Have your say: skinning in or through ski resorts?

What do you think about skinning in or skinning through ski resorts?

This is a very hot topic among backcountry skiing community. For sure it is a bit of an oxymoron “backcountry skiers skinning in ski resorts” but there are very specific reasons why all of us do it from time to time.

skinning-over-ski-resortMy reasons for doing it is accessibility, training and certain avalanche conditions. Some times I just want to skin through a resort to access backcountry while other times, after a storm, I would do couple of laps in a resort just to be safe.

Main reason why ski resorts don’t like us doing it is their liability and their insurance policies.

I understand their point of view, yet I believe there is a solution; however, there is not much will (based on what I experienced couple of times) to agree on something.

(This issue seems almost non-existent in most of the European resorts and around the world. It looks like we, in North America, tend to sue too often for small things, so we are paying a price for that even on this end.)

Usual Experience

I had discussions about this issue with numerous staff members at couple of Canadian and US ski resorts. We always ended up in a “closed, unlogical” loop, example:

When you buy a ticket, by that act, you are waiving your rights to sue them for damages. (Specific conditions of such texts can be found on the back side of every ski area lift ticket.)

I am not a lawyer, but my reaction to that was that if I buy a ticket, thus waiving my rights and satisfying their liabilities, I should be OK to skin up. The answer is NO. That has to with their “ski area rules”. (I bet, those can have wide interpretation.)

So my next suggestion was that if a more complex document (like a season permit to skin up at specific times, on specific runs) is crafted I would be willing to pay for it every season and sign it. The answer was NO.

Again, not being a lawyer, my next reaction was: “Whether it is more safe to have weed-smoking-chimneys take a break at the most invisible spots (for downhill traffic) than a very experienced person to skin up by the ropes of the ski area boundaries?” There was no definite answer on that. More or less they were leaning towards YES, but they hesitated to say so in a clear way.

No disrespect to anyone smoking anything, I just couldn’t come up with a better example at that moment; I was cold and furious. ;)

Since I know my stand on this topic, I would like to know what do you think:

What do you think is a fair solution for both parties to address this issue?
Should we be allowed to skin up at all?
Can we do laps when avalanche ratings in the area are high or extreme?
Should we be allowed to skin up only to access backcountry?
Should we pay for it?

You can take a stab, in the comments below, at all of these questions or just one, or even come up with your own. I believe, we are all very interested to see what each of us thinks.

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  1. Evan Shipp says:

    Have skinned up ski areas for many years with little problems, but it appears that popularity breeds regulation. My comment is that since most ski areas are on federal land and you have to skin through ski areas to get to other terrain that it is an issue of public accessibility. The problems that ski areas claim regarding uphill traffic and sagety are BS. A skinner moving at 1 mph should be just as avoidable as a stationary downhill skier and the skinner is more abt to be on the side of the run.

  2. I live in an area with three resorts. One is on FS land and bans uphill travel outright; one (also on FS land) allows uphill travel only before and after the season; the last (private and FS) allows uphill travel on three prescribed routes. I take advantage of both that offer the uphill travel.

    I feel that like anything, the actions of a very few dictate the policies for the rest of us. I have heard of people skiing into winch cables (snow cats use winches), over high voltage electricity, high pressure water lines, and into snowmobiles. Resorts have a hard enough time in the States operating with draconian insurance premiums that if a handful of incidents occur, it will be out of the resorts’ hands to even make the decision–the answer will simply be “NO!!!”

    Great to see dialogue on the subject.

  3. Mike, thanks for your input. Those are the issues that need to be addressed if a ski resort like Alta would take a friendlier stand towards skinning. The problem is that people are being stupid themselves at lots of situations but even then they go suing the resort for damages.

    On the other hand I feel lots of times that “resorts are making everything they can to not do anything they could” – tough statement to read but it’s what I feel like some times.

  4. At Alta, UT the main reason for not allowing skinning(up hill travel) is because of avalanche control work. It is very hard to maintain thousands of acres of ski resort without knowing if there are people around, sweeping areas takes along time especially when dawn patrol can start very early depending on conditions. And being around ski resorts there is alot on snowmobile travel, cats that have to maintain grooming routes, and a skier w/out headlamp is invisable, and even with a headlamp can be not noticeable til too late in heavy snow. Ski resorts already have to deal with fools sueing them(why are lift tickets so spendy ?) they would be asking for more issues if they allowed people to travel in said area’s w/out a written contract(lift tix).


  5. Great points Joal!

    No one mentioned this before, snowmobilers and boot-packing really fall into the same category as skinners in terms of safety, thus liabilities and insurance.

    And I think Joal mentioned (I think it was him) in our discussion before another excellent fact: “show me some documented reports of some one on skins causing an injury to a downhill skier, and compare an amount of these reports to the ones that record accidents among normal skiers.”

