7 Reasons This is Going to Be the Best Winter Ever

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

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

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

 

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

1. The parties are going to be awesome. 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

3. There will be even better deals on passes.  

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

 

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

4. Carpooling will be officially back in style. 

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

 

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

5. You can really pack out the Air BnB.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

One Couple’s Quest to Visit All 33 Colorado Ski Resorts

It started as an antidote to cabin fever. 

This January, after a year of working from home amid COVID-19 restrictions, Jenn Ridder and James Owens of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, decided it was time to get out of town. 

“I don’t know if we started off wanting to ski all the resorts in Colorado,” Owens says. “But we wanted January to be the month where we’d ski every weekend and go to parts of the state we’d never been to before,” says Owens. So they took trips to some of the furthest corners of Colorado, visiting ski areas like Wolf Creek, Monarch, and Purgatory.

“Exploring the mountains is very much a part of who we are.” Photo: Kat Ciamaichelo

Both Ridder and Owens grew up in Colorado. By the time they met (both were working on the senate campaign trail in 2014) they’d each skied a number of mountains along the I-70 corridor. They soon found that a love of skiing wasn’t the only thing they had in common. In 2019, they were married. The ceremony was held on a little hill near their home. 

The first month of the quest to bust cabin fever was a huge success. By the time February arrived, Ridder and Owens felt like they were on a roll. They started to wonder just how many ski resorts they could fit into a season. So, they put their heads together and drafted a plan to tick all 33 of Colorado’s downhill mountains. 

“Every good adventure requires a spreadsheet,” Owens laughs. Theirs included the name and location of each ski area, whether it was on the IKON or GEMS pass, and the closing date. Timing would be the hardest part; both Ridder and Owens work 9-to-5 jobs, which left only weekends to ski. 

“But exploring mountains is very much a part of who we are,” Owens says. “We were just enjoying getting to know all the different ski cultures in different areas of the state.” 

Howelsen Hill, in Steamboat Springs, is the oldest continuously operating ski area in the US. Learning about Colorado ski history has been one of the highlights of the couple’s quest to ski out the state. Photo: By S. Larson, Courtesy of Steamboat Springs Chamber

On March 26, Ridder and Owens made it out to Bluebird for a quick afternoon session—their first time ever backcountry skiing. It was their 25th ski area of the season.

“It’s probably also the coolest mountain we’ve skied in the state,” Owens says. “Showing up, it’s like you’ve arrived at an Antarctic base camp or a moon base. There’s all these tents and a fire going. It was great to meet everyone and swap stories—there was this real sense of camaraderie.” 

Bluebird’s cozy base area gives it a unique, remote feel, says Owens. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

So far, Ridder and Owens are on track to hit all 33 resorts by the end of the season. 

“We’ve got four more weeks of this. There’s laundry that’s been piling up. But we’re looking forward to seeing this through,” Owens says. “So far, we’re on track to finish. Then we’ll just have to think up the next adventure.”

Backcountry Skiing with Kids: How to Get Started

Between the safety considerations, fitness requirements, and sheer scarcity of small-enough gear, backcountry skiing with kids can feel like a daunting task. But once you’ve fallen in love with the wide-open landscapes and winter solitude, it’s natural to want to share it with your child. We can say from experience that there’s nothing more rewarding.

One of the founding goals of Bluebird Backcountry was to create a ski area that was safe and accessible for new skiers and riders to learn their craft—and kiddos definitely fall into that category. After seasons of working with guides, parents, and experienced instructors, a few common themes have emerged. 

Here are some of the most important steps for staying safe, having fun, and fostering a lifelong love of backcountry skiing with kids.

Bluebird has provided a safe, beginner-friendly environment for the McLennan girls. Photo: Rob McLennan

1. Go Hiking Together 


According to dad and Bluebird regular Quentin Schappa, getting his son proficient on skis started a long time ago—and a long way from snow. 

“The first step is to get the kids interested in hiking. You can do that in the summer. My kids have been hiking since they could walk,” he says. By the time Schappa’s son Brody was seven years old, he’d summited four Fourteeners. But the climbs weren’t about building fitness, Schappa says.  

“When you go up to elevation in Colorado, every day in summer there’s a thunderstorm,” he explains. “So I had to teach them, ‘Is it safe to go up? What time is it? How high do we want to go?’ And of course when you have to turn around 200 feet from the summit, that teaches you an important lesson, too—that the victory is in the journey.” 

All those learnings became invaluable as the family ventured into snowshoeing and, later, backcountry skiing. 

