Terrain Profile: West Bowl

Pristine aspen meadows, wide open runs and breathtaking views of Bear Mountain. These are only a few of our favorite features of the West Bowl zone.

West Bowl is perfect for beginners and experts alike. Those new to the backcountry will love West Bowl for its mellow terrain, which offers a comfortable and engaging environment to practice backcountry basics — such as skinning technique and summit transitions. Experienced backcountry skiers and riders love West Bowl for a couple laps to warm up their legs before heading over to tackle the bigger terrain found on Bear Mountain.

If you haven’t heard about the mouthwatering free bacon yet, well then you’re in for a treat. The Perch is conveniently located at the foot of West Bowl and Meat Hill, providing the perfect home base to regroup, warm up, and enjoy a tasty strip of meaty goodness before heading out to tackle more trails, or before the skin back to the base area.

SKIN TRACKS

West Bowl

west bowl skin track

This skin track is the main access from the Base Area to the Perch. From the Perch, you may continue upward and onward to the summit of West Bowl.

Meat Hill

meat hill skin track

Meat Hill is a good elk hunting zone during our off season, which is where the origin of its name came from — but it also goes hand in hand with our bacon station located at the bottom. Start from the Perch and take this skin track to the summit of Meat Hill. If you’re new to uphill travel, Meat Hill is an excellent place to learn and practice your skinning skills.

Lost in the Woodwards

lost in the woodwards skin track

Named after co-founder, Jeff Woodward, Lost in the Woodwards is an alternate route to accessing the West Bowl summit that branches off of the West Bowl skin track and provides a nice escape from the wind on breezy days. Albeit slightly longer than West Bowl, this route is beautiful in the morning as it weaves through tall aspens. Keep an eye out for a hunting blind along this skin track, and a small thermal spring that trickles year round!

lost in the woodwards skin track collage

The Shire

the shire skin track

A wise hobbit once said, “Not all those who wander are lost.” We invite you to wander through the aspens of this magical area of Bluebird.Hang a left off of the West Bowl Skin Track shortly before the Perch, this beginner friendly route offers quick access to the Shire and the summit of Meat Hill.

DOWNHILL TRAILS

The Shire

the shire terrain profile

The journey has only just begun. Exit the Shire skin track and rejoice in low angle north facing turns, quick laps, and great beginner tree skiing.

Meat Hill

meat hill terrain profile

We can almost smell the bacon from the top. This wide open area is great for skiers and riders who are new to the backcountry. The short climb and shorter vertical drop allows for quick hit laps, so that you can keep lapping and perfecting your skills all day long.

Slumpy Ridge

slumpy ridge

The best views of Bear Mountain are from the summit of West Bowl, with some great photo ops with your partner or squad. On the way down, you’ll enjoy open bowl skiing at the top with a mix of well spaced aspens towards the bottom.

slumpy ridge collage

The Hundred Acre Woods

the hundred acre woods terrain profile

Let your inner child come out to play on this tree run. Low angle aspen skiing off the beaten path allow for easy cruising.

The Whumphing Willows

whumphing willows terrain profile

Unlike the aggressive Whomping Willow near Hogwarts, our trees are relatively stable and harmless — just don’t get too close, as they don’t move. The Whumphing Willows is a short, steep shot from the summit of West Bowl emptying into open aspen trees.

Pro Tips

  • Save some energy for the skin back to the base area. On tired legs, the skin track might feel like it goes on forever.
  • Stop by The Perch to warm up and enjoy some good company in between laps; sometimes we have bacon available, too.
  • First time at Bluebird? Start with The Shire and Meat Hill before working your way over to West Bowl.

Stay tuned as we feature more areas of Bluebird Backcountry.

Click here to view full trail map.

Click here to purchase tickets, lessons, and rentals.

Backcountry Tips & Tricks, Part 1: Education

Snow covered peaks and smooth descents down untouched slopes in the backcountry is a practically irresistible pull for anyone skier or snowboarder, especially those looking to avoid resort traffic and exceedingly long lift lines. Yet the switch from resort to backcountry can be intimidating — there’s new gear, extreme elements, avalanche danger, and an added challenge of finding backcountry partners — that said, the feeling of earning your turns and riding untracked powder is worth any initial hurdles.

