Bluebird Snow Report: 2/24/21

Here’s the latest from the mountain!

Base Depth: 58″
Past 7-Day Snow Total: 6″
Current Conditions: Packed Powder, Wind Drift

Skin Tracks Open: Continental Divide, Elkhide Uptrack, Lost in the Woodwards, Meat Hill, Ruder’s Ridge, West Bowl

Downhill Zones Open: The Bearclaw Meadows, Hundred Acre Woods, Meat Hill, Ruder’s Ridge, Skyline, Ursa Major, West Bowl, The Whumphing Willows

Last week, Bear Mountain saw flurries of snow almost every day, but did not pick up the accumulation we were hoping for. The cloudy skies and blowing winds kept the snow fluffy and light however, with endless refills on leeward slopes and in the trees.

After a relatively calm, clear Wednesday and Thursday, low pressure moves back in for the weekend with chances of snow Friday – Sunday. With the active weather pattern will come consistent westerly winds, gusting up to 30mph at times. Daytime highs will be in the mid 20s, with nights dropping into the single digits.

Thanks to our Ski Patrol, Operations Team, and recent snowfall, look for new terrain openings on The Far Side this weekend!

Photo: Jeff Woodward

12 Ski Bum-Worthy Setups for Winter Camping

As the first human-powered ski area in the US, Bluebird Backcountry is all about making skiing and splitboarding feel accessible, fun, and adventurous. One of our favorite initiatives to fulfill that mission this year: Providing access to affordable camping close to the ski area. 

But, as you probably realize, it gets pretty darn cold in the mountains in winter. Fortunately, a ton of intrepid skiers and riders have braved the temperatures this season to show us all how it’s done.

Whether you’re suspicious about the idea of winter camping for fun, or just trying to fine tune your own setup, look to these folks for inspiration. Here are some of the coolest rigs we’ve seen this season. 

A Ford van setup for winter skiing.

Photo: Justin Wilhelm 

1. This oldster with character.

Meet Kandy, a 1977 Ford Quadravan. She’s got character, she’s got a few mechanical quirks, and she’s been a regular at Bluebird all season. 

A dog lounges in a heated van built out for winter camping

Photo: Justin Wilhelm

2. This photographer’s paradise.

I recently installed a solar power system and a diesel heater that I really enjoy having during these cold winter months. Being able to stay heated, charged and connected is essential to what I do here at Bluebird,” says Bluebird’s resident ski photographer Justin Wilhelm

Skis lean against a ford van used for winter camping

Photo: Menno Sennesael

3. This ski-instructor home base.

Menno Sennesael, a Bluebird backcountry education instructor, has been based out of his Ford for the last year and a half. “Nothing like having my ski stuff with me at all times—and getting ski clothes and boots on from the indoor comfort of my van while it’s storming or super frigid outside,” he says. 

4. This slopeside patio.

This guy went all in on the Titus rental ski package—and it looks to us like the mobile fire pit definitely clinched the deal. Even his pup is getting in on some butt-warming action.

A winter tent beside a snowy truck at sunrise

Photos: Isabel Gary Harper

5. This storm-ready mansion.

Talk about living large. Sophie and Isabel brought some burly winter tents (and a wood stove!) when they came to Bluebird in February. 

A ram dodge promaster setup for winter camping with colorful quilts

Photo: Corey Buhay

6. This cozy number.

Bluebird storytelling lead Corey Buhay says this RAM Promaster kept her warm in -12°F temps the last time she visited Bluebird. “I usually put foam sleeping pads over the windows, and the rest is double-insulated,” she explains.

