Tucked off to the east side of Buttermilk, the smallest of Aspen’s four ski mountains, is a hidden gem called Tiehack. Pleasantly challenging terrain, a high-speed quad lift, and the ability to find powder stashes long after first chair make it a local’s best bet when it comes to scoring satisfying turns at lunch.
Yet, in recent years, Tiehack has also become known for something else: a rite of passage among hardcore locals, a stalwart bunch of cardiac-gifted beasts who opt to make it to the top of Tiehack at East Peak, elevation 9,720 feet, under their own power.
Heading up takes many forms, the simplest of which is walking. For a relatively slip-free journey, strap a pair of snow traction devices to your favorite athletic shoes. Snowshoes are a sensible option, especially on powder days.
Another popular method is skis. By adhering skins to skis and adding a solid dose of sweat effort, you can literally glide uphill. Ski or trekking poles help with all modes to the top. Once at the summit, remove the skins and point your skis downhill—many say the best turns are the ones you earn. For those who hike or snowshoe to the top, you’ll need to do the same back down—twice the workout, twice the fun.
The base of the climb is 8,037 feet, making for a nearly 1,700 foot gain over the two plus-mile route to the top. Luckily for the postal-code blessed crowd in the Roaring Fork Valley, uphilling is a four-season activity. Once the snow melts, running shoes, hiking boots, and mountain bikes all become fair game for getting to the top.
While winter uphillers need to stick to a marked route, summer uphillers take more of a personalized approach, tackling the climb as they see fit. There is a winding road, great for mountain biking, and a steep singletrack that somewhat mimics the winter route. For those who want to get a taste of serious cross-country running, heading straight up the grassy (and rock strewn) slopes is the best option.
The climb can take 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending upon your physical fitness and altitude acclimatization. Plan for at least a two-hour excursion your first time out. Skis or a mountain bike are the fastest ways down, but no matter your mode of transportation, you’ll appreciate the gravity assistance to the bottom. Water and food is available on mountain during the ski season; the rest of the year, plan for a self-supported trip.
Uphillers run the gamut from school-aged athletes, those training for races, athletic legends, and basically anyone looking for a solid workout in an inspiring location. “I have a love/hate relationship with Tiehack,” says Tanja Wojick, a four-season uphiller. “It’s beautiful, but it never feels like it gets easier. It’s a good grinder for hard workouts.”
Tiehack’s popularity has grown so much in recent years that Aspen Snowmass had to establish safety guidelines. (Designated routes are marked with orange disks on the side of the trail; the Tiehack route goes up Eagle Hill to Ptarmigan, for the most part on skier’s left.)
“The designated route is crucial for the safety of those going uphill and those coming down,” says Jeff Hanle, a spokesperson with Aspen Snowmass.
There are even uphill races on Tiehack (plus Aspen’s three other mountains). The [Power of Four](aspensnowmass.com) race series traverses all four mountains of Aspen Snowmass, including Tiehack at Buttermilk. The winter race is ski mountaineering (skimo) style on skis, while the summer events include both a foot and a bike race.
For visitors ready to join in the quad-searing fun, you can rent gear at one of the outfitters in town, hire a guide, or even check to see if your hotel has loaner equipment. If you are heading to the top of Tiehack during the ski season, time your trek to have lunch at the Cliff House Restaurant. A belly-warming plate of Mongolian BBQ tastes all the better after a strenuous workout.