onX Backcountry: The Digital Mapping Tool for Everyone

Whether you’re a seasoned expert or new to the world of trip planning and touring, onX Backcountry’s snow-focused mapping software is a great tool to start using today. It has a simple yet thorough platform, with accurate and effective tools. Here’s what you need to know:

Main Benefits

Perhaps you’re new to the task of tour planning and off-trail navigation, or maybe you’ve been using mapping software for a while but want an all-inclusive option… either way you’ve found what you’re looking for. With intuitive and user-friendly applications (both phone and desktop), it’s easy to start planning routes. More experienced backcountry travelers will find that this comprehensive option has everything you need in one place — 3D imaging, established routes, weather information, and so much more. 

onX Backcountry has preloaded trails and crowd-sourced maps for winter-specific sports — a super helpful asset when you’re exploring a new area and looking for the best parking lot or a trailhead. Bonus, there’s detailed descriptions and photos for popular routes to help you plan.

Find winter-specific ascent routes and the established ski descents all in one place on onX Backcountry. Photo: Erika Lee

If you’re not tech savvy, or have trouble grasping the difference between .kml and .gpx files, onX makes it simple to share routes, waypoints, and notes between friends. Send an onX specific link (via text or email) from the phone app or desktop website that your touring buddies can directly open the link on their computer or phone. Any notes you’ve made are also included with the routes and waypoints you share — making beta-sharing between friends and future trip planning much easier. Along with shared routes or waypoints comes any notes you’ve made — this makes sharing beta between friends and future trip planning much easier. Whether you like planning on your computer or phone, both options are similar and easy to use. Routes and waypoints added on a desktop will automatically download to your phone application, saving you time and skipping the hassle of exporting and importing files.

Mapping software not only helps you avoid avalanche terrain, but when combined with the weather and snowpack knowledge, it helps you find the best stashes of powder. Photo: Doug McLennan

Integration

The merging of various online resources and a mapping software is one of the best parts of onX Backcountry. No need to separately reference Powder Project or other guidebooks when looking for the best off-piste ski line, parking lot or campsite in a zone — all these resources are pre-loaded onto both the Snow and Trail modes. Plus, you can easily switch these modes depending on the season and travel plans, which will change the trails and assets shown. 3D satellite or topographic maps are accessible on both the phone and desktop — a helpful tool for visualizing terrain when pre-trip planning and orienting yourself to the terrain when you’re out there.

The Avalanche Forecast is a separate layer available on both the desktop and phone applications — turn this layer on, click the colored forecast zone you’re interested in and scroll down to see the avalanche hazard rating for the day and find a link to the full forecast. Make sure to read the full avalanche forecast page if you’re planning a winter backcountry tour. Other map overlays include the slope angle shading (helpful for avalanche awareness) plus satellite, topographic, and hybrid map modes. Toggle between map modes, turn on and off the avalanche forecast and slope angle, and switch between 2D and 3D on both a phone and desktop to find the perfect map mode for any adventure.

Weather information is integrated into onX Backcountry. Click an avalanche forecasting zone and scroll down on the information page — you’ll find a general weather forecast for the area on this page. Alternatively, get point-specific weather and snowpack information by clicking the black snowflakes marking specific Sno-tel sites. The green circle in the top right hand corner gives you weather data for your GPS location when you have cell service or wifi.

Use onX Backcountry to quickly access the avalanche forecast in the zone you’re planning to visit. Photo: Erika Lee

In the Field Use

When taking navigation from the comfort of your couch and into the field, you can easily download onX maps for offline use. This can be done on the computer or from your phone — all routes, waypoints, slope angle overlays, and avalanche hazard overlays will be automatically downloaded for use while out of cell service. The blue dot is your GPS location, illuminating the cardinal direction your phone is facing — this comes in handy when conditions quickly change or when navigating in complex terrain. Also, for navigation purposes you can set the map to always face north on your phone, similar to google maps. 

When you’re in the backcountry it’s easy to create new routes and see the total distance and elevation gain/loss of these routes. Add waypoints while you’re traveling and use preset labels to mark avalanche paths, good view points, or the perfect spot for camping on future trips. You can even include photos or detailed notes in each waypoint for future reference.

