Is it Safe to Snowboard or Ski in a Pandemic?

As ski areas open and COVID-19 cases continue to rise, even the most diehard snowsports fans among us are starting to ask: Is it responsible, or even safe, to snowboard or ski in a pandemic? What’s safer—ski resorts, or the backcountry? Or, for that matter, a backcountry ski area like Bluebird, which is a hybrid between the two? 

Competing Safety Concerns: Avalanches and COVID-19

From an avalanche perspective, it’s hard to beat the thorough mitigation and avalanche bombing that a traditional ski resort can provide. And crowding at popular backcountry trailheads is certainly a concern, says Anna DeBattiste with the Colorado Search and Rescue Association. That’s one reason that resorts—and their mandatory reservation systems—could look particularly appealing to skiers and snowboarders this year.

“We have last March as a barometer [for the way this ski season could look],” DeBattiste explains. “We saw a lot of crowding and lack of basic etiquette at trailheads.”


Backcountry skiers follow a popular skin track in Colorado's Rocky Mountains.

Colorado’s popular beginner areas in particular can see a number of parties all at once.


She also notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on a surge in interest in backcountry skiing and splitboarding this year. That could exacerbate crowding problems. It’s also possible that more users could result in more human-triggered avalanches. This is especially true in a state as notorious for its unstable snowpack as Colorado.

“The number of human-triggered avalanches we have is based on the avalanche conditions and the number of people out there,” explains Ethan Greene. Greene is the director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, or CAIC. “If we have normal conditions [for Colorado], and we have more people in the backcountry, you’d logically expect that we’d have more human-triggered avalanches than we do in a typical year,” he says.


A backcountry skier hikes up a remote snow chute in the Rocky Mountains.

When expert skiers hike deeper into avalanche terrain to escape crowds, that can also lead to more accidents.


Why Resorts Might Not Be Safer in a Pandemic

Even the resort solution isn’t a COVID-19 failsafe, says Bob Tierney, a patroller with over 20 years of experience at resorts. He currently manages avalanche mitigation at Bluebird Backcountry.

“At the resort, people are used to restrooms and getting a hot meal,” he notes. Because of that, Tierney predicts that there won’t be much change in the way people congregate at traditional ski areas, even with resort reservation systems in place.  

“Even if you make the choice to avoid the lodge and ride the lifts only with members of your household, you can’t escape the lift lines,” DeBattiste adds. “We’ve been promoting uphilling at ski resorts [as an alternative], though some resorts have made their uphill policies more restrictive this year.” (You can find more information about specific resorts’ policies on their websites.) 


Skiers crowd around a ski lift at a ski resort.

“You can’t escape the lift line.”


How to Safely Backcountry Ski in a Pandemic

 The third option: heading to a controlled backcountry ski area. At these locations, avalanche professionals help mitigate natural hazards, and reservation systems and spaced-out bathrooms prevent crowding bottlenecks. Plus, no lifts means no waiting in lift lines. (As of writing, Bluebird Backcountry is the only backcountry-specific ski area in the US.) 

 “We have it set up so you just don’t have a lot of people breathing down your neck,” Tierney says of Bluebird’s base layout. “‘Space not speed’ is our mantra here.”

More experienced skiers and splitboarders can also escape the crowds in the unpatrolled backcountry by opting for weekday laps, driving to more remote trailheads, or skinning deeper into the wilderness.

Greene urges these users to keep in mind that, though it might be COVID-safer, the backcountry poses the same issues this year as it does every year.

“The people who are more experienced are just as susceptible, or in some cases more susceptible than beginners. because these are people who tend to go into avalanche terrain a lot,” Greene adds. “On top of that, they’re just as susceptible as other people when it comes to making decisions in high-stress environments. That could mean whiteout conditions, or getting into an argument with your significant other as you walked out the door that day.”

Pile on the stresses that come from living during the COVID-19 pandemic, and you’re dealing with a lot more human factors in your decision-making. 


Two backcountry skiers climb to the top of a remote mountain ridge.

The deep backcountry offers valuable solitude, but more objective hazards.


