LET MY PEO­PLE SKI (UP­HILL)

DE­SPITE LIT­I­GA­TION FEARS, MANY U.S. RE­SORTS EMBRACE UP­HILL SKIERS.

Skiing - - Scene - By Brian Ir­win

“We be­lieve... skin­ning is an out-of-bounds, off-piste, some­where-else pur­suit,” Can­non’s De­Vivio says. “We do not wish to in­cur any li­a­bil­ity for non-lift ac­cessed user groups.”

The sum­mit pa­trol

shack at New Hamp­shire’s Cran­more Moun­tain Re­sort looks a bit like a dorm room. As ba­con pops on the George Fore­man panini press, I sip stale cof­fee and look through the steamy win­dow to­ward the bull­wheel. Through the morn­ing fog an up­hill skier ap­pears. He flashes his pass to me, the pa­troller on duty, and strips off his climb­ing skins, and glides away.

See­ing alpine-tour­ing equip­ment in-area was once as rare as spot­ting a monoskier, but as fit­ness­minded skiers look for con­ve­nient places to earn turns, the pop­u­lar­ity of skin­ning up the slopes of ar­eas like Cran­more has risen. Many ar­eas have seen such an in­crease in up­hill traf­fic that they’ve es­tab­lished poli­cies to pro­tect them­selves from li­a­bil­ity and en­sure moun­tain safety.

The rules dif­fer widely from moun­tain to moun­tain. Cran­more al­lows climb­ing only dur­ing op­er­at­ing hours and re­quires passes. Wild­cat Moun­tain, just north on Route 16 and across from Mount Wash­ing­ton’s Tuck­er­man Ravine Trail—ar­guably the most fre­quently skinned trail in the coun­try—takes a sim­i­lar ap­proach but al­lows climb­ing only on one des­ig­nated route.

Ac­cord­ing to To­mas Prindle, di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing for Wild­cat and At­ti­tash, which share own­ers, the lift pass pro­tects the re­sort from lit­i­ga­tion by virtue of the li­a­bil­ity waiver it car­ries. Yet at At­ti­tash skin­ning is for­bid­den. Prindle cites landown­er­ship as the dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing fac­tor. “Wild­cat op­er­ates within the White Moun­tain Na­tional For­est and At- titash does not,” he says.

In­deed, up­hill-ac­cess pol­icy of­ten de­pends on who owns the land, and even then it’s un­pre­dictable. Can­non Moun­tain, about an hour west of Wild­cat, firmly op­poses skin­ning de­spite be­ing lo­cated in a state park where the mis­sion is “to pro­vide New Hamp­shire’s cit­i­zens and guests with out­stand­ing recre­ational… ex­pe­ri­ences.” John De­Vivio, GM of Can­non, says, “We be­lieve… skin­ning is an out-of-bounds, off-piste, some­where-else pur­suit. We do not wish to in­cur any li­a­bil­ity for non-lift ac­cessed user groups.”

Such a de­fen­sive ap­proach may some­day save De­Vivio’s area mil­lions in lit­i­ga­tion, yet it seems fear of lit­i­ga­tion is ex­pressed dif­fer­ently from re­gion to re­gion—and Western ar­eas seem to be more lib­eral about up­hill traf­fic than East­ern ones. In Colorado,

Skin­ning “sup­ports ex­cite­ment for en­joy­ing our win­ter play­ground,” says Steam­boat’s Lo­ryn Kas­ten.

Aspen Ski­ing Company al­lows skin­ning on all four of its prop­er­ties, tai­lor­ing rules to suit each hill. Cop­per al­lows skin­ning all sea­son dur­ing non-op­er­at­ing hours with a free up­hill pass that car­ries a li­a­bil­ity waiver. And Mon­tana’s White­fish gives the nod to up­hill traf­fic in the morn­ing and evening and even per­mits skin­ning and ski­ing for two weeks after clos­ing. An ex­cep­tion is Wy­oming’s Jack­son Hole, which, de­spite host­ing a popular ran­don­née race, bans skin­ning and even had a 78-year-old physi­cian ar­rested in 2011 for skin­ning up to watch his daugh­ter race.

But the best ex­am­ple of the Western ap­proach may be Steam­boat, Colorado. Ac­cord­ing to Lo­ryn Kas­ten, who han­dles the re­sort’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions, em­brac­ing this bur­geon­ing pur­suit is sim­ply good PR. Skin­ning, she says, “sup­ports ex­cite­ment for en­joy­ing our win­ter play­ground. Ac­cess­ing the moun­tain be­fore and after hours has been a popular ac­tiv­ity in Steam­boat for many years.”

Steam­boat’s friend­li­ness has fos­tered a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween lo­cals and the re­sort. Its pol­icy sim­ply en­cour­ages (but doesn’t re­quire) skin­ners to talk with ski pa­trol about safe route se­lec­tion. Pa­trol then grants them re­flec­tive arm­bands to sport while as­cend­ing.

While fear of lit­i­ga­tion drives pol­icy at most ar­eas, they’re deal­ing largely with hy­po­thet­i­cal sit­u­a­tions: Skiers floss­ing them­selves on winch-cat ca­bles. Up­hill-down­hill col­li­sions. Up­hill-ers ditched in the glades after sweep, left for dead.

But none of th­ese things has hap­pened yet, ac­cord­ing to an ex­ec­u­tive from a ma­jor ski-area in­surance company, who spoke anony­mously. “Although there is risk, we don’t know ex­actly how to mea­sure it at this point. It’s never been tested. But make no mis­take. There’s li­a­bil­ity in this en­deavor.”

It’s too early to know where the real risks lie and how to con­front them. Even though ar­eas with rel­a­tively re­laxed poli­cies have es­caped neg­a­tive con­se­quences, only time will un­veil the safest, fairest so­lu­tion. Un­til then, the in­dus­try’s ap­proach will likely re­main ten­ta­tive. But while up­hill skiers will need to be se­lec­tive about where they slap skins to groomed snow, they’ve still got wel­com­ing venues across the coun­try.

“Over­all,” says Ben Wil­cox, Cran­more’s GM, “we are very sup­port­ive of this sport.”

Brian Ir­win, a pa­troller and fam­ily physi­cian in New Hamp­shire, writes about Hunt­ing­ton Ravine on page 58.

Left to right » Chris Sear­les, Chris Belby, and Michelle Zim­mer­man at the base of Peak 8 at

Breck­en­ridge.

Be­low » Green Moun­tain Val­ley School nordic coach Justin Beck­with and Burl­ing

ton pol Dan Smith (yel­low vest) as­cend Stowe at sun­rise.

Left » Mon­tana’s White­fish posts its up­hill routes.

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