Baby Rhea has become a regular at Bluebird even before her first days on skis. Photo: Molly Fales

2. Get the Kids on Skis

Little kids learn fast. Take advantage of the learning years and put them in ski school early if you can, says ski guide Kyle Judson, whose son first stood up on skis when he was two years old. (It’s OK if you don’t have that kind of access to ski resorts—even annual family ski trips can give kids a huge boost.) 

Getting a head start on ski skills will ease the transition to ungroomed snow later on. And there are other skills kids can have fun learning when they’re young, too, Judson says.

“I guess we’ve been preparing him for backcountry skiing his whole life, whether he knew it or not,” Judson says. “We would play hide-and-go-seek with beacons when he was four or five years old. He always thought that was pretty cool.” 

3. Foster the Stoke

When you introduce your kid to a new sport, it’s important to make sure the excitement is coming from the kid, not projected by the parent, says Schappa. For his family, watching Warren Miller and Teton Gravity Research ski movies has been a fun source of inspiration. He says his kids love having pro athletes to look up to. Plus, ski movies provide valuable insight behind the scenes.

“At the resort, the kids are doing 18 to 25 laps a day,” says Schappa. “When you have to hike a bunch and just do one or two runs, that’s a different mindset.” For Brody, now 11, watching his heroes hike up ridge lines definitely brought that message home. Schappa says it prepared Brody for switching gears when he learned to uphill ski. 

Finding gear that fits can be one of the biggest challenges of backcountry skiing with kids. Photo: Rob McLennan

4. Get the Gear

Finding the right gear can be one of the biggest limitations to backcountry skiing with kids.

“You just can’t find touring bindings small enough for really young kids,” Schappa says. That’s one of the main reasons his children had to wait until they were 9 years old to start touring.

Brody Schappa currently uses Marker F10 touring bindings, which come at a low enough DIN setting to accommodate a kid’s light weight. He also uses Hagan Z02 skis and skimo skins (which don’t have clips in the back) that Schappa cut to size himself.     

Kyle Judson’s son, who’s now 14, has had luck fitting into women’s gear, which comes in smaller sizes. Judson adds that consignment stores, used gear shops like the Wilderness Exchange and Confluence Kayaks, and even Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist have been invaluable for tracking down small gear at an affordable price. 

Bluebird Backcountry’s mellow, accessible terrain has made an ideal early stomping ground for the Judson family. Photo: Kyle Judson

5. Pick an Easy First Objective 

When picking a first backcountry ski objective for kids, the key is to start small.

One example: Bluebird staff member Rob McLennan first took his oldest daughter backcountry skiing when she was 14. “Our first uphill outing was literally out the back door of our condo, across the golf course, and along a bike trail,” he explains. “It gave us the ability to turn around at any point and be home in minutes.” Heading out without a set objective or turnaround point helps keep things relaxed. That way, your kid can choose to tour at his or her own comfort level. 

Similarly, Judson took his son out on a groomed road pretty close to the house. It was a zone with zero avalanche danger and just enough uphill to get used to touring gear. 

After that, the next step for both McLennan and Judson was coming to Bluebird. There, patrolled boundaries, avalanche mitigation, and base-area amenities all help provide a safe learning space that puts young minds at ease, they say.  

Whenever Judson and his son ski together, safety discussions are a constant. Photo: Kyle Judson

6. Focus on Safety

In 2018, despite extensive avalanche education and years of professional ski guiding experience, Kyle Judson was caught in an avalanche. He was carried 1,000 vertical feet and sustained serious injuries. For his son, the incident brought avalanche safety very close to home.

“Education became a big thing for us. So, teaching him why avalanches happen in certain terrain versus other terrain, and teaching him what can be done to prevent it,” Judson says. “I started trying to shed light on those big unknowns.”

Having fun is important, says Judson, but for his family, safety always comes first in the backcountry. It’s a frequent point of discussion whenever he and his son ski together.

As for kids venturing out on their own? Education is the first consideration, Judson says.

“I think 16 or 17 is probably an appropriate age to take an AIARE course,” he explains. “Eearlier than that, the seriousness of it might be lost a bit. But once they’re understanding the risks and responsibilities around driving a vehicle or watching a sibling, I feel like they’re able to absorb more of that information.” 

Both Schappa and Judson say they feel 18 is an appropriate age for beginning to think about letting their kids go backcountry touring without mom or dad. That is, as long as they have a demonstrated understanding of the terrain and a solid tour plan in place. 