7. This immaculate gear closet.

It’s hard to keep a van clean, but these folks are putting the rest of us to shame. Bonus points for the sweet ski rack and sleek cabinetry, something we’ve seen in a lot of Adventure Lodge’s winter rental vans

River rocks warming on a propane stove

Photo: Nichol Wolverton

8. This minivan heating hack.

Nichol Wolverton didn’t want to install a propane heater in his minivan, but he did want to find a way to stay warmer in Kremmling’s below-zero temps. So, he installed a carbon-monoxide detector and tried this: “I found a cast-iron skillet and some nice river rocks. I placed the rocks in the cast iron and turned the burner on low, “ he says. “The rocks heat up and radiate some heat, even once I turn off the stove. This setup has kept me cozy and warm even in the windiest and coldest weather!

9. This rental with the swanky kitchen.

Who doesn’t love a good backsplash? Plus, this Native Campervans RAM Promaster has a built-in heater and snow tires—ideal for winter adventure.

Skiing skins dry in a warm winter van setup

Photo: Tanya Thomas

10. This mobile bar.

Chad and Tanya Thomas camped at Bluebird during one of our first big storms. Their drink of choice: a maple cinnamon old-fashioned. (And are those oatmeal raisin cookies we spot in the background?)

11. This family vacation done right: The queen-size bed in this Escape Camper Vans rental is big enough for you and the kids. And the twinkle lights are a nice touch, too.

A pyramid tent with a propane heaterA pyramid tent setup for winter camping

12. This example of next-level badassery. Billy Hughston, now our personal hero, decided to brave the elements to test out this pyramid shelter-propane heater combo. The verdict: “The wind was gusting to 40 mph that weekend so it was quite the experiment, but I thought it worked out okay,” he says.

a snowy camp site at bluebird backcountry

The Bluebird Backcountry camp spot is quiet, roomy, and perfectly situated for amazing sunsets. Photo: Justin Wilhelm


Want to get a taste of the ski bum life for yourself?
 

This season, Bluebird Backcountry offers camping just 2 miles from our base area. With the below-zero nighttime temps around here, we do recommend a four-season setup. Learn how to winterize your own vehicle, or camp in luxury by renting from one of these guys. (Be sure to mention Bluebird for a discount!):

Native Camper Vans  •  Denver, CO  •  10% off rentals with code Bluebird

A-Lodge Vans  • Denver, CO •  15% off with code bluebird2021 (2-day minimum)

Titus Adventure Co.  • Denver, CO •  15% off with code BLUEBIRD

Escape Camper Vans  •  Denver, CO  •  Discounted rates and complimentary bedding + kitchen supplies with code BLUEBIRD

 

Bluebird Snow Report: 2/17/21

Here’s the latest from the mountain!

Base Depth: 58″
Past 7-Day Snow Total: 27″
Current Conditions: Powder, Wind Drift

Skin Tracks Open: Continental Divide, Elkhide Uptrack, Lost in the Woodwards, Meat Hill, Ruder’s Ridge, West Bowl

Downhill Zones Open: The Bearclaw Meadows, Hundred Acre Woods, Meat Hill, Ruder’s Ridge, Skyline, Ursa Major, West Bowl, The Whumphing Willows

It seems like winter is finally here to stay at Bear Mountain, and let us tell you, it’s DEEP!

Last week’s storm system came in warm with lots of moisture, greatly improving skiing and riding conditions especially in the trees. The storm departed on a colder note, only after leaving a fluffy layer of northern Colorado’s finest powder on top of the wetter snow.

Through Friday looks chilly, with lows in the single digits and highs not topping 20 degrees during the day. Saturday and Sunday will see slightly higher temps, reaching into the mid 20s. Winds from the southwest and west will pick back up on Thursday a.m., and continue to gust up to 30mph through the weekend, though the trees are holding snow nicely.

The active weather pattern looks to keep up into the weekend, with steady flurries through Sunday. Bear Mountain should pick up another 5–8 inches, and hopefully the new snow will bring us closer to opening the entire mountain. See you out there!