When visibility quickly decreases, it’s nice to have a navigation tool to get you safely back to the trailhead. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

The Confidence to Set Your Own Skin Track

As onX Backcountry continues to evolve their software, they’re quickly becoming the go-to application for on and off-trail navigation, all year long. For ski tourers in search of an easy to use, functional, and accurate mapping software, onX Backcountry is an excellent choice — the tools explained above help you navigate with more confidence in winter environments and return home safely for another day of touring. 

The Bluebird Backcountry team uses onX for all things navigation at Bear Mountain, as well as in Backcountry Lessons and AIARE courses. In partnership with onX Backcountry, Bluebird guests get a 1-month free trial of their Backcountry app, and AIARE student’s get 4 months for free! Put your onX skills to the test at Bluebird, or take a navigation–specific course such as Backcountry 3: Navigation and Avalanche Prep or Reading Terrain to learn advanced skills for winter travel and get in-person instructions on how to use onX Backcountry.

Backcountry Tips & Tricks, Part 3: Personal Care

Let’s Get Personal

Self-care is group care — you are no good to the group if you’re too cold, hungry, or tired to travel safely, make group decisions, or assist in a potential rescue situation. Here are some tips for how to care for your personal needs while touring.

Properly layer before hitting the skin track, it will help make your ascent more efficient. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Dressing the Part

  1. Layers are your best friend – Multiple versatile layers are more beneficial than a few thick layers. This way, you have more options for the unpredictable mountain weather. Carry various layers including a waterproof jacket, insulated layers, and wind protection. It takes time to find the perfect combo so test out different options before settling on your go-to layering system.
  2. Stay warm, but not too warm – Be bold and start cold on the skin track. You’ll quickly warm up when going uphill. Try to prevent excessive sweating, as this leads to wet layers, and be cautious of long periods with no movement. Most people lose heat very quickly when they stop moving in cold conditions. About 200 feet from the summit or your stopping point, put an extra layer on, then continue uphill to build heat before stopping. Check out more tips on staying warm in the backcountry here.
  3. Keep your skin covered – Exposure to the sun and cold can be lead to serious ramifications. Make an effort to keep as much of your skin covered as possible, and put sunscreen on whatever is exposed to the skin. Buffs are the best neck protection for both spring sunshine and winter cold. And don’t forget the brimmed hat, even when it’s negative temps!

Never forget the brimmed hat on a sunny day. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Fueling for Success

  1. Eat more than you think you’ll need — You may not know how many calories you’ll burn on any given backcountry tour, but we can assure you that on cold days your body will use more energy (in the form of calories) working to keep itself warm. Make sure to fuel up before touring, and have carbohydrate and fat-rich foods for snacks throughout the day.
  2. Always carry snacks in accessible pockets — If you start to bonk on the skin track, digging through your pack to find snacks is even more frustrating than usual. Keep some snacks in your pockets for breaks or transition periods. Bonus: putting energy bars in your chest pocket helps keep them warm … because no one likes biting into a frozen energy bar.
  3. Stay hydrated — It’s easy to forget to drink water when it’s cold out and you’ve got powder fever. No matter the air temps, being at elevation and in windy conditions more quickly leads to dehydration. Carry warm water in a thermos; it’s easier to drink when it’s cold out and helps keep you warm & hydrated.

Take the time to prepare a good breakfast before hitting the skin track, your stomach will thank you later. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Treating Aches and Pains

  1. Prevention is key — It’s worth a bit of pre-work to prevent any injuries or pain while in the backcountry. Make sure your boots fit well, you have the right layers for the weather, you’re physically able to accomplish your goals, and there’s no underlying injuries you’re ignoring to search out fresh powder. It’s easier to treat any aches and pains while at home than when you’re in a cold, wet, exposed environment.
  2. Carry what works for you — The basic first aid kits are great as a starting point, but if  you know that Aleve works better than Ibuprofen for you when your back seizes up, add that to your bag! Personalize your first aid kit in a way that works for you, while still carrying the essentials.
  3. Duct tape those blisters — It may sound strange, but it does the trick. The minute you feel a blister coming on, pull out your repair kit or first aid kit, dry off the area around your hotspot, and apply some tape on top of the blister or hot spot. Duct tape sticks better than Moleskin, removes relatively easily, and prevents friction between your skin and boots.
  4. Worship your feet — You’ll spend most of the day (or week) on your feet when touring, so treat them kindly! Make sure to pre-apply duct tape (as mentioned above) or blister dressings to areas you know you easily get blisters. Give your feet some breathing room by not buckling your boots too tight, and follow these tips on how to keep your feet warm.

