Closing Weekend 21/22

Season ends with rodeo costumes, bonfire, live music, an after hours tour, and the inaugural burning of the chairlift.

Spirits were high and smiles were abundant as we said farewell to our second season at Bear Mountain this past weekend. This year’s theme — Bear Mountain Rodeo — had guests and Bluebird team members dressed in their Western best all weekend long, with a small group even riding off into the sunset on Saturday for our After Hours tour to West Bowl and back.

Other events included a Happy Hour, courtesy of Candid Cocktails, followed by a bonfire. Kicking off the bonfire was our first annual burning of the chairlift, where a small popsicle-stick replica sat perched atop the logs. S’mores were devoured under a starry night sky, the warmth and light of the fire slowly fading into the darkness. Our last day of the 21/22 season concluded with perfect Bluebird skies, soft turns, and live music.

Closing Weekend was one for the books, and we’re already looking forward to another season filled with exciting events and opportunities. Whether you like to dress up, meet new friends, hang with the pups, or shake your booty, we can’t wait to find even more reasons to celebrate with you next year.

22/23 Season Passes are now on sale at the lowest guaranteed price, and we hope that you’ll join us for another winter of soulful skiing and good vibes. Secure yours today for as low as $189! Thanks to everyone that came out this season, and we hope to see y’all again soon. SKI-HAW!

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Backcountry Planning : How Bluebird’s Education Team Uses onX

I track my routes and monitor the elevation gain, time, and mileage so I can guesstimate how a group might handle that route based on their experience. I also love the offline use feature. ” – Karen R. 

“The ability to easily plan routes on onX Backcountry and have all the tools I need for finding avalanche forecasts, weather, established trails, and access points makes my job as an avalanche educator far more simple.” – Erika L. 

“The elevation profile and tracking option for distance traveled while in the backcountry is great with onX.” – Aidan G.

“Even as a professional, it’s easy to get lost. onX is a reliable tool to help me figure out where I am in the backcountry.” – Jeff W.

These are just a few of the reasons why Bluebird’s education team loves using onX Backcountry for both work and personal days in the mountains. We’ve broken down how this team of professionals uses onX to gather information and prepare for backcountry tours, both small and large. Plus, we discuss the important skills and how to gain them. Let’s dive in!

A Bluebird staff member uses onX to spot good terrain to ride off the top of Bear Mountain. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Initial Planning Steps

One of the best parts of onX Backcountry’s snow mode is that all the resources needed to plan a backcountry tour are integrated into the digital map — this simplifies the planning process and cuts out the need to dig through multiple tabs to find the right resources.

1. Avalanche forecast

The first step of planning a tour is reading the avalanche forecast. Through onX Backcountry we simply pick a general touring zone and click the colored overlay on the map to see what the avalanche forecast is for the day. Bluebird’s education team always makes sure to read the full forecast — including the general summary and detailed summary — by clicking the external link to the avalanche forecasting center’s website.

2. Weather forecast

onX Backcountry has an integrated weather forecast for wherever we’re planning an adventure. When the application is open, there’s a green dot in the top right corner; this takes us to the specific weather for our current GPS location. We can also get point-specific weather by clicking any trail head or established route on the map. Gathering weather data helps determine what location is best for a tour and the general conditions we’ll be managing when in the backcountry.

The ease of finding both the avalanche and weather forecasts through onX snow mode makes this step of planning much easier. Photo: Erika Lee

3. Choosing an area

There are many tools on this mapping software that help us decide the best backcountry touring location based on the avalanche danger, avalanche problem, and weather for the day. Here’s what Bluebird’s team likes to use.

Slope angle shading overlay — Perhaps our group decided that due to considerable avalanche danger, we’re avoiding all terrain above 30º in slope steepness — this is where the slope angle shading tool comes in handy. We can find areas that are below 30º or out of avalanche terrain and set an uphill and downhill route options based on the slope-angle shading. This tool is not a substitute for the observations made while in the field. It’s still critical to pay attention to surrounding terrain when following a set skin track or route. Bonus, there’s now a slope aspect overlay that helps us establish which aspects are facing what direction and what we’d like to ride based on the slopes aspect. 

