Meet the Team: Melissa Baker

We’re stoked to have Melissa as our Base Area Director this winter! Melissa is no stranger to the Bluebird team – previously, she was in charge of Group Sales, Partnerships, and Events. Melissa loves snowboarding, river rafting, and all things outdoors. She also used to own a bar! Read on to learn more about Melissa and don’t forget to say hi if you see her on the mountain this season!

Title:

Base Area Director

Social Media Handle:

@melraeb

How many seasons have you worked at Bluebird?

This will be my second.

Why did you want to work for Bluebird?

One day it dawned on me… I love the outdoor industry – I need to work in it! I love snowboarding and hate crowded resorts, it was meant to be.

What are you most excited for this season?

I’m super excited to be working onsite this year and living in an RV just down the road. I feel like I am going to be living out all my dirtbag dreams but winter RV living and I can’t wait. And of course – Boot Tan Fest!

Favorite skin track at Bluebird?

Lost in the Woodwards, so pretty!

Outside of Bluebird, where else do you like to ski/ride?

The trees at Steamboat on a bluebird powder day…or bombing groomers, also on a bluebird day. I’m very picky when resort riding 🙂

When not skiing/splitboarding, what do you love to do?

I live for rafting in the summer and squeezing in some peak bagging in between.

Aside from Bluebird, what’s your favorite type of bird?

The California Condor… I haven’t actually ever seen one, but I really want to.

Do you have an insider tip for guests visiting Bluebird for the first time?

Download the onX backcountry app, you get a free pro trial with your day pass and it works great, even when you lose cell service.

What is your favorite kind of burrito?

MMM breakfast burritos… smothered in hot sauce. I have a hot sauce addiction.

Melissa, Bluebird's Base Area Director

 

Meet the Team: Morgan Ash

Morgan Ash, our Rental Shop Manager, will be back for his third season with Bluebird. If you’ve ever rented gear from us, you’ve probably met Morgan. You might not know it, but Morgan has done some crazy stuff. For example, this fall Morgan ran Run Rabbit Run (a 100 mile race that starts and finishes in Steamboat) and he crushed it! So if you come to Bluebird this winter and you’re looking for some advice about running an ultra-marathon, Morgan might be able to give you a pointer or two in addition to setting you up with all the gear you need for a day of touring.

Title (Position):

Rental Shop Manager 

Social Media Handle:

@morgan_ashvi

How many seasons have you worked at Bluebird?

This will be my third winter with Bluebird.

Why did you want to work for Bluebird?

Two real reasons: First, to finally put my knowledge of skis and splitboards to some actual use. Second, to try and be a part of lowering the financial barrier to try out this sport. Survey after survey has shown that the cost of skiing in general, let alone backcountry skiing, keeps underrepresented groups from trying snow and backcountry sports. Allowing people to pay a small amount to try the sport with some really good gear that they can be comfortable in and trust is a great way to help them decide if it’s worth investing their time and money into in the future.

What are you most excited for this season?

Every year the whole Bluebird team comes together with ideas on how we can make this whole liftless ski area even better. I know I have a few things I’m looking forward to making better in the shop, but I’m really excited to see what other people are bringing to the table this year.

Favorite skin track at Bluebird?

Lost in the Woodwards is just such a pretty skin track, it’s really hard to beat. Plus, you can hop off of it at any point for some really nice mellow aspen skiing. It’s a great one to get a lot of quick laps on and has had untouched snow every time I’ve skied off of it.

Favorite run at Bluebird?

The Plume always has great snow and has such a great view at the start, with an honorable mention to Ursa Major for some steeper tree skiing.

Outside of Bluebird, where else do you like to ski/ride?

Howelson Hill in Steamboat is a great little ski area with a few lifts for those days when you just don’t feel like skinning uphill. I only skied there a little last year, but it really feels like a small town ski area without all the frills that the giant ski conglomerates throw at their resorts. It’s also the oldest running ski area in the US, so you can have a pretty cool weekend of skiing both the newest and oldest operating ski areas back-to-back!

What’s your go-to après food or drink?

Burritos and a hot toddy from an insulated bottle are a perfect “welcome back” to me.

When not skiing/splitboarding, what do you love to do?