Backcountry skiers and splitboarders need to have their winter navigation skills, avalanche awareness, and outdoor self-sufficiency dialed before venturing out on their own.

“The first thing you need to do is get the education,” DeBattiste recommends, urging backcountry skiers and splitboarders to take an AIARE course (or at minimum an avalanche awareness course) and practice beacon drills until they’re rote memory.

Gaining Backcountry Experience

However, education alone isn’t enough to make you a backcountry expert. The other critical piece is getting out and accruing backcountry experience under the supervision of an experienced mentor, says DeBattiste. She adds that skiers and splitboarders should make sure their mentor understands the particular hazards of the local snowpack. (Snowpack hazards can vary widely between states and regions of the US.) 

You can hire a professional backcountry skiing guide through your local guide service, or, at Bluebird, sign up for a guided day or lesson with backcountry experts.

If any year is the year to invest in your education and play it safe, this is it, says DeBattiste.

“It’s great for people to get out into the backcountry as long as they’re doing it responsibly,” she says. “This year, be part of the solution.”

17 Must-Do Adventures Near Bluebird Backcountry

Nestled in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, Bluebird Backcountry sits between two adventure epicenters: Kremmling and Steamboat Springs. Take advantage of the prime location by sampling the full array of winter adventure, good food, and mountain town charm. To get you started, we put together this guide to the best things to do near Bluebird.

The Steamboat area is famous for deep pow and fun terrain. Photo: Sean Kelley via Unsplash


The Colorado Rockies offer adventures of every shape and size. Round out your visit with these unforgettable outings.

1. Go ice climbing at Fish Creek Falls.

This 80-foot waterall just east of Steamboat Springs freezes in the winter, providing great introductory terrain for ice climbing. (Be sure to hire a local guide service if you’re new to the sport.)

2. Try Nordic skiing at Howelsen Hill.

America’s oldest operating ski area, Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs, provides free skiing on Sundays.  

3. Go ice skating.

Howelsen Hill also offers free outdoor ice skating on its two tennis courts, which are converted into rinks in winter.

4. Soak in a hot spring.

Take a rest day to soak those sore muscles in the natural, spring-fed Strawberry Park Hot Springs or downtown Steamboat’s Old Town Hot Springs.

5. Keep skiing!

Colorado is a great place to ski, and ski-area hopping is an amazing way to get to know the state. Here are some of our favorites (other than Bluebird, of course):

  • Seamboat Resort: Steamboat is a great lift-accessed ski area with a lot of character. You can pay for a lift ticket, or splitboard or ski uphill at the resort as long as you go before or after operating hours and sign up for a $20 uphill season pass.
  • Local Backcountry: Experienced groups will also find plenty of unmitigated backcountry terrain to keep them busy. Try Buffalo Pass for easy to intermediate lines, or Hahn’s Peak for great views and some glade skiing.  

Table 79 offers upscale fare in a mountain-meets-urban atmosphere. Photo: Table 79 Foodbar

Food & Drink

Mountain town eateries have tons of character (and amazing food, to boot.) These local brew-pubs, restaurants, and cafés offer Bluebird visitors some amazing deals. 

For Date Night

Head to The Barley in Steamboat Springs for top-notch drinks in fun, laid-back digs. Sip Colorado craft beers on the patio, or get a round of beers and snacks to toast a backcountry day well-spent. Sweet perk: Bring your Bluebird day pass for BOGO drinks.

We also love Blue Valley Spirits for local craft vodka, whiskey, and gin. Then there’s Steamboat Whiskey Co., which provides all-day happy hour pricing with your Bluebird day pass or season pass (you can also grab a coin at the Bluebird base area lodge for a free whiskey tasting). 

Bring your Bluebird pass for a free beverage at Aurum. Photo: Aurum Food & Wine

For Celebrations

When an occasion calls for a little extra flair, treat yourself to an elevated dining experience at Aurum Yurt or Table 79 Foodbar. Bonus: At Aurum, Bluebird day pass gets you a free house wine, draft beer, or well drink with the purchase of a small plate or app.   

