Where to Find Summer Backcountry Turns in North America

If skinning in a t-shirt, and wearing running shoes for half of the approach to your objective sounds like an ideal day in the mountains, then plan a summer backcountry ski/snowboard tour immediately. For the diehard snow lovers, and those who prefer warm weather turns, the on-snow season never ends in North America — put in a little extra effort and you can find yourself exploring the mountains on your skis or snowboard in the middle of summer. Here are six lines to consider for your next backcountry skiing/snowboarding tour:

1. Saint Mary’s Glacier, Colorado

Looking for a proper summer ski adventure? Look no further than Saint Mary’s Glacier. This area conveniently sits north of I-70 in Colorado and requires a long approach and steep hike to earn your turns. Saint Mary’s ‘Glacier’ is not a true glacier, but rather a semi-permanent snowfield that, on a good year, holds snow well into the summer season.

2. Skyscraper Glacier, Colorado

One of the best things about Colorado is how easy it is to access high elevation lines. The Skyscraper Glacier is one of those lines. Located in the Front Range of Colorado, west of Nederland, this 700-foot line usually holds snow all year. While you’ll need to time the descent correctly (it’s South-South East facing with lots of sun exposure), you can get in multiple laps if you plan the day wisely.

Skyscraper Glacier is steep, spicy and well worth the uphill work. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

3. Grizzly Peak’s North Couloir, Colorado

If you’re in search of a less crowded backcountry adventure in Colorado that includes sliding downhill on whatever board you fancy, Grizzly Peak is the right choice. Colorado’s highest 13er provides less people than the 14,000 foot peaks, and still gives you the feeling of being on top of the world. This couloir typically holds snow into the summer, and offers around 1,300 vertical feet of steep riding for your descent.

4. Lamb’s Slide, Colorado

Located on the flanks of what some may call the crown jewel of Colorado, Longs Peak, sits Lamb’s Slide: a couloir arm that runs off the Mills Glacier with 1,200 vertical feet of rideable snow (depending on conditions). The 9-mile excursion offers some of the best views of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, plus a steep and fun ascent of the Lamb’s Slide line that you’ll descend back down.

Even in the summer, Mount Shasta typically has wide open, snow-filled bowls. Photo: Jimmy Howe on Mount Shasta in 2017.

5. Mount Shasta, California

The snowfield between the Hotlum and Wintun Glaciers on Mount Shasta’s east face typically holds snow well into the summer and provides a sustained, steep ride back down. If it’s been a good winter and the weather cooperates, you can have some of the best turns of the whole season with three to four thousand vertical feet of corn snow. Shasta’s summit is 14,162 feet – and while that easily compares to many Colorado peaks, you start at a significantly lower elevation; so it’s a great place to prepare for bigger mountain objectives.

6. Mount Rainier, Washington

Washington state’s highest peak, whose summit sits at 14,411 feet, Mount Rainier requires good navigation skills to select the best route and avoid the numerous cravasses on Paradise Glacier. Consider finding a guide service for this climb if you don’t have experience with ski mountaineering. Once you summit, there’s multiple options for riding down, all of which will likely deliver an awesome adventure and opportunity to explore the alpine and use your boards during the peak of summer.

All smiles and stoke as fellow Bluebird, Kat Chiamaichelo and her partner summit Torreys Peak in June. Photo: Kat Ciamaichelo

If your backcountry setup is packed away, or your boots are too worn out from a winter of human-powered turns, there’s a few great lift operations in North America that stay open into the summer season. Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon is open June – September, with a lift taking you up to the Palmer Glacier. Mammoth Mountain in California is another good option for a multi-sport adventure including summer snow shredding. They close June 5th for the regular season of on-snow operations, but plan to be open the weekend of July 4th for boarding/skiing and a general fun time on snow mid-summer. You can even explore some backcountry tours outside Mammoth before or after taking advantage of the ski lifts.

The Bluebird crew enjoys aprés drinks and summer costumes post tour. Photo: Ti Eversole

Summer touring can be some of the most fun days of the whole season, and the hours you have to enjoy a beverage with friends post-tour typically get longer and sillier (as pictured above). It may feel like all fun and games, but don’t forget to stay aware if you venture onto the snow this summer. While snowpack conditions generally stabilize in the warmer months, timing is everything and avalanches still happen. Make sure your have avalanche training, an understanding of the current snowpack conditions, and are aware that the snow is ever-changing — particularly when exposed to sun and wind.