I tend to fully invest myself in my sports. I’ve always been an avid rock climber, and at one point was spending 20-30 hours per week training or working on my climbing projects. Over the past few years I’ve gotten really into ultra running and spend what feels like a similar amount of time training and racing in 30-100mi distances.

Aside from Bluebird, what’s your favorite type of bird?

Hot take, but I think magpies are pretty cool. They’re vocal, intelligent birds who look kind of like crows in formal wear. They have also occasionally exercised my dog by flying low laps over a field where we used to live so she’d chase them.

Do you have an insider tip for guests visiting Bluebird for the first time?

Don’t be intimidated by starting something new and asking questions! Nobody came into this sport knowing every little detail. We all picked things up little by little as we watched and talked to our partners, made mistakes, (a lot in my case) and figured out what works best for our own independent style.

If you could be any magical or supernatural creature, what would you be and why?

Maybe a Sphinx, since a good riddle and a good dad joke are like 1 degree of separation from each other.

What is your favorite kind of burrito?

Al Pastor is the true measure of a good burrito, in my mind. I’m a strong proponent of pineapple on everything.

What piece of gear can’t you live without?

While touring – A GPS device/watch/app since my sense of direction is generally a liability.
While transitioning – Those little wrist elastic things that connect to your gloves, so you can adjust your gear and get things from your pack without losing a warm glove.
After the tour – A hot drink in an insulated bottle.

What’s the best backcountry touring tip you’ve ever heard?

Be bold and start cold! You’ll be amazed how quickly you warm up once you start moving, and leaving the base area cozy usually means you’ll be sweating 5 minutes into the skintrack.

Backcountry Book Club

There’s nothing like curling up with a good book — especially if that book is about the backcountry! Below you’ll find a list of books all about backcountry skiing and riding. Our Backcountry Book Club has something for the snow science nerd, the skiing historian, the one who wants to know where to go on their next tour, and anyone who just likes a good story. When your legs get tired and you have to call it a day, you don’t have to stop thinking about skiing or riding. Pick up one of these great reads and we guarantee you’ll learn some interesting things.

Source: Goodreads

Powder Days

Who’s it for:

Those who are curious about the story of skiing in America or anybody who has shaped their life around the sport.

What it’s about:

The subtitle says it all, “Ski Bums, Ski Towns, and the Future of Chasing Snow.” An Outside Magazine Book Club Pick, this book contains stories that you won’t find anywhere else. Heather Hansman shines a light on under-the-radar characters and the culture of these people that have made skiing their number one priority. She discusses the evolution of the places that skiers choose to call home and the highs and lows of this lifestyle. Hansman’s storytelling is eloquent, nostalgic, and thought provoking.

Related:

In Search of Powder

Source: Goodreads

Tracking the Wild Coomba

Who’s it for:

Those who are curious about the origins of extreme skiing and one of the integral characters in its rise.

What it’s about:

Doug Coombs was a hero to author Rob Cocuzzo. If you haven’t heard the name Doug Coombs before, by the end of this book it will be a name that you won’t soon forget. In this biography of his hero, Cocuzzo brings the reader on a journey of Coombs’ storied career from nearly becoming paralyzed in his youth to winning the first World Extreme Ski Competition in Alaska.

Source: The New York Times

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Who’s it for:

Those who want a well told story of an accident in the mountains.

What it’s about:

Everybody makes mistakes. Published in the New York Times, This is the Pulitzer Prize winning story of a fatal mistake made by some of the most experienced freeskiers and riders in the country. Read the story here.

Source: Goodreads

Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain

Who’s it for:

Those who want to stay alive in avalanche terrain, so probably a good read for anybody traveling in this terrain.

What it’s about:

Written by Bruce Tremper, and now in its third iteration, this is the nation’s best-selling avalanche safety book. This is a must-read regardless of your backcountry experience. Unlike the books listed above, this is not a story, but rather a reference book. It is chock-full of information that is all paramount to doing what the title of the book says: staying alive in avalanche terrain. While this information could be dense, Tremper does a great job of breaking it down into comprehensible and digestible parts that make the reading more enjoyable and less like a chore.

Related:

Snow Sense

Source: American Avalanche Association

SWAG (Snow, Weather, and Avalanche Guidelines)

Who’s it for:

Those who want to be able to understand and speak the technical language of snow, weather, and avalanches.

