Tetonscapes: Uphill all the way

Try skiing up instead of taking the lift at Snow King.

Tetonscapes: Uphill all the way

Try skiing up instead of taking the lift at Snow King.

by Lila Edythe

The Cats route starts from the base of the Rafferty Lift and climbs about 1,480 feet to the summit. It is about 1.3 miles long and joins the Summer Trail near the mid-station of the Rafferty Lift. 

The Summer Trail mostly follows the main summer hiking trail from the bottom of the Summit Lift. It climbs about 1,540 feet over 1.2 miles and is the most popular route to the top.

The Bootpack does not require specialized uphill skiing gear because you don’t skin up it, but hike up it. We do recommend using a backpack to carry your skis though. The route climbs about 1,580 feet over three-quarters of a mile and deposits you at the top of the Exhibition run.

SOME DAYS THERE might be more people skiing uphill at Snow King Resort than skiing downhill. Uphill skiing has been a thing in Europe for many years, and before chairlifts, it was how everyone everywhere got up the mountain. But chairlifts, trams, and gondolas came and most skiers took to them. Over the last decade though, skiers in North America looking for a new challenge and/or to increase their fitness have started uphill skiing, which is also called skinning. Skinning is essentially walking up a downhill slope on skis (and then skiing back down). “It’s better than going to the gym,” says Ted Kyle, who skins up the King at least once a week and is the manager of Snow King Mountain Sports in the resort’s base area. “You get your fitness on your lunch break or before or after work, and you do it outside.”

Not all ski resorts allow uphill skiing, though. An annual survey produced for the National Ski Areas Association revealed that only about half of U.S. ski resorts allow the activity. Locally Snow King and Grand Targhee do; Jackson Hole Mountain Resort does not. 

It is easy to learn how to skin—if you can walk up stairs, you can learn to skin; with a few tips, an intermediate skier can be skinning in no time. But the activity does require specialized (and expensive) alpine touring gear. You need bindings that allow the heel to be free for going up and then lock down for the descent, and boots with a “walk” mode that has a much greater range of motion than alpine ski boots. Climbing skins keep skis from slipping while you ski uphill. Traditionally made from sealskin, modern climbing skins are most often made from nylon or mohair. These adhere to the bases of skis and their nap grips the snow in one direction and permits gliding in the other; they’re removed once you get to the top. 

Here’s what you need to know to try uphill skiing at Snow King, including the details of the three official routes you must use if you go while the lifts are open. (snowkingmountain.com/activities/uphill-travel/)

An uphill pass is required if you skin up Snow King between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.($75 annually; $15 day) 

For rental gear to give uphill skiing a try, visit Skinny Skis ($30/half-day; $40/day, 65 W. Deloney Ave., 307/733-6094, skinnyskis.com) or Teton Mountaineering (From $45/day, 170 N. Cache St., 307/733-3595, tetonmtn.com).

The Stio Uphill Challenge is free to enter and allows you to track your vertical-foot gain and the number of laps over the season, and maybe win some Stio clothing. There are two challenge check-in stations at the base and three on the mountain. The base area check-ins are 1. near the Rafferty lift base and 2. by the blue ticket booth next to the Summit lift. The on-mountain check-in points are 1. at the pumphouse near the top of the Cougar lift and at the tops of the 2. Cats/Summer Trail and the 3. Bootpack. (snowkingmountain.com). JH 

GROOMERS work in two shifts that start as soon as the lifts close. “Give them lots of space,” Kyle says. “Especially if they’re on a winch.” As tempting as it might be to ski down directly behind one to get fresh tracks on the corduroy, please don’t.

HEADLAMPS are required when skinning/skiing before and after the lifts close.

DOGS are not allowed on the mountain when lifts are running. They are allowed—and don’t even have to be on a leash—when the lifts aren’t running. Because few things are as gross as skinning/skiing through dog poop, please use the free bags at the Mutt Mitt stations at the base to pick up your dog’s deposits.