To help with the leap from lift to human-powered access, Bluebird’s education team compiled a 3-part series of backcountry tips for beginners. Starting with education, this blog focuses on advice about all things avalanche education and making the most of your first avalanche course. Report back for part 2 and 3 of the series where we dive into gear and personal care in the backcountry.


All Things Education

Every outdoor activity carries inherent risks. While we all hope we’ll never encounter an avalanche, hope is not enough preparation when traveling in areas with possibility of avalanches. It is imperative that you can identify avalanche terrain, get educated on how avalanches work, and understand what to do if you encounter or are caught in an avalanche. Here’s advice from experienced backcountry skiers and avalanche educators on how to get started with your avalanche education:

Before Your First Avalanche Course

  1. Start with the basics – Take an introduction to backcountry touring course before diving into your first avalanche course. There is a ton of information included in an avalanche course — becoming familiar with your gear and knowing how to travel in the snow will help you be more comfortable and thus able to absorb more information in your first avalanche course.
  2. Know your options – there are many avalanche course providers that use curriculum from the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) or other curriculum developers, approved by the American Avalanche Association (A3). While A3 oversees all avalanche education taught in the US, AIARE is regarded as the gold-star by many. They offer courses across the world with various providers, such as Bluebird Backcountry — one of the nation’s leading AIARE providers, and the only ski area in the world designed for backcountry education.
  3. Prepare for your course – follow these steps to get the most out of your avalanche course:
    • Do the pre-course reading and work – it will help you better understand the in-person content and not be too overwhelmed with new vocabulary.
    • Pack a warm beverage – Bring a thermos with coffee, tea, or warm water for the field portion of your class. This will keep you warm and motivated to learn!
    • Bring snacks to share – Pack enough snacks for yourself, plus some to share. It’s always nice when someone offers you gummy bears while on the skin track. 
    • Pack an extra layer – you’ll likely be standing around a fair amount and talking, so bring an extra down jacket to keep warm.

A group of students from Bluebird’s Backcountry 1 lesson practice their skinning technique. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

During Your Course

  1. Connect with your fellow students – avalanche courses are a great place to find future touring partners. Get your peers numbers and stay connected, it’s a bonus to already know that new touring partners have avalanche education equivalent to your knowledge/experience. 
  2. Ask questions – no question is a dumb question. It’s likely that if you are confused about something, there’s another person in your class confused as well. Speak up and get clarity on the information you need in order to get the most out of your lesson.
  3. Use the field book – the AIARE field book is an incredible resource. Make sure to use it during your course, then return to it on future personal tours as a tool for planning, managing terrain, and riding safely.

 

Students plan their route for the day at the before heading out in an AIARE Level 2 course at Bluebird Backcountry. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

After Your First Avalanche Course

    1. Keep practicing outside the classroom – these skills are perishable if not used. Continue to use the rescue, trip planning, and navigation tools you learn in avalanche courses by getting together with friends at a beacon park, having set times for tour planning conversations, and reading Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain.
    2. Start small – begin by planning simple tours in terrain you know and are comfortable in. Practice your skills by touring uphill at a resort, or better yet, come to Bluebird and explore avalanche-managed terrain and refine your tour planning, navigation, and decision-making skills in the perfect environment (that includes real fun terrain). 
    3. Refresh your skills each season – start with the AIARE course progression (Level 1, Avalanche Rescue, Level 2) by taking one course a season, then keep refining your skills at the beginning of each season by taking an avalanche refresher course.
    4. Track the season’s conditions – whether you tour 5 times per season or spend the whole winter in the backcountry, tracking the season’s snowpack and avalanche activity is critical for informed backcountry travel. Use your local avalanche forecasting center to read the forecast with your daily coffee, and reference the observations and forecast discussion to know what’s happening in your zone. You can also subscribe to many forecasting center’s bulletins — this ensures you get an email with the forecast each morning.  
    5. Find a good mentor – the backcountry touring community can be hard to enter, but there are many seasoned riders who are apt to mentor newbies and help you build a backcountry tool kit. There are forums and mentorship programs, and Bluebird has a Ski with a Mentor lesson that facilitates learning and relationship building.