Giant s’mores from the Bluebird Snack Yurt make a great post-tour reward. Photo: Quentin Schappa

7. Keep it Fun 

“You want to make sure your kids understand what’s happening and that they feel like part of the team,” Judson says. “And you also want to make sure it doesn’t feel like a burden or something they don’t want to do.” 

Judson tries to balance educational moments on the mountain with plenty of breaks, goofing off, and check-ins to make sure everyone is comfortable.

For McLennan, snacks are another key ingredient to keeping the stoke high. Gummies like watermelon Clif Bloks, gummy bears, sour gummy worms, and Swedish fish are among his daughters’ favorites. Whenever they stop to discuss snowpack, everyone gets a treat.

“The key is to focus on safety, fun, and learning—in that order,” McLennan says. 

A Love Letter to Bear Mountain

For its first couple of years, Bluebird Backcountry was more a concept than a place. Bluebird has existed at Mosquito Pass, Whiteley Peak, and even, for a weekend during our prototype phase, at Winter Park Resort. That’s because the Bluebird vibe transcends location. Between the amazing culture of the Colorado backcountry community, and Bluebird’s passionate staff, it’s possible to make magic happen anywhere. That said, we’re so glad that “anywhere” is Bear Mountain.

We now have a long-term lease for Bear Mountain, so we’ll be here again for the 21/22 season. (Keep an eye out for season passes coming very soon!) And while it’s been fun playing the field, we can’t wait to settle into this awesome spot. It was hard to narrow down all our favorite things about Bear Mountain to just 10, but we did our best. Here’s why this little slice of Jackson and Grand Counties is the best home we could imagine for Bluebird. 

Those summit views 😍

It’s hard work to gain any summit, but this one rewards skiers and riders with amazing views. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Guests can skin to Bear Mountain’s 9,845-foot summit, and from there, the possibilities are endless—a nice long run down Ursa Major or, if you’re with a Bluebird guide, you can drop into the Far Side zone. But before you rip skins, it’s worth lingering for the summit views, which include the Flat Tops, iconic Rabbit Ears Peak, and our old stomping grounds, 10,115-foot Whiteley Peak. 

Cute critters

Our guests get the best wildlife shots! Photo: Adam Christopher

The bears may be hibernating when Bluebird is operating, but there’s plenty of other fauna to spot. Our team has seen all kinds of animal tracks on the property, and we’ve even been lucky enough to spot some ridiculously cute residents, like curious ermines, moose, birds of prey, and this (surprisingly large) snowshoe hare. If you’re lucky, you might just spot some wildlife on the skin track!

It feels like an adventure… 

What’s an adventure without an approach? Photo: Justin Wilhelm

The 1.9-mile drive between the road and the Bluebird Base can sure feel long, especially when you’re excited to hit the slopes. And we’ll admit it’s an ongoing challenge to keep that stretch plowed. But what’s an adventure without an approach? “That drive,” says longtime Bluebirder Trent Ruder, “just takes me away from my cares and puts me in the mood.” We couldn’t agree more.

…but it’s near all the amenities

Bluebird is a skip away from incredible restaurants, breweries, and distilleries. Photo: Table 79

Despite its remote feel, Bear Mountain is only about 40 minutes from both Kremmling and Steamboat Springs (and only about two hours from the Front Range). Both towns know how to make a guest feel welcome. Whether you’re looking for fine après dining or a casual place to grab a brew, cozy cabins or an ultra-affordable room, our partners have you covered with deep discounts for Bluebird pass holders.

Gorgeous glades

The quiet, peaceful Lost in the Woodwards skin track is a staff favorite. Photo: Doug McLennan

“My favorite skin track is Lost in the Woodwards,” says Kat Ciamaichelo, Bluebird’s events manager. “It’s absolutely beautiful, always peaceful—even on stormy days—and climbs a nice mellow incline through aspens, pine and some ridge-top meadows.” There’s something so magical about ascending through the trees, and this zone captures it perfectly. 

It’s skimo-ready

The steep couloirs off the Bear summit make for a fun, challenging portion of the Bacon Brawl skimo race course. Photo: Brendan McCue

This season, we hosted the first-ever Bacon Brawl at Bluebird Backcountry, and it won’t be our last skimo race. The varied terrain (including the steep chutes pictured here) make for an incredible, challenging course, and we’re excited to see what we can cook up with the COSMIC team for next year’s race.

Lungbuster skin tracks

The hard work of skinning uphill is well worth it at Bear Mountain. Photo: Doug McLennan

When you’re looking for a workout, Ruder’s Ridge is a fan favorite. It gains 610 feet at an average steepness of 21 degrees, so it’s a real bear (sorry), but the reward is well worth it. “It’s a killer view back towards West Bowl, Rabbit Ears, and Baker Mountain, all places I love to play,” says Avalanche Program Director Lucas Mouttet. Kat agrees: “It just feels so cool to climb up a hard skin track and then see where you came from—so far away!”