3D map mode – We’re always looking for terrain traps and subtle topographic features that should be avoided when traveling in and around avalanche terrain. The 3D map mode is super helpful for spotting creeks, gullies, or benches, and identifying what type of terrain we may be traveling through — trees, open bowls, or a complex mixture of both.

Combining slope angle and 3D map mode allows us to investigate terrain and understand what our route options may be. Photo: Erika Lee

Pre-established trails – With information from Beacon Guide Routes and Powder Project pre-loaded onto the snow mode, onX Backcountry offers beta and pictures including where to start a tour, parking lots, established trails and common lines to ski or ride. Bluebird’s team loves this tool when exploring a new zone.

4. Mapping route options

Now it’s time to actually set a plan A, B, and C for the day. It’s always good to have multiple uptrack and downtrack options on a tour in case the snow or weather is different than expected. Using the route planning tool allows us to actually lay out a route on the map and add in waypoints as markers for locations to assess the snowpack, discuss options, and transition. We can calculate total distance and elevation profiles by creating a route, then average out travel time based on the elevation and distance profile. Using the slope angle shading and 3D modes are critical when planning our descent routes, as this helps us see what is skiable, what is within the acceptable slope angle, and what areas to avoid. Some experts like to mark the areas to avoid by using the shape drawing tool — this way we can visually see zones to stay out of when in the backcountry.

Easily build a route on a computer, while in service, or when offline in the backcountry. Photo: Erika Lee

Final Planning Steps

Once we’ve established a plan, it’s time to double check the weather, avalanche conditions, and snowpack in that zone. onX Backcountry enables us to do all of that directly from the phone or computer.

1. Check past & present conditions

With built-in SnoTel data points, we can find the snow depth, windspeed, and new snow totals, temperature, and other information by clicking the black and white snowflake icon in a location close to the zone we’re planning to visit. By gathering these details, we build a history of the snowpack and correlate the avalanche forecast to the specific zone we’re planning to visit.

2. Add notes & waypoints for reference

It’s a good idea to highlight specific spots that we’ll stop at, gather information, or check in with the group. Bluebird’s team likes to add waypoints and name the point based on location and purpose — for example “transition point” or “option A descent”. onX provides pre-loaded titles for waypoints, like “camp spot” or “pit location”, making it quick and simple to add these waypoints when we’re scouting for future courses, winter camp locations, or good snow data collection points.

Don’t forget to label waypoints. onX makes this simple with built-in types of waypoints and the option to name each point. Photo: Erika Lee

3. Download maps

Once we’ve established a plan and built route options, we can easily download the routes, waypoints, and full map (including slope overlay and 3D mode) for offline use. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use digital maps for navigation, check out Bluebird’s Backcountry 3 lesson where you’ll learn all things maps and navigation.

4. Share routes

It is easy to share routes, waypoints, and any notes with a touring group through onX. We quickly send a shareable link from a computer or phone via a text or email, and our friends can open it on their onX Backcountry application. When a file is shared, it automatically saves on their account (but the user must still download the map for offline use). Don’t forget to always share your route and general tour plan with someone outside of your touring group in case of an emergency.

Continuing to assess the terrain and snowpack when in the backcountry is critical to having a successful and fun day in the mountains. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Important Skills to Aquire

While GPS navigation tools and online resources make it relatively easy to plan a backcountry tour, there are critical skills that must be acquired before entering the backcountry. Here are the important things for you to know, and opportunities to learn these skills. 

1. Know how to recognize avalanche terrain

Take an AIARE avalanche course, then practice with a Backcountry 3 lesson to build an understanding for navigation and identifying avalanche terrain. In these courses, you’ll start to learn how to know what’s underneath the surface of the snow — developing a history of the snowpack helps you recognize the potential avalanche danger.

