample of resorts in the U.S., and uphilling is indeed commonly banned or just tolerated, hardly ever up-front included and touted as a resort amenity.

    As for Crested Butte’s handling of uphilling now being ahead of the game, In three posts now I’ve covered why we have that opinion. I happen to have started uphilling the Aspen ski mountains about 40 years ago, so I know a bit about it (grin). They do a good job and sponsor some wonderful races, and yes we’ve been uphlling around here for years. But how long a mountain has allowed uphilling is not our point. I don’t care if it’s been a hundred years.

    What we are covering is how each resort is handling uphilling NOW, in the present. Crested Butte is working harder at their uphill offerings than anyone we’ve found — and Aspen is just one of many many ski companies that essentially just tolerate it to one degree or another. For example, at Buttermilk/Aspen they have excellent signage and a marked uphill trail, but they have made no effort to mark a route that avoids using the downhill ski trails even though they have some places they could do that. CBMR on the other hand has done so, we just skied it today. More, At Buttermile they say they don’t allow dogs at any time, but that rule is routinely violated and they’ve made no effort I can detect to get a handle on the dog situation — something Crested Butte is tackling with lots of enthusiasm and positive energy.

    I find it kind of funny that a few people argue somewhat vehemently against our touting CBMR for their handling of uphilling. Do I detect a bit of inter-resort one upsmanship and envy?

    We are fans of Aspen resort skiing and have a good relationship with Aspen Skiing Company, we like Jackson even though we’d get arrested if we uphilled there, and so forth. But CBMR appears to be putting the most energy into this and doing the most with it at this time. That’s our angle on this subject. Disagreement welcome of course but I wanted to state our case.


  9. Jk February 26th, 2013 8:34 pm

    I once wrote that the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort doesn’t know a customer when they see one. Ditto elsewhere. Obviously you close the area during snow control. It’s my understanding that Snowbird does this. JHMR also banned skiing out of bounds until they turned it into a profit center. The time will come, thanks Lou for the sensible effort and advocacy.

  10. Dewey February 26th, 2013 10:19 pm


    It was great to meet you there Monday night and grab a beer together. Thanks for making the effort to come out. Great also to see CBMR embracing the uphill movement. Looking forward to making some bc turns together in the future.


  11. Skian February 26th, 2013 10:28 pm

    Hey, seems like a great place to start a list of resorts that ban uphill traffic. I would personally love to see that so when I was on road trips I knew who not to give money to. One thing is for sure Aspen resorts have had this loose program in place for years and CB is trying to do something to keep the lawyers happy.
    When we really will see uphill take off is when resorts provide food at the top.

  12. Tim February 26th, 2013 11:05 pm

    hi lou,

    thanks for your reply and thanks for trying to tackle this topic. i think it’s an interesting subject, but i’m having trouble understanding how the recent wildsnow survey of uphill policies at different resorts (http://www.wildsnow.com/8773/uphill-skiing-crested-butte-mountain-resort-cbmr/) supports your thesis?

    the survey shows five resorts that prohibit uphilling: telluride, jackson, eldora, alta (basically) and bolton valley. and apparently there are others, like mt. hood meadows and schweitzer. otherwise, more than 75 percent of ski areas apparently did not reply to the survey, and the ski areas that did have some kind of policy inclusive of uphilling… so what am i missing?

    on the aspen note, i’ve got nothing but love for crested butte and its fine people. i brought up aspen as an example b/c i’m familiar with the policies and the practices here, and i’m inclined to believe many locals and visitors would find the local attitude and policies toward uphilling to be hospitable and open. maybe therein lies the rub — what is hospitable to one person is merely tolerated to another. meantime, i’ll be curious to see how the survey shakes out and what conclusions might be drawn from a broader data set.

  13. omr February 26th, 2013 11:51 pm

    How many of your readers want unphilling rights then rip on snowboarders, sno-skates, snowmobiles and, dare I say it, tele-skiers?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against groomer skinning, especially on public lands, I just prefer to go elswhere. You have to admit, we’re all pretty territorial with our choices.

    As for JHMR, where’s that damn airforce when you need it??

  14. JCoates February 27th, 2013 1:58 am

    Another nice thing at European resorts is that a lot of them sell reduced price one-way lift passes so you can take the lift up then ski the backcountry around the resorts. The fear of litigation in the US–whether real or perceived–has most Europeans shaking their heads at us. Obviously our propensity to sue and blame others has screwed up more than skiing in our society (look at our healthcare system). To Europe all of this debate about uphilling and personal risk is a real non-issue.

  15. wyomingowen February 27th, 2013 4:54 am

    I’m not going to defend JHMR (Jackson Hole Mt Resort) and yes there are huge resorts in Europe.

    But to JK, come visit early morning during a storm cycle, how could they just close it during Avalanche Mitigation!? Read the the sign,” Our Mountain is HUGE like nothing you’ve skied before” It’d be different if you could trust people to turn around at Casper. If the sentiment is heart and skills training, we have Snow King, it’s literally, skied, snowbiked and dog walked 24/7.

