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New uphill skiing options in Salida at Monarch Mountain

Uphill skiers, the fastest growing market in the snow sports industry, will have new options this winter with the introduction of two new uphill access trails at Monarch Mountain.

The trails, for the first time, will allow uphill users access to the mountain during daytime hours. Monarch is among the first ski areas in Colorado to offer a policy of all-day uphill access on designated routes.

Emily Latta photo by John Cameron
Emily Latta removes climbing skins from the bottom of her skis near the top of Monarch Ridge. The specialized equipment allows skiers to ski uphill. New trails at Monarch Mountain have been designed for uphill travel for the first time beginning this season.

Previously, skiing uphill within ski area boundaries was only permitted outside normal hours of operation, as is often the case at resorts across the state.

For the uninitiated, the activity sometimes called “skinning” or “touring,” appears counterintuitive.

Specialized equipment enables skiers, snowboarders or showshoers to access the top of the mountain under their own power rather than riding chair lifts.

“The new uphill policy will build on interest we have had from backcountry skiers,” said Scott Pressly, vice president of mountain operations at Monarch.

The new routes will give skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers the option of reaching the top of Panorama Lift or Breezeway Lift and Mirkwood Bowl.

To use the uphill trails, guests must obtain a $15 season pass from the season pass desk.

“Lift service season-pass holders get uphill travel privileges for no additional charge but must sign a separate waiver specific to uphill travel, said Jeff Martin, director of marketing and sales at Monarch Mountain.

The backcountry access point, installed last season, can be reached from the uphill trails.

Pressly said the trails build on success from expanded backcountry access and enthusiasm at the annual Backcountry Day event held at the mountain that brings together backcountry and uphill users.

The changes at Monarch Mountain are consistent with trends in the snow sports industry toward a growing interest in equipment compatible with uphill travel.

According to Snowsports Industries America, sales of alpine, or downhill only, equipment slid by 9 percent in the 2015-2016 season over the previous one. During the same time, sales of touring equipment for uphill access climbed by 8 percent.

“We have seen an increased interest in ski touring here, and the new trails definitely provide more opportunities for uphill access in our area,” said Nate Porter, owner of Salida Mountain Sports.

Touring, also called skinning, is done with bindings that allow a skier’s heel to move freely, and carpet-like “climbing skins” affixed to the base of skis allow movement in only the forward direction while traveling uphill.

Skinning is not limited to skiers. Snowboards designed for uphill travel are split in half like a pair of skis for uphill travel and can be reassembled for riding downhill.

There is a fitness aspect to uphill skiing that many people are after, said Porter, who likens the sport to biking.

“We have a diverse group of skiers and snowboarders here in Salida,” he said, a group that is looking for well-rounded experience that often includes touring.

While ski touring can take place outside ski area boundaries, some people choose to tour in-bounds where avalanche mitigation work is regularly conducted throughout the season.

Allowing daytime uphill at the mountain could bring new users to the area, said Porter.

Uphill policies at ski areas around Colorado vary from one area to the next and often restrict times and areas available for uphill travel, according to industry group Colorado Ski Country USA.

Two nearby ski areas, Crested Butte Mountain Resort and Ski Cooper, also offer some form of daytime uphill travel.Monarch Mountain operates on 800 acres of national forest land under a permit of the U.S. Forest Service and will open for the season as weather allows.

John Cameron is a journalist and skier based in central Colorado. He covers public lands issues and outdoor pursuits for various regional and local publications.