Loosely buckle your boots for the uptrack to prevent loss of circulation or blisters. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Mentally Prepare

  1. Pay attention to where your head’s at – Backcountry touring can be mentally taxing. After all, you’re dealing with many variables and potentially life-threatening terrain. If you’re having a mentally off day, or not feeling great, share this with your group before leaving the trailhead, or give yourself permission to take a rest day. Being mentally aware is important for backcountry travel.
  2. Listen to your body — The human brain can be astonishingly strong — even when our bodies are telling us to take a break. Physical exhaustion can lead to potentially life-threatening situations if you’re far from help. Make sure you’re both physically and mentally prepared and feeling good before embarking on a backcountry tour.

Checking in with your group makes for more fun throughout the day! Photo: Erik Lambert

Take personal care seriously in the backcountry — this habit helps keep the excitement alive for more adventures. It also shows your ski buddies you care about being a good backcountry partner and ultimately this benefits all parts of your backcountry touring experience. Check out Part 1 of this series focused on education and Part 2, all things gear to complete your backcountry tool kit. We hope this 3 part Tips & Tricks blog helps you feel more confident when exploring winter environments.

Weekly Update : Events + Courses

Week of February 10th, 2022

A week of Bluebird skies and great weather is coming up and we are stoked for some special events and courses on the schedule. Hang out this Saturday afternoon for a presentation and Q&A with Brittany Konsella — the second woman to ski all of Colorado’s 14ers. All you lady shredders out there, sign up for our advanced Women in the Backcountry Course and take your skills to the next level. Check out the full events calendar and lineup of backcountry education lessons, advanced courses and avalanche courses below!

Thursday, Feb. 10th

  • 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, Feb. 11th

  • 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, Feb. 12th

  • Beacon Seekin’ Saturday — 2 – 3 pm at the base area. Practice your rescue skills and dig some prizes out of the snow! More info.
  • Presentation + Q & A : Skiing all of Colorado’s 14ers– SPECIAL EVENT with Brittany Konsella, 4 – 5 pm at the base area. Free to all Bluebird+ and Advanced+ Education Members! More info.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here
  • Women in the Backcountry : Next Level Skills — With the highly experienced Brittany Konsella. 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.

Sunday, Feb. 13th

  • The Bacon Brawl, COSMIC Skimo Race — 10 am – 1 pm starting at the base area. Come participate in Bluebird’s second annual Bacon Brawl skimo race. 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.

Monday, Feb. 14th

  • 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

Find out more about Bluebird’s Education Program and sign up for courses here. Interested in avalanche education? Check out Bluebird’s AIARE Avalanche Education courses. 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!

 

Backcountry Tips & Tricks, Part 2: Gear

All Things Gear

There are many new skills to learn when stepping into the rewarding uptrack of backcountry touring — last week’s focus of education was just the beginning. The next major topic to cover is all this backcountry gear. From purchasing equipment to what to carry, we’ve put together a list of tips and tricks to help you dial in your gear and backcountry travel.