More (and more varied) terrain

We love that there’s something everyone in your group can enjoy at Bluebird. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

“I love Bear Mountain because the terrain is so varied,” says Morgan Ash, Bluebird’s rental shop manager. “It allows people to expand their horizons into new types of terrain, snow conditions they’ve never ridden, and can help a new backcountry skier develop an extensive portfolio of skills that they might not have access to at other locations.” Morgan nailed it: there’s something for everyone at Bluebird.

Plenty of snow

We rely on Mother Nature for our snow. She definitely keeps us on our toes, but even this season—a dry one in many places—she delivered. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

One of the reasons we set up shop a little up the road from our previous location at Whiteley Peak is that Bear Mountain gets way more snow in an average winter than Whiteley, despite their close proximity. Since we’re not in the business of manufacturing snow, that’s important. “West Bowl’s leeward face brings in more snow than I expected at first glance,” Trent points out. It’s true: We’ve seen some serious powder days at Bluebird this season.

The best base area

We love our solar-powered base area. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

The quality of the skiing is important, but when it comes to community, a good base area is key. With plenty of parking, proximity to the Mountain Portal, and, perhaps most crucially, room for a snack yurt, Bear’s base has been the site of many fond memories. Of course, as we’ve learned over the last few years, the people at that base area are what really makes it feel like home. 

We can’t wait to see you for our closing weekends… and next season!

Ski Noir 5280 Might Just Be the Coolest Ski Club in Colorado

Quincy Shannon is saving up for a charter bus. Make that a fleet of charter buses. 

Shannon, a Denver native and the founder of local ski club Ski Noir 5280, is a man of big visions. Right now, a lot of those visions center around finding new ways to share his lifelong passion for skiing with people who might never have gotten a chance, whether because of their socioeconomic status, the color of their skin, or a lack of transportation from Denver’s inner city to the mountains. (That’s where the buses come in. But more on those later.)

Shannon could have been limited by any of those factors, he says. But he got lucky.

“My mom, who’s a Denver native, her dad put her in Colorado’s ELK program when she was a kid,” he says. “She was one of very few Black kids in the program at the time.” But, thanks to that opportunity, she fell in love with skiing—and passed that love onto her son.  

Shannon practically grew up on skis, stepping into his first pair of bindings at age 3. Ultimately, skiing with groups like Denver’s Slippers-N-Sliders Ski Club shaped him into who he is today. 

“For a young kid who grew up in an inner-city type of reality where drugs, gangs, and all of those things were definitely a part of the backdrop that I had gotten used to, it was a great escape to be able to come somewhere in which you can just look and feel and smell and realize: Wow, life is really worth something more,” he says. 

Ski Noir 5280 members Ahmaad Brunson and Kacy Wilson transition for the downhill. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

The Color of Colorado Skiing

Colorado has more ski resorts and skiable terrain than almost anywhere else in America. Despite that, its few Black ski clubs have remained small—much smaller than Black ski clubs elsewhere, like the Jim Dandy Ski Club in Detroit or Black Ski in Washington DC, which have hundreds of members each, Tele Mike says.

Part of that is because Colorado has different demographics—there are just more Black communities in places like Detroit or DC, Tele Mike explains. And part of it is a matter of state history.

“There is definitely history here in Colorado of spaces that were not protected for groups of people who may identify as different in any kind of way,” Shannon says, noting that national parks remained legally segregated as late as 1948. “A lot of the focus [on racial issues in America] is on your Alabamas and your Mississippis, but we don’t always look West.” Even in Colorado, which Tele Mike says is fairly progressive, he still gets odd glances in the mountains, and new partners sometimes assume he doesn’t have much skiing experience or skill (that is, until they watch him start carving gorgeous turns.) 

Even in the West, Black ski clubs started as a safety-in-numbers measure for Black recreationists, Shannon says. Today, that feeling of safety still plays a role in the clubs’ popularity, but the camaraderie piece is huge, too.

“If I fall down twice and I’m by myself, I might say ‘Screw this. This just isn’t for me,’” Shannon explains. “But if have somebody with me to say ‘It’s OK man,’ or ‘I just fell , too, we got this, we’re going to get down together,’ then there’s a level of support that allows people to push themselves just a little bit further.” 

