Robert Allen
Summit correspondent
newsroom@vaildaily.com

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November 24, 2008
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Breck to restrict uphill skiing

BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado " Breckenridge, Colorado Ski Resort officials asked for cooperation from a rugged, growing breed of skiers who prefer hiking to riding ski lifts, as the resort undergoes base-area construction and balances business operations with after-hours access.

Dozens of so-called "skinners" flocked Thursday to Breckenridge Town Hall, where resort officials discussed restrictions, rules and revamped parking plans.

Enthusiasts frequently snowshoe, ski " with the aid of climbing skins " or hike uphill before skiing back down during early morning and late-evening hours.

Inspired by an increasing number of "randonee" races that require skinning uphill and skiing back down " including Breckenridge's own Imperial Challenge " as well as the delight in being able to "earn the turns," the uphill crowd can swell to 50 or more people on many weekends.

About 60 people attended the session, bringing more life to Town Hall than most Town Council meetings.

Resort officials are tolerant of the activity, even if they don't necessarily encourage it.

Lately, however, some skinners have been parking illegally to access the limited, early season terrain and causing other difficulties for ski-area operations.

These days, with large-scale construction going on at the Peak 8 base, parking is the biggest problem.

Rick Sramek, the resort's vice-president of mountain operations, said that parking in the few employee spaces there won't be available to the early morning uphill crowd.

"We're trying to run a business, and we have an obligation to the employees," he said.

However, the parking area will be available to nighttime skinners who arrive after 5:30 p.m.

Early morning parking will be available at the Gondola South Lot and Beaver Run Lot for free " as long as the vehicles are out by 8:30 a.m. and 8 a.m., respectively.

Skinners will be expected to park in designated areas and will receive placards for identification. The skinner area in the Gondola South Lot will be along the lot's west side from the southwest corner near First Bank. The east side of the Beaver Run Lot " farthest from the Beaver Run base area " will be designated for skinners.

Sramek said skinner interference with snowcat-winch operations has become an issue lately as well. Three skinners recently were removed from the mountain after ascending a trail marked for winch use.

The cables can reach more than 3,500 feet, creating a dangerous hazard for skiers.

Any time a winch is in use, signs are placed at the top and bottom of the trail. Strobe lights are used as well, Sramek said.

"Just take a different trail," he said, adding that nobody is allowed on trails where winches are in use.

Dennis Kuhn, risk manager for the resort, said skinning at Breckenridge " an activity that began with a core of about five people 10 years ago " has expanded significantly.

"It's to the point where it's becoming dangerous," he said.

For 2009-10, early season skinning won't be allowed at the resort until more runs are open for safety reasons, Kuhn said.

Sramek said that though skinning is a great activity, the number of people doing it has created some concerns.

"We don't want to see it go away," he said, adding that other resorts discourage skinning.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort spokeswoman Lisa Watson said that while skinning is not encouraged, the Wyoming resort is unable to police the activity on the land leased from the U.S. Forest Service.

"We can't legally kick someone off our mountain," she said.

"If someone does it at their own risk, it's not necessarily our fault" if someone runs into a snow gun or "something happens," she said.

Breckenridge, too, is on leased Forest Service land.

Ken Kowynia, the agency's regional winter sports administrator, said uphill access policies vary among resorts.

"Skinning up is part of ski culture, hard to forbid. People have been climbing uphill since before there were any ski lifts," he said.

Communication is key for the best relations between uphill skiers and resorts, he said.

At Crested Butte, free "uphill passes" are available to ensure anyone skinning is aware of the rules and to which trails they are allowed access.

Crested Butte spokesman Todd Walton said safety and liability are of high concern.

"If you're going uphill and a snowcat comes around the corner, you're done," he said.

At present, Breckenridge allows skinners on green and blue trails.

Ski patrol director Kevin Ahern said there's a "gray area" regarding whether skinners may access closed runs, for it's tough to determine closures from the bottom.

"If it's closed, it's probably not skiable," he said.

Town Council member and avid skinner Jeffrey Bergeron said the resort's rules work for him.

"Everyone's trying to do the best they can," he said.

Dogs and their droppings made for another conversation topic Thursday, as the resort has been dealing increasingly with fecal specimen left on the freshly groomed slopes.

Kuhn said dogs "are becoming an increasing problem."

"Carry a shovel, pick up the poop and it won't be an issue," he said.

He also said skinners need to keep their dogs under control, as they frequently interfere with operations.

Dogs must be off the slopes by 8:30 a.m., according to the resort's rules for skinners.


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The VailDaily Updated Nov 24, 2008 09:48PM Published Nov 24, 2008 09:48PM Copyright 2008 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.