Photos: Brendan McCue

Peer Reviewed: Bluebird Is the Solution to All Your COVID Dating Problems

A year ago, we never thought we’d still be here—swiping, messaging, zoom-dating, and still struggling to find love in this weird era of dating limbo. So, for this Valentine’s Day, we decided to do something different: Speed dating on skis. In keeping with our Bluebird mission, we would make it easy and casual, giving out goodies and setting out way stations to keep the focus on exploring and having fun. It would be a grand experiment, aimed at solving one of the biggest issues of the modern world: finding love in a pandemic. (Pretty noble, right?)  

So, experiment we did. We called it Lovebirds: A Ski Dating Event. Here is our formal report. 

Abstract:

Backcountry skiing or splitboarding is the perfect solution to the complicated reality of pandemic dating. For one thing, it’s about as COVID-safe as it gets: You’re outdoors, so the ventilation is great. It’s cold, so no one ever forgets a face mask. And it doesn’t matter if you’re skinning or carving turns—six feet of distance is pretty much a given if you don’t want to step on someone’s skis. 

Backcountry skiing is also a clever way to filter out bad dates. First, you’re automatically guaranteed to meet backcountry enthusiasts. You can then get to know them in a beautiful setting. (Bonus: at Bluebird, that beautiful setting is managed for avalanche risk so you can focus more on acting cool and likeable and less on monitoring the snowpack.) Better yet, it’s impossible for your partner to do that thing where they lie about their fitness level on the first date to seem more badass than they really are. And if you don’t vibe with someone? You still make a new backcountry friend, and you get a workout in. Boom. 

Backcountry skiing: Six feet of distance, guaranteed. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Hypothesis:

Given all of the above, we were certain that Bluebird Backcountry was going to be the humble facilitator of some real, bonafide, true love. 

Methods:

On Sunday, we introduced the Ski Dating Event. The premise was simple: We’d gather a bunch of unattached backcountry enthusiasts and do a little meet and greet to set a relaxed tone for the day. Then, we’d mix and match the skiers and riders, and send them off on a lap together. Partners could switch at the bottom of each lap or at our mid-mountain warming hut if the vibe just wasn’t right. 

The day before, the Bluebird Base saw dumping snow, live music from Tara Rose and the Real Deal, a very competitive Nerf Biathlon tournament, and a raucous s’more-eating contest, but Sunday, all was quiet and calm. And by our highly scientific measurements, love was in the air. 

Costumed Nerf Biathlon competitors faced off at Bluebird on Saturday (just check out that Moose onesie). Nerf Biathlon, as it turns out, is also an excellent way to make new friends. Photo: Kat Ciamaichelo

That morning, a dozen (supercool, very interesting, and extremely attractive) skiers showed up. We paired them up and watched the magic happen. The pairs spent the day touring under sunny skies, switching up partners, sipping hot coffee and matcha from Alpine Start, and nibbling giant s’mores from Camp Toasted in the Bluebird snack yurt. The whole atmosphere was friendly, polite, and casual. Though there was a range of skill levels, no one got left in the dust—a testament to just how many wonderful people are out there in the Colorado backcountry community. 

And at the end of the day, the whole group gathered for a (socially distanced) hang-out sesh by the fire ring before going home with some goodie bags—our treat to celebrate a Valentine’s Day well spent.

Ski Dating Event participants went home with some pretty adorable goodie bags. Photo: Kat Ciamaichelo

Results:

Of the dozen skiers who met up, two have already been on second dates, and a third is planning to meet up with his Ski Dating partner sometime soon. That means that—according to our totally statistically significant sample size—you have a 25% chance of finding someone at Bluebird. Pretty good odds, eh?

Conclusion:

Dating during a pandemic is hands-down the worst. But backcountry skiing is a pretty fun solution. Stay tuned for news on another Ski Dating Event this spring!

All Our Secret Tricks to Warm Up Cold Hands and Feet

When the mercury dips, keeping your fingers and toes warm can feel like a full-time job. If numb digits are usually the crux of your ski day, heed these tips.  

