It’s all uphill now for Aspen-Snowmass |

It’s all uphill now for Aspen-Snowmass

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times



New this year, the Cliffhouse restaurant, located at the top of Buttermilk Mountain, will play host to a Friday Morning Uphill Breakfast Club in which uphill skiers will be able to enjoy breakfast in the restaurant after hiking up the mountain.

The Cliffhouse breakfast will be available for purchase from 8:45 a.m. to 10 a.m. with coffee, tea and hot chocolate, an oatmeal and yogurt station featuring dry quick oats in a mason jar ready to be prepared as well as a toppings bar filled with healthy add-ons. A hot breakfast will also be available with two menu options; a signature Cliffhouse breakfast fried rice with a farm egg or thick-cut French toast with crisp bacon. Both hot items are priced at $12 and the oatmeal bar will cost $8.


Skin or hike up Tiehack on Buttermilk to dinner at Cliffhouse under the full moon. Get there early to enjoy free hot chocolate from 5 to 6 p.m. around the Cowboy Cauldron over a roaring fire. À la carte dinner options, snacks and a cash bar will be offered inside Cliffhouse. The Cliffhouse is open from 5 to 8 p.m.


The Audi Power of Four Race Series is a premier endurance race series utilizing the unique and amazing terrain of each of the four Aspen Snowmass mountains. Each race is designed to test the limits and skills of both elite and recreational athletes.


Aspen’s favorite spring ritual — a 3,000-foot climb up Aspen Mountain finishing at the Sundeck Restaurant at 11,212 feet. Participants are stretched to their athletic limits on this sensory stimulating course. With a combination of steep inclines and mellow plateaus, the race to the finish is always exciting and demanding. Attracting hundreds of racers each year, the race brings together snowshoers, Nordic skiers, telemark skiers, and Randonee skiers for this 2.5-mile trek.

The America’s Uphill begins at the base of Little Nell and climbs 3,267 feet up the Aspen Mountain ski area finishing at the Sundeck Restaurant at an elevation of 11,212 feet.


In partnership with Aspen Skiing Co. and city of Aspen, the Aspen Ascent Buttermilk Uphill Festival will return for the second year in a row with gear demos, vendors, uphill clinics and a mountaintop party on March 31. The vendor village will be located at the base of Buttermilk and feature a chance for you to demo the latest uphill gear and participate in clinics. The clinics will take place on the hour at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. and begin at the base area in the event village. Designated uphill routes will be used by all participants. There will be a Full Moon Dinner at Cliffhouse from 5 to 8 p.m. to end the event. Parking at Buttermilk is free and open to the public.



Uphill gear can range from the very simple — a traction aid on the bottom of your shoes and a pair of poles — to the high-tech, featherlight gear favored by ski mountaineering racers. Here’s a rundown of the basic categories, with a suggestion for each to start you thinking about the type of gear you may want to use.

Traction Device: If the snow’s packed down, you can easily hike up in winter boots; but you’ll want something grippy underfoot so you don’t slide backward and downhill. Kahtoola’s Microspikes are like tire chains for your feet, with toothy stainless-steel spikes that dig into snow and ice. They’re simple to put on — just stretch the rubber upper around your boot. $65;

Snowshoes: If it’s a powder day and you’re hoofing it uphill on foot, you’ll want a pair of snowshoes to stay on top of the snow. The Fitness snowshoe from Atlas, available in unisex and women’s versions, is streamlined and lightweight, with an easy-entry binding and a suspension system that lets you stride naturally without stressing your joints. $180;

Skins: To keep your skis from sliding backward, you’ll need climbing skins. G3’s Alpinist skins are tried and true, made of synthetic plush with secure tip and tail attachments. A non-adhesive strip runs down the middle of each skin, making them easier to pull apart before putting them on your skis. Start at $145, depending on width;

Poles: Whether you’re hiking, snowshoeing, or skinning, adjustable poles come in handy since you can change their length depending on whether you’re ascending or descending. “Wow.” That was the reaction of our editors picking up the Black Diamond Helio touring pole for the first time. At just 4.5 ounces each, these things weigh basically nothing yet feel strong and rigid. They are made in a similar way as carbon-fiber bike frames, begging the question “why did they take so long.” The company used inflation-molded carbon fiber, a process that takes a lot of time. (Black Diamond claims it can output just 10 pairs a day.) The Helio poles are crazy light, but you’ll pay for it at $299.