2. Practice with avalanche rescue techniques and gear

While avoiding avalanche terrain all together is a solid plan for backcountry travel, accidents happen. It’s necessary for any form of backcountry travel in the winter to both carry avalanche rescue gear and know how to use it. Taking an Avalanche Rescue course every season is a critical part of responsible backcountry travel.

3. Obtain basic emergency skills

Preparing for the unexpected is a critical step in responsible backcountry travel. Understanding what to do in case of a winter emergency and carrying the proper equipment are two more steps in building your backcountry tool kit. Check out Bluebird’s Winter Emergency Skills blog to learn all about these skills.

4. Know how to move through backcountry terrain

If you’re new to the sport of touring, consider taking an introduction to backcountry touring course, and building upon those skills with other lessons to understand how to use your gear and move through winter environments.

5. Learn group management and decision making skills

Touring alone is never a good idea. And when traveling with multiple people, group dynamics always pop up. Develop group management skills and understand how to move a group and yourself through terrain by taking an AIARE 1 or 2 avalanche course.

8 Perks of Visiting Bluebird in the Spring

Spring is on the horizon — days are longer, there’s a change in the air, and some people’s attention is drifting towards dirt trails and summer excursions. What those people don’t know is that spring is one of the best seasons for backcountry adventures and a great time to plan a trip to Bluebird Backcountry. Here are 8 perks of riding at Bluebird in the spring:

One of the best perks of avalanche-managed runs is that you can ride next to your buddies no matter where you are at Bluebird. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

1. More sun for extra laps.

Longer days and warming temperatures mean extra time on the skin track and mountain. While the bitter cold of January may have everyone but the ardent riders returning to their cars no later than 3 pm, in the spring things change. At Bluebird you’ve got from 8:30 to 4 pm to get in as many laps as possible, then return to the base area for beers, snacks and stories around the fire.

2. Avoid the spring break crowds with human-powered turns.

Bluebird has zero lifts, which means zero lift lines. If you’re planning a spring break trip, consider coming to Bluebird to avoid the craziness of resorts during one of the busiest weeks of the season. Bonus: there’s no increase in ticket prices during spring break, leaving you extra cash for aprés snacks.

 

Stashes of light and cold can be found on north and east-facing slopes at Bluebird. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

3. Stashes of cold snow.

Let’s face it, the snow at many resorts turns to slush in the spring, but this is not the case at Bluebird. There’s a lot of north through east-facing terrain that stays cooler longer — you can enjoy the sunshine while still skiing exciting tree runs in firm conditions or finding powder turns in March.

4. You can party on the mountain every day.

While some people love the frigid backcountry days, warmer weather typically brings high spirits to Bluebird. You’ll find groups party-lapping the mountain (a perk of avalanche-managed backcountry terrain), and sharing their post-shred stories around the campfire or at the parking lot. You can even rent the whole mountain for an epic spring gathering. The heightened energy brings a completely different vibe to Bluebird — you’ll have to visit to experience it.

You’re sure to have more fun while skinning and riding if clad in a costume. Photo: Amelia Altavena

5. The more creative layers the better.

Proper layering in spring conditions is critical for moisture management — ’tis the season to get creative! Hawaiian shirts are far more comfortable without 3 layers under them, and you’ll get major style points from employees at Bluebird if you show up in costume. Plus rocking the jorts and ski boots is far more bearable with more warming temps. Cowboy hats are common attire in northern Colorado, and tutus and bacon suits have also been spotted on the skin track at Bluebird.

6. An awesome event lineup.

Bluebird’s events for the month of March are extra exciting this year. Join us for an all-inclusive fun obstacle course-style race for skiers/riders of all abilities, a day on the mountain with ladies and Elevated Alpine, plus a handful of advanced courses new to Bluebird this season, including a Ski Mountaineering course where you’ll explore the steep couloirs and advanced terrain on the far side of Bear Mountain.