For Casual Family Dining

The Dean West restaurant in Kremmling is our go-to for hearty meals with easy-going atmosphere. Also check out partner establishment Grand Adventure Brewing for pub fare and an extensive tap of local brews. Bring your Bluebird passport for a free beer. (Get more than half the stamps? Make that two free beers.) 

For Breakfast

Grab an omelet, homemade French toast, or a hot cup of coffee to fuel your ski day at Kremmling’s Moose Café. You can also grab a breakfast at the Bluebird base area—The Drunken Onion will be providing breakfast burritos on-site this season.) 

For Groceries

Looking forward to a night in? Grab groceries from the locally owned general store, the Kremmling Mercantile. The ‘Merc has a lot of character and a great selection. (It’s where we source all our ingredients for Bluebird’s base-area food offerings, too!)

Head to Hotel Eastin for a cozy, quirky home away from home. Photo: Hotel Eastin


Whether you’re looking for a cozy mountain cabin or a VRBO big enough for the whole family, these nearby lodging options have you covered.


Check out the boutique Hotel Eastin for historic western digs. (Note: Some rooms share a hostel-style communal bathroom, which lets Hotel Eastin offer them at a very economical price point.) Hotel Eastin is about a half-hour’s drive from Bluebird Backcountry. 

For a more traditional hotel experience, try Steamboat Hotel in Steamboat Springs, also about a 30-minute drive from Bluebird. Steamboat Hotel, Hotel Eastin, and the nearby Steamboat Mountain Lodge all offer 15% discounts to Bluebird day pass or season pass holders. Just mention Bluebird at checkout. 


If a cozy winter cabin is more your speed, we recommend booking a stay at the Muddy Creek Cabins. Each one has a kitchenette, wifi, and a gorgeous view of the surrounding valley.


This lodge-style vacation rental sleeps up to 14 adults and offers discount for Bluebird skiers for stays two nights or longer (just email and mention Bluebird). It’s located just north of Kremmling, about 35-minute drive from Bluebird Backcountry. 

Backdoor Sports offers a great variety of gear—and some unique flair. Photo: Rahel Schneider


Get your gear fix and expert fitting advice at one of these local shops.  

  1. If you’re into thrifting: Check out Boomerang Sports Exchange in Steamboat Springs for a great selection of second-hand gear.
  2. If you’re driving from the Denver area: Be sure to stop by Two Pines Supply in Granby, Colorado, which sits right on the border of the breathtaking Rocky Mountain National Park.
  3. If you’re passing through Steamboat Springs: We recommend stopping in both Backdoor Sports and One Stop Ski Shop, both of which offer unbeatable customer service and quality ski and splitboard gear. Keep an eye out for Honey Stinger snacks and Big Agnes camping equipment—both are local brands, born and bred in Steamboat.

The Bluebird Snow Report: 12/27

It’s ski season, baby! Bear Mountain just got 6 inches of snow, and we’re looking at 7 more coming in this week. Get the full download by checking out our latest snow report, hosted by none other than Bluebird Backcountry co-founder Jeff Woodward.


We’ve been keeping an eye on the avalanche conditions, using compaction techniques to help mitigate the danger, and test-driving the new snow on some of our lower-angle terrain.


a stick measures six inches of fresh snow at Bluebird

Six inches of fresh at Bluebird!

backcountry ski turns in fresh snow

Just look at those powder turns.

The Best Backcountry Touring Snacks of All Time

There’s one thing we and your dentist can agree on: Nothing is worse than biting into a frozen protein bar. Sure, you can try to warm it up in your pocket, or chip off flakes with a knife. But somehow, that just doesn’t sound as good as say, homemade banana bread or a family-size pepperoni pizza.

To help you level-up your winter snacking game, we polled the whole Bluebird Backcountry squad—a team of seasoned patrollers, skiers, splitboarders, and all-around winter adventurers. Here are the results. 

Warm banana bread with a little butter.

