Zen and the Art of Plow Driving

The Bluebird Backcountry team is full of hard-working people, but there’s one man who you’re guaranteed to see arriving early, leaving late, and sticking around all day long in any weather: plow driver extraordinaire, bonafide mountain cowboy, and fountain of wisdom Eric Guess.  

Guess was born and raised in Leadville, Colorado, where his dad worked as a miner and then the president of local ski hill Ski Cooper. While Guess lived most of his life in Leadville, he and his dad would drive every other weekend to La Junta, Colorado, where Guess’s grandparents had a cattle ranch. 

“We would cram two weeks of ranch work into two days,” Guess says. “My grandmother had a schedule in that ranch house. Breakfast at seven, dinner at noon, supper at five. Get your work done and you’ll get fed. That was her mentality.” 

Eric Guess and his father doing some irrigation work on the ranch.

As a teenager, Guess didn’t always love the heavy labor. But looking back, he says that’s where he learned to work hard—something that’s served him well as a football player and ski racer in high school and later as an employee on Ski Cooper’s cat crew. It’s also a lesson he’s tried to impart to hundreds of kids during the decade or so he spent as a local football coach.

“Coaching isn’t about teaching the sport to me. It’s about teaching the life lessons. I think that comes from my dad—he was always about trying to teach good lessons, not necessarily teaching you how to win the game or the race,” Guess muses. His work with the kids, he says, has been enormously fulfilling. “To this day, those boys still call me coach.” 

Guess ski racing his senior year of high school.

In 2006, Guess and his wife Karen moved to Rabbit Ears Pass (just on the other side of Bluebird Backcountry) with their two young sons. The mandatory snowmobile commute to their new home didn’t deter them—at least, at first. After a few years, though, Guess decided to take matters into his own hands and buy his own plow truck. He’s been plowing his neighborhood’s roads and serving on the neighborhood board of directors ever since. 

That’s how Guess caught the attention of Erik Lambert and Jeff Woodward, Bluebird’s founders. When they approached him about doing a little plow work for the base area, he was all for it. 

“My dad ran a ski area for a long time, so I knew what they were up against,” Guess says. “And I think I learned from my dad that there are so many moving parts to an operation, but the most important part is getting your customers in and making them feel comfortable from jump.” 

All season long, from dawn to dusk, that’s exactly what Guess has been doing: Greeting people with a smile, helping guests get cars in and out, and being a friendly face to welcome skiers and riders to the base with joy—no matter how bitter the weather. 

Guess operating a Cat 924 loader. “It’s a good piece of equipment, but it was definitely brought to its limits this year,” he says.

When asked how he stays so energetic and kind in high winds and deep snow, Guess says it’s simple: 

“My wife and I are bereaved parents. We lost our youngest son six years ago in October.” J.D. Guess was in a car accident just down the road from the house. He was sixteen. 

“Since that day, I’ve decided every day is a gift,” Guess says. “So I just try to project a positive attitude and be smiling and happy even when it’s vicious out.”

And if you’ve met Guess, you know that positive attitude is contagious. So next time you see a grinning plow driver at Bluebird, give him a wave and a smile. He also responds to his radio handle, which couldn’t be more fitting: Snowman. 

7 Reasons This is Going to Be the Best Winter Ever

It’s a divisive time in this country, but there’s one thing we can all agree on: The winter of 2020/21 was one emotional roller coaster of a ski season. Closed resorts. Crazy-competitive reservation systems. Trying to maintain six feet of distance in lift-lines and at crowded trailheads. No snow, then too much snow. Our heads are still spinning. 

But despite it all, we at Bluebird Backcountry have to say it’s been one of our favorite seasons yet. It’s been amazing to see the Bluebird community grow over the past year. There’s been a real sense of camaraderie on the mountain, and nothing has gotten us through this year like watching skiers and riders come down the hill with ear-to-ear grins on their faces. 

All that said, we sure are stoked for the 2021/22. If we were betting types, we’d bet a brand new pair of Helio Recons that this upcoming season is going to be the best we’ve ever seen. Here’s why. 

 

Ain’t no party like a post-COVID party. We can’t wait. Photo: Kathryn Ciamaichelo

1. The parties are going to be awesome. 

We love solitude and quiet backcountry tours as much as the next person, but there’s something special about really celebrating when the turns call for it. Post-pandemic, we’re stoked to be able celebrate more—and with everyone we can think of. Aprés beers at the Dean West? Go ahead—invite friends. Disco Friday conga line? Hell yes, you can touch my shoulders. Want to help me shotgun this summit beer? Don’t mind if I do. 

 

We just read your palms: There’s definitely love in your future. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

2. You’ll actually be able to see your date’s face.

This Valentine’s Day, we launched our first ever Lovebirds Ski Dating Event. It was a huge success, but, man, are we looking forward to the end of pandemic dating. You heard it from us: 21/22 is the season to find love. 

 

Make this your year of self-improvement: Save when you bundle AIARE courses with a season pass. Photo: Erik Lambert

3. There will be even better deals on passes.  

This past year saw a boom in backcountry skiing interest. Next season, we’re stoked to keep serving all those amazing, curious new athletes with even better deals on passes, including a Weekday Season Pass and a Next Gen Season Pass for skiers and riders aged 26 or under. (Included: buddy codes, a free guest pass, five nights of free camping, and more.) We’re also offering all-inclusive packages for great deals when you combine passes, lessons, and/or avalanche courses. 

 

Time to pack up the van and crank up the volume. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

4. Carpooling will be officially back in style. 

As a human-powered ski area run on solar energy, we pride ourselves on being a low-impact operation. We’re stoked to boost our personal sustainability cred even further by carpooling to the mountain, which will get way easier post-pandemic. Plus, there’s nothing like jamming out in a packed car to make the drive go by fast. 

 

Do you roll deep? Post-pandemic, you can invite literally everyone you know to come crash at your place. #partyhouse. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

5. You can really pack out the Air BnB.

Let the reunions begin! Save money and revel in the slumber-party vibes by making your place the ski pad of the century. Post-pandemic, inviting your friends to crash with you will be just as easy as asking to try a sip of their beer (oh, the good ol’ days). Pro tip: The quirky Eastin Hotel in Kremmling is one of our favorite spots. 

 

Test-drive some brand-new skis next winter. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

6. You’ll get to shred on brand-new rental skis and boards. 

There’s nothing like making the first turns of winter in a glossy, snappy, playful new set of planks. To start the 2021/22 season off right, we’re bringing in a shiny new set of rental skis and splitboards. (Grab a Season Pass now to lock in discounts on rentals all season long.) 

 

We’re proud to call Bear Mountain our home, sweet, home. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

7. We’ve finally got a mountain that feels like home. 

Maybe you’ve already heard the good news? After a few seasons of trying out different locations, Bluebird Backcountry is officially returning to Bear Mountain next year! (*Cue fireworks.*) With 4,200 acres of gentle glades, steep chutes, and quad-burning ascents to explore, Bear Mountain is the perfect home for Bluebird Backcountry. 

Haven’t been? Come one, come all—we can’t wait to show you around.