Even as spring rolls around, don’t underestimate the power of a warm breakfast as motivation to hit the skintrack. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

7. Après-friendly conditions.

We’re still holding out for spring powder days, and they are on the forecast! But as the weather starts to warm and longer days, there’s more light and favorable temps to gather around the campfire at the base of Bluebird and share a brew with friends. You can even rent a private, heated dome to use as a midday hut or post-riding gathering spot when the snow is falling because let’s be honest, we’re all still hoping for a miracle March of new snow.

8. Tailgate meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Ditch the skin track Cliff bars for better food in the comfort of your tailgate. Camp at Bluebird and enjoy the sunrise over Bear Mountain with your breakfast, then hit the skin track for a few laps. The parking lot is a 2 minute walk from the base area, so you can return for lunch mid-day then finish off with a scrumptious dinner prepared in your van or a campfire feast with friends.

Good views, cold beers, and sunshine make for a great après scene. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

There’s more to be experienced at Bluebird this spring than what’s listed above — including a full calendar of backcountry lessons and AIARE avalanche courses for the month and potential storm skiing in the forecast. We hope to see you on the mountain this month, making memories to carry you through the dry season.

For Women by Women : Elevating Ladies in the Backcountry

In honor of International Women’s Day on Tuesday, March 8th, it’s time we highlight the reasons why taking a women-specific backcountry class or avalanche course may be the perfect stepping stone for women seeking knowledge, mentorship, and bigger lines in the backcountry.

All-women’s courses can be a place to build camaraderie and meet new touring partners. Photo: Kat Ciamaichelo

In the past few decades, the snowsports industry has seen an increase in women-owned and operated organizations, offering female-identifying and non-binary introductory and skills courses. In a male-dominated sports such as skiing and snowboarding, women can be met with different barriers than men, barriers that make breaking into this sport challenging. While ladies courses may not be everyone’s jam — and mixed gender courses offer important lessons — women-focused courses can provide something special for certain people, and it’s time we spread the word about such benefits and opportunities! 

Here’s a sneak peak to what you’ll learn in an all-women’s backcountry course, including tips and tricks for women while touring as well as upcoming events and courses for women by women.

Tips & Tricks for Ladies on the Skin Track

1. Don’t fear the extra layers.

While everyone’s bodies and thermoregulation is different, women typically tend to run colder than men. Don’t be ashamed to carry extra layers or wear one more jacket than your male touring partners. Pro tip: embrace the down skirt when taking winter courses outside or on extra frigid days; your bottom half will thank you for it.

2. Invest in a properly fitting pack.

Similar to how everyone has different thermoregulation, women’s bodies are shaped differently. While gender-specific gear is not always necessary, backpacks designed to be shorter and narrower are far more comfortable when touring for some ladies. If you have a shorter torso, consider trying a pack appropriate for your body proportions.

3. Embrace the drop seat bibs.

Let’s face it, peeing in the backcountry is inevitable and always more challenging as a female-bodied individual. Ski bibs make pee breaks in the backcountry, or in the resort bathroom for that matter, far less complicated because you don’t have to fiddle with all your layers. Make sure to get a pair of bibs that have the full drop seat incorporated — simply zip open the seat of your pants to easily pee, without exposing your whole bottom half to the cold. Bibs will dramatically improve bathroom breaks and provide more privacy when windy, exposed pee stops are your only option.

Laughs and connections are an indication of a good day in the backcountry. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

4. Don’t confine yourself to women’s specific gear.

The theme continues… Everyone has specific needs and preferences when it comes to gear, and not all bodies are alike. While women’s specific gear can be beneficial for some items, like backpacks or ski bibs, it’s not always right for everyone. For instance, men’s and women’s boots have very little differences besides a shorter cuff height and different flex options. An aggressive female skier with long legs can rock a 130 flex mens boot easily. Explore what works best for you and don’t be afraid to mix and match.

5. Nobody will ever know if you’re wearing a bra.

Social norms be damned, do what’s comfortable for you! Under ski clothes, no one can tell if you’re wearing a bra. On long tours, warm spring days, or when you’re clad in multiple layers, ditching the extra half layer of constriction can be a liberating act. Bonus, discarding the bra removes the highly annoying boob issue that happens on warm days.