Mackenzie K. Phillips shreds hard at Bluebird. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Sharing the Love

By 2018, Shannon realized he had way too many friends that he wanted to take skiing, and that it just wasn’t easy to get everyone the gear and education they needed. So, he decided to turn his passion for teaching into something bigger: a ski club aimed at introducing skiing and snowboarding to young professionals in the Denver area—and growing the historically small percentage of Black skiers in Colorado.

Shannon put together a team of close friends. For a few weeks, they gathered in his living room regularly to talk about their goals and dreams for a ski club. They wanted something that was both unapologetically Black, and welcoming to all types of people. It should be both a safe space for first-timers, and a place where experienced athletes could find the camaraderie and partnership they needed.

Mike “Tele Mike” Russell navigates a few inches of fresh on Bear Mountain. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Tele Mike

On that inaugural team was Mike Russell, known to his friends as Tele Mike. Tele Mike is (you guessed it) a longtime telemark skier. Like Shannon, he got his start on an outing with a Black ski club, this time in Arizona.

“I didn’t take any lessons or anything—I just went flying down the intermediate run without a whole lot of control, yard-saling and nearly missing people,” Tele Mike laughs. “When I got to the bottom of the run, I was bruised, cold, and wet, but I loved it. After that, I started taking all my vacations to go skiing.” 

It was nothing more than a fun hobby until September 11, 2001. Tele Mike was commuting to work on the New Jersey Turnpike, watching the sky, when the second plane hit the Twin Towers. The moment threw his priorities in sharp focus.

“While witnessing 911, I asked myself what I truly wanted to do with my life. The undeniable answer was to become a skier. I moved to Colorado four months later.” Since then, he has skied big mountains all over the world. Shannon knew he wanted Tele Mike on the Ski Noir 5280 team. And for Tele Mike, it was a perfect fit. 

“I love showing anyone the beauty of the mountains, no matter what culture they’re from,” says Tele Mike, whose own heritage is Black and Native American. “I’ve worked with some inner city kids who don’t want to go to college or be in the corporate world because of all the things that can go on there with being a person of color and having to swim against the current. So I like to show people that skiing or snowboarding can be a path to a great lifestyle, as well, and that they can find a home here in the mountains.” 

Ski Noir 5280 members get in some laps at Bluebird. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

A Radical New Ski Club

In 2019, Shannon launched Ski Noir 5280 along with Sondra Scott, another Colorado Native, and Tele Mike. Since then, they have amassed over 50 paying members, as well as a much greater number of interested skiers. The club has provided a crucial entry point for dozens of new skiers and snowboarders, and a tight-knit community for everyone involved.

Ski Noir 5280 is now accredited by the National Brotherhood of Skiers, a nationwide organization dedicated to improving opportunities for Black skiers and riders. That status allows Shannon to partner with groups like Patagonia and Aspen Snowmass, which have donated gear. The donation system helps the club lower the barrier of entry to new skiers even more.

The next step? Transportation equity. 

Transportation has been one of the biggest challenges for prospective Ski Noir 5280 members, Shannon says. Today, he is working to raise enough money to purchase a charter bus, which will allow the club to give skiers and riders in need a lift to the slopes. In the future, he hopes the project can provide transportation to local middle- and high-school kids, and to groups in need regardless of age, race, background, or ability level. 

The mission: Introduce the sport to new skies and riders—and make it look good. Pictured: Maurice Wills. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Building Partnerships  

In 2020, Bluebird Backcountry reached out to Ski Noir 5280 to invite Shannon, Scott, Tele Mike, and other Ski Noir 5280 members to Bear Mountain. The ultimate goal was a mutually beneficial partnership—an educational exchange. 

Bluebird plans to offer its beginner-friendly, ski-patrolled terrain to assist with Ski Noir 5280’s mission of sharing skiing in welcoming environment. And Ski Noir 5280 hopes to further Bluebird’s accessibility mission in return. 

“We have a lot to offer. We can do a historical walking tour of Denver and explain what redlining and segregation and all those other terms look like and feel like and taste like. We can explain how the Black community of Denver formed and what it’s like today,” Shannon says.“That way if Bluebird has a student or a child or a person from these neighborhoods, they can have a point of connection. They can say, hey, I’ve been to Welton Street Cafe. I’ve been to Mona’s. The food’s pretty good there, huh?’” 

Taking the time to understand someone’s background and point of view goes a long way toward bridging gaps in the Colorado ski community, Tele Mike says. 

“I know it can be awkward, but just talking and communicating is important,” he explains. “Reach out to someone and ask them if they want to try this sport. And once you get diverse people in the door, treat them like you would any one of your family or friends.” 