Tricks to Warm Up Cold Hands

1. Bring hand warmers.

Throw a pair in your pockets for warm-up breaks, or use them to pre-heat your spare gloves. (Make sure to open up the warming packets an hour or two before you expect to start skiing so they have time to activate.)

2. Heat up your core.

Often, cold hands are a symptom of a cold body. Add an insulated layer and/or start skinning. As soon as the blood starts flowing, your hands should warm up.

A thin touring glove with a tacky leather or synthetic palm can prevent overgripping. Photo: Justin Wilhelm 

3. Loosen your grip.

Fingers go numb while touring? You may be over-gripping your poles. The squeezing action can impair your circulation. Try using a thinner glove, or one with better grip so you can relax your hands.  

4. Do some arm circles.

Windmill your arms in circles as big and as fast as you can manage. The shoulder workout will warm you up, and the force of the swing will force warm blood into your fingers. 

5. Keep spare gloves in your jacket.

Bring a separate pair of downhill gloves (touring gloves tend to get sweaty). While you tour, keep your downhill gloves in your pockets, or between your baselayer and midlayer. By the time you transition to downhill, they’ll be warm. (Stash your touring gloves in the same spot to keep them toasty until the next transition.) 

Thick mittens with gauntlets are our go-to for warm fingers and wrists. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

6. Upgrade your handwear.

Cold hands? You may just need to level-up your gloves. A thicker or more wind-proof glove can make a huge difference. Mittens are also vastly warmer than fingered gloves. You can also try purchasing a glove with a long gauntlet—the skin on your wrists is thin, and you can lose a lot of heat if it’s exposed.

7. Put your hands in your armpits.

When your fingers start to get numb, the tried-and-true trick is to stop, put on your puffy jacket, take off your gloves, and put your hands against the warmest parts of your body (your armpits, neck, or groin). Keep them there until they feel fully warmed, even if it takes a few minutes.  

8. Do the penguin.

There are a lot of circulation-promoting dance moves that winter enthusiasts rely on to warm their hands. Or favorite: The penguin. With your arms against your sides, straighten your palms at a right angle to your sides. Shrug your shoulders up and down. You should be able to feel warm blood shunting down through your wrists. 

Take lots of breaks for hot tea. Photo: Jonas Jacobsson via Unsplash  

9. Stay Hydrated.

Hydration makes a big difference in your circulation. Stop regularly for tea or hot cocoa breaks. Also make sure you’re eating plenty of fats and carbohydrates throughout the day so your body has enough fuel to keep itself warm. 

Tricks to Warm Up Cold Feet

1. Loosen Your Boots.

Restoring circulation can do wonders for cold toes. If that doesn’t help, you may be wearing socks that are too thick, or you might have the wrong size boot. (Need to figure out your size? Take some of our Dynafit rentals for a spin.) 

Unbuckle your boots when you’re touring to improve circulation. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

2. Do the Hypothermia Dance.

It’s a time-honored classic, you look really cool doing it, and it actually works.

3. Squat it out.

First, loosen your boots. Then, do 10 air squats and 10 leg swings. Repeat until you feel the warm blood flowing to your extremities.

4. Add an extra pants layer.

You can have the warmest boots in the world, but if you’re losing heat through your legs, you’re still going to have cold feet. The secret is proper layering. Add thicker baselayers or zip on some shells to keep in the warmth.

Wear shell pants over warm baselayers to keep legs (and therefore feet) toasty. Photo: Doug McLennan 

5. Bring extra socks.

Nothing saps heat like damp clothing. When you transition, swap sweaty touring socks for a fresh pair of woolies. Your feet will thank you.

6. Go to extreme measures.

Got chronically cold feet? Heated socks are a thing now (and they work). What a time to be alive.

Bluebird Snow Report: 2/10/21

Here’s the latest from the mountain!