6. Identify areas of growth.

There is always room for improvement when it comes to backcountry touring — be that building physical strength, learning new techniques, or gaining more knowledge. This fact is not gender-specific. Consider where you feel less confident when it comes to touring (i.e. steep skiing, decision-making in groups, interpreting the snowpack conditions and avalanche danger, etc) and seek out mentors who can help you improve upon these skills. If you’re experienced and confident when it comes to backcountry touring, be a mentor for someone else! It’s important for women to support one another in all areas and even more so in the androcentric snowsports arena.

Don’t believe the stereotypes you see on social media — some women like steep skin tracks and spicy lines. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Inclusive Opportunities

1. Women in the Backcountry : Next Level Skills Course

Bluebird Backcountry offers an advanced course for women who are looking to take their touring and mountain objectives to the next level. Taught by the highly experienced Brittany Konsella, there’s only one more course running this season on March 12th, 2022! This course is ideal for those with 2+ years of touring experience.

2. SheJumps Backcountry Day

To celebrate International Women’s Day, join SheJumps at Bluebird on March 6th, 2022, for a day of touring, laughs and camaraderie with other women on the mountain. SheJumps offers opportunities to increase participation in outdoor activities for women and help build an inclusive community focused on getting everyone outside.

3. VENTURE OUT Backcountry Festival with VNTRbirds

Combine backcountry touring, backyard games & camping out next to a fire at VNTRbirds second annual Venture Out Backcountry Festival at Bluebird Backcountry. On March 13th-14th, 2022, VNTRbirds will be hosting two fun-filled days with backcountry beginner and intermediate tours, scavenger hunts, relay races and a bit of howling at the moon around the campfire. And don’t forget the s’mores!

4. Shred with Elevated Alpine

On March 18th, 2022, Elevated Alpine (EA) is hosting multiple womens-only clinics and a fun day at Bluebird Backcountry; splitboard-specific, intermediate and advanced courses, discounted tickets, BIPOC and LGBTQIA+, cis-female, non-binary and transgender shcolarhsips, connection with other lady shredders, and a barbecue and hang at the end of the day. EA is a non-profit organization focused on hosting inclusive events, clinics, gear exchanges, and more!

5. Wild Barn’s Boot-Tan Fest

A women and femme-leaning, non-binary shred fest at Bluebird Backcountry hosted by Wild Barn could be in your future on March 15th, 2022. Meet new touring partners, visit women-run vendor booths, demo Coalition Snow gear, explore Bear Mountain, and partake in the afternoon nude lap of West Bowl.

6. AIARE Women’s Mentorship Program

Looking for female mentors in the backcountry skiing and splitboarding community? This season, AIARE launched a women’s mentorship program — a three-pronged program aiming to break down barriers for women in avalanche education. This program includes mentorship opportunities, scholarships, and panel conversations featuring women in the avalanche education and guiding fields.

7. Backcountry Babes

Inspiring women through outdoor adventures, Backcountry Babes offers avalanche courses for ladies, by ladies, throughout the West. They also offer guide services, mountain biking clinics, and trekking adventures.

Instructor Brittany Konsella shares her insights on what ladies bring to the backcountry in a women’s clinic at Bluebird Backcountry. Photo: Kat Ciamaichelo

All-women’s classes provide an atmosphere for women to find camaraderie and feel more comfortable speaking up, asking questions and gaining confidence in themselves. The important message behind these courses is that we want everyone to feel good and be informed backcountry travelers — creating opportunities for women to further their passions and careers while feeling supported is incredibly valuable in male-dominated snow sports.

The queen of powder skiing, Dolores LaChappelle, stated “Everything I know, I have learned from powder skiing.” Regardless of if you’re interested in all-women’s courses or not, it’s time to provide access for women and gender-nonconforming folks, and share the wisdom of powder turns, to experience the sweet freedom and pure magic that backcountry skiing provides.