The hopeful result? A ski community that feels like home—for everyone. 

10 Backcountry Touring Tips for Happier Dogs

Done right, backcountry touring with your dog can be the best thing ever. Frolicking in the snow, exploring deep forests and rolling hills with your best friend—sounds pretty idyllic, right? But between cold weather, deep powder, and sharp ski edges, there’s some dangerous stuff out there. Here are our tips for keeping safe next time you go backcountry touring with your dog. 

(Need a place to practice? Come to Bluebird Backcountry, Colorado’s first backcountry-only ski area, on select Mondays for Dog Days at Bluebird. All you need is a well-behaved pup and a doggie day pass.) 

1. Make sure your dog can handle the cold. 

First things first: To go backcountry touring with you, your dog needs to be able to handle the chilly temps. Cold-weather breeds with thick coats are a good bet. Medium- to large-sized athletic breeds with a doggie jacket and/or booties can also do well in the snow. Just keep an eye out for shivers and frozen paws, and have extra layers on hand for your dog just in case. 

A doggie jacket is essential for keeping short-haired dogs cozy and warm. Photo: Jeff Woodward 

2. Get your pooch in shape. 

Because your pup won’t have the luxury of flotation, he or she will need to be in peak physical condition to post-hole all day and run down the slopes after you. Can your dog go on a five-mile run with you and still have energy for more? Perfect. 

3. Brush up on your commands. 

Before you head into the backcountry, make sure your pup sticks by your side and returns when called. Downhill skier coming in hot? To avoid an accident, you’ll need a fast response from your pup—even if that means abandoning a squirrel mid-stride. Take an obedience class if you need to, or devote some time to backcountry-specific dog training.  

Before backcountry touring, train your dog to come when called and stay by your side. Photo: Justin Wilhelm.

4. Ease into it. 

Your dog needs to build comfort and confidence around skis just as you do. Plus, it can take some time to teach your dog to keep some distance from your ski edges, which have been known to cut legs and paws. Cross-country skiing or backcountry touring on gently rolling terrain can be a good place to ease in.    

5. Pack a canine emergency kit. 

In addition to a doggie jacket and booties, we recommend carrying a water bowl, poop bags, and treats for your dog, as well as a leash for touring or navigating crowded trailheads. You should also bring a small veterinary first-aid kit, and make sure you know how to treat cold-related injuries, lacerations from ski edges, and other common canine injuries. Here’s what we have in our kit:

  • An ACE bandages
  • Kinesiology tape 
  • Gauze 
  • A syringe for flushing wounds
  • Tweezers 
  • Extra treats 

Put your pup on a leash if you know he’ll go nuts and tire himself out on his own. Photo: Kat Ciamaichelo

6. Strategize for safe skiing 

Even a well-behaved dog can wear himself out or accidentally run in front of other skiers. While skinning, put high-energy dogs on a leash to ensure they maintain a steady, sustainable pace. On the downhill, try this: Grab your dog at the top of a pitch. Have your partner ski or ride down. Then, let your dog run down to your partner. Once your partner has your dog, head down to meet them.

That way, you never have to worry about dodging your dog, and your dog doesn’t have to worry about unpredictable edges. 

7. Listen to your dog. 

OK, so your pooch might not be weighing in on snowpack stability or avalanche hazards, but she’ll still communicate her needs and comfort level. If your dog is slowing, shivering, or looking nervous, take a break. Administer water and treats as needed, and call it a day if your dog is too cold or exhausted to continue. 

8. Practice good backcountry touring etiquette. 

Before you go backcountry touring with your dog, make sure dogs are allowed in the area, and check local leash laws. On the skintrack, keep your dog by your side, and be mindful to pull him or her aside for passing skiers. And,  of course, always pick after your pup (and carry that bag with you rather than leaving it beside the trail.) 

Your dog needs to stay fueled just as much as you do. Photo: Grant Robbins at The Elevated Alpine

9. Stay fueled and hydrated.

On touring days, your pup will burn a lot of extra calories, just like you do. Take breaks to offer snacks and water every lap or two.  

10. Know when to leave your dog at home.

If you’ve ever been postholing after a storm, you know how exhausting fresh powder can be. Consider giving your dog a day off if there’s deep snow or avalanche danger, or if you’re skiing in unfamiliar terrain for the first time. And, of course, if your dog isn’t responsive enough to stay safe in the backcountry, the best thing for both your safety is to leave him or her at home. 

 

Cover photo by Grant Robbins at The Elevated Alpine.