Bonus points if you bring enough to share. Photo: Priscilla Du Preez

1. Banana Bread

It’s delicious and freeze-proof, and bananas and chocolate chips provide a blood-sugar lift without being overly sweet. “This was my go-to for mega-cold ice climbing days before I started skiing. It’s still the best winter snack there is,” says our storytelling lead Corey Buhay.

2. Poptarts

They’re great pocket-temperature, and even better frozen. Plus, the added nostalgia points keep these high on our list of classics.

A volunteer cooks bacon at the Bluebird Backcountry ski area.

We’ll be serving up free bacon at Bluebird Backcountry all season long. Photo: Doug McLennon

3. Pocket Bacon

Crunchy. Salty. Oh, so perfect. Don’t have time to make yourself a pound of hickory-smoked before your ski day? We’ve got you covered. Head to Bluebird’s Perch warming hut, where we’ll be serving bacon strips hot and fresh off the grill all day, every day.

4. Cinnamon Raisin Bagel with Cream Cheese

This sweet, creamy classic is an easy make-ahead meal that always hits the spot. It’s a freeze-proof winter snack, and bagels have natural structural integrity: “It doesn’t get smooshed in your pack like a sandwich,” says Bluebird Planning Squad Member Doug McLennan.

Breakfast burritos make a great winter snack for adventures on skis.

Breakfast, lunch—when you’re backcountry skiing of splitboarding, it’s always a good time for a burrito. Photo: Rob McLennon

5. Breakfast Burritos

Make two in the morning, and you’ll have both a hot breakfast and a perfect, high-protein lunch. “They’re still delicious, even if slightly chilly from riding in your pack,” says Bluebird marketing guru Emma Walker of her go-to winter snack.

6. Full-fat Trail Mix

This is an easy recipe: Coconut flakes, cashews, and dark chocolate chips. It’s all the best parts of trail mix, but with none of the tooth-breakers. Plus, the high-fat content of the ingredients means they’re relatively lightweight, high-calorie, and ideally suited to providing all-day fuel on the mountain.

pepperoni pizza as an ideal snack for backcountry skiing and splitboarding

Whats better than hot pizza? Cold pizza after 1,000 feet of vertical gain. Photo: Amirali Mirhashemian

7. Cold Pizza

Step one: Buy a large pepperoni pizza the night before your backcountry ski or splitboard day. Step two: Fold it into quarters and stuff it into a gallon zip-top bag. Step three: Enjoy your favorite food, all day long.

8. Salted Baked Potato

It’s tough to replenish electrolytes on the mountain, especially when you’re not in the mood for goos or gummies. Our fix: Throw a few small potatoes in the oven when you wake up. Right as you’re walking out the door, pull them out, roll them in salt, wrap them in tin foil, and stick them in your pockets. “A friend of mine once pulled one out during an adventure race, still warm—it was amazing,” says Bluebird team member Rob McLennan.

9. Toasted Banana Peanut-Butter Sandwich

Almost like the classic PB&J, but way more elevated. Well-toasted bread provides a satisfying crunch come lunchtime, and the natural sugars and fiber from the banana will keep you energized during those final laps.

Bring hot soup in a thermos for your next backcountry ski tour.

Bonus: You can drink the broth. Photo: Jonas Jacobsson

10. Hot Soup in a Thermos

In the morning, throw some ramen noodles into hot broth and seal tight (we like fancy ramen and those KeenOne quinoa cups, which is why we convinced the Bluebird Snack Yurt to offer our flavors.) By lunch, they’ll be soft enough to slurp, and you’ll have a hot, hydrating meal. 

11. A Flask of Maple Syrup

Don’t knock it until you try it. A quick hit of Grade A maple syrup brings you right out of a low blood-sugar bonk. “Never leave home without it,” says rental gear fleetmaster Brock Nelson.

12. Hot Coffee

Coffee is a food, right? Bring a thermos in the morning to keep you warm and energized. (If you forget to fill up, grab Alpine Start or Wild Barn Cold Brew at the Bluebird base area to get your caffeine fix.)