Students watch as their AIARE Level 2 instructor digs into the season’s snowpack. Photo: Erik Lambert

Avalanche education is a life-long process. If you’re new to the backcountry world, start by signing up for a recreation level 1 course. Follow the steps outlined above to set yourself up for a great course, rewarding relationship with the ski track, and a fellow community of snow-lovers. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series discussing gear tips and tricks!

onX Backcountry: The Best Way To Get Around Bluebird Backcountry

We’re partnering with onX Backcountry to provide a convenient, online map where all of our trails are listed right in their app.

Welcome to Bluebird Backcountry, where the crowds are minimal, you’ve got the comfort of avalanche-controlled terrain, and all the uphill your legs can handle. To make it easier to plan your day and get around, onX Backcountry — the go-to trail guide and GPS mapping app for all human-powered snow adventures — now allows for easy access to view our terrain offerings. With onX Backcountry in your pocket, you’ll feel confident heading out onto the skin track and into endless powder stashes.

Bluebird riders transition at the top of West Bowl.

First Things First

Our partnership with onX Backcountry grants all 2021/2022 Bluebird Backcountry visitors and season passholders a free one-month subscription to their Premium Membership. For all of those taking an AIARE course here, you’ll have access to onX Backcountry’s suite of features for a 4-month trial period. The Premium Membership includes a Slope Angle Layer helpful for finding low-angle terrain, unlimited Offline Maps for poor cell-service areas, and SNOTEL — which provides the most up-to-date snow data in the West.

Prior to arriving at Bluebird Backcountry, follow the steps sent to you in your confirmation email. Download and experiment with the app to get familiar before you’ll need it in the field.

The Lost in the Woodwards skin track wraps through the aspens to the top of West Bowl.

All Your Routes In One Place

Using onX Backcountry, find Bluebird Backcountry by typing it into the search bar. Once there, you’ll see things such as skin tracks, various trails, zones marked open or closed, and other difficulty indicators throughout the map. This will be your go-to throughout your day. Make sure to toggle Tracker on for a readout of your elevation gain, speed, and distance.

A guest rides down a mellow slope in a Backcountry Lesson at Bluebird.

Slope Angle

While we mitigate all avalanche risk within the bounds of our ski area, you’ll be able to access the onX Slope Angle Layer to evaluate inclines of a given slope. This is a great time to test yourself on evaluating the angle of a given slope for when it’s time to head into the backcountry.

The Portal at the base area of Bluebird Backcountry.

Basemaps

The onX Basemaps are a great source of topographic information: the satellite view outlines terrain information such as tree density, and displays points of interest like breweries — because, après.

OnX Backcountry – the best navigation tool for winter recreation.

Last Thing

Before you come on out, make sure to download Bluebird as an Offline Map. Signal can be spotty, so it’s best to get that out of the way before you start putting in laps.

For more help, check out onX Backcountry’s support center.

Weekly Update : Events + Courses

Week of January 27th, 2022

With a mid-week snow refresh, Bluebird is primed for excellent conditions and a fun weekend ahead! We’ve got a special event on Saturday, plus Backcountry Lessons and AIARE Courses running every day. Check out the full events calendar and lineup of  backcountry education lessons, advanced courses and avalanche courses below!

Participants discuss the geologic make up of Bear Mountain on a special geology tour at Bluebird Backcountry. Photo: Erik Lambert

Thursday, Jan. 27

  • Dog Days at Bluebird – learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson – book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Friday, Jan. 28

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here
  • Backcountry 4 : Reading Terrain NEW THIS SEASON, an advanced course for those who’ve taken an AIARE 1 and want to improve their navigation and terrain analysis skills, learn more and sign up here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Saturday, Jan. 29

  • Beacon Seekin’ Saturday — 2 – 3 pm at the base area. Practice your rescue skills and dig some prizes out of the snow! More info.
  • Sunset Tour & Film Fest SPECIAL EVENT, 4 – 7 pm at the base area. Set out on a special, after-hours tour of Bluebird then enjoy the watch the Backcountry Film Festival. Get your tickets today. 
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Sunday, Jan. 30

  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Women in the Backcountry: Next Level Skills Course NEW THIS SEASON. Come spend the day learning in a fun and welcoming environment with the incredible Brittany Konsella: highly accomplished ski mountaineer, all-around shredder, and second woman to ski all the 14’ers in Colorado.  Learn more and sign up here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Monday, Jan. 31

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

AIARE Courses

  • Saturday, Jan. 30 – Sunday, Jan. 31 — AIARE Rec 1 Hybrid CourseSOLD OUT.

