Everything You Need to Know About Uphill Skiing

Uphilling at the resort is one of the fastest-growing winter sports—and early winter, before there’s snow in the backcountry, is the perfect time to try it. Whether you’re looking to learn the skills required for backcountry travel in a lower-consequence setting or just get some early-season elevation in your legs, uphilling should have a place in your quiver this winter.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Why Uphill?

Like so many alpine activities, uphilling has long been popular in Europe, but is rapidly increasing in popularity in the US. Today, more than half of North American resorts allow uphill skiing. In New England, the reasons to embrace the uphill are numerous.

Reliable Conditions: Let’s face it, the truth is that Northeast snow is unreliable. Some seasons it comes late, some seasons it never comes, and some seasons are interrupted by a mid-winter thaw. Snowmaking and grooming keep the resort a reliable option most winters.

Early Season: It’s the rare (and coveted) year that the backcountry season gets started with a huge November dump. A great thing about uphilling at the resort is that once it’s cold, there’s usually man-made snow on the ground, meaning you can get skinning immediately (subject, of course, to resort-specific restrictions).

Safe Snow: Many of the Northeast’s most coveted backcountry runs, like those in Tucks, are in avalanche terrain. Thus, skiers and riders require specialized gear and knowledge. They also need time for conditions to line up. Conversely, avalanches are not a concern within eastern ski area boundaries, making for one less thing to worry about.

Off Hours: Many of us have ski bum dreams but nine to five realities. Many resorts allow uphill skiing before and after the lifts spin—meaning you can earn pre- or post-work turns during the week and satiate your ski stoke, all with the added bonus of avoiding the lift-serviced crowds.

Fantastic Fitness: Running on the treadmill and sitting on the exercise bike might get you fit, but they’re boring and indoors. Uphilling is a great low-impact workout and allows you to train outside so that you’re in shape for when the conditions are right to venture into the backcountry. Plus, the ski downhill is way more fun than anything you’ll find at the local gym.

Enjoy an Old Favorite: If you live near a small mountain and have grown tired of lapping the same three or four runs, uphill skiing provides a new way to enjoy well-covered terrain. Additionally, that cruiser might feel a bit more challenging on post-ascent legs.

Great for First Timers: Interested in shredding one of Tuckerman Ravine’s iconic runs, surfing the pow at one of the GBA’s glades, or ticking a descent of a four-thousand footer off your bucket list, but uncertain where to begin? Uphilling at the resort is a great way to mimic the backcountry experience while minimizing the risks. Try a couple of uphill days to dial your kit, hone your technique, and get some experience in a lower-consequence setting.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Best Places to Uphill in New England

More and more ski resorts in New England are embracing uphill skiing; However, uphill policies are unique to each destination. In addition to whether or not a resort allows uphill skiers, some other things you’ll want to know are if the ski area charges for uphilling and if they have a prescribed ascent route. Before heading to the hill, check out the United States Ski Mountaineering Association’s list of uphill policies for US resorts, or stick to these uphill-friendly spots…

Magic Mountain: The gold standard for uphill skiers in the Northeast, Magic welcomes uphillers at all times, with the exception of powder days (when the mountain receives 6+ inches of snow) when they ask that uphillers wait for the lifts to spin before starting to skin. Magic’s “Hike One, Ride One” policy gives uphillers a token for a free one-ride lift ticket if they skin all the way to the top.

Black Mountain: Black Mountain is the epicenter for New Hampshire’s uphill ski scene. Uphillers are permitted from sunrise to 4 pm. It’s also home to a robust rental fleet of alpine touring gear and hosts Friday Night Lights, a ten-week uphill series for skiers of all abilities.

Mount Abram: Want to know what it’s like to have a ski resort all to yourself? Find out just twenty minutes away from gargantuan Sunday River at Mount Abram. This resort allows uphill access to its trails during both operational and non-operational hours—including Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday when the lifts don’t spin at all.

Wachusett Mountain: Skiers in central Massachusetts hoping to sneak in a run before work will want to check out Wachusett, which allows uphill skiing (at no charge) before the lift runs. Not an early riser? Check out Berkshire East, where the terrain is open to uphillers from dusk to dawn provided they’re season ticket holders or purchase a ticket—they sell both day and season uphill passes.

Mohawk Mountain: Proving that you don’t need to be in the mountains of northern New England to earn your turns is Connecticut’s Mohawk Mountain. The mountain is open to all skiers, including those who want to earn their 650-foot descent, during regular operating hours.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Uphill Ski Gear

In general, your uphill ski kit will closely resemble a backcountry ski kit without the avvy gear. To start, you’ll need an alpine touring, telemark, or splitboard set up with skins (although some mountains permit snowshoes) along with appropriate boots, poles, and layers. Although you’re at the resort, strive for self-sufficiency by packing a small first-aid and repair kit. You’ll also likely want a helmet, goggles, food and water, and a small pack. One of the advantages of skinning at the resort is that the car or base lodge is often close by, letting you pack light and make adjustments to your gear throughout the day. Another benefit of being near the lodge is the ability to sneak in and warm up between laps.

Uphill skiing is still in its early stages and many resorts are tinkering with their policies, so if you enjoy the uphill make sure to adhere to the skier responsibility code and be on your best behavior. Better yet, if a resort offers free uphill access, stop in and grab a beer or snack and show your support for them. Ski ya on the trails!