Skinning Up the Ski Slopes: Our Thoughts on the Best Routes in Summit County

Morning views while skinning the slopes of Arapahoe Basin, Colorado.

Morning views while skinning the slopes of Arapahoe Basin, Colorado

Now that Eric and I have been skinning/snowshoeing at local resorts a few times a week, I’ve definitely picked some favorite uphill runs. The end goal is to finish the Imperial Challenge, so in order to make it before the time cutoff, I want to make sure my lungs and legs are ready for the long skin.

For those outside of Summit County, Colorado, the Imperial Challenge is a Breckenridge event that involves a winter bike ride and skinning/snowshoeing some 3,000 vertical feet; it finishes with downhill skiing/snowboarding.

Our skinning and snowshoeing has thus far involved groomers at the local resorts – everything in Summit County, Colorado except Copper. Once we go there, I’ll add more skinning info. In the meantime, below are the best groomed skinning routes, at least according to the Zerowins.

Making way up the slopes of Arapahoe Basin in Summit County, Colorado

Making way up the slopes of Arapahoe Basin in Summit County, Colorado

Arapahoe Basin
Route: Straight up from the A-Frame to Snow Plume Refuge via High Noon and Dercum’s Gulch

Probably my favorite resort overall, Arapahoe Basin is one of my favorite places to skin. The lifts don’t open until 9 during the week and I’ve never been stopped for skinning during operating hours. That said, we’ve never tried skinning past 9:15/9:30 and never on busy days. Snowmobile traffic is minimal and the views are pretty stunning.

We follow High Noon to Dercum’s Gulch. Rather than skinning up the Lenawee Face, we typically skin up the groomer just below the Lenawee lift. It’s more continuously steep than the face, but I haven’t had any major trouble w/my skins slipping. Provided it’s not crowded (which it usually isn’t at 9:30 on a weekday), I bring my skis inside the hut to take the skins off. A-Basin is best for a good, all-around skin. The route is steep in spots but not too long (perfect, since we like to sleep in a bit on days off).

Route: Straight up Peak 9 to the 9 Restaurant from Beaver Run via Sundown

Since we both work at Breckenridge, skinning up the slopes on work days is easy and it allows us to get in more days of skinning. We typically skin to NASTAR (where I work) or the Peak 9 Restaurant. Since there are few people around that early, I usually go inside (downstairs) to pack up my skins, which is nice.

The route is pretty flat to start and finishes with one good pitch. Going instead to Tenmile Station (via Silverthorne) would be an easy, mostly flat skin.

Sled traffic can get busy at Breckenridge, on both Peak 8 and 9. Drivers are usually respectful, but I always wear bright clothing and I never wear headphones. Cats and sleds can be heard from far away, but if your ears are plugged, they’ll take you by surprise.

Winch cat operations are dangerous and a consideration for anyone skinning in the afternoons. Call each resort for specific information.

Smiling and sweaty after a skin/snowshoe in Summit County, Colorado

Smiling and sweaty after a skin/snowshoe in Summit County, Colorado

Route: Straight up to Summit House from River Run Village via River Run, Jackwhacker and Flying Dutchman

Keystone is probably one of my favorite skinning routes when I’m looking for something consistently steep and longer than Arapahoe Basin. Skinning and snowshoeing (uphill traffic) is not allowed during operating hours, 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Not knowing this, we were stopped around 8:45 by a patroller who gave us a friendly warning and did allow us to continue since we were a few lift towers from the top.  (Thanks, patrol!)

Sled traffic is minimal, but sometimes skinners can run into groomers. The drivers have always been quite nice and good about recommending alternate routes to avoid posses of cats. When they are grooming just before opening hours, I’ve seen the runs closed from the top, but nothing stopping uphill traffic.

As the elevation gains, Keystone is definitely good for views. At the top, Summit House offers a great place to warm up, but since skis and boards are not allowed inside, plan on stripping the skins outside.

I hope to be able to skin two laps in the next month or so. I think I’ll have confidence in finishing the Imperial Challenge if I can do two laps up Keystone. Guess I’ll just have to start waking up earlier!