Find out more about Bluebird’s Education Program and sign up for courses here. Learn more about Bluebird’s AIARE Avalanche Education courses on our website. You can also find our full events calendar on our website — plan your next trip to Bluebird around one of exciting onsite events, Backcountry Lessons, Advanced Courses or Avalanche Courses this season!

See you on the mountain!

 

Crush Your First Winter Camping Trip

Cold weather camping is a whole different beast — after all, it’s hard enough to want to leave the confines of our cozy sleeping bag even on a high alpine start in the summer. While the thought of roughing it in frigid temps may sound daunting, there are simple ways to embrace the chill and appreciate the facets of cold weather camping that make it so special. Read on for all the reasons you can – and SHOULD – crush your first winter camping trip at Camp Bluebird.

Location, Location, Location

Just like camping the rest of the year, be sure to park your rig in an amazing spot! You’ll want stellar views, a quiet place away from busy roads, and easy access to outdoor activities. Luckily, Bluebird’s new camping spot offers all three.

Now available in the main parking area at Bluebird’s base, your morning view will be the sun spilling over the glistening snowy peaks of Bear Mountain. More of a night owl? We promise our starry night skies will beat the socks off of anything you’ve seen in the Front Range. And thanks to our new location, you’re tucked away from road noise for a quiet and peaceful camping experience. But the best part of all is that you have zero commute to the best backcountry skiing northwest Colorado has to offer. No race to the parking lot, no I-70 traffic — just first dibs on powder turns all weekend long.

Camp with Amenities

We all have that friend on a camping trip who needs access to a bathroom every morning no matter what. Bathroom lovers rejoice, because Bluebird has you covered. Portable restrooms are available for campers all hours of the day and night, in addition to other superb amenities.

In the 2021/2022 Season, Bluebird has added a larger community area with picnic tables and a communal fire pit. So you have plenty of room in the evening to prep and cook your 12-ounce sirloin (well-deserved) or sip cider by the fire as you debate with friends which slope had the best powder turns of the day.

We also have a camp host on site all season long, so if your car battery tanks or your ride gets stuck in the fresh pow, we’re here to help.

Bring the Heat

Perhaps we’re stating the obvious, but staying warm is a top priority for winter camping. Luckily, keeping toasty doesn’t mean you have to have a tricked out camper van. With just a few steps, you, too, can sleep pleasantly through the night.

  • First, pack a warm bag! For a general rule of thumb, go with a sleeping bag that is rated for ten degrees lower than the outside temperatures. So if nighttime temps are dropping to 20 degrees, then go with a 10-degree bag — or a 0-degree bag if you run cold.
  • Second, sleeping pads are important for maximizing warmth and comfort too. If you don’t have a four-season pad, then stack two sleeping pads on top of each other or lay down a blanket for additional insulation.
  • Third, get into bed warm. Spend your evenings around the Bluebird shared campfire, telling ski stories before retreating to your sleeping bag. When you do turn in for the night, do a round of pushups to increase your body temperature before crawling into bed. You can also pour hot water into a Nalgene and tuck it away at your feet for an insulated bottle that will put off heat all night long.

Fuel Up

Unless you’re training for Everest or an intense winter backpacking expedition, there’s no need to pack light. That means you can travel with your gourmet espresso machine or your portable grill to start the day right. In fact, we encourage it, because fueling well is essential to shredding the slopes all day long.

But in case you forget your cooking fuel at home or you just want to hop in the car and go, we have you covered. Breakfast burritos and hot coffee are available for purchase every morning, and we have a variety of camping friendly foods available throughout the day as well. Have a suggestion on snacks and foods you’d like to see more of? Let us know over at Bluebird Backcountry Community.

Bring (or Meet) a Friend

Epic adventures build character — and friendship. So grab a friend and plan your first (or your 50th) winter camping trip at Bluebird Backcountry together. Camping at Bluebird costs just $25 per vehicle, so having a secondary heat-producer in your rig comes at no additional cost.

