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Try it: ski touring

5 luxe U.S. resorts that allow athletes to hike up the slopes

The hottest—and hardest—workout in ski towns actually takes place before the slopes even open. Uphill skiing (also called ski touring and skinning) is basically ditching the chair lift in favor of walking uphill in special skis and earning that run back down.

In addition to adding a little variety to your winter sport repertoire, uphill skiing is also killer on your glutes, core, and even your arms as you lean on your poles to climb. But, most of all, it’s one of the best ways to train your cardiovascular system, says Miles Gentry, head strength and conditioning coach at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail.

“Your first time going uphill, no matter how fit you are, your heart will feel like it’s about to blow out of your chest and your lungs will feel like they’re about to explode,” he says. (In the best way possible, of course).

Because your whole body is involved in the hike, you’re forced to pump fresh oxygenated blood to every muscle while simultaneously trying to climb up a mountain with skis (read: weights) on your feet and less oxygen in the air the higher you go, Gentry explains.

The sport isn’t new to the world. Uphill skiing has long been part of European ski culture and for some time has been a local fitness staple before or after work in U.S. mountain towns, says Dan Sherman, CMO of Ski.com, a ski and snowboard vacation booking company that tracks trends in snow sports. “But as gear is becoming more versatile and accessible, we’re seeing more and more vacation-goers take an interest in it,” he adds.

Since uphill skiing has become so popular, over 70 resorts in North America have now set up specific policies around it, Sherman says. Some limit the sport to before and after lift hours, others allow it during the day only on specific routes (while some actually ban uphill completely during the resort’s open season).

Here, a handful of places that combine breath-taking scenery and uphill-friendly policies.

How To Train

A few weeks before you clock out for vacation, get after interval training to help condition your HR spikes, Gentry advises. And spend some time on the Stairmaster to develop that glute and core strength.

Then, opt for a route that’s the least vertical and that’ll last about as long time-wise (or less) as you’re able to currently run. “Uphill, the speed will be less than a hike or a run, but you’ll feel like you’re sprinting most of the time. Plus, you have to save some energy to ski down,” Gentry explains. And study your route. “It’s helpful to know where you’ll need to push a little faster and how far you have to go,” he adds.

Lastly, stay humble: It’s definitely a physical feat, but most people also inadvertently make it extra exhausting by going too hard, too fast. “For people new to skinning, slow and steady is key,” Gentry adds.
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  • Aspen Snowmass, Aspen, Colorado

    Aspen Snowmass, Aspen, Colorado

    Each of the ritzy resort's four mountains—Snowmass, Aspen, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk—has a different policy that ranges from traffic allowed all day on any run to only specific routes before and after lift hours. With equipment rentals and touring lessons available, Aspen Snowmass makes uphill skiing accessible for beginners. Plus, they host skinning races for locals and professional athletes alike, so time your trip right and you can see how uphillers really do it.

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  • Snow King Mountain, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

    Snow King Mountain, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

    Jackson Hole Mountain Resort steals the majority of snowbunny tourist traffic, but the local Snow King Mountain is really the ideal skinning spot if you’re visiting. The slope is right in town and peaks at 1,571 vertical feet. That means you can wake up early, sweat it up in under two hours, and still make it back in time to hit Persephone Bakery and go elk viewing. 

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  • Sun Valley Resort, Sun Valley, Idaho

    Sun Valley Resort, Sun Valley, Idaho

    Idaho offers prime powder and spectacular scenery across 18 resorts. Sun Valley specifically allows uphillers access to all 121 of their runs, the majority of which are greens and blues. But you have to get it in early or late—the resort limits uphill access to when lifts are closed (that’s before 8:30 a.m. and after 4 p.m.). Silver lining: Time your ascent so you reach the top of the 3,400-vertical-foot view with sunrise or sunset. 

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  • Magic Mountain, Londonderry, Vermont

    Magic Mountain, Londonderry, Vermont

    One of the first U.S. resorts to set an uphill ski policy nearly a decade ago, Magic Mountain allows open access to the mountain for uphillers except on heavy powder days (six inches or more) wherein they have to wait until the resort opens. One notable feature: The resort has a “Hike One, Ride One” policy where uphillers earn a lift token if they make it up the 1,700 vertical foot climb of Red Chair on just their skis. Brag about the badge of honor at the Black Line Tavern après.

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  • Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Crested Butte, Colorado

    Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Crested Butte, Colorado

    Crested Butte offers access to uphilling all day, every day of the official season. They have a few different route options, some of which are limited to before and after lift hours and others which you can skin up any time, and they provide gear rental on-site. For the full experience, time your trip to hit a full moon party at the top of Ten Peaks which is only accessible to uphillers and snowshoers.

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