Prepare for the Unexpected: Winter Emergency Skills

Inclement weather, snow-covered terrain, and cold temperatures can add extra spice to any winter backcountry outing. With good gear and knowledge, you can be prepared for an unexpected situation, regardless of the temps or your location. We may be biased, but we think there’s no better place to learn these skills than in person at Bluebird Backcountry. This season, we’ve launched a new course, Winter Emergency Skills — a full-day, interactive course covering the basics of cold-weather survival skills in the best classroom around. 

Here’s a taste of their Winter Emergency Skills course, along with gear recommendations from Bluebird’s team for staying warm when exploring in winter environments.

Students practice the Burrito Wrap technique in Bluebird’s Winter Emergency Skills Course. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Skills to Acquire

When learning to backcountry ski or splitboard, there are some basic skills you need to know that can be acquired through Bluebird’s education progression. These skills include the following; how to transition from uphill to downhill mode, what to carry in your pack and how to use your gear.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to move on to more advanced skills and take your riding to the next level. Winter Emergency Skills teaches the critical competencies you need to feel confident traveling in the backcountry. Here’s a brief overview:

1. Making a Shelter

There’s many ways to build an emergency shelter, but deep snow and available resources may limit the options. Snow acts as an insulator — if it’s windy or frigid, consider digging into the snow for protection. If there’s enough snow, you can dig a trench into the side of a hill. Make sure it’s deep enough to fit your whole party then over the trench with your emergency tarp or shelter. Another option is to build a lean-to shelter or makeshift wind-break with branches. You can spread your tarp on top to provide extra protection.

Students build a shelter in Bluebird Backcountry’s Winter Emergency Skills Course. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

2. Creating Heat

There are many ways to build heat in the backcountry — movement being number one — but once you stop moving it becomes a lot harder to stay warm. Start by putting on warm, dry layers. Insulating layers only retain heat, so it’s important to build up warmth before you stop moving… jumping jacks or burpees always do the trick. If you’re caring for an injured person, or stuck for an extended period of time, the best thing to do is build a fire. This provides heat and helps you melt snow if you need drinking water. 

Learn how to make a fire in cold environments and put together fire starters for your backcountry kit in Bluebird’s Winter Emergency Skills course!

3. Signaling for Help

Depending on your location in the backcountry, you may or may not have cell service. A satellite phone or SOS communication device (Garmin InReach, etc) is an essential item to carry for all winter recreationists. Finding a high point, like a ridge or summit, will sometimes provide better service. Even when you don’t have service, always try calling 911. When 911 is dialed on cell phones the signal is boosted to include all carriers in the region, so you may be able to get a call through. 

If none of the above work, it’s time to start using old-school tactics. If you have a fire, add green debris to make a smoke signal. Hang a bright piece of clothing in an open field for helicopters to see, and carry a whistle to call for help.

Students discuss what to do in an emergency situation at Bluebird Backcountry. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

What to Carry

Whether you’re planning a simple half-day outing or long ski traverse, it’s important to have the essentials in case of injury or an emergency situation that requires staying overnight in the backcountry. Always pack extra food and water, warm layers, a first aid kit, fire starters, knife, SOS device, and some form of tarp. Here are the best items for staying warm and dry in the snow:

  • Hers and his ultralight yet incredibly cozy down jackets.
  • Breathable mid-layer jacket – Bluebird employees basically live in this jacket all winter.
  • Sleeping bag for extra warmth – Aim for a zero degree temperature rating.
  • Foam pad to sit/lay on – This can double as a splint or emergency sled if needed.
  • Inflatable Pad — For added comfort, if you’ve got the extra space.
  • Tarp – To be used as a shelter, makeshift sled, or to protect an injured person from the elements.

Bluebird employees gather at the base area after a day on the mountain, clad in Big Agnes to stay warm. Photo: Erik Lambert

If you’re interested in diving deeper into these topics, check out Bluebird’s Winter Emergency Skills Advanced Course. You’ll get hands-on practice with building shelters and making fires, discuss how to care for injured persons when in remote locations, and breakout Big Agnes’s gear to practice all of the above.