UpSki celebrates 20th year of patent |

UpSki celebrates 20th year of patent

ADAM BOFFEYsummit daily news
Special to the Daily/Phil HuffJon Harrington of Silverthorne gets pulled uphill by an UpSki near Boundary Peak, north of the Eisenhower tunnels west portal on April 10. The sport of UpSkiing began in Summit County in the mid 1980s.

Ever wonder what it would be like to catch air off a cornice while skiing uphill?The locally invented sport of UpSkiing has been allowing people to do so for 20 years. UpSkiing was created in the mid-1980s by Dillon’s Phil Huff and Dallas resident John Stanford. The tandem received a patent for their creation in 1986 soon after they formed a small company known as UpSki. Huff and Stanford refined their product for nearly three years before it was patented – a process that involved countless trial runs in and around Summit County.UpSkiing can be done uphill or downhill and on skis or a snowboard. The UpSki sail system consists of a parachute-like canopy, a vent control mechanism, a padded harness with an emergency release and a pack.The apparatus’ unique central vent system is what UpSki’s patent is based on, according to Huff. It allows riders to stop their momentum instantly by deflating their canopies. Without them, the wind could easily become overpowering.”If you’re getting into trouble, then you deflate the canopy,” local UpSkiing enthusiast Jon Harrington said. “Without the vent, you can’t physically stop the force of the wind.”

Harrington is one of about 12 locals who are active in the sport.A longtime friend of Huff’s, Harrington has been close to UpSkiing since its invention. He bought an UpSki the first year they were produced and it’s still in good shape 20 years later, he said.”I’ve had to sew it up a little here and there when we skied through rocks,” Harrington said. “But it’s held up against a lot of wear and tear over the years.”UpSki produced several hundred sail systems soon after its patent was granted but according to Huff, sales never really took off. “It’s more of a hobby than a commercial enterprise,” Huff said. “We sold some overseas, but it didn’t pick up in the U.S. The majority were sold in Norway. There’s also a couple dozen in Northern Scotland and a couple dozen in Japan.”UpSki continues to build canopies on the rare occasion they are ordered.Huff seems undeterred, however, by the limited financial success of his company.

“It’s an esoteric sport,” he said. “It’s not very popular. … It’s not going to be the next big thing.”UpSki doesn’t offer formal lessons, but Huff is willing to teach newcomers who have an interest in the sport.Like Harrington, Frisco’s Betsy Cuthbertson has been UpSkiing for a while. “Its the most amazing sport ever,” said Cuthbertson, who first met Huff while ski patrolling in West Virginia during the 1970s. “It’s a lot of fun to sail up a mountain!”Cuthbertson helped Huff test his product during the mid-’80s and also became an early partner in the UpSki company. She’s been hooked on what Huff refers to as “wind mountaineering” ever since.”At first, the whole idea was to go backcountry skiing,” Cuthbertson said. “Every spring the lift areas would close but we still had a bunch of snow.””It was originally designed to get us up the hill so we could ski down,” Cuthbertson said. “But we found out that it was more fun to go up.”

Huff, Harrington and Cuthbertson do much of their UpSkiing on Loveland Pass and above Eisenhower Tunnel.According to Harrington, the tunnel makes for a convenient venue. “Last week we parked next to the road, walked 15 feet, inflated and took off,” he said. “We can usually go from zero to whatever the wind speed is in no time.”Some days we get 60 mph winds. That will make your knees shake. … It’s not for the timid.”Adam Boffey can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13631, or at

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