Powder day lures skiers to climb for their turns in pre-dawn
Endorphins are uphill skiers' reward
Steamboat Springs — Is it possible that the number of frozen fitness freaks in Steamboat Springs who take part in the sport of uphill skiing increased during the summer? It sure looked that way Friday at the Steamboat Ski Area, as strings of tiny skiers disappeared in the snow showers at 9,000 feet.
The first legit powder event of the 2015-2016 ski season performed its magic on Mount Werner Dec. 8 and 9, and more people showed up before dawn to climb the mountain on their skis than show up for the free appetizers at a Chamber mixer.
Standing at the bottom of Heavenly Daze in the gray light of dawn Friday, I spied 14 people climbing into the cloud layer. There were many more below us just starting their climb, and uphill skiing devotee Jon Wade paused on his way off the mountain to say he’d run into a large posse of skiers at the top. I confessed to Wade that I’m not strong enough to climb that high, but it’s a goal for this winter.
You may ask, in an age of high speed quads, why would anyone in their right mind climb a couple of thousand vertical feet for the equivalent of two ski runs and then go home? I often wonder if our guests at the Steamboat Ski Area look down from the gondola and wonder aloud: “Say, Martha, what do you suppose is wrong with those folks walking up the mountain?”
I’ll tell you what’s wrong with them — they’re addicted to endorphins!
Most fascinating about the uphill skiing phenomenon is that a significant portion of the hardcores who partake aren’t doing it to get a taste of free pow. Many of those same skiers who were climbing the mountain this week also have a season pass. That’s right, they’ve paid to ride the lifts, which allows them to maximize their vertical, but choose instead on powder mornings to rise in the dark, chug some coffee and snarf an energy bar so they can get there first.
I’m increasingly persuaded that uphill skiers have it figured out. They’ve discovered the sense of exhilaration that comes with starting one’s day with aggressive exercise in a winter wonderland. When you show up at your workplace (on time) after skinning the mountain, you’re ready to turn the crank and feel good about it.
If you haven’t tried skinning up the mountain, the first thing you need to know is what skins are. Since the prehistoric hunters of China’s Altay mountains first attached long, flat sticks to their feet to help them hunt game (as reported by National Geographic magazine), skiers have used climbing skins — in their case, horsehair.
Today’s climbing skins are made of nylon or mohair or both. Before you skin up Mount Werner for the first time, research the equipment at local shops, then check in at the Steamboat Ski Area’s information center in Gondola Square. There are simple rules that will keep you safe as you climb and ski among grooming machines and snowmobiles bustling about their morning chores. Reflective clothing and headlamps are a must.
Many uphill skiing addicts begin their climb at the first gray light of dawn. I prefer rising earlier to ski in the darkness with only my headlamp to show the way through the swirling flakes. There’s something about the experience that sets my day up just right.
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The National Weather Service in Grand Junction has issued a winter storm warning for much of the West Slope ahead of a major weather system expected in the area starting Thursday.