7 Reasons Women Crush Harder with Other Women

Before this weekend, Kelly Gazarik had only ever skied with men.

“I’d only been out with my brother or other male partners,” she says. “Then I saw that Bluebird was hosting a women’s clinic, and I thought this would be the perfect time to get a different perspective.” So she signed up for the Women in the Backcountry clinic, the first ladies-only ski touring and splitboarding clinic of the season at Bluebird Backcountry, Colorado’s backcountry-only ski area. 

The clinic covered everything from layering systems to finding gear that actually fits to, yes, handling periods on the mountain. Gazarik learned that women need to fuel differently than men, and that women have a natural tendency to be more calculating of risks—a valuable asset in the mountains. 

Instructor Brittany Konsella shares her insight on the assets women bring to the backcountry. Photo: Kat Ciamaichelo 

Another thing that really stood out, says Kat Ciamaichelo, who also attended the clinic, is how different the dynamics were in a women-only group

“There was a lot of laughing, which is, at least for me, something that’s different about women’s only groups. It’s so much more fun and goofy—all while still being respectful of the backcountry,” Ciamaichelo says. 

Gazarik adds that she felt more relaxed and more in tune with her intuitions because she wasn’t spending so much energy trying to prove that she belonged.

“That was a feeling I was really dealing with before this, because I just didn’t see that many women out there in the backcountry,” she says.

The fact that the course was taught by Erika Lee, an experienced Bluebird instructor, and Brittany Konsella, a coach with over 10 years of experience and the second woman to ski all Colorado’s Fourteeners, definitely didn’t hurt.

“It was extremely empowering,” Gazarik says. “Having a female mentor who’s been there, done that—it just makes backcountry skiing feel so much more attainable. It helped with my confidence so much. By the end of it I was like, OK, I do belong here. I can do backcountry.” 

As for our other takeaways from ladies-only tours? Read on. 

Backcountry touring in an all-ladies group can help build confidence and camaraderie. Photo: Kat Ciamaichelo

Our 7 Favorite Things About Skiing with Women 

1. There’s amazing camaraderie. 

In a women-only group, there’s a ton of built-in shared experiences—everything from realizing you’re the only girl on the skin track, to discovering you have to pee just when there’s no more tree cover in sight. That translates to automatic camaraderie. “There’s this welcoming, fun, laughter-filled environment that you get with girls,” says Ciamaichelo. “You can just hoot and holler the whole way down, and there’s other people hooting and hollering with you.”   

2. Women have a different approach to risk assessment. 

One of the biggest cruxes of backcountry skiing is the constant risk assessment and communication it takes to stay safe. In this weekend’s clinic, Konsella explained that women tend to be more cautious than men—and that preference to take in more data and look at the whole picture is a good thing. When women ski together, they tend to avoid more of the heuristic traps of wilderness decision-making, and take a more calculated approach to avalanche terrain. The result: Less unnecessary risk. 

3. Communication feels easier.

With mostly male partners, a lot of women find it tough to disagree with the group, even when the terrain is setting off internal alarm bells. “I think it’s very easy to let myself think that a male knows more than me, even when I’m confident in my knowledge of the backcountry and my understanding of the snow science,” says Ciamaichelo. “It’s very easy for me to let a guy intimidate that confidence.” With women, on the other hand, decision-making often feels more collaborative.

Thoughtful discussions were a hallmark of this weekend’s clinic. Photo: Kat Ciamaichelo

4. Representation matters. 

When you never see anyone who looks like you in the backcountry, it’s easy to feel like you don’t belong there. Backcountry skiing or splitboarding in a group of people with shared backgrounds goes a long way toward building confidence—and showing other people like you that they’re welcome in the backcountry, too. (That same philosophy applies to another important topic: improving racial diversity in skiing and snowboarding.) 

5. It can feel less competitive. 

“I like skiing with men, but in a women’s group, things can feel more chill,” says Bluebird’s social media manager Whitney Bradberry. “We skin at a conversation pace rather than trying to destroy ourselves to reach the top. We push each other, but there’s less ego—we’re just out there to have some fun and get some exercise.”

6. You often learn more. 

There are a lot of amazing male instructors, but many women say they learn better with other women. One example: “My first few backcountry skiing experiences were with a guy I was dating, and I think because he wanted me to have a good time, he did everything for me without really explaining what was going on,” says Emma Walker, Bluebird Backcountry’s brand guru. “But I want to be self-sufficient in the backcountry. I like skiing with other women because it pushes me to learn skills for myself.” 