Base Depth: 45″
Past 7-Day Snow Total: 40″
Current Conditions: Powder

NEW Skin Tracks Open: Continental Divide, Elkhide Uptrack, Ruder’s Ridge

NEW Downhill Zones Open: The Bearclaw Meadows, Ruder’s Ridge, Skyline, Ursa Major

Hello February! We had a great week of snow at Bluebird. Thursday and Friday we saw 6″ each day and woke up to 15 light fluffy inches on Saturday. Plus another 13 inches on Sunday, for a storm total of 40″ — perhaps the most of any ski area in the state.

With good skier compaction and snow falling most of the weekend, the mountain is well-covered and riding great. We were able to treat our guests to new lines and fresh pow on directed tours of the north face of Bear Mountain on Monday. This new zone doubles our open acreage and adds far more challenging terrain. The north face is expected to be fully open starting tomorrow, Thursday 2/11 and through most of the season. Wind on Sunday night stiffened some north-facing slopes, but the trees have preserved the snow quite nicely in this area.

The forecast is smiling at us again this coming week. Snow started falling Tuesday afternoon, and we expect a nice fresh coat before opening again on Thursday. The weather pattern that has been benefiting the southern mountains in January is giving the Northern mountains its due. The forecast gets even better for the weekend with mild temps and snow Friday and Saturday. Hallelujah.

10 Backcountry Touring Tips for Happier Dogs

Done right, backcountry touring with your dog can be the best thing ever. Frolicking in the snow, exploring deep forests and rolling hills with your best friend—sounds pretty idyllic, right? But between cold weather, deep powder, and sharp ski edges, there’s some dangerous stuff out there. Here are our tips for keeping safe next time you go backcountry touring with your dog. 

(Need a place to practice? Come to Bluebird Backcountry, Colorado’s first backcountry-only ski area, on select Mondays for Dog Days at Bluebird. All you need is a well-behaved pup and a doggie day pass.) 

1. Make sure your dog can handle the cold. 

First things first: To go backcountry touring with you, your dog needs to be able to handle the chilly temps. Cold-weather breeds with thick coats are a good bet. Medium- to large-sized athletic breeds with a doggie jacket and/or booties can also do well in the snow. Just keep an eye out for shivers and frozen paws, and have extra layers on hand for your dog just in case. 

A doggie jacket is essential for keeping short-haired dogs cozy and warm. Photo: Jeff Woodward 

2. Get your pooch in shape. 

Because your pup won’t have the luxury of flotation, he or she will need to be in peak physical condition to post-hole all day and run down the slopes after you. Can your dog go on a five-mile run with you and still have energy for more? Perfect. 

3. Brush up on your commands. 

Before you head into the backcountry, make sure your pup sticks by your side and returns when called. Downhill skier coming in hot? To avoid an accident, you’ll need a fast response from your pup—even if that means abandoning a squirrel mid-stride. Take an obedience class if you need to, or devote some time to backcountry-specific dog training.  

Before backcountry touring, train your dog to come when called and stay by your side. Photo: Justin Wilhelm.

4. Ease into it. 

Your dog needs to build comfort and confidence around skis just as you do. Plus, it can take some time to teach your dog to keep some distance from your ski edges, which have been known to cut legs and paws. Cross-country skiing or backcountry touring on gently rolling terrain can be a good place to ease in.    

5. Pack a canine emergency kit. 

In addition to a doggie jacket and booties, we recommend carrying a water bowl, poop bags, and treats for your dog, as well as a leash for touring or navigating crowded trailheads. You should also bring a small veterinary first-aid kit, and make sure you know how to treat cold-related injuries, lacerations from ski edges, and other common canine injuries. Here’s what we have in our kit:

  • An ACE bandages
  • Kinesiology tape 
  • Gauze 
  • A syringe for flushing wounds
  • Tweezers 
  • Extra treats 

Put your pup on a leash if you know he’ll go nuts and tire himself out on his own. Photo: Kat Ciamaichelo

6. Strategize for safe skiing 

Even a well-behaved dog can wear himself out or accidentally run in front of other skiers. While skinning, put high-energy dogs on a leash to ensure they maintain a steady, sustainable pace. On the downhill, try this: Grab your dog at the top of a pitch. Have your partner ski or ride down. Then, let your dog run down to your partner. Once your partner has your dog, head down to meet them.