Or if you’re visiting solo, we love that too. We’re all about community at Bluebird, so bring yourself and s’more supplies and we guarantee you’ll be making friends and meeting new ski buddies in no time.

two women backcountry touring

Build the Stoke

Like any great adventure, the key to winter camping starts with getting stoked! Set a goal for the amount of vert you and a partner want to ski over the weekend, or test your skills on one of Bluebird’s new steeps. Make it your objective to get first tracks down The West Bowl on a powder day, or see who can transition the fastest at the top of Bear Mountain.

Whatever the reason, your winter camping will be all the more fun when it’s paired with a stoke-filled objective at Colorado’s one and only backcountry ski resort. Want more ideas? Check out our Events Calendar for a list of awesome activities happening at Bluebird.

Ready to toss the camping gear in the car and come stay with us? Purchase your Day Passes or Multi-Packs and reserve your camping experience today!

Need more info? Visit our Camping Page for more information and FAQs.

Weekly Update : Events + Courses

Week of January 20th, 2022

There’s an extra cool event planned at Bluebird this weekend, new terrain opening (stay tuned for updates), plus a schedule full of lessons, an Avalanche Refresher Course, and an AIARE Rescue Course. Check out the full events calendar and lineup of  backcountry education lessons, advanced courses and avalanche courses below!

One of Bluebird’s newest runs, named after one of the all-time best skintrack snacks. Photo: Erik Lambert

Thursday, Jan. 20

  • Dog Days at Bluebird – learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson – book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Friday, Jan. 21

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Saturday, Jan. 22

  • Beacon Seekin’ Saturday — 2 – 3 pm at the base area. Practice your rescue skills and dig some prizes out of the snow! More info.
  • Geology Tour of Bear Mountain — 12:30 – 2:30 pm. SPECIAL EVENT, lead by a professor of Geology — learn all about the volcanos surrounding Bluebird while skinning and riding. Sign up now, there’s a limited number of spots!
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.
  • Equipment Maintenance & Repairs — NEW THIS SEASON, learn more and sign up here.
  • Avalanche Refresher Course — learn more and sign up here.

Sunday, Jan. 23

  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Monday, Jan. 24

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

AIARE Courses

  • Sunday, Jan.  23— AIARE Avalanche Rescue – there are a few spots still available! Learn more and sign up here.

Find out more about Bluebird’s Education Program and sign up for courses here. Learn more about Bluebird’s AIARE Avalanche Education courses on our website. You can also find our full events calendar on our website — plan your next trip to Bluebird around one of exciting onsite events, Backcountry Lessons, Advanced Courses or Avalanche Courses this season!

See you on the mountain!

 

10,500 Feet Above Bear Mountain: How Three Bluebirds Trained for Denali

Last season, three of Bluebird’s employees made a plan on the skin track of Bear Mountain to summit Denali in the spring of 2021. John Beye, a passionate skier and Bluebird’s 2020/2021 base area manager, was a part of this team. In this blog, John tells an enticing story of their training at Bluebird and their adventure on Denali. The group’s training experience galvanized the development of a new advanced course at Bluebird Backcountry — Ski Mountaineering 1 — an incredible opportunity to learn from experts and get acquainted to the world of ski mountaineering in the best classroom around.

The following article was written by John Beye.


Bear Mountain, the highest peak at Bluebird Backcountry, tops out at 9,845 feet. While not the highest summit in North America, Bear — and the surrounding terrain at Bluebird — does provide an excellent training ground for those with their eyes set on big mountain objectives. From the novice stepping into tech bindings for the first time to the experienced shredder opting to avoid suspect avalanche forecasts, Bluebird Backcountry happily plays host to all backcountry skiers hoping to progress in the sport. For three Bluebird staff members this past spring, that very progression brought them to the summit of Denali — a peak 10,500 feet taller than the highpoint of our backyard Bear Mountain.

Bluebird Backcountry boasts a small, passionate staff who are all motivated by maximizing their time in the mountains while helping others do the same. If you visited last winter, you surely met some of them on the skin track. What you may not have noticed, though, is the discrete training being done by a select few in preparation for skiing off the top of North America’s highest peak.

You may have taken a backcountry ski lesson with Menno. What he probably didn’t tell you was that his backpack was weighted down with climbing ropes for a little bit of extra uphill weight. Perhaps you stopped to visit Sam and snag some midday bacon at The Perch. Did you happen to notice him setting up snow anchors and running crevasse rescue drills outside? Maybe you were lucky enough to catch one of the on-mountain popup barbecue events in the spring. If so, you can thank John for multitasking by hauling sleds full of Denali training weight… err… propane tanks and all of the grilling necessities deep into The Hundred Acre Woods.

