Most skiers who hit the alpine slopes are there for the downhill thrill, not the uphill trip.

But for the skiers who enjoy “skinning,” the climb up the trails is what matters the most.

Skinning – climbing a ski slope with removable,synthetic material stuck to the bottom of skis – is not new. But its growing popularity is.

“The Inuits [native peoples of the Arctic] used seal skin for snow travel,” said Chris Hayward, who with Bob Harkins and other members of the “Earn Your Turns” group regularly climb the trails at Sunday River.

Steve Ochrymowicz of Greenwood is an uphill climber at Mt. Abram who uses slightly different equipment to achieve the same result. He dons lightweight back country skis with “fish scale” bottoms, which allow him to climb the trails without slipping back. He then returns to the bottom of the mountain the traditional way.

“It’s all about the up and not so much about the down,” Ochrymowicz said.”’It’s like a religion. I appreciate nature much more. I’m a hunter, I’m always in the woods. I look for tracks.”

When he first started eight years ago, he got a chilly reception from some alpine skiers surprised to meet someone going the other way.

But they got used to seeing him, Ochrymowicz said.

“Now they wave at me. I’ve got a little fan club. They yell my name,” he said.

Ochrymowicz averages five or six climbs a week. His record for one day is five trips, at an average of about 35 minutes per round trip.

He keeps to the side of the less heavily-traveled trails to minimize the risk of a mishap with people skiing downhill.

“In eight years I’ve never had a close call,” he said.

Mt. Abram asks the uphillers to simply check in at their ticket office before starting a trek.

At Sunday River skinners get an uphill access day ticket for $10. They are requested to use particular trails and follow listed safety rules, a policy that was put in place last year.

That has all worked out for Hayward and Harkins, who climb three or four times a week.

“We’ve had no close calls,” Hayward said.

Much of the time they are out before the downhill traffic starts.

Harkins, on his alpine skis, and Hayward, on his telemarks, head up the mountain with other Earn Your Turn members at 5:15 a.m., wearing headlamps.

This winter, the early start has meant regularly braving sub-zero temperatures. But it doesn’t take long to warm up.

For Hayward, the exercise is also a way to stay in shape for rescue missions with his Mahoosuc Mountain Rescue team. And he uses the skis with skins on some of the rescues.

“I use the technique to go into the woods to get people,” he said.

He’s been skinning for 20 years, much longer than many. Harkins has been at it for four.

Over the course of the winter, Harkins uses an app on his cell phone to track the total number of vertical feet he has climbed. Last year he totaled 100,000. “I got there in April,” he said.

An average climb is between 1,400 and 1,800 feet. This year Harkins expects to hit 125,000 feet.

But it’s not just about reaching goals.

“It’s about getting out early in the morning, the solitude, and the exercise,” said Harkins.

While Sunday River and Mt. Abram welcome responsible skinning skiers, some ski areas do not allow them because of concerns about liability in case of collisions.

But Ochrymowicz compares uphill ski climbing to skiers who pause along the trail on their way down.

He could just as well be, he said, “a skier who happened to stop and take a break.”

Hayward hopes ski areas that ban skinning will rethink it, so others can enjoy the benefits he and his group do.

“I hope mountains do find ways to approve of it,” he said.


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