 

Check out the photos below of our team gettin’ after some mid-summer turns.

Photos courtesy of team members: Jimmy Howe, Cat Owensby, Karen Ranieri, Justin Wilhelm, and Jeff Woodward

The Best Spring Skiing Spots in Northern Colorado

Some say spring is when true skiing starts in Colorado. While chasing powder in the winter is great, as the weather warms the snow generally stabilizes, providing access to bigger lines and long days full of exciting backcountry turns. Whether you’re new to the touring world or wrapping up your 36th month in a row of skiing/riding, we’ve compiled seven Northern Colorado spots worthy of exploring this spring.

Torreys Peak looming over a few creek crossings and mostly dry ascent to the base of the mountain. Photo: Kyle Judson

Get Up High

Perhaps you’ve set a goal to ski your first 14,000 foot mountain, or are on track to ride all of Colorado’s 14ers – regardless of the long-term goal, spring is the time to start checking off high mountain descents.

Torreys Peak

This peak has multiple routes and is frequently skied, but all the ascents and descents are worthy of the time and effort. With relatively easy access off of I-70, this is a great spring tour.

Mt. Elbert

Colorado’s highest peak, Mount Elbert presents several fun couloirs to pick from. Plus you’ll gain bragging rights once you’ve stood on the summit then strapped boards to your feet and slid down, hopefully getting in good turns.

Quandary Peak

If steep ascents and tight shoots are not your jam, Quandary Peak is the right 14er for you. This is one of the easiest 14ers – there is almost always a set skin track up to help and a wide open ridge takes you back down.

Nokhu Crags is a hidden gem of fun couloirs and great views in the northern region of Colorado. Photo: Erika Lee

Explore More Complex Terrain

It’s important to still be aware of potential avalanches, and feel confident with route finding and advanced ski mountaineering skills before taking on bigger objects. That said, as the snowpack settles, spring generally delivers ideal conditions for heading into more complex backcountry terrain. Here are two great zones to put your ski mountaineering skills to the test.

Rocky Mountain National Park

With majestic views, steep couloirs, technical approaches, and options for wide open bowl riding, the park is a great spot to explore complex lines and practice ski mountaineering on some of the most iconic routes in the US.

Cameron Pass

Sitting between Fort Collins and Walden, Cameron Pass is an often overlooked Front Range zone. While a bit farther than Rocky Mountain National Park, there are fewer people and more fresh tracks to be had. The Nokhu Crags area has multiple versatile couloirs with an easy approach, and certain aspects off of Diamond Pass hold snow through May.

Riding laps next to friends on stable slopes is one of the best parts of spring backcountry touring. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Keep It Simple

One of the best parts of spring skiing is the long days in the backcountry complemented by riding with all your best buds. If you’re looking for simple terrain out of avalanche danger to party lap, here are some of the best locations.

Loveland Pass

Sitting at a higher elevation than Berthoud Pass, Loveland is an easily accessible zone to lap with friends and family in the spring. You can find mellow bowls and steeper options for all levels.

Indian & James Peak Wilderness Areas

Roosevelt National Forest encompasses these two wilderness areas that are about 1 hour north of Boulder. Often overlooked by backcountry enthusiasts, these zones offer hidden powder stashes in the trees and long ascents to alpine lakes. You’ll find less people and more space to explore with plenty of options for both simple terrain and bigger lines.

 

Looking for tools to start planning your next spring adventure? OnX Backcountry has awesome resources on how to start trip planning for touring along with a snow-specific GPS navigation application to help you complete your spring backcountry objectives.

Top 10 Moments from the 21/22 Season

As the last patches of snow melt away on Bear Mountain, we can’t help but think back to what a great season we had. From fun events to reaching big milestones, 2021/2022 delivered endless smiles and memories that will last a lifetime. Here’s a recap of our Top 10 favorite moments from the past season, along with a few honorable mentions.

#10 | Camp Bluebird Moves Slopeside

Not too many other ski areas can say that they allow slopeside camping, which is why we were thrilled to move Camp Bluebird to the parking lot, cutting out the commute and placing guests only steps away from the Base Area.