Splitboard/Skis (not pictured): A lot of choices here. Our suggestion is to check out a local retailer such as Ute Mountaineer or Four Mountain Sports, and definitely plan to attend the Ascent Aspen Buttermilk Uphill Festival.

Anyone up for some skimo?

Yes, skimo —short for ski mountaineering. Put more simply, it’s the act of skiing uphill. It requires alpine touring gear — free-heeled boots and sticky carpet called “skins” on the bottom of skis to prevent sliding down the hill.

It’s an emerging trend in snow sports that the Aspen/Snowmass resort community is fully embracing. Aspen Skiing Co. is one of a handful of ski operators in North America that allow uphillers to climb their mountains free of charge.

And the city of Aspen has embarked on creating an uphill economy that would see the town and the region become a mecca for industry and year-round recreational opportunities.

“Seventy years ago, Aspen built its local economy around downhill skiing,” said Mayor Steve Skadron. “Today, uphilling has become one of Aspen’s must-do ski experiences, like hiking the [Highland] Bowl or skiing bumps on Bell [Mountain]. Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy is evolving and Aspen is leading it.”

The effort officially began with an inaugural uphill festival as a way to carry out Aspen City Council’s goal to “support economic activities that build on small mountain-town character rather than physical development.”

Aspen is in many ways already a big player in the “skimo” culture, playing host to some of the most challenging races in North America — the Power of Four and the Grand Traverse. The Power of Four is a ski mountaineering race that has skiers ascend and descend Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain. The Grand Traverse is an overnight race from Crested Butte to Aspen. Both events draw thousands of people, from participants to organizers to spectators.

Katie Ertl, Skico’s vice president of mountain operations, said the company recognizes the value in hosting these types of events and will continue to explore other ways to build up the sport, including organizing clinics and multi-day camps.

The success of Skico opening the Cliffhouse restaurant on top of Buttermilk to nighttime uphillers is proof of how popular the activity has become.

“The moonlight dinners were off the chart, so much fun,” Ertl said. “It was such a cool energy and you get the sense like, ‘This is a really special thing to do.’”

And the number of people skinning up Skico’s mountains has seen explosive growth as well. Its popularity has prompted the company to establish policies to keep everyone safe by reducing potential interactions between visitors and mountain operations. Uphilling rules for each mountain can be found on Skico’s website,

“We want to be able to continue to offer it and that means it has to be done responsibly,” Ertl said. “We really do have a passion for it … it’s part of our history and our culture.”

And if Mayor Skadron has his way, the sport will become a local economic driver as well. Outdoor gear companies have established themselves here in recent years, and the idea is to create a job ecosystem in an industry that can stretch as far as Grand Junction, where product development and testing is a good fit for the region, Skadron said.

The city has hired SE Group, a Frisco, Colorado-based consulting firm that’s developing a recreation plan that will provide recommendations, goals and policies for various forms of uphill recreation, whether it’s skiing, backcountry touring, hiking or mountain biking.

It will be based upon an uphill economic development plan that was developed in 2016. The rec plan is more narrowly focused and is currently in development. It’s intended to provide a blueprint for the long-term success of the uphill economy, said Phillip Supino, the city’s long-range planner.

He said it’s a yearlong planning process. The consultant will spend the next year meeting with groups like area land managers, recreation advocates and conservationists.

“The idea is to bring these experts in their fields to guide the plan,” he said. “The rec plan is looking at existing conditions in the upper valley, who is recreating and using the backcountry and when. What qualities are they looking for?”

Supino said creating an uphill economy is a decades-long endeavor that involves so much more than just Aspen and its partners.

“I don’t think there is another city or resort that has framed it like City Council has,” he said. “Over time, through Skico’s very progressive policies and the public lands around us, the public is slowly going to identify us an uphill destination.”

Skico’s Ertl, a near lifelong valley resident, said establishing Aspen/Snowmass as an uphill economy could be a wise move in what has become a competitive climate among ski area operators.

“I think it could be a differentiator,” she said.

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