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Uphilling: The Thrill of Skinning and Skiing Glenwood’s Backcountry Runs

As winter arrives in the mountains around Glenwood Springs, a hardy breed of outdoor enthusiasts emerge in the woodlands and on the snowcapped peaks around the hot springs town, ready to embrace the exhilarating sport of uphilling.

Uphilling, also known as skinning or ski touring, combines the hard work of backcountry trekking with the sweet adrenaline rush of skiing down a single pristine run. What’s the appeal of so much effort for the return of just one run? It’s simple—the pure joy of earning your turns.

Bill Young, a long-time Glenwood Springs local and all-around outdoor enthusiast has been skinning in the area for a decade and shares what he’s learned in 10 years of uphilling, including some of his favorite routes.

A Sport on the Ascendency

As a sport, uphilling made strides in popularity during the 2020 pandemic when people wanted to experience the outdoors without the crowds, but interest hasn’t slowed down since then. More than half of all ski areas in the U.S. offer uphill access, and that includes Sunlight Mountain Resort. The sport will also make its debut at the 2026 Olympics in Milan under the heading Ski Mountaineering or Skimo, which will no doubt further increase its popularity. “There’s been a definite uptick in interest in skinning, which is understandable,” Young said. “In addition to being a great physical workout, there’s the added attraction of being in the peace and beauty of nature which is hard to beat.”

The Essence of Uphilling

Uphilling involves climbing up a snow-covered slope using specialized skis and boots. The term skinning derives from “skins” made from either mohair or synthetic materials that attach to the underside of skis and allow for efficient uphill climbing without backward slippage. After the climb, skiers remove their skins and revel in the descent—a thrilling ride, often through untracked powder and challenging terrain.

scenic snowy photo of Mt. Spopris

 

The Glenwood Springs Experience

Beginner. Sunlight’s Babbish Gulch are free-to-use trails that are well-traveled, maintained and clearly marked. Young advises these tried-and-true trails as “a wonderful option for anyone starting in the sport.”

Intermediate. Purchase a Sunlight Uphill Day Pass to skin up either Sun King or Ute, both of which lead uphillers to the summit of Sunlight. Sun King is shorter and steeper, while Ute is longer with a gentler incline. At the top, it’s skiers’ choice for the descent back to the base.

Advanced. William’s or Willie’s Peak is best for advanced skiers and for those who have some uphilling experience. Young says to expect plenty of steeps, some side-hilling, and if windy he advises staying slightly below the peak to change over from skins to skis. As for the descent, “Expect to be in and out of the trees. Depending on snow levels, you can either ski it or snow-plow through so you’re not hauling,” he explained. “The biggest concern I have is not hitting a tree—or at least not hitting a big one. I’ve taken out a few small ones over the years,” Young jokes.

Getting Started Uphilling Equipment Essentials

When it comes to equipment, Young’s advice is to make sure you have decent skis and your skins fit properly. “Having the appropriate equipment makes a huge difference in the kind of experience you’ll have. If you’re looking to purchase equipment, do your research. You can drop a lot of money on equipment.” For beginners, he recommends renting equipment.

Resources for Uphilling in Glenwood Springs
• Summit Canyon Mountaineering for equipment rentals and sales
• Sunlight Mountain Resort for Uphill day and annual passes
• U.S. Forest Service for maps and information

“Overall, my best advice is to just enjoy yourself—leave plenty of time, take in the scenery and embrace the work and reward of the uphill experience.”

Learn more about Uphilling in Glenwood Springs

As more visitors seek authentic outdoor experiences and a deeper connection with the mountains, the appeal of skinning continues to grow. Learn more and plan your uphilling winter adventure in Glenwood Springs today!

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ANNOUNCEMENTS

Visit Glenwood Springs

Hanging Lake winter hiking reservations are  available through March 31, 2024. The US Forest Service has scheduled a rebuild of the Hanging Lake Trail that is set to begin this spring and last throughout the summer months. Reservations will be available at the discretion of the US Forest Service, continue to check this page for updates. Visit the Hanging Lake page HERE for more information and the booking portal. 

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