John Beye training for his expeditions at Bear Mountain. Photo courtesy of John Beye.

Strangers before the Bluebird season, Menno, Sam, and John became quick friends at Bear Mountain. Menno and John were roommates in Kremmling at a house more full of ski mountaineers than ski bums (read: a case of PBR lasted over two months), and it wasn’t long before discussions of skiing Denali percolated into the evening conversations. A climbing permit for late May was secured by early March for two teams; John and Menno with a few other friends, and Sam accompanied by other climbing partners.  

For Sam, Covid-19 had shut down the entire 2020 Denali climbing season and pushed his previously planned expedition to spring 2021 instead. With a little bit of luck, both teams landed climbing permits within one day of each other and would become serendipitous neighbors for nearly three weeks on the glaciers leading up to North America’s tallest peak.  

Of course, “one does not simply walk onto Denali,” and the final months of the Bluebird operating season were filled with physical training, skills practice, and gear talk. Menno, Sam, and John spent hours touring uphill with unnecessarily heavy backpacks, perfecting their rigging systems for hauling sleds, sharing food and gear strategies, and ensuring that systems were dialed should anyone take the plunge into one of the many man-eating crevasses of the Alaska Range. When it comes to big objectives, planning is all part of the fun and watching the pieces come together can be nearly as rewarding as the climb itself.

As winter drew to a close in Colorado and the end-of-season staff party came and went, all eyes were focused on The Last Frontier. Sam returned to The Front Range to log some vertical on a few famed 14ers, while Menno and John headed to the Pacific Northwest for an abbreviated volcano tour that would allow for more glacier practice and big single day ski descents on some classic lines.  

Everything was slowly coming into focus, and before long these three members of the Bluebird flock would be reunited on the Talkeetna airstrip — patiently waiting for weather to clear and for their chance to land on the Kahiltna Glacier en route to the roof of North America.

With a classic Alaska Range storm brewing high in the mountains, one day bled into the next while Sam, Menno, John and their respective teams sat patiently — biding their time in quintessential small town Alaska. Finally, after a few unplanned days in Talkeetna, Sam’s team got word that their pilot was going to shoot a weather window and get them onto the Kahiltna. Menno and John enviously waved from the airstrip, knowing they would reconnect somewhere up high when the weather would allow for their safe passage in a smaller aircraft.

Menno, Sam, and John wait at the airstrip for a weather window. Photo: John Beye

Thankfully they didn’t have to wait long. By 1:00pm the following afternoon, their team was hastily unpacking the plane, rigging sleds, roping up, and eagerly starting the long push across the Lower Kahiltna Glacier — each with 125 lbs of gear in tow. 

The lower mountain proved uneventful in all the best ways. Blue skies, reflective solar heat, and solid snow bridges paved the way from the icy airstrip all the way to 11,000 feet — a destination reached by both teams in a couple full days of glacier travel. From there on, the climb gets a bit more technical and consequential as expeditions navigate Windy Corner — the crux separating the lower elevations from the majesty of the Upper Mountain.  

At this point, Sam’s and John/Menno’s teams had reunited and were back on the same program, advancing to 14 Camp in less than a week from first landing on the glacier. The average summit bid on Denali is 18 days, and our Bluebird representatives were well on their way to bringing that number down. The move to 14,000 feet, though grueling, went smoothly and both teams now had a solid high elevation base camp to acclimatize, strategize, and — duh — ski.

Though still largely a minority, each year an increasing amount of climbers on Denali are opting to attempt to ski at least some of the mountain in hopes of increasing their efficiency — and in some regards safety — when traveling over the highly glaciated terrain. This, in conjunction with attempting a summit straight from 14,000 feet (skipping the more common overnight camp at 17,000 feet) are what the National Park Service would consider disturbing plans. With skis and splitboards underfoot and ambitions to summit in one long push from 14 Camp, the Bluebird teams followed both of these plans. 

For these three and their accompanying teammates, having skis at 14,000 feet was nothing short of a necessity. While Denali may have had one of its worst snow years in some time in 2021, the aesthetics of skiing out of camp at 14,000 feet cannot be beat. Big sweeping views and Goliath seracs abound, and navigating boot-top powder in this high altitude playground can be a far more enjoyable way to acclimatize than jumping jacks or hiking up and down the fixed lines of The Headwall.