Skimo racing

Racers make their way out of the Base Area and out towards Bear Mountain. Photo: Erik Lambert

#9 | The Return of Skimo Racing

This past season, we welcomed another winter of skimo races with not one, but TWO events. We kicked off the skimo season at Bear Mountain with our first ever Beaver Brawl, which served as a warmup to our challenging Bacon Brawl. The Bacon Brawl delivered over 4,200 feet of elevation gain and a steep bootpack before sending racers speeding toward the finish line.

21/22 jerry jog

Dressed in our Jerry best for the inaugural Jerry Jog. Photo: Pat Ahern

#8 | Jerry Jog

We have a lot of respect for skimo racers, but let’s face it — most of us aren’t badass skimo racers. In an attempt to pay homage to the spandex clad, fast as hell skinny ski enthusiasts, we decided to put on a much more relaxed “skimo” race (if you can call it that). From a wild idea consisting of obstacles, costumes, and bacon-eating, the Jerry Jog was born.

21/22 gear fest

Our second annual Gear Fest offered guests the opportunity to demo equipment and talk to gear experts across the industry. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

#7 | Gear Fest

Returning for its second season, Gear Fest brought tons of vendors from across the ski industry to the Base Area for a weekend filled with demos, meetups, clinics, enlightening discussions, and more. Weston offered a free Intro to Backcountry tour, and High Country Dogs provided a fun clinic for dog owners wanting to learn how to explore the backcountry with their furry companions. We can’t wait to see what next season’s Gear Fest delivers.

21/22 Closing Weekend Photo Booth

Taking a break from the festivities at the Bear Mountain Rodeo photo booth. Photo: Ti Eversole

#6 | Closing Weekend

It only seemed right that a great season should go out with a bang. This year, we decided to add a theme and a full lineup of events to the weekend — and the Bear Mountain Rodeo was born. Guests donned their best Western attire while enjoying perfect spring conditions. Happy Hour and a Sunset Tour followed, complete with s’mores, a bonfire, and the inaugural burning of the chairlift to send off the 21/22 season.

21/22 Kids BX Skiing

The Bluebird team helps a school group get prepped to hit the slopes. Photo: Melissa Baker

#5 | Diversifying the Outdoors

We believe that the backcountry is best when people from all ages and walks of life have access to the sports we love. This season, we hosted many different groups working to make the outdoors more inclusive and accessible. Ski Noir 5280 and Backcountry Together both joined us this season, and helped BIPOC individuals gain access to the slopes. SheJumps, Elevated Alpine, and VNTRbirds all visited Bluebird with the intent of getting more women into the backcountry. Schools and ski groups such as CSU Snowriders and Colorado College brought the next generation of backcountry skiers and riders to Bluebird for education courses or a day of improving skills on the slopes.

21/22 Bear Mountain Opening

Enjoying fresh tracks on Bear Mountain in the early season. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

#4 | Bear Mountain Opens a Month Earlier Than Last Year

When it snows, it dumps! After a slight delay to the start of the season due to light snowfall, we were able to kick off 21/22 with a powder day on December 31. Another big storm quickly followed that resulted in the closure of all highway access to Bluebird on January 6, and guests were welcomed the following day to some of the best conditions of the season. Thanks to the amount of snow received from this first storm, our team was able to open Bear Mountain over a month earlier than we did last year — treating guests to new, never-before-skied terrain and fantastic conditions in the early season.

21/22 AIARE avy 1

Students dig pits during and AIARE Avalanche 1 course. Photo: Erika Lee

#3 | Record Turnout for Education Courses

Bluebird was founded on the principle that backcountry education should be accessible at all steps in one’s journey to a better backcountry practice. Along with our gold-star AIARE education offerings, our education team developed a series of backcountry lessons ranging from learning the basics of backcountry skiing and riding to better understanding navigation techniques and advanced skills. In turn, we saw a huge turnout of guests wanting to improve their knowledge and understanding of how to move safely and more efficiently in the backcountry.

2122 pucker chutes

Taking the new Pucker Chutes terrain for a test run. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

#2 | New Terrain Delivers More Opportunities to Explore

We were thrilled to announce the opening of 12 new trails this past season. A few trails such as Cougar Hunt and Ursa Minor opened in the early season, while others such as the Pucker Chutes needed to wait to open until conditions improved. Hailed as the most extreme terrain on Bear Mountain — think tight couloirs, technical descents, and a bootpack up the Bacon Strip — the Pucker Chutes finally got their moment to shine in mid-March once Bluebird Ski Patrol evaluated the terrain after our second best storm of the season, and gave the green light to send. Needless to say, Pucker Chutes received huge accolades from guests who came out to test the goods in the short window that these trails were open.

