According to SnowSports Industries America (SIA), human-powered snowsports, which includes backcountry skiing and touring, is becoming one of the fastest growing sectors of the winter sports industry. Studies from SIA have shown that nearly seven million skiers and snowboarders explored the backcountry in 2016/17, a 15 percent increase from the previous season, and sales of backcountry ski equipment see a similar increase year over year.
But a lot of skiers aren't just using their gear in the backcountry--as access to better and lighter touring equipment has become available, many resorts across the U.S. are also seeing a significnt uptick in visitors opting to skip the lift line and skin up the hill themselves.
In reaction to this growing population of their clientele, resorts are utilizing several different methods to cater to both their existing downhill visitors as well as the new uphillers. "Generally speaking, resorts are looking for more ways to create access," says Nick Sargent, president of SIA. "When you look at uphill travel, it's an easy way to provide something new to your consumer."
Many resorts, like Snow King in Wyoming, Eldora in Colorado, and Big Sky in Montana have opted to charge skiers for uphill access. Snow King and Eldora have separate season and day passes for those looking to just ski uphill, while Big Sky requires all uphill users to have a valid full-mountain season or day pass.
Other ski areas are choosing not to charge a fee but rather restrict the times and routes skiers may use for uphill access. Loveland Ski Area in Colorado made the decision this year to only allow uphill skiing outside of regular operating hours. "The biggest reason is that it was becoming a safety issue," says Phil Johnson, the assistant ski patrol director at Loveland. "Even though we were designating and instructing people to stay to the side of the hill and follow signage, they would get off track and pose a hazard to our downhill guests. When you've got a flow of downhill skiers and continue to add more and more uphillers, there's just more of a hazard."
While many ski areas are putting stricter limits on when and where people can ski uphill, the fact that they're still allowing it is something to be celebrated says Ram Mikulas, president of the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association. "Most resorts are operating on U.S. Forest Land with permits. They ultimately get to decide whether or not it's allowed," says Mikulas. "The awesome thing is that resorts are recognizing this growing demand, and are providing uphill access in a safe environment."