Evenings at 14 Camp were largely spent cooking good food, playing games, and eagerly gathering weather forecasts to plan for the encroaching summit day ahead. Remarkably fair weather blessed the beginning of June in the Alaska Range, and when surrounding expeditions started to move to 17,000 feet, the Bluebird crew knew it was go-time. Weather moved in on Sam’s expedition during their first attempt and forced an early retreat back to camp from 17,000 feet. While their expedition regrouped the following day, John and Menno’s team saw another weather window and made a run for it.

One of the team’s three camps on Denali. Photo: John Beye

The blessing of Alaska in the summertime is that alpine starts are rarely a necessity, given the amount of daylight available to climbers. As such, summit day started around 7:30am and before long the crew had ascended The Headwall on the fixed lines, navigated the breathtaking ridgeline at 16,000 feet, and cruised through 17 Camp by 11am.  From there, the high consequence terrain of The Audubon and Denali Pass at 18,200 feet awaited — but even that leg passed quickly. The push across the high elevation plateau leading to the summit can be a slog, but with good weather this section proved more mental than anything. As evening approached, the team waited at the base of the summit ridge for expeditions ahead of them to finish their descent. Not only did this offer an increased margin of safety but, by the time they reached the top, Menno and John’s team had the roof of North America entirely to themselves. Tears, laughter, and summit selfies followed, and the calm Alaskan evening meant that the Hawaiian shirts could happily come out — even at 20,310 feet above sea level.

John & Menno’s team on the summit of Denali. Photo: John Beye

With any mountain, climbing is only half the battle and success is truly marked by returning home. It was time to click into skis and begin the descent back to 14 Camp. Dropping off of the summit of Denali was almost everything this crew could have hoped for, but the real ski objectives begin right around 19,000 feet. Given the atrocious conditions visible from 14 Camp, the Messner Couloir was very clearly not going to be an option. That left the Orient Express (OE) as the next best classic descent. After nosing into this couloir’s entrance, and debating for what seemed like an eternity, the four retreated for a more mellow return down Denali’s West Buttress. Though discouraged, this decision was vindicated by a roped up expedition climbing up the OE by placing ice screws and swinging tools on their summit attempt later that same evening. 

As if the mountain chose to reward this conservative decision, the ski back to and down Denali Pass was fast and fun. At no point would one assume that the highlight of a ski expedition on Denali would be walking downhill. However, against all odds, retracing their steps down 16 Ridge with skis firmly attached to packs and the sun dipping below the horizon was pure magic. The Alaska Range was aflame in alpenglow and the entire reality of a successful expedition finally set in as midnight neared at 16,000 feet in a true alpine kingdom.

Exhausted, the team of four rolled into 14 Camp and straight into their tents for a night of fatigued and fitful sleep. The bliss and relief when waking up the morning following a successful summit bid of this magnitude is indescribable. John and Menno’s team reached, and skied off, the summit of Denali on the 13th day of their expedition — many days ahead of the mountain average. Of the just over 1,000 climbers on Denali this season, 53% reached the top. Sam’s team would have an equally rewarding, emotional, and successful summit bid two days later, bringing the summit percentage for Bluebird employees in 2021 to 100%.  

The descent from 14,000 feet provided the final reward of two and half weeks on the mountain, offering a contemplative 7,000-foot descent past Windy Corner, through the previous camp at 11,000 feet, and across the Lower Kahiltna Glacier back to the airstrip. The final night on the mountain was spent in revelry by enjoying the beer and junk food cached at the airstrip weeks ago, before laying out insulating pads on the snow and catching some shuteye under The Midnight Sun.

Menno descending Ridge 16 on Denali. Photo: John Beye

It takes years of skill development and mountain acumen, the right partners, months of preparation… and sometimes even a little bit of luck… for expedition dreams to transform into reality. 

To tackle something as ambitious as a ski descent from the tallest peak in North America, everything needs to work out perfectly. Large multi-day expeditions require an incredible amount of planning and foresight, a willingness to intentionally exist in uncomfortable situations, and an insatiable desire to push oneself in the mountains. While over 10,000 feet lower than Denali, Bear Mountain provides the perfect venue to learn and practice some of these skills while building the necessary awareness and fitness to start dreaming of mountains the world over. At Bluebird Backcountry the final critical piece of the puzzle — strong partners and mentors, a supportive community, and lasting friendships — are also readily available.

