Early-season uphill access at Keystone, Copper, Breckenridge and A-Basin | SummitDaily.com

Early-season uphill access at Keystone, Copper, Breckenridge and A-Basin

There's something oddly exciting about the White Strip of Death.

At Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, home to the unofficial strip (also known as High Noon run), hundreds of people waited in line for upwards of 30 minutes in the first two weeks of the season for a brief taste of white gold. For most, it was worth the wait, even if such a long delay for barren terrain would make folks questions their sanity in January.

But, come January, the true A-Basin faithful won't even bother waiting for the lift to start spinning. The ski area is a 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 liberating about trekking up the hill in the heart of winter.

November is a different beast. Thanks to snowmaking and grooming operations, all four Summit County resorts limit uphill travel early in the season. The slopes will open for uphill travel soon enough, but, until then, it pays to study up on the rules for early and peak-season travel.

Keystone

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Snow, snow and more snow in the past week has made a world of difference at Keystone Resort. The resort opened with just one run and download-only service on Nov. 6. By Nov. 11, skiers and boarders were greeted by an early-season terrain park and top-to-bottom service on River Run.

But, that doesn't mean the resort's main artery is ready for uphill travel. Cats and snowmakers are still working early in the morning and late at night, which means the trail is off-limits to uphill travel (along with every other trail).

Keystone will officially open for uphill travel in the next few weeks. Keep your eye on the resort's Facebook and Twitter account for any news. When the restriction is lifted, 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.

Breckenridge

When Breckenridge Ski Resort opens tomorrow, it welcomes winter with the most Opening Day terrain of the season: Three runs, three lifts and 80-plus acres of skiable terrain.

And, like its sister resort at Keystone, uphill access is restricted on all of it. The two resorts follow similar guidelines throughout the season, including no pets and no access while lifts are spinning.

That said, Breckenridge restricts access to certain routes. There are seven routes spread between Peaks 7, 8, 9 and 10 — Peak 8 is home to four of the seven — with no uphill travel on Peak 6. See the Breckenridge website for a complete list of approved routes.

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.

Copper

Copper Mountain Resort opened with a blessed coat of fresh powder yesterday, but even 14-plus inches in the past week wasn't enough to cover everything. The snow guns were blowing all day near the base of American Eagle, and cats were busy at work on the Eagle Jib Park just below the upper terminal.

At night, those operations ramp up nearly tenfold, which means uphill access is dangerous with so much heavy machinery around. Right now, Copper expects to open for skinning and more by January. 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.

A-Basin

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.