UpSki in C’dale conquering mountains worldwide
By Nicolette Toussaint
Sopris Sun Correspondent
Last spring, Kevin Passmore skied up and over Mount Sopris. The trip involved some hiking, but he relied mostly on wind power to go up and gravity to come down. “There’s not much else to say other than awesome!” he enthused, writing about the 10-mile trek in his blog.
Passmore is a co-owner of the company that manufactures the UpSki, a vented, 16-foot-in-diameter circular canopy that makes uphill skiing possible. UpSki’s colorful canopy enables a skier to glide up 35-45 degree slopes, working best when pushed by 10-40 mile per hour winds. In addition to Passmore’s Sopris trek and his ascent of 14,275-foot Mt. Torreys (the highest U.S. UpSki ascent to date) UpSkis have been used to climb 22,837-foot Mt. Aconcagua in the Andes.
UpSki has sold hundreds of colorful ski parachutes, and since moving to Carbondale in the spring of 2012, the company has begun manufacturing two popular lines of bike bags as well.
“We are actively designing and testing new products for bike touring. We’re honored to see growth in sales in our existing bike products. And we’re busy with production of UpSkis for the 2013/14 winter season,” Passmore told The Sopris Sun.
This winter, UpSki will expand its marketing and sales efforts into Europe and will also run “a Kickstarter campaign (kickstarter.com) to help fund new demo equipment to allow more people to experience up-skiing in Colorado,” Passmore said.
Passmore grew up in Dallas, where he was a sailing and bicycling enthusiast. He started skiing when he attended the University of Colorado-Boulder and first encountered up-skiing when he saw two skiers in the backcountry.
“ … (they were) making it look incredibly easy! One was ascending up a valley at 10-15 miles an hour and towing someone behind him,” he recalls. Excited, he talked to the skiers, John Stanford and Phil Huff, the inventors of the UpSki. The two later became his business partners.
UpSki’s headquarters, at the north end of town off Highway 133 on Dolores Way, holds huge bolts of ripstop nylon, eight heavy-duty sewing machines and large motorized knives for cutting the 24 fabric pieces that go into each $2,800 UpSki ‘chute. Passmore, who lived and worked in Glenwood Springs until 2011, says that relocating to Carbondale was “a big tradeoff” but that ultimately “it was hard to resist immersing myself in the community and energy offered by Carbondale.”
He encourages other aspiring entrepreneurs to take advantage of the Roaring Fork Business Resource Center’s education and networking resources. He also advises that “having a good network of friends and business connections to fall back on is very important,” as is “letting people know what you are doing and not being afraid to ask for help when you need it.”
A mechanical engineer by training, Passmore has used his skills not only to improve the UpSki, but also to create more versatile bike bags. UpSki has developed two popular bags: the XtraHuge and the FAT20 Framebag.
“My favorite thing in the world right now is these bike bags,” said Passmore, hauling out an XtraHuge. The 9- by 15- by 23-inch bag is indeed huge; as Passmore unbuckles it and opens the rolled top, it looks large enough to hold a golden retriever. It’s reinforced inside with plastic framing and is equipped with internal pockets.
Passmore, who struggled with carrying a backpack on long bike trips, created the big bag as an after-market accessory to XtraCycle™ long tail bikes. “The idea of having something more contained that carries ski gear, camping gear or groceries is great,” he said. “It means you can be gone for days.”
It also means that you can carry a lot of fruit. Passmore recently cycled up to Missouri Heights, harvested apricots from a friend’s tree and brought more than 40 pounds of fruit home in the double-stitched, reinforced bag. XtraHuge bags should be mounted in pairs to balance the bike; a pair sells for $250.
UpSki’s second bag, the $90 FAT20 Framebag, is sleek, fitting inside a bicycle’s frame and nestling unobtrusively between the rider’s legs. Like the XtraHuge, the FAT20 is built with internal supports that keep it from bulging. Both bags are available at Aloha Mountain Cyclery.