With increase in resort uphill traffic comes increase in responsibility
If you’re uphilling at Vail, Beaver Creek and other Vail Resorts mountains, you should know you’re in winch cat territory — and be aware
At Beaver Creek, mountain operations use two types of snowcats to maintain the conditions across the mountain. With long, steep runs in Colorado, winch cats are used for heavy maintenance and use a 3,000-foot cable attached to the top of runs that spools out as the driver comes down, and tenses up to support the 25,000-pound machine coming back up.
For skiers and splitboarders earning their turns at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and other mountains outside of operating hours, winch cats are the reason many trails are closed to uphill traffic. You can’t miss the flashing lights at the tops and bottoms of closed trails at night.
With some uphillers having blatant disregard for the signage and coming down the mountain through closed areas where winch cats are operating, officials are reminding people heading up to obey signage, call the hotline in advance to know what areas are closed — and know why they are closed.
“I uphill. I know how fun it is,” said Dan Ramker, director of mountain operations at Beaver Creek, where he’s worked for 17 years. “And I want it to stay around.”
Uphilling is a popular winter activity, with a workout going up followed by a pleasant ride down. Requiring skins on skis or splitboards, or snowshoes, full moon hikes are a popular monthly occurrence among locals. It’s also a weekly, sometimes daily activity for others.
“Most of the guys that run cats do the same thing — they uphill, we’re all big skiers or snowboarders,” Ramker said. “We know everybody enjoys it. We just really want people to see those signs and lights, call the hotline, get the information and follow the routes we provide — that’s really all we want.”
Each resort features its own hotline number.
Beware of winch cats, for your own safety
With over 1,800 acres at Beaver Creek and more than 5,000 at Vail Mountain, snowcat operations are imperative to maintaining conditions. Depending on the conditions, they could be moving snow all over essentially trying to push snow back up the hill.
Winch cats are heavy maintenance tools used for steep trails to help the heavy vehicle going up and down the mountain. In addition to regular snowcat operations, a winch cat also features a boom at the top of it and drum of cable — 3,000 feet of it. At the top of trails — such as Arrowhead or Centennial at Beaver Creek — the winch cats will attach to steel anchors, similar to a how you winch a truck out of a ditch — and make their way down the mountain spooling cable out behind, twisting and turning on the way down while still being connected to the top.
“And at night, you can’t see [the cable]. And, when there’s 3,000 feet [of cable], you might not even see the cat, and that’s kind of the problem,” Ramker warned. “These things aren’t glorified lawn mowers, they’re really bulldozers with a finish implement on the back that leaves that corduroy surface.”
Ramker said he’s seen a general increase in the amount of uphill traffic at Beaver Creek this season. He also noted there has been lots of people skiing past the signs at night marking closed areas — heading into winch cat territory.
“We’ve had numerous incidents of people skiing around signs and over the cable a couple of times which is extremely dangerous,” he said. “We really just don’t want to have anyone get hurt.”
For those uphilling for the first time this winter, know too that those hours spent working up a sweat for the enjoyment of a run down is a sanctuary to many people across the community — and they don’t want to lose that privilege.
For more information about Beaver Creek’s uphill policies, visit http://www.beavercreek.com — and save the hotline number in your phone: 970-754-5907. For more about Vail, visit http://www.vail.com, and save its hotline number: 970-754-1023.
Call: Call the Beaver Creek trails hotline at 970-754-5907; Call the Vail hotline at 970-754-1023.
No emergency services: Be aware that ski area emergency services are not available. All access is at your own risk.
When to go: Uphill travel is permitted on designated routes from 30 minutes after the lifts close until 15 minutes before first chair.
See the sign, obey the sign: Obey all pertinent signage.
No dogs: Dogs are prohibited at all times.
Stay to the side, avoid machinery: Avoid all areas where machinery is operating, and stay toward the side of the trail. Wear reflective materials and brightly colored clothing. Position yourself so that you are visible from above. Carry a light or headlamp.