Skinning in bounds might not be as dangerous as Avalanche terrain, but there are still many things to be aware of.
Skinning inbounds is a great way to familiarize yourself with touring gear and to get a great workout. In fact, there is a strong contingent of uphill skiers who have no desire to step foot in Avalanche terrain. Instead, they will hit their local resort skin track before or after work, to stay in shape over the winter months. While in-bounds skinning doesn't include the hazard of a slope sliding out from underneath you in an avalanche, it is certainly not a risk-free activity as some might think.
You don't have the mountain to yourself...
Once the lifts stop spinning for the day at your local ski hill, a slew of mountain ops personnel clock in and start their work day. Snowcats grooming, patrollers closing down trails, and snowmakers blowing snow are a few of the things going on. So while the potential to trigger an Avalanche is not as high as it would be in the backcountry, there is a ton of activity during non-operational hours which pose a different set of risks. As a snow cat operator, here are a few things to keep in mind if you choose to utilize our wonderful terrain when the lifts aren’t spinning.
We are grateful for our states generous attitude towards the uphill community, and we want to keep it that way!
Snowcats are dangerous.
I am often surprised at how comfortable people are being close to a snowcat. Not only are these machines heavy and potentially deadly, but visibility is often zero for drivers. It’s essentially like operating a heavy piece of machinery inside of a snowglobe. It is extremely nerve racking as a snowcat operator when a skier appears suddenly or worse, ends up on the blade of your cat! Please do us a favor uphillers by wearing a headlamp and if you choose to skin with headphones, keep the volume low enough so you can hear us coming. Oftentimes we are working on a tight schedule and hustling to get projects finished. This is especially true in the morning hours when many skiers like to get a lap in. In order to allow us to keep working and keep you safe, it is imperative that resort skinners are not only aware, but willing to get out of the way of Snowcats. Please give us the right of way!
Inside the Snowglobe
Respect the rules.
It is important to not only be aware of these hazards, but to respect your local ski areas rules with regards to uphill travel. To the rejoice of ski-tourer everywhere, the majority of ski areas in the U.S. allow uphill travel in some capacity which is pretty amazing. However, when your local area restricts access to a particular route or to a certain time of day (this information can be found on most ski area websites) it is because they are trying to keep you safe. For example, on Aspen Mountain where I work, we allow uphill travel before 9am when the lifts open on a designated route (Spar Gulch for those of you who are familiar with the area). This is because our mountain funnels into a valley, and during the daytime there is too much skier traffic for this to be a viable route. Outside of operating hours, avalanche mitigation or winch cats may close or alter uphill routes. It is important to read and respect posted signs and to stay as close to the uphill route markers as possible. We want everyone to have fun but more importantly to stay safe!
Be aware of snowmobiles and give them plenty of space!
We love skiing which is why we work where we do. In fact, many of us snow cat operators own a touring setup ourselves and love nothing more than getting into the backcountry. Please heed this advice so we can continue to enjoy uphill access at resorts and remember, a friendly wave goes a long way!
- Joseph DeMoor can be found on Instagram as @josedemoor -