There are many incredible places to visit and memories to be made as you continue to push yourself in the mountains. This winter, whether you are stepping into backcountry skis for the first time or have a big expedition already on the calendar, Bear Mountain and the surrounding terrain is there to support your personal progression in backcountry learning — whatever that may be. And if you happen to run into Sam, Menno, or John at Bluebird this year, don’t be afraid to ask if their packs are yet again full of training weight, in preparation for their next grand adventure.


If this story inspired you to explore high mountains on your skis or splitboard, Bluebird’s Ski Mountaineering 1 course is the perfect introduction to what the world of ski mountaineering is all about! Instructed by the second woman to ski all of Colorado’s 14ers and all-around highly accomplished Brittany Konsella, you’re in for a knowledgeable and fun-filled day course.

Weekly Update : Events + Courses

Week of January 13th, 2022

The conditions at Bluebird were amazing last week, and this weekend the sun will be shining on some fresh snow — perfect touring weather! There are fun events and a full lineup of  backcountry education lessons, advanced courses and avalanche courses on the calendar. Check out the complete schedule below and come celebrate the long weekend at Bluebird!

Our team scoping out the backside of Bear Mountain after last weekend’s storm. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Thursday, Jan. 13

  • Dog Days at Bluebird – learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson – book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Friday, Jan. 14

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.
  • Avalanche Refresher Course – learn more and sign up here.

Saturday, Jan. 15

  • Beacon Seekin’ Saturday — 2 – 3 pm at the base area. Practice your rescue skills and dig some prizes out of the snow! More info.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Sunday, Jan. 16

  • Live Music — A Steamboat favorite, solo acoustic musician Jon Fog, 1 – 3 pm at the base area. More info.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Monday, Jan. 17

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

AIARE Courses

  • Saturday, Jan. 15 — AIARE Avalanche Rescue – there are a few spots still available! Learn more and sign up here.
  • Monday, Jan. 17 – Wednesday, Jan. 19 — AIARE 1SOLD OUT! See more course dates here.

Find out more about Bluebird’s Education Program and sign up for courses here. Learn more about Bluebird’s AIARE Avalanche Education courses on our website. You can also find our full events calendar on our website — plan your next trip to Bluebird around one of exciting onsite events, Backcountry Lessons, Advanced Courses or Avalanche Courses this season!

See you on the mountain!

 

Weekly Update : Events + Courses

Week of January 6th, 2022

We are rolling into our second operating week of the 2021/2022 season full steam ahead. Snow is on the forecast for the next 5 days, our calendar is staked with fun events and there’s backcountry education lessons and advanced courses for everyone this week. Check out the complete schedule below!

 

Shasta, Bluebird’s lead Powder Pawtrol, and Amelia Altavena work their way up the Into the Woodwards skintrack. Photo: Jeff Woodward

Thursday, Jan. 6

  • Dog Days at Bluebird – learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson – book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Friday, Jan. 7

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.
  • Avalanche Refresher Course – learn more and sign up here.

Saturday, Jan. 8

  • Beacon Seekin’ Saturday — 2 – 3 pm at the base area. Practice your rescue skills and dig some prizes out of the snow! More info.
  • Live Music — Jeff Lambert & JC McKim, 2 – 4 pm at the base area. More info.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — available to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Sunday, Jan. 9

  • Solar Sunday BBQ & Games — Sponsored by our solar partners Elevated Independent Energy, hot food from 12 – 2 pm and snacks from 2 – 4 pm at the base area. More info.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — available to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Monday, Jan. 10

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — available to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.
  • Backcountry 4 : Reading TerrainNEW ADVANCED COURSE THIS SEASON! — Book your lesson here.

Find out more about Bluebird’s Education Program and sign up for courses here. You can find our full events calendar on our website — plan your next trip to Bluebird around one of exciting onsite events, Backcountry Lessons or Advanced Courses this season!

The Perch, our mid-mountain warming hut, is up and running again — and free bacon is back! There’s lots of new snow and fun turns to be had.

See you on the mountain!