7. It’s a great way to meet other lady crushers.

This weekend, Gazarik and one of the other attendees exchanged numbers and plan to go backcountry skiing together soon. It will be Gazarik’s first female backcountry skiing partner—and, she hopes, not her last. 

 

Looking to tap into some serious lady power on the skin track? Join in on Lady Laps every Sunday at Bluebird.  

How to Camp in Your Car in Winter

Learn to camp in your car in winter, and you’ll be putting in first tracks all season long.

This year at Bluebird Backcountry, we’re excited to announce that we’re allowing slopeside camping in our parking lot for just $25 per night. (Season passes come with five nights free.)

Camping in your car in winter can be a great way to save money and eliminate your mountain commute. However, you’ll need a vehicle outfitted for four-season camping to do it. Here are our tips for ensuring a safe and cozy night.

 

All you need to camp in your car in winter is the right setup and a little fourth-season savvy.

Safety Considerations for Sleeping in Your Car

At Bluebird Backcountry, we’re all about safety. We can’t spend all day raving about beacon checks and helmets and then leave you out in the cold without a little risk-management talk.

So, before you camp in your car in winter, ask yourself these questions.

How Cold is Too Cold to Sleep in My Car?

This depends on your gear and your setup, but here’s some conventional wisdom to prevent sleepless nights (and hypothermia).

Trucks and SUVs

Think of your car like you would a tent. If you have a 15°F sleeping bag, your lower limit for sleeping in a car in winter should be around 15°F.

Cargo Vans

A well-insulated van without a heater is generally comfortable down to around 0°F with a good mattress, a large down comforter, and one person. With two people (twice the body heat) it’s usually comfortable to around -10°F.

Campers and RVs

Vans and campers with propane or electric heaters can be comfortable in any weather. (If you don’t have your own four-season camper, you can rent one from Native Campervans or Escape Campervans in Denver, or A-Lodge in Boulder.)

Do I Have a Backup Plan?

Even die-hard ski bums have to call in a favor when the nights get really cold. If you’re new to camping in your car in winter, have a backup plan. We recommend keeping in mind a nearby hotel you know is open late. It’s also smart to have a space blanket, extra warm layers, and a full gas tank—that way you can run the car heater for a few minutes if you wake up cold.

Of course, the best way to ensure a cozy evening is to prepare your car the right way.

 

A camper trailer parked in the snow demonstrates how effective a propane heating system can be.
An RV or camper trailer with built-in heating is a great way to ensure four-season comfort.

Outfit Your Car for Winter Camping

Everyone has a different setup, but these basics will get you cozy in no time.

1. Fold down your back seats.

Make sure your seats fold down fully and lay flat enough to sleep on.

2. Add insulation.

Cars lose most of their heat through their windows. Trap warmth by putting a thick reflective sun shield in your front windshield, and cutting insets out of Reflectix wrap (available at most hardware stores) for your other windows. Push the insets into the windows before getting ready for bed.

 

A couple eats dinner by their car, which is insulated with silver Reflectix window insets.
Window insulation is a must to camp in your car in winter. (Twinkle lights are a close second.)

 

3. Throw in a mattress.

Car seats aren’t great insulators. For camping in your car, we recommend a 6- to 8-inch-thick memory foam mattress, which you can cut down to size with a bread knife. They’re also easy to fold up for storage. A sleeping pad rated for winter camping will also work. (Pro tip: Stack a foam sleeping pad on top of an inflatable to up the insulation value.)

4. Build your bedding.

Grab your pillows and choose the right blankets. We recommend using a sleeping bag rated to at least 0°F, or colder if you want to brave below-zero temps. A few thick down comforters can also work for temperatures around 0°F.

 

A sleeping bag and sleeping pad provide warmth in the back of an SUV.
A warm sleeping bag and a little pop-up organization go a long way. Photo: Miki Yoshihito

 

5. Pick the right pajamas.

Your skiing baselayers make great winter PJs. Most of us who frequently sleep in a car also wear a hat and thick, loose socks. (Snug-fitting ski socks can reduce your circulation while you sleep, leaving you with cold toes.)

6. Heat it up.

Before bed, blast the car’s heater so you can crawl into warm blankets. While you wait, we recommend eating a bedtime snack and brushing your teeth. Maybe even floss. (We’re all about that dental hygiene.) Be sure to turn off the car before sleep.

7. Crack your windows.

Cars can get stuffy, even in winter. We recommend cracking your front windows just an inch or so to promote air flow.

8. Dream of fresh pow.

And in the morning, shred.

 

A woman smiles in the doorway of a van amid several inches of snowfall.
Car-camping gives you front-row seats to classic Colorado powder days.