Snow King Mountain uphill travel

Most people think of ski season and see visions of charging downhill. But there’s as much physical and mental well-being to be found by starting from the bottom and heading up.

Not that I haven’t been loving on Snow King the past many months, but with skinning season about to start, I’m preparing to take our relationship to the next level. I’m generally a weekend warrior, and more than half of my annual ski days happen on Snow King. About 99% of these happen without me using one of the resort’s three ski lifts. I skin up almost every day before of after work, or during lunch.

Skinning up the King is meditative for me, and often when I’m stuck on something at work a lap on the King helps me figure out a way through it. When I’m really stuck on something, I might do two laps.

One winter I used the King to train for an uphill skiing race called the 24 Hours of Sunlight. It was held at Sunlight Basin, which is near Glenwood Springs, Colorado, down valley from Aspen. One lap up Sunlight Basin was almost the same vertical rise as one lap up Snow King. I was racing in the “solo female” category at 24 Hours of Sunlight and didn’t just want to finish, but set a Guinness World Record for the most vertical feet skied uphill by a woman in 24 hours. The race was in February and I pretty much lived on Snow King starting around Thanksgiving.

That season a “rest day” was two laps. Most days I did four laps. My biggest day was about three weeks before the race and I did 10 laps. It took 10 hours. Over the course of training I think I did a total of 187 laps on the King, give or take 10 to 20.

I named trees along the route, made it through the entire audiobook oeuvre of Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Bryson and spent a lot of quality time in my own head.

Several years ago, when the resort starting charging for an uphill pass, I had no problem paying for it. I looked at it as an investment in my mental health. Also, I skinned and skied on snow the resort made on runs it cut and groomed.

I had more problems with the designation of official routes. The winter I trained for Sunlight there were no official skinning routes and I devised what I thought a very elegant and efficient route from the main base area that did eventually merge with the Summer Trail.

It was difficult for me to give my carefully considered route up when the resort started its policy of official routes. I missed seeing many of the trees I had named. And the conditions on the very bottom section of the Summer Trail above the cemetery are often horrible (at best) and icy and gross with mud and dog poop (at worst).

The three official routes are the Summer Trail, the Cats Route and the Bootpack. The first two are for skinning. The third is, as its name implies, for bootpacking.

Last winter I became a regular user of the Cats Route, which starts at the base of the Rafferty Lift. This route is slightly shorter in vertical feet climbed than the Summer Trail route, but because you’re on groomed ski runs the entire time, conditions are better. Also, if you have a couple of extra minutes at the end of your run, you can hang out by the bonfire near King’s Grill at the base after skiing down. Or pop into King’s Grill for a burger and a beer.

This winter my plan is to do the bootpack route, though. After Snow King, the majority of my ski days are on Mount Glory — maybe about 20%. Dawn patrol is my most favorite thing in the world. If there’s anything better than coming into the office having already seen a gorgeous sunrise and skied powder, I have yet to discover it.

Except bootpacking is hard and, because there’s really no way to train for booting other than booting, it’s usually not until February that I feel like I’m in bootpacking shape. I hope that by booting up the King in addition to my Glory dawn patrols I’ll be Glory-fit by New Year’s.

Snow King uphill passes cost $75 for the season or $10 a day. They are available at Snow King Mountain Sports. When you get your day or season pass, you’ll have to sign a waiver in which you agree to follow the designated routes.

When the King’s lifts are closed, you are not required to follow the official routes, but you should be aware of groomers at work and give them a wide berth, especially any on a winch. If the winch cable snaps and you’re anywhere near it, you could be seriously injured.

Dogs are not allowed on Snow King during its operating hours. Skinners on the mountain before sunrise and after sunset are required to use a headlamp.

Stio is again doing its Uphill Winter Challenge. Scan your pass at the base of the Summit or Rafferty Lifts and again at the top for the chance to earn prizes.

Dina did set a world record for the most vertical feet skied uphill by a woman in 24 hours at 24 Hours of Sunlight; she skied up about 34,000 vertical feet. Her record has since been broken, though.

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