    And, I think my kids might just be old enough to open the Mt Glory lemonade stand.

  16. Lou Dawson February 27th, 2013 7:05 am

    Tim, ok, point taken. I know “semantics” is a lame word to bring up in a discussion, but a lot of those resort we couldn’t contact are said to not allow it, it’s just that we couldn’t contact to verify so we wrote “no response.” Even if every one of them did allow it, my main point is that Crested Butte is doing more than anyone else we can find to promote and support uphilling on their resort. I could try doing a bullet list comparison, but that would be pretty lame as well since this is just a blog and this is our opinion, not some kind of economics business study by a million dollar consulting firm.

    If you differ from our take, that’s good and as always here on WildSnow if the discourse stays civil, we truly appreciate your take.

    One other thing.

    CBMR has a backcountry area within their existing permit boundary where they groom an uphilling track that’s open to the pubic, no charge, 24/7, and is utilized to access a fairly large and high quality area of backcountry skiing. I don’t count this in our focus because it’s not really “resort uphilling,” as there is no groomed trail to the top, no ski patrol presence and no infrastructure, but it does demonstrate their trend. More, top insiders at the resort tell me that if they can get things permitted, they’d like explore making their existing special use permitted area on Snodgrass into an actual human powered part of the resort — but no ski lifts. (This is in their published master plan, though in the same sentence they mention snow cat skiing as well, which can conflict with human powered skiing. )


    Again, I don’t yet count Snodgrass into my take as to why they’re leading in this as the whole idea is just a sentence in their master plan and a gleam in a planner’s eye, but perhaps that clarifies how they’re so far past “tolerating.”

    Note: Snodgrass was somewhat of a battle a while back, with the resort wanting to put lifts there but environmentalists opposing it. Result was the area remaining part of the permit area, but with the lift served development proposal shot down. I’m not sure where I’d stand now on that, having skied Snodgrass many times as backcountry… but also seeing how the skiers number in Crested Butte have drastically dropped and how badly the local economy needs the resort to be vibrant. Perhaps lifts and ski runs there would have been good? But now that that’s water under the bridge I’m wondering if the silver lining to the controversy is to have a resort with a whole large section of their developed area as human powered.

    Of course, the diehard Snodgrass opponents would probably like to see the Snodgrass area totally redacted from the resort permit and never used for anything but their own needs. I don’t think that’s going to happen. Instead, might as well make a purse out of what in the opponent’s opinion would have been a sow ear.

    Main citizen group opposing Snodgrass Development:



  17. Phil Miller February 27th, 2013 10:07 am

    I think many of you are missing the point. Uphilling is a feeder activity to backcountry skiing. A person who is accomplished at downhill and looking for something new can rent some backcountry gear and try it. They don’t have to buy a beacon, probe, shovel and avy exploding airbag. They don’t have take a AIRE level I course. They don’t have to find a partner to show them the ropes, keep them safe and keep them from getting lost. They don’t even have to BUY the gear to try it – the way the rest of the country does. It’s a program that can attract and obtain more people away from the lift-addiction, while maintaining all the other features of a resort: grooming, avy control and food.
    When there’s more people at a fitter level in the ski shop demanding backcountry gear, what do you think is going to happen to the quality and availability of that gear? When more people realize that it’s not such a quantum leap to go from resort to on your own, what’s going to happen to the quality and availability of AIRE Level I courses and safety gear?

  18. Tim K February 27th, 2013 12:28 pm

    nice post Phil , and spot on…

  19. Billy February 27th, 2013 3:01 pm

    I think the Wall Street Journal is stealing your story ideas. Check out the personal journal section in today’s edition. Lou also gets a mention in today’s Aspen Times. You’re going to need a press agent.

  20. Lou Dawson February 27th, 2013 3:04 pm

    Billy, we did catch that, check our Twitter feed to right. Lou

  21. wick February 27th, 2013 9:01 pm

    Spot on Phil!!

  22. Dan February 27th, 2013 10:50 pm

    What’s going to happen to the quality of Back-Country skiing when it becomes as main-stream as lift skiing? Likely the same thing that happened to Rock-Climbing.

  23. Tim K February 28th, 2013 4:55 am

    Dan, doers do, watchers watch, always been that way…… and as a new person to the backcountry I wish the path would have been a lot easier than it is/was for me. I would have started a lot sooner

  24. Tim K February 28th, 2013 4:59 am

    actually Dan as I hit the post button I did think of one major issue with making access easier… the lack of peripheral skills training ….. they had a climbing rescue this weekend on Mt Washington where the people should probably have not been there in the summer forget the middle of the winter…

  25. Chuck December 19th, 2014 8:40 am

    Hi All,
    Headed to Crested Butte then Vail – in January to escape the warm rains afflicting the great Pacific Northwest this winter. Any suggestions on inexpensive lodging in both areas? We will be mixing backcountry and resort days.

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