That way, you never have to worry about dodging your dog, and your dog doesn’t have to worry about unpredictable edges. 

7. Listen to your dog. 

OK, so your pooch might not be weighing in on snowpack stability or avalanche hazards, but she’ll still communicate her needs and comfort level. If your dog is slowing, shivering, or looking nervous, take a break. Administer water and treats as needed, and call it a day if your dog is too cold or exhausted to continue. 

8. Practice good backcountry touring etiquette. 

Before you go backcountry touring with your dog, make sure dogs are allowed in the area, and check local leash laws. On the skintrack, keep your dog by your side, and be mindful to pull him or her aside for passing skiers. And,  of course, always pick after your pup (and carry that bag with you rather than leaving it beside the trail.) 

Your dog needs to stay fueled just as much as you do. Photo: Grant Robbins at The Elevated Alpine

9. Stay fueled and hydrated.

On touring days, your pup will burn a lot of extra calories, just like you do. Take breaks to offer snacks and water every lap or two.  

10. Know when to leave your dog at home.

If you’ve ever been postholing after a storm, you know how exhausting fresh powder can be. Consider giving your dog a day off if there’s deep snow or avalanche danger, or if you’re skiing in unfamiliar terrain for the first time. And, of course, if your dog isn’t responsive enough to stay safe in the backcountry, the best thing for both your safety is to leave him or her at home. 

 

Cover photo by Grant Robbins at The Elevated Alpine.

New Terrain Opens on Bear Mountain!

It’s finally here: the winter we’ve been waiting for! Looks like Ullr has been paying attention to all our snow dances—the latest storm brought enough snow to Bear Mountain to open another 40% of Bluebird Backcountry’s terrain. Not bad for a ski area that doesn’t make its own snow. 

Our operations and ski patrol teams have been working hard to open Bear Mountain’s north face. When the snow showed up last week, we took some guests out to tour the new terrain. Now, it’s open and ready to rip for anyone with a Bluebird pass. Here’s what you need to know about the terrain we just opened.

Download the Bluebird trail map

The Bear Mountain summit is now open!

With a little hard work, Bear Mountain’s summit is all yours. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

There’s something about arriving at a summit that never gets old. We’d say it’s unbeatable, but the truth is… skiing off the peak is even more fun. So we’re thrilled to open skin tracks all the way to Bear Mountain’s 9,845-foot summit — plus challenging runs all the way down.

On a clear day, the top of Bear Mountain boasts views of Rabbit Ears and our former stomping grounds, 10,115-foot Whiteley Peak. The summit is marked, but there are no services at the top.

Newly opened runs are rated blue, black, and double-black

Skinning Elkhide Uptrack on the way to Bear Mountain Summit. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Skyline runs straight off the summit along the Continental Divide. It’s rated double-black with no shortage of natural obstacles and tight trees to keep you on your toes.

Ursa Major, a reference to the peak’s Latin name, offers an enjoyable 1,000 vertical feet of evergreen tree skiing. It’s closer to a black-diamond run at a resort.

Below, four Bear Claw Meadows open up for hootin’ and hollerin’. These gorgeous intermediate aspen groves glisten on bluebird days (and look spook-tacular when it’s socked in). 

Ruder’s Ridge — which runs along the peak’s prominent cliff band — gains 610 feet of elevation in just under three-quarters of a mile. Fortunately, the scenery will distract you from your aching quads. This part of the mountain shares its name with Bluebird’s Director of Business Development, Trent Ruder, who’s quick to point out that it’s not actually him the run is named for, but his family. Trent can trace his family’s Vail lineage back five generations. His grandfather, Leonard Ruder, ran a sawmill and cut runs at Vail Resort in 1961. There’s even a Ruder’s Run named for Leonard at Vail, complete with a plaque in his honor. 

