VAIL, Colorado - Not everybody skiing Vail Mountain is headed downhill, and that's true more and more these days.
A group of roughly 40 local residents who enjoy uphill access to Vail Mountain gathered at Mountain Plaza Thursday evening to discuss skinning - attaching a fabric to the bottom of the ski and climbing the same runs that are downhill skied - and how best to manage the increasing numbers of people who are taking to the activity.
Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service and Vail Resorts, the two entities that ultimately decide how the mountain is enjoyed both uphill and downhill, talked about the importance of an open dialogue on the subject of uphill access.
Among those speaking on behalf of Vail Resorts was Julie Rust, the director of ski patrol, who testified to the increasing numbers of uphill access users.
"As we go up in the morning for first tracks, it can be absolutely amazing the amount of traffic that we're seeing going up the hill in this new, great, unbelievable light weight gear that I cannot afford," Rust said with a laugh.
She her main goal from the meeting was for those in attendance to put what she called "peer-group pressure" on the other uphill access users in the community to voice their opinions about how best to proceed with an uphill access management plan for next year.
The Forest Service special use permit that Vail Mountain operates under contains an annual operating plan, and within that operating plan is an uphill use policy.
At Vail, "it's always been kind of 'go where ever you want,'" said Don Dressler with the Forest Service. "Summit County, Steamboat, Winter Park, Loveland, almost all of those resorts are either designating routes for use or recommending routes for use ... this is something we're considering, but we want your input."
The input that's received this year will be used in forming the uphill use policy for next year at Vail.
"When we heard Vail Mountain wanted get input from people before they proposed a policy for us to approve, we were right on board," Dave Neely with the Forest Service said at the gathering. "It's the right way to go about it, and I'm really happy to see all these folks who are here. Hopefully you get some ideas about something that we can all feel good about to guarantee that we get good service and good recreation on public lands."
Local uphill access user Mike Kloser said he was very pleased with the way Vail Resorts and the Forest Service were handing the demand for a revised uphill use policy.
"I commend USFS and VR for the manner in which they are approaching uphill access interest, which have become very popular at the resorts here in Colorado," Kloser said after the meeting. "They are looking at this from a very open minded and supportive perspective. Those of us who participate in these activities, AT skiing, snowshoeing or simply hiking up the ski mountains, really appreciate having a voice in how this is going to be managed in the future."
Rust said the bulk of the discussion would continue next fall as the 2013-14 uphill use policy was being examined, but in the mean time users are encouraged to be vocal about how best to make the policy work for them.
"We got great fodder for a fall meeting on how we're going to communicate what you can go up, and what you can't," she said. "And it's gotta get updated real time because it changes so quickly. At least we hope it does. We want it to change quickly, because that means snow."
As of right now, uphill users should call the winch cat hotline at 970-754-3049 before embarking on a trip uphill to find out where the winch cat work will be taking place.