    This is a very valid request/question to any ski resort that is trying to kick you out based on the “safety” argument. I bet they wouldn’t be able to show you even one or two reports about this, therefore making their claims unfounded and unsupported.

  6. Great post Stano.

    I am a seaon pass holder at a resort that does not allow skinning. Like Stano, I like to train and/or get a few laps in when avy conditions are sketch. Following a few laps, usually meet up with the family for a day of skiing.

    I still tour at this resourt with appropriate precautions and have managed to stay under the radar but know people who have been asked to leave.

    Along with the strong arguments presented above I also would like to bring up two other issues: (1) the use of upward moving snow mobiles by ski patrol staff which I have personnaly nearly hit me (or I have hit them) on two occasions; and (2) the allowance of letting skiers boot-pack to certain areas of a resort.

    Snowmobiles travel at much greater speeds and even with a flag present much greater hazard than a skier moving up hill. I do not imagine this will stop at any time in the future.

    Book-packing is common occurance and acceptable at this particular resort. If they do put something in writing (which I don’t think they have), they are going to have to be very careful how it is worded as this will include boot-packing. No boot-packing would cause an uproar (and loss of some great terrain) by current pass holders. If push comes to shove, this will be an interesting little side-bar. And I am sure the snowmobile issue could be dragged into the arguement if safety is here main concern.

    Even at fast touring speeds skinners only move a few km’s per hour which relatively is only a small increase in the speed (when compared to a stationary skier) from a downhilller perspective.

    I am hoping that as pragmatic Canadians we can come up with an appropriate solution using some of the great ideas presented above. As long as we provide some compensation, are diligent with safety and waive our right to sue we should be able to co-exist at the resort. I will keep you updated how it unfolds at “my” resort this year.

  7. Colin, thanks for sharing your experience with the issue. Now I know more about the Forest Service land. It’s good to compare, as some things (laws, rules) work differently in Canada and in US, for sure.

    The link you posted above, to TGR forum, is great:

    It sums up the resorts that responded to the question about uphill skiing.

    According to the amount of the resorts that responded, mostly from Colorado, it doesn’t look bad with us.

    Also, it seems that any ski resort that is on Forest Service land has no power to not let you go, in return they cannot be hold liable, thus they seem OK with uphill traffic.

    And thanks for the compliment.

  8. Hey guys,

    Here’s an old TGR thread with some scattered info on various resorts’ official and unofficial policies toward skinning:

    South of the 49th, you can generally skin on any Forest Service land unless there is some kind of hazardous activity going on (i.e. avy control, snowmaking activities, etc.). Many areas don’t like it, however, because they’re worried that staff might hit a skinner on a sled/cat/whatever. Whether that’s a legitimate excuse or not is, I think, situational.

    Private land: it’s up to the resort. Makes sense to me, although I wish I could skin through Shirley Canyon at Squaw Valley or even leave the resort boundaries there.

    Nice blog Stano. I’m always looking for cool ski/climbing blogs and yours is very well put-together.

  9. Yah there isnt really any skihills up where I live so its not so much an issue, however when I was touring in New Zealand ski tourers had the right to access any ski hills as the skihills were on crownland. Normally we would go to the base and ask where they suggest the best skinning would be and they would show us an out of the way spot which was in best interest for both of us. This model of mutual respect works very well.

  10. David Dornian says:

    I skin fairly regularly at ski resorts, for one reason or another. I can’t see why they should object to the practice, but they often do. I mean, the ski area declines responsibility for all kinds of fixed and moving objects in the path of their downhill clients. Snowcats regularly move uphill, snowmaking plumbing is often exposed in unlikely places, and so on.

    I don’t like to see the issue forced, because right now skinning is tolerated in many places, even if it is a grey area of policy. But perhaps we could query so areas, and make a list of those sympathetic, or not, to self-propelled skiing.

  11. Thanks Alex for your input. I like the 2 feet wide corridor idea.

    I am getting more responses on this topic via different form than these comments. They pretty much call for “staying under radar” for now. I believe that’s what we are all trying to do, but I fear it will work less and less.

    Anyone wanting to voice their opinion, even though “staying under radar” is their choice, go ahead, it’s all interesting.

  12. Skiing here in Whistler, I know that legally the mountain cannot stop you from accessing Garibaldi Park, so skinning up should be allowed in this loop hole. There is also no rule as to no uphill skiing being allowed.

    I haven’t had too much trouble, just staying off to the side, being polite to anyone stopping, and doing it before the ski hill opens for the day. However, some people are just out to prove that they have some authority.

    The Resorts should allow uphill skinning, especially if people are doing it in a responsible way (proper route, void of any roll overs or blindspots, avalanche closures, grooming trails/closures, or avalanche closures – all which are usually marked). If they do not feel that this is safe enough, possibly sectioning off a 2 foot wide section for people to put in their vertical. I do believe there is a resort in the U.S.A that does allow uphill travel, maybe our resorts should take the lead on making this available for everyone.

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