The Touring 20s: The uphilling future for ski resorts


Those whopping lift queue images from Vail that went viral in February seem to have been a wake up call for ski resorts over the pond, realising it's time to dial down the crowds, reduce car travel and even create a resort without lifts to encourage what the Americans are calling 'uphilling' but the rest of us know as ski touring for more chilled and environmentally-conscious skiing experiences in the future. Louise Hudson reports from the front lines...

Welcome to the Touring 20s! While Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain is positioning itself as a hub for uphill skiing, a new entirely people-powered backcountry resort is being planned in Colorado. If Bluebird Backcountry takes off, it’ll have all the usual bells and whistles - ski patrollers, instructors, guides, base building, gear rentals, high altitude hut, trails and avalanche hazard reduction. The only thing missing: lifts!

Earning your turns is the backcountry byword at Pico Mountain which has skinning and splitboard demos, uphill travel lessons, and a new warming hut for uphillers. The uphill movement is part of a growing desire to go against the flow, avoid traffic, carparking crunches and lift lines, and reduce the environmental ski boot print.

Fear of over-tourism

Endorsing a crowd-free commitment, Powder Mountain in Utah is capping day skiers at 1500 to ensure a crowd-free experience across its vast 8400 acres of skiable terrain. Deer Valley has been limiting skiers for decades, recommending advance booking particularly at peak periods.

Fear of over-tourism is affecting decisions at other resorts: Crystal Mountain announced this January the end of walk-up lift tickets at weekends. Inspired by over full carparks and long lift lines, they’ve moved to online booking only. Crowding affected Arapahoe Basin, too, after it joined the Epic Pass. Their solution: to pull out of Epic and, later, join Ikon Pass with limited days only. And a new social media influencer trend: to focus on lesser known locations to help spread the tourists out. Hence my blogging from Sun Peaks, BC for the next couple of winters!

Carpooling is another hot ticket

The 20s is the era for reducing impact with the latest trend for ski resorts to actively discourage travel by car, crowding the roads and polluting the planet.

Winter Park Express

It’s pretty hard to find ski trains in North America but the Winter Park Express (above) is a good example linking to Denver in two hours at weekends. For Tahoe skiers, there’s a train from San Francisco to North Lake Tahoe accessing ritzy resorts like Northstar California and Squaw Alpine via the trendy town of Truckee.

Carpooling is another hot ticket – Banff Mt Norquay, for example, has a COOL-to-carpool programme. Squaw Valley paired with Protect Our Winters to provide premium parking to carpool groups of three or more. So far it’s taken 25,000 cars off the road annually, preventing greenhouse gas emissions equal to 67,000 trips around Lake Tahoe.

The Future of Snow

At Snowbird Utah, the R.I.D.E. app creates carpool caravans and rewards skiers and snowboarders with prizes based on app usage. Solitude, Utah charges less for parking for three or more passengers and season passholders are encouraged to use ski buses for free, waiving the $9 round-trip fare. BusStang goes to Monarch as well as Copper Mountain, Echo Mountain, Purgatory, Sunlight and Telluride and its new spin-off SnowStang links Denver to Arapahoe Basin, Loveland and Steamboat at weekends and holidays.

With a view to reducing carbon ski boot print, Sugarbush Resort in Vermont hosted a forum this February entitled The Future of Snow to strategise on climate change and related issues facing the snowsports industry. In partnership with Protect Our Winters (who have a new web tool called ‘Find Your Footprint’ to tally up your travel, vacation and commute) the panel included big wigs from the ski industry, government, and universities as well as Aaron Rice (below, image by Garmin), an environmental consultant and POW athlete who holds the world record for the most human-powered skiing in a calendar year (2.5 million vertical feet).

Aaron Rice