A rider learns how to use their equipment while transitioning to downhill mode in the aspen glades of Bluebird Backcountry. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Getting Started

  1. Try before you buy – Backcountry gear can be a big investment! Find a way to demo or rent gear before purchasing. This will help you decide what you like and don’t like. Bluebird Backcountry is a great place to try gear and see if you like the backcountry touring scene before getting your own ski or splitboard set up. Bluebird’s rental fleet consists of various top brands, including Black Diamond, Dynafit, Ortovox, Elan and Weston.
  2. Know your gear – Do some research so you understand how to fix your skis/splitboard and boots if something breaks when you’re far away from a repair shop. It’s better to know before you really need to know. Bluebird offers an Equipment Maintenance & Repairs course to address any questions you can’t find answers to on the internet and provide a hands-on learning experience with field repairs and maintenance.
  3. Put your beacon on at the house – When you put your bibs or ski pants on at home, don your beacon harness or put your beacon in its designated pocket. This way you’re guaranteed to have it when you show up to the trailhead. Plus, you won’t have to de-layer in the parking lot to put your beacon harness on top of your base layer (that’s the proper place to wear a beacon harness).
  4. Keep extra batteries in your carFor the inevitable day when you show up to the trailhead and realize you forgot to turn your beacon off last weekend, store extra batteries in both your car and repair kit.

 

A group practices avalanche rescue techniques at Bluebird Backcountry, familiarizing themselves with their gear. Photo: Doug McLennan

What to Pack

  1. Carry the right tools – Depending on the season, carry ski wax (cold temps), skin wax (warm, wet temps) and a scraper. Having a multi-tool with the heads to adjust specific screws on your equipment is important as well.
  2. Take two headlamps – It’s a real bummer when one of your headlamps simply stops working. Carry an extra headlamp in your repair kit for longer tours, hut trips, or emergency situations.
  3. Two pairs of gloves are better than oneNo matter the weather, always have a spare set of gloves at the bottom of your pack for those wet or extra cold days.
  4. The more ski straps the betterRubber ski straps (Voile or other similar styles) are one of the greatest tools in the backcountry. Acting as a multi-tool of sorts — use them to repair a lost or broken skin clip, help secure old skins that aren’t sticking to your skis/board any more, fix a broken binding in a pinch, and so much more! Keep one wrapped around your ski pole or in a pocket for easy access and two or three more stowed in your pack.
  5. Always have the essentialsCarry a first aid kit, emergency communication device, navigation tools, light of sorts, fire starter kit, extra layers, food, water, and a shelter of sorts. There’s many resources to learn about what the essentials are for winter backcountry travel including Bluebird’s Winter Emergency Skills course, where you will learn about building shelters, the best gear to carry, and how to manage emergency situations in cold environments.

The contents of a basic repair kit. Photo: Lucas Mouttet

When Touring

    1. Keep the goggles in your pack – Unless it’s snowing hard and very cold, store your goggles in a dry place in your pack and wear sunglasses while skinning, then transition to the goggles for the downhill. This tactic will prevent your goggles from fogging on the uptrack. Make sure to always wear some form of eye protection when in the mountains — snow blindness is real and not something you want to experience.
    2. Take good care of your skins – Forgetting to properly care for your skins, even just once, can ruin a high-quality set. Follow these rules during and after every tour and your skins will last you many seasons:
      1. Store them (in the field and at home) glue to glue, or roll them if the manufacturer recommends. 
      2. Keep the glue side off the snow as much as possible
      3. Remove ice/snow from the top or bottom sides when you first notice buildup. 
      4. Properly dry them out after every single tour by hanging them to dry by a heat source or in a warm place. 
      5. Keep skins away from animal hair/fur and dirt as much as possible.

A guest at Bluebird checks his skins to make sure the tail clip is properly attached before heading uphill. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

It takes time to find the right gear and understand how to use it. Consider taking an intro to touring course with your local guiding service, or check out Bluebird Backcountry near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It’s a great place to take a lesson, go out on your own, and explore more advanced terrain in an avalanche-managed environment. Check back next week for part 3 of this series — tips and tricks for personal care while backcountry touring. 

If you’re interested in learning more basics, like how to build a repair kit, and tips on skinning technique, check out Bluebird Backcountry Community’s Premium Membership — an virtual hang-out space with courses, gear exchange groups, partner finders, and forums.

How to Stay Warm While Backcountry Touring

When temps drop, it takes a lot more energy to stay warm while out in the backcountry. If frigid temperatures cause you to opt for the hot tub instead of the skin track, consider using these tips to improve your next touring experience.

1. Strategically layer.

It’s all about the layers! Start with a thermo-regulating base layer then add multiple thin layers on top. Carrying multiple lightweight layers instead of a few heavy layers allows for more adaptability to conditions. Most importantly, avoid cotton at all costs — it doesn’t breathe well and takes a long time to dry.

