By mid-December, the true faithful at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Keystone Resort and Copper Mountain Resort won’t even bother waiting for the lifts to start spinning. A-Basin in particular is an early-morning favorite for a passionate group of locals who prefer to work for their turns, longtime residents like 68-year-old Doris Spencer and 76-year-old Kent Willoughby. And, since all Summit resorts are on U.S. Forest Service land, the terrain is open to the public — within the guidelines of ski area special-use permits.
Like neighboring resorts, A-Basin allows uphill access before and after operating hours, clearing the trails for anyone who prefers skinning or snowshoeing over freezing on an exposed chair. Not that the hours around dawn and dusk are any warmer, but there’s something special about trekking up the hill in the heart of winter.
Before heading out at sunrise with your uphill travel gear — alpine-touring skis or splitboard — here’s a look at the rules for all four local ski areas.
Beginning last week, Keystone Resort’s main arteries have been open for uphill travel. For the easiest access, park at the Montezuma Lot for River Run Village or at the base of the Mountain House. Access is open daily on the River Run, Spring Dipper and Schoolmarm trails. There is not uphill access onto North Peak or The Outback.
The route remains the same all season, so remember the basics: No pets, travel only before 8:30 a.m. or after 5 p.m., never wander into closed terrain and always let someone know where you’re headed before you go.
Like its sister resort at Keystone, Breck follows similar guidelines throughout the season, including no pets and no access while lifts are spinning.
That said, access at Breck is available on more trails. There are six routes spread between Peaks 7, 8, 9 and 10 — Peak 8 is home to three of the six — with no uphill travel on Peak 6. See the Breckenridge website for a complete list of approved routes. When more terrain opens, one of the most popular routes up Peak 8 will open all the way to the T-Bar: From the base of Colorado SuperChair, take Springmeier to Upper 4 O’clock to Lonewolf Access to the T-Bar Hut, and then return down the same route.
For now, watch Breck’s social media for updates on uphill restrictions throughout the season. The resort set up a hotline a few seasons ago to spread info about grooming operations and the like. Give it a call before you head out at (970) 547-5627.
It’s been a busy early season for Copper: first the U.S. Ski Team, then the U.S. Revolution Tour, and now the U.S. Grand Prix until the week before Christmas. For the moment, Copper expects to open for skinning by late December. Travel is OK before 9 a.m. on weekdays or 8:30 a.m. on weekends and after 5 p.m. all week.
Before heading out, Copper requires all uphill travelers to get a free access pass and reflective armband. The passes are available at the lower ski patrol room, located next to the American Flyer lift (behind Jack’s), from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the winter season. All you need to do is fill out an access form and go over the rules.
Like Breck, Copper also has designated routes from East Village, Center Village and Union Creek, which takes travelers to the Janet’s Cabin hut. See the Copper Mountain website or drop by the patrol room for details on the routes.
The Basin is a hotbed for uphill travel, and by now, the ski area has it down to a science. Anyone who heads up must pick up a free pass from the tickets window during normal operating hours, with openings and closing posted to the A-Basin website by 6 a.m. daily. Dogs are allowed, but be sure to bring poop bags.
The Basin is also the only local ski area to allow travel when lifts are spinning. Uphill access is restricted to the eastern edge of High Noon run (aka the White Strip of Death in November), found between the base area and Black Mountain Lodge. Access above Black Mountain Lodge is prohibited during operational hours.
One change to keep in mind: the Beach and upper parking lots are locked at 6 p.m. daily, so late-night and early-morning travelers need to use the upper admin lot near the Summit Stage bus stop.