“The Ruders build ski areas,” Trent says of his family’s legacy. “I’m honored to be part of Bluebird, where we’re doing something totally new.”

Bluebird instructor Jared Current checks out the new terrain. He approves. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

There’s something at Bluebird for everyone. For folks who want to ski difficult tree runs, this new terrain is it. Aside from the Bear Claw Meadows, expert skiing or riding ability is recommended. 

There’s more where that came from

Scheming is part of the game. It’s hard not to peek over to The Far Side (coming soon…) Photo: Justin Wilhelm

With 35% of our terrain still waiting for a little more snow, Bluebird’s Bear Mountain location has plenty more tricks up its sleeves. The Far Side’s runs are named for the locals—the Hammerdown run is a nod to our hosts, while Krem de la Krem tips its hat to nearby Kremmling. Keep checking the Uptrack Journal for more info on the rest of Bluebird’s runs as they open this season!

Book a pass to explore the new terrain!

 

How to Choose a Backcountry Ski Setup 

So you’ve been backcountry skiing a few times and you’re ready to choose a backcountry ski setup. Making the leap is one of the most exciting parts of getting started in backcountry skiing. But it can also be pretty overwhelming. 

Camber or rocker? Paulownia or poplar? Fiberglass or carbon? There are so many skis out there (and so many friends with really strong opinions). If you find yourself leaving gear conversations with your head spinning like a kid throwing 360s at the terrain park, you’re not alone. 

To demystify the process and help you choose a backcountry ski setup that works for you, we talked to Andy Merriman, who’s been involved in engineering and designing skis for nearly 17 years. As Black Diamond’s ski category manager and an experienced backcountry skier himself, he’s got some insider tips for picking the perfect setup. 

1. Think of your backcountry ski setup as an integrated system.

Think of your boots, bindings, skins, and skis not as four distinct pieces of gear but as a single system designed to work together, Merriman says. Different bindings work better with different boots, and some skins work best with certain skis. Before you buy something new, ask an expert how it will pair with what you’ve already got. 

Your boots, bindings, skis, and skins should work in harmony. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

2. Pick a mid-weight ski. 

“Weight isn’t everything, but it does matter,” Merriman says. Resort skis, which are often made of heavier materials like fiberglass and poplar wood, handle well on the downhill, but the weight will leave you huffing on the uphills. Lighter skis, on the other hand, are dreamy while touring, but they can result in a bouncier, more unstable ride. Plus, the lighter the ski, the less durable it will be.

Merriman recommends finding a ski that hits the middle of the weight spectrum by using a mix of materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber, and lighter woods like paulownia or balsam. (Around 5.5 to 8 pounds is a good ballpark range, though your ideal ski weight will vary depending on your height and weight.)

3. Look for a 95- to 105-mm waist.

“When it comes to the width of the ski, the snow that you ski is obviously a factor,” Merriman explains. “In places where they get a ton of snow, you’ll see people skiing with 115mm underfoot. But most of the time, 95 to 105 is that sweet spot for a backcountry ski. “Whenever I travel to ski, unless I have a specific objective, I take a Helio Carbon 104,” Merriman says. “I would say that for 90% of what I go out to ski, the Helio Carbon 104 is perfect.”

4. Stick with the length you’re used to. 

Sure, shorter skis can be helpful when it comes to making kick turns or maneuvering in tight trees, but they provide less float when it comes to powder, Merriman says. At the end of the day, “I wouldn’t think there’s anything different about selecting a ski length for the backcountry than a resort.” Stick with the length you’re used to skiing. 

A waist between 95 and 105mm is the sweet spot for most backcountry skiing.