21/22 Boot Tan Fest

Ladies make their way to the summit of West Bowl for the naked ski lap during Boot Tan Fest. Photo: Nik House Media

#1 | Boot Tan Fest

Ladies, who’s down for a naked ski lap? That’s exactly what happened mid-March, when thousands of women, femme-leaning, and non-binary individuals took to the slopes at Bluebird for a nude run down West Bowl. Hosted by Wild Barn Coffee, the goal of Boot Tan Fest was to empower women of all ages, backgrounds and skill levels to come together to celebrate for a day of good vibes, friendly fun, and naked shredding.

Honorable Mentions

  • Safer Backcountry: A huge shoutout to our team for helping to ensure the safety of our guests. Thanks to their attentiveness while on the job and willingness to help our guests, we had zero Workman’s Comp claims and only two calls from guests to Ski Patrol for non-threatening injuries.
  • Sunset Tours: The best place to experience a sunset at Bluebird Backcountry is from the top of West Bowl. We’re excited to bring back the sunset tour for seasons to come.
  • Burritos: Made fresh by Wild Plum Grocer, our burritos were such a hit with employees and guests alike, that we were selling out daily!
  • Extended Dog Days to every day (not just weekdays): We opened up the last few weeks of the season to allow dogs on weekends, and it was a hit! We’re excited to continue offering Dog Days every day that we’re open heading into next season.
  • The Perch Outhouse: We upgraded our bathroom facilities this season with a one-of-a-kind outhouse, courtesy of Jeff Swan.
  • Foster Dog finds furever home: Our guest services team member, Sarah Paige Groenwald, brought her foster pup Ariel to work one day. Rescued from the Navajo reservation where stray dogs run rampant and typically have a small chance of survival, Ariel found her human after one of our guests walked into that Base Area and felt an instant connection.

We’re looking forward to the return of many of these groups, events, and offerings next season. 22/23 Season Passes are now on sale. Get yours today and help us create more memories next winter.

Better Backcountry Starts with Sustainability

Three ways that Bluebird Backcountry is working towards a greener future

Sustainable practices should be at the forefront of every ski area’s responsibilities. According to a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the planet could warm by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2040 — a shift that would directly impact ski areas. A warmer winter translates to a shorter ski season and less opportunity for those deep powder days we know and love.

At Bluebird Backcountry, we believe in reducing our carbon footprint as much as possible. From not running chairlifts to taking Leave No Trace ethics to the next level, here are three ways that we are doing our part to protect the planet and our ski season.

skin track human-powered travel

We believe in taking the scenic route. Photo: Riley Hanlon

Human-Powered Travel

Bluebird Backcountry has zero chairlifts, which means no additional CO2e emissions. According to a study completed by the University of Colorado during the 2020/2021 season, a lift operating at 95% capacity emits 30 grams CO2e per person. The lower the lift capacity, the more CO2e per person. So, if a lift operates at only 25% capacity, then the CO2e emissions increase to 113 grams per person. Skip the lift and head to Bluebird for your turns.

elevated independent energy solar panels at bluebird backcountry

Solar panels, courtesy of our friends over at Elevated Independent Energy. Photo: Riley Hanlon

Running on Solar

With Colorado averaging over 300 days of sunshine, we decided that the best way to take advantage of our beautiful Bluebird days was to harness the power of the sun for our energy needs. Thanks to Elevated Independent Energy, our Base Area is operated almost entirely off of solar power. A renewable source, solar power causes zero Greenhouse Gas emissions and will still work on cloudy and snowy days. On select Sundays, you can catch the Elevated Independent Energy team on site and pick their brains about solar energy and its benefits.

takedown bluebird backcountry sustainbility

Breaking down the Base Area. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

A Leave No Trace Ski Area

Bluebird Backcountry operates on a lease at Bear Mountain, which includes Leave No Trace Requirements. This means that at the conclusion of each season, the ski area is broken down and stored nearby in the off-season. Once the ski area is broken down and put away for the season, our team patiently waits for all of the snow to melt before heading back to the grounds to help pick up trash. A visit to the site in the summer, and one would never know that a ski area even operated in its location at the base of Bear Mountain! 

