Uphill Skiing: Subtract Crowds and Lift Lines, Add Cardio

Sales of alpine touring equipment (skis, boots, bindings) have soared in the past decade, increasing nearly 400 percent, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm. Sales of backcountry safety gear (avalanche beacons, probes, shovels, skins), used by backcountry travelers (skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, snowmobilers) have increased more than 800 percent during the same period, NPD reports.

“Everyone now in these mountain communities has both setups, one for the lifts and one for skinning,” said Doug Stenclik, the owner of the Cripple Creek Backcountry ski shops.

Eight years ago, after taking note of the steady growth in backcountry gear sales, Mr. Stenclik opened his first Cripple Creek store in Carbondale, Colo. Business boomed, so he opened a satellite shop in Aspen four years ago. This season, Cripple Creek teamed up with a guide service so customers can buy gear and organize an outing all in one shop.

“Skiers are literally running to the backcountry and away from the mega resorts,” said Erik Lambert, who, with his partner, Jeff Woodworth, plans to open Bluebird Backcountry, a ski area with no lifts, in central Colorado.

Last month, they were in final negotiations for suitable terrain, they said.

The two met more than a decade ago where they were members of the Dartmouth Outing Club. The inclusive, nature-loving culture of the club informs their business plan, they said.

“People are looking for a challenge, for fitness, for ways to be in nature, away from the crowds, and this is something an area like ours will deliver,” Mr. Lambert said.

Their vision, to be built out over the next several years, is a full-service ski area — with parking, a lodge, ski patrol, avalanche mitigation, equipment rentals and backcountry skiing courses — where the only way up is on skins.