5. Consider your goals. 

When you choose a backcountry ski setup, it’s important to consider your actual plans for use. Are you going all in on backcountry skiing? A lighter-weight, backcountry-specific ski (like the Helio Carbon 104 Merriman likes) could be the best option for you. Want to split your time between the resorts and the backcountry? Pick a ski designed to do both. “The Helio Recon is a great option,” Merriman says. “It’s got a poplar core and it’s pretty light, but it’s made with fiberglass instead of all carbon. It’s a really solid in-bounds and out-of-bounds ski.” Bonus: It’s also a little less expensive. 

6. Pick a ski that’s intuitive to use. 

Aggressive, hard-charging skis may sound fancy, but stiff skis make it harder to initiate turns—which is already tough enough in variable backcountry snow. If you’re new to backcountry skiing, look for a ski that’s a little softer with a shorter turn radius. (Again, the Helio Carbon ticks this box. It also has a full ABS sidewall, which means great edge stability for a really intuitive feel.)

7. Look for traditional camber and early-rise tip. 

The best ski shape for you totally depends on your personal preferences and style. However, Merriman says that some of the most popular backcountry skis are those with a traditional camber (that means they’re arched in the middle) and an early-rise tip (they scoop upward at the front to give you a lift over powder.) 

Pick a ski that matches your goals. In this case: as many backcountry laps as possible.

8. Find boots that fit. 

The most important qualities in a boot: They keep your feet warm, and they fit you well. We recommend going to a professional bootfitter or reputable shop when you’re working to choose a backcountry ski setup. There, you can have your boots professionally fitted and your liners molded to your feet if need be.

9. Don’t overthink your bindings.

After a pricey ski purchase, it can be tempting to skimp on bindings. But the last thing you want when you’re transitioning on a frigid, windy ridge is having a binding freeze, get stuck, or break. Bindings are a crucial part of a backcountry ski setup. It pays to buy a pair that’s high quality, and that works well with your boot. 

For first-time backcountry skiers, Merriman recommends keeping it simple. Like skis, look for something that’s in the mid-range in terms of weight. Then, “make sure it has the features you’re looking for,” Merriman says. For new backcountry skiers, brakes and two or three levels of heel riser settings are usually the way to go, he adds. 

10. Test-drive as much gear as you can. 

The longer you backcountry ski, the better idea you’ll have of what gear you like and don’t like. Before you choose a backcountry ski setup, it can be helpful to try out as many models as you can, says Merriman. (Bluebird Backcountry offers rentals of boots, skins, splitboards, and backcountry skis—including the Helio Carbon.) 

Bluebird’s rental fleet, at your service. Photo: Erik Lambert

Bluebird Snow Report: 2/3/21

Here’s the latest from the mountain!

Base Depth: 33″
Past 7-Day Snow Total: 9″
Current Conditions: Powder

Skin Tracks Open: Lost in the Woodwards, Meat Hill, West Bowl

Downhill Zones Open: The Hundred Acre Woods, Meat Hill, The Shire, Slumpy Ridge, The Whumphing Willows (New!)

February is here, and here comes the snow! We have been anxiously awaiting the next storm, forecasted to hit the state and especially our Northern Mountains. The storm should arrive today and ramp up Thursday night. After the initial blast, the storm continues over the Northern Mountains all the way through Sunday.

The storm is forecasted to come in rather warm and exit cold , just the way we like it (right side up!). Wednesday’s high is forecasted to be in the low 30s while Thursday’s high temp will hover around 15 degrees. Snow is in the forecast every day with impressive numbers accumulating over the duration of the storm. Yay!

Last week Bluebird Backcountry’s guests were treated to a great mix of powder, sunshine, and great riding. We are constantly evaluating new terrain in an effort to provide the very best experience possible.

Photo: Doug McLennan

Photo: Danielle Maxey

Photo: Jeff Woodward