Inbounds Uphill Touring Is Taking Off This Winter
Uphill skiing, inbounds touring—whatever you want to call this variant sport, it’s on the rise this winter. While AT skiers and splitboarders have been partaking in early morning laps at their local ski resorts under an unspoken agreement for decades, this season thanks to the increasing popularity, that access is now becoming official. The outcome is that resorts are posting rules for uphill travel, marking routes, and in some cases adding fees in the form of uphill season passes or requiring daily tickets.
Let’s back up for a minute for those wondering why anyone would ski uphill. Uphill skiing using touring gear, splitboards or snowshoes to access the slopes is great outdoor exercise that culminates in an (ideally) fresh ride down in powder or freshly groomed corduroy. Why not just go in the backcountry you ask? Well, inbounds ski touring is generally safer thanks to ongoing avalanche mitigation work by the ski patrol, and it’s also generally a quicker outing to park at the resort and proceed straight up, versus the longer access into the backcountry (this is a total generalization, but you get the idea). Inbounds is also a great way for those new to touring to get familiar with their equipment and their touring form without the variables of venturing into the backcountry.
This season as interest in touring has grown, resorts have responded with access rules. These rules vary greatly from resort to resort, but they generally cover when, where and, in some cases, the cost of uphill touring. Some resorts allow all-day access, others only allow users to access the mountain during non-operating hours… or only during operating hours. Some resorts have designated routes, others allow resort-wide access. Some resorts require that you purchase an uphill season pass or day ticket, or simply register, some require none of that. It’s a real mixed bag.
The best place to start is by looking at the individual resort website. Most resorts have an uphill travel policy posted under mountain operations or mountain safety. The range of policies is pretty vast. Kirkwood Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, California has a dedicated Trail Hotline phone number that’s updated daily with information on uphill skiing access. The resort factors in recent snowfall and avalanche safety in its decision of when to allow uphill access, and access is only allowed during non-operating hours. Alternately, visitors to Arapahoe Basin Ski & Snowboard Area in Colorado’s front range are welcome to partake in uphill skiing, but must first purchase an Uphill Access Pass for $59 (free for season pass holders). The mountain has a main uphill access zone marked by an open/closed sign.
Back East at Killington Resort in Vermont, uphill travel will cost $35 for non-season pass holders. The resort posts daily updates in the conditions report as to which routes are open for uphill travel. There are numerous routes accessing inbounds terrain as well as accessing the neighboring backcountry.
In southern California, Mammoth Mountain has really gone all in, offering 3-hour Intro To Backcountry Touring clinics through the resort ski school. The resort also added three new uphill trails this winter for a total of six, all of which are outlined on the resort's Uphill trail map. In a twist, uphill touring is only permitted during operating hours at Mammoth, and non-passholders will either need a $29 day ticket or $149 uphill season pass.
If you’re planning on heading uphill this winter, plan on following the best practices of uphill skiing include staying to the side of the trail, only skinning in the skin track (snowshoes off to the side), making yourself visible to mountain operations and other skiers by wearing bright colors and a headlamp, and not entering into closed terrain. Take care to not compromise access for others by knowing before you go.
Annie Fast writes about winter sports and outdoor adventures from her home in Bend, Oregon.You can read more about her and her work at anniefast.com