2. Arrive ready.

Show up at the trailhead ready to hit the skin track — pants, skins, and beacon on, backpack packed, and ready to go. Standing around in the cold for too long is hard to recover from on chilly mornings. That said, you’ll likely spend some time discussing a tour plan and doing a beacon check before leaving the parking lot, so put an extra puffy jacket on during your morning check in.

Start off with less layers than you’d usually wear for the skin up. Photo: Doug McLennan

3. Start Cold.

You’ll warm up the second you start moving. Knowing this, start a little colder than comfortable to avoid getting sweaty right away. It’s important to not let sweat lead to damp clothes as these items will take a longer to dry in cold temps and wearing damp layers will inevitably make you colder.

4. Prewarm Gear.

During the drive to the trailhead, put your gloves on the dashboard and boots near a heating vent in the car. Beginning a cold morning with toasty gloves and boots will help keep your hands and feet warm for the remainder of the day.

5. Pace Wisely. 

Moving is the number one way to build heat, but moving too quickly will lead to excess perspiration and exhaustion. Try to set a maintainable pace that allows you to keep warm without sweating and limit the stop-and-go breaks to a minimum.

Setting a mellow pace for the whole group leads to less breaks and more time for shredding. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

6. Don’t ignore extremities. 

Often, cold hands or feet are a sign of a lowered core temperature and prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can lead to long-term nerve damage. Focus on keeping your core warm and check out these tricks for keeping your hands and feet warm.

7. Fuel Up.

You don’t always realize how many more calories you burn in cold weather until you’re bonking on the skin track. Start the day with a good breakfast and focus on a regular intake of liquids and food during breaks or when moving slowly; this helps keep the furnace burning.

Don’t underestimate the power of carbohydrates for keeping you warm. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

8. Pack liquid heat.

Bring along an insulated bottle or thermos of hot tea or warm water — you won’t regret the added weight. Better yet, bring along a mug of soup for lunch! Warmth in cold environments helps keep morale high and gives you the energy for one more lap.

9. Warm up before transitioning.

Insulated jackets don’t generate heat, they just hold it. If you know the designated transition point or you’re about to stop for a longer break, put on an extra layer 20 yards before that stopping point then carry on. You’ll build up heat for your layers to retain once you stop moving.

10. Stay off the snow.

While it’s fun to play in, sitting down on wet snow for even a minute will likely lead to some of your layers getting saturated with water. Carry a small thermarest or insulated layer to sit on, or flip your skis skin-side up and use them as a bench.

Take lots of food and hydration breaks throughout the day to maintain your energy. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Staying warm, well fed and happy is the key to enjoying your backcountry experience. If you’re intimidated by a full-on backcountry experience, check out Bluebird Backcountry — it’s the perfect place to try out touring with added amenities to keep you warm, well-fed, and stoked to come back for more.

Weekly Update : Events + Courses

Week of February 3rd, 2022

Cold temps and mid-week snow make for prime conditions at Bluebird this Thursday – Monday. Come out this Saturday to see Roma Ransom live at the base area, then stick around for the Solar Sundays snacks and drinks with our solar partners Elevated Independent Energy. Check out the full events calendar and lineup of backcountry education lessons, advanced courses and avalanche courses below!

Last weekend’s sunset tour of West Bowl was a success! Photo: Aidan Giroso

Thursday, Feb. 3rd

  • 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, Feb. 4th

  • 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, Feb. 5th

  • 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 — Roma Ransom, 2 – 4 pm at the base area. A Colorado Springs band that you won’t want to miss! 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.
  • Avalanche Refresher Course NEW THIS SEASON. Learn more and sign up here.

Sunday, Feb. 6th

  • Solar Sundays — 11 – 3 pm at the base area. Come enjoy drinks, snacks, and a triva game while learning about how Bluebird is powered as an off-the-grid resrot. 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, Feb. 7th

  • 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.

AIARE Courses

Find out more about Bluebird’s Education Program and sign up for courses here. Interested in avalanche education? Check out 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!