13. Whitney’s Famous Power Balls

These bite-sized morsels have everything you need for a day of hard charging. Whitney Bradberry, Bluebird’s social media extraordinaire, was generous enough to share her special recipe:


  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup unsweetened peanut butter 
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • Flax seeds (ground or whole), to taste
  • Dark chocolate chips, to taste 
  • Dried cranberries or pomegranate seeds, to taste


  • Combine ingredients in a large bowl until the mixture is wet enough to form clumps. (If too sticky, add more oats) 
  • Roll into balls with your hands. Let chill in the fridge. 
  • Pack a few into a zip-top bag and throw into your pack the morning before your backcountry ski touring or splitboarding outing

The Bluebird Snow Report: 12/17

Here at Bear Mountain, it’s starting to look like winter. Our base is between 30 and 60 centimeters deep in most places, which is providing enough coverage to skin, but not quite enough to downhill ski everywhere. Fortunately, we’re expecting a few inches in the next week.

Get the full analysis from Bluebird Backcountry co-founder Jeff Woodward and seasoned patroller Bob Tierney:

10 Reasons to Start Backcountry Skiing or Splitboarding

Backcountry skiing and splitboarding are having a moment, but plenty of adventurous folks are still on the fence about giving it a try. Maybe that describes you. Maybe it describes a friend or partner you’re trying to convince. Either way, we made this list to help you take the plunge.

1. It’s better than snowshoeing.

Ok, we’re a little biased, but backcountry touring is definitely cooler than post-holing in snowshoes. Skinning on AT skis or a splitboard is the most efficient way to cover distance over deep snow.

2. You can do it anywhere.

No need to drive hours to the nearest resort. Once you learn to tour safely, any mountain can be your playground. (Brand new? Bluebird Backcountry is a great place to practice backcountry skiing or splitboarding in a more controlled environment.)

3. It’s great exercise.

Legs, arms, core—touring is basically nature’s elliptical. Plus, just think how good that burger will taste when you’ve been charging uphill all day.

4. It’s better for the environment.

It’s easy math: Ski lifts run on fossil fuels; your legs run on burritos. The latter produce a lot less greenhouse gas. (We can’t speak to the other kind of gas, though.) Backcountry touring is one easy way to reduce your impact as a skier or snowboarder.


Four backcountry skiers explore the mountain terrain of Bluebird Backcountry.

Skiers explore the terrain of Bluebird Backcountry. No lifts, no lift lines…dreamy, right? Photo: Whitney Bradberry

5. You won’t get cold.

Ever stripped down to your T-shirt on a lift? We didn’t think so. While resorts have you sitting still and cooling off between runs, skinning uphill keeps you moving at a steady pace and staying toasty all day long.

6. Backcountry skiing and splitboarding are easy to learn.

The backcountry does have a learning curve, but most of it is getting a feel for ungroomed snow and understanding avalanche safety (which you can learn in beginner-friendly backcountry education programs). The actual motion of skinning? It’s as simple as walking—just way more fun.

7. You’ll save money.

Yes, getting the appropriate backcountry setup and avalanche safety education can be expensive. But the lifetime savings of not having to buy a big resort pass—or overpriced resort food—more than makes up for the initial investment.


A group of backcountry skiers and splitboarders take in a snowy mountain view.

Backcountry skiing and splitboarding = finding gorgeous views with your best buds. Photo: Whitney Bradberry

8. It opens up new objectives.

Maybe you’re not sure about backcountry skiing or splitboarding because you’ve already got your winter “thing.” Maybe it’s ice climbing, winter camping, photography, or even alpine ice skating. Learn to backcountry ski, and you’ll be able to reach cooler campsites, more ice, and better views with one of the most efficient modes of winter travel around.

9. You’ll experience the soul of winter.

Resorts can be loud and crowded. At times, they feel artificial. Backcountry touring lets you access the quiet peace of nature under snow—something that can be tougher to find at resorts.

10. The turns are way sweeter.

Learn to backcountry ski or splitboard, and you won’t have to fight for first chair to get first tracks. Plus, when you’ve worked hard to gain a ridge or summit, you appreciate every turn so much more.