The 2020/2021 University of Colorado GHG emissions study found that Bluebird Backcountry emitted roughly 5 kilograms of CO2e per acre — compared to an average of 44 metrics tons per acre of CO2e for ski areas in the Rocky Mountain Region and an average of 15 metric tons of CO2e per acre for smaller ski areas. This means that Bluebird’s CO2e emissions are 99% smaller than the Rocky Mountain Regional average, as well as those from small ski areas.

 

Want to be a part of the change? 22/23 Season Passes are now on sale through April 29th at the lowest guaranteed price. Get unlimited access all season long plus exclusive benefits such as one free guest pass, unlimited dog passes, 5 free nights of camping, on-mountain discounts, and more. Our goal is to continue sustainable practices with the future of skiing in mind, and we hope that you will join us in our vision.

5 Reasons Why You Should Sign Up for an AIARE Course Now

As spring sets in and thoughts of dry trails and summer adventures trickle through our minds, Bluebird is busy planning next season’s AIARE avalanche course offerings — and it’s going to be an awesome year. While it’s easy to set aside your ski gear for the next 6 months and forget about weak layers lingering within the snowpack, here are 5 reasons why now is the best time to sign up for an avalanche course.

Wandering through the aspens around Bear Mountain is one of the perks of taking an AIARE course at Bluebird. Photo: Riley Hanlon

1. Get first dibs on dates.

While it may be hard to know what your schedule will look like in ten months, signing up for an AIARE course now means you won’t have to think twice about fitting it into your schedule next winter. Starting the season off with an AIARE course, or integrating it into your winter plans, will help you gain the confidence to go bigger and farther into the backcountry once the snow starts to fall. Plus, rest assured that with our AIARE Participant Cancellation Policy, you may reschedule up to 30 days prior to your scheduled course date, pending availability.

2. Take advantage of low prices.

Investing in avalanche courses, while incredibly important, is an expensive move. Bluebird just launched their 2022/2023 AIARE Early Bird Sale, and prices are at an all-time low — sign up now and put that extra cash you’ll save towards a new set of skins, upgraded beacon, or next winter’s adventure fund.

Sign up for an AIARE course with your friends now to guarantee that your whole backcountry touring squad stays up to date on their avalanche education. Photo: Owen Richard

3. Secure a spot in the right course.

Interest in avalanche education has substantially increased over the past 10 years, with extreme spikes in the last two years. With this trend, it’s important to make sure you get into the course you want as soon as possible. Plus, sign up now to make sure there is space for your friends in the same course as you! Staying in touch with peers is a great way to build backcountry partnerships, and taking courses together ensures everyone continues their avalanche educational development — a critical component of solid backcountry partners.

4. Keep the education fire alive.

As you pack away your backcountry ski/board gear for the season and turn to other sports, it’s easy to lose the excitement for winter and knowledge you’ve gained. Booking an AIARE course now means you’ll have something to stoke the education fire, along with a motivation to get in uphill shape and brush up on avalanche skills when the snow starts to fall.

Snow science is rad but this knowledge is perishable. Make sure to keep learning and applying your skills every season. Photo: Erik Lambert

5. Sign up now so you don’t forget later.

Similar to pre-season gear prep and trip planning, getting your avalanche education on the calendar now is another way to set yourself up for a successful season. Before your brain officially transitions to non-snow mode and you pull out the flip flops, sign up for an AIARE course — this will save you from scrambling next fall to get into a course and guarantee that you don’t forget about signing up.

There’s a specific technique to perform an efficient avalanche rescue — this information is the basis of AIARE’s Avalanche Rescue Course and is critical information for all winter backcountry travelers to have. Photo: Riley Hanlon

Refreshing your avalanche skills every season is an important part of being a responsible and informed backcountry traveler. Wondering what course is right for you? Check out what Bluebird offers to decide where to start or what to take next. Bluebird is offering multiple specialized AIARE courses next season including the following:

We may be biased, but free bacon, awesome terrain, and a community of people dedicated to learning makes Bluebird the best classroom around. See what’s available and sign up for an AIARE course now!

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!

BUY NOW

 

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.