Ski The Uphill Grind

If you were to throw aside the amount of fossil fuels needed needed to power the typical modern chairlift and solely focused on what you, mountain man Bob or lady Jane, would need to burn in calories to ski up that piste, do you have any idea what it would take? Let’s do the math.

Ski touring is similar to running in terms of calories burned but you must account for equipment, skis, bindings, and boots. “Add 18 percent to the amount of time and calories burned vs. running”, says Max Taam, Aspen Mountain ski patroller and easily the fastest individual up the same mountain, faster than a guy named Lance. (Look it up!)

Let’s take some of Colorado’s best known resorts and gauge exactly how much energy Bob, Jane or even Randy from Rochester, New York would need in terms of caloric intake to make it uphill on ski touring equipment at each of these “hills.”

Each ski mountain obviously has a “longest run,” usually a green circle ski trail with a slope gradient of less then 25 percent with names like, Roundabout, Heaven’s Highway, Riva Ridge, Long Shot, Four O’ Clock and any other name that you can possibly think of where you’ll be guaranteed to run into Carl in Carhartts snowplowing down in rear-entry boots open jacket flying high on sour diesel krunk blend. Although an uphill route will never follow this trail to a tee as it snakes around a mountain in infinitude. It will go up steep terrain and zig zag slightly, so we can leave this number the same.

Note: the fastest route to the peak is not the steepest, as discussed in a recent University of Colorado study published in The Journal of Applied Physiology, it’s a 13 percent slope gradient, and at each angle you can conservatively add 12 seconds to each percent increase. But since we are using man-made ski trails we’ll increase the gradient percent to a conservative 30. In review, we’ll add 6 minutes to each mile uphill..

The average person runs an eight-minute, 30-second mile on flat ground and at 14 minutes 30 seconds on a 30-percent slope gradient. If you are ski touring (adding 18 percent for equipment), you will cover a mile in approximately 17 minutes 6 seconds at 30 percent slope gradient.

Let’s put all that together and see how fast Bob and Jane get their suffer on for the uphill on these mountains. Assume Bob  is 5’10”, 170 pounds (the average U.S. height and weight, plus one inch and minus ten pounds for mountain shape) and  34 years old (the average age in Colorado).  Jane is 5’6” and 151 pounds (same calculation) and also 34 years old:


A-Basin 1.5 miles

25 minutes; 36 seconds

137 calories Bob / 157 calories Jane

Aspen Highlands

3.5 miles

59 minutes; 54 seconds

319/344 calories

Aspen Mountain 3 miles

51 minutes; 21 seconds

274/313 calories

Beaver Creek 2.75 miles

47 minutes; 4 seconds

251/276 calories

Breckenridge 3.5 miles

59 minutes; 54 seconds

319/344 calories

Buttermilk 3 miles

51 minutes; 21 seconds

274/313 calories

Copper Mountain

2.8 miles

47 minutes; 55 seconds

255/280 calories

Crested Butte 2.6 miles

44 minutes; 30 seconds

237/262 calories

*Eldora 3 miles

51 minutes; 21 seconds

274/299 calories

Loveland 2 miles

34 minutes 14 seconds

182/202 calories

*Monarch 1 mile

17 minutes; 6 seconds

91/116 calories

Powderhorn 1.8 miles

30 minutes; 49 seconds

164/189 calories

*Purgatory 1 mile

17 minutes; 6 seconds

91/111 calories

Silverton 2 miles

34 minutes; 14 seconds

182/202  calories

Ski Cooper 1.4 miles

23 minutes; 57 seconds

128/153 calories

Snowmass 5.3 miles

90 minutes; 43 seconds

483/508 calories

Steamboat 3 miles

51 minutes; 21 seconds

274/299 calories

Sunlight 2.5 miles

42 minutes; 47 seconds

228/253 calories

*Telluride 4.6 miles

78 minutes; 44 seconds

420 /445 calories

Vail 4 miles

68 minutes; 27 seconds

365/390 calories

Winter Park 4 miles

68 minutes; 27 seconds

365/390 calories

*Wolf Creek 2 miles

34 minutes 14 seconds

182/202 calories

Again these figures are purely hypothetical and I don’t doubt you may puke trying to stay “average.”

—Joseph Risi recently became race director for the COSMIC series (Colorado Ski Mountaineering Series) where he can be seen organizing skimo races throughout the west to make skiers suffer uphill and down.

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