Vail Resorts gives reminder to eager uphillers: Vail Mountain is closed
Tracks were spotted earlier this week, but with snow-making operations going non-stop, uphill enthusiasts are being asked to exercise patience
A photo taken Thursday shows more than one eager uphillers’ tracks carving across Vail Mountain, but Vail Resorts has stated that the mountain is not open yet.
“Just like our guests, we’re very excited for the excellent early-season snowfall,” stated Vail Resorts senior communications manager John Plack in an email to the Vail Daily this week. “However, we all need to exercise patience while the mountain is getting ready for the ski and snowboard season. Vail Mountain is currently closed to uphill traffic. This is well-signed at the base area, and we need guests to respect the uphill closure.”
“It’s incredibly clear,” said Ellen Miller, an administrator for the Facebook page Vail#Skiuphill, in regards to Vail Resort’s statement. “They’re asking us respectfully — we need to play by their rules.”
A photo posted to the Vail#Skiuphill page shows several tracks descending in front of Gondola One, even though a sign at the base reads “No uphill access at this time.”
Plack said uphillers who ignore the closure are putting themselves at risk and interrupting the operations team’s snowmaking efforts.
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“When we can, we’re making snow 24 hours a day, which means we’re moving air and water under high pressure up and down the mountain. Additionally, we’re moving heavy machinery and snowcats around the mountain. All of this creates hazards for anyone traveling across Vail Mountain,” he wrote.
“We’ll be open in just a few short weeks, so please be patient. Once we are open, snowmaking will continue and so, guests will still need to be aware of uphill closures via signage and our uphill hotline.”
Miller said the ability to use Vail Mountain is “a privilege,” one which can be eliminated for all by a single mistake.
“People need to understand, if there is one accident up there, if somebody gets really hurt, they can take it away.”
Advocating for human-powered skiing
Vail Resorts currently grants uphill access only after hours, from 4:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. Miller, who has been skinning up Vail Mountain for over 30 years, has met with Beth Howard, vice president and COO of Vail Mountain, and Steve Johnson, vice president of mountain operations, to discuss further support of the uphill community and safety within it.
“I’m really an advocate for safe uphill skiing,” said Miller. “It’s such a beautiful sport. This is a sport that we need to embrace. We’re a world-class ski resort here.”
The co-founder of the Vail Mountain Winter Uphill race in 2008, Miller said she’s grateful Vail Resorts has allowed that event to continue and supported others, such as the 2021 Skimo National Championships.
“That event was very important, and we want more of that here,” she said.
While she values the privilege of being able to skin up her home mountain in any capacity, she said the uphill community is itching to see Vail Resorts embrace human-powered skiing to the same degree as some of its neighbors.
“Aspen Snowmass is the gold standard,” she said. “They support uphilling, they understand it, they embrace it — they’re capitalizing on it.”
Aspen Snowmass requires an uphill pass. For $69 — $10 of which goes directly to Mountain Rescue Aspen — users can access uphill routes from 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. provided they’re wearing a provided uphill strap with a valid resort card visible in the sleeve.
“Uphilling is a big part of who we are at Aspen Snowmass — sunrise skins, creek-to-peak missions, uphill breakfasts, and moonlit ski tours collectively shape our community and each winter season,” the Aspen Snowmass site states.
In a survey conducted on the Vail#Skiuphill page from Dec. 27, 2022, through Jan. 3, 2023, 54% of the 224 respondents said they would be willing to pay $75 to have access to uphill routes during operating hours at Vail, Beaver Creek and Arrowhead. Twenty-eight percent said they’d be willing to pay $99, and 18% were OK with $129.
When asked to speak to Vail’s position on the possibility of expanding uphill access, Plack referred to Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek’s current free uphill access program.
“We’re proud to offer free uphill access to our guests looking for this option outside of operating hours to provide a safe experience for guests and employees. When the mountain is open for uphill traffic, our free uphill access program offers around 16 hours of daily access depending upon the hours of operation,” he stated. “Due to safety considerations, we limit uphill access during operating hours. Safe ski and snowboard egress, and required safe snowmobile routes, currently do not permit us to offer daytime uphilling.”
Plack said Vail Resorts has two designated routes (subject to change): Riva Ridge and Simba. He stated that guests are required to call the uphill information hotline to check for conditions and route changes and travel is permitted on designated routes from 30 minutes after the lifts close until 15 minutes before first chair.
“Guests need to be on approved and open routes for their safety,” Plack continued. “High-pressure snowmaking lines, winch cats and other operations can be present at any time. Guests who deviate from approved and open routes put themselves and our employees in danger.”