What it’s about:

This isn’t a book that we recommend you read cover to cover in one sitting. It is DENSE. Written by the American Avalanche Association, these guidelines help the reader to become fluent in avalanche talk. The guidelines were made for avalanche forecasting operations. If you’re relatively new to the world of avalanches you will be blown away by this foreign language. You can access these guidelines here.

Source: Goodreads

Allen and Mike’s Avalanche Book

Who’s it for:

Those who want to learn about avalanche safety in a more visual and less technical way than Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain.

What it’s about:

This book perfectly blends information with illustrations to create a fun reading experience. This is an especially great book if you’re new to the world of avalanches. It covers everything from what you need to do before you even leave your house to après ski.

Related:

Allen and Mike’s Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book

Source: Beacon Guidebooks

Beacon Guidebooks

Who’s it for:

Those who want a super portable and durable guidebook that you can take with you on your adventures.

What it’s about:

Beacon Guidebooks has created a really awesome three part system, including books, maps, and apps, to make planning and executing your ski tour a breeze. All three of these parts are for a specific zone, such as Berthound Pass, Mt. Baker, Rocky Mountain National Park, Cameron Pass, and more. They even offer a book that specifically focuses on mellow routes to reduce avalanche risk.

Related:

Avalanche Search + Rescue: A Backcountry Field Guide

 

Source: REI

Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes Colorado

Who’s it for:

Those looking to explore the Colorado backcountry.

What it’s about:

If you’re looking for a single book to help you decide where to ski in the state of Colorado, this is it. The authors of this book, Brittany Walker Konsella and Frank Konsella have impressive ski resumes. They both have skied all 58 Colorado 14ers (Brittany was the second woman to do this). If you take a Backcountry Lesson or AIARE Course with us you might be lucky enough to have Brittany as one of your instructors.

Source: REI

Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills

Who’s it for:

Those who want THE textbook on all things mountaineering.

What it’s about:

First published over 50 years ago, and now in its 9th iteration, this book was put together by over 40 mountaineers at the top of their game. Like many fields, in mountaineering it is important to get hands-on experience. This book unfortunately can’t provide that, but it can, and does, provide just about everything else. If you opened this book and you didn’t know what a mountain was, by the end of it you’d be able to explain how to safely navigate complex alpine terrain. This book can truly take someone from zero to hero.

Source: Goodreads

Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America

Who’s it for:

Those who want a beautiful coffee table book or those who are big Cody Townsend fans and want to follow along with his project.

What it’s about:

This isn’t quite a reference book, nor is it a story. It combines elements of both. You may have heard of this book if you follow professional skier Cody Townsend and his work on “The Fifty Project” – a multi-year project with the objective of skiing and documenting all the lines in this book. The videos from this project bring to life the pages of this book. If you aren’t an extremely experienced and skilled ski mountaineer, most of these lines can only be fantasized about. Flipping through this book is guaranteed to get you stoked to ski and get you dreaming about your own objectives.

Meet the Team: Caleb Kessler

Caleb is new to the Bluebird team this year, but he’s no stranger to the world of backcountry skiing! Caleb hails from Fayston, Vermont and he is stoked to move out to Colorado this winter. You might know him as the voice behind Bluebird’s weekly emails! Outside of his job as Bluebird’s Marketing Coordinator, you can find Caleb running, mountain biking, taking pictures, and spending time outside. Read on to find out Caleb’s go-to après food and his #1 backcountry touring tip.

Title:

Marketing Coordinator

Social Media Handle: 

@ckess2

How many seasons have you worked at Bluebird?

This will be my first!

Why did you want to work for Bluebird?

Because backcountry skiing is my favorite and Bluebird is doing something in this space that is new and exciting and I wanted to be a part of it!

What are you most excited for this season?

I’ve never been to Bluebird before so I’m really excited to see the place come to life when we open for the winter.

Outside of Bluebird, where else do you like to ski/ride?

Northern Vermont!

What’s your go-to après food or drink?

Hard to choose one, so here are three: Authentic Japanese ramen from Miso Hungry at Jay Peak, anything with warm melted cheese, and a Vermont IPA.

Bluebird Backcountry

When not skiing/splitboarding, what do you love to do?

I love to run, mountain bike, take pictures, and be outside.

Aside from Bluebird, what’s your favorite type of bird?

Barred owls! I used to have a barred owl as a neighbor and we would go on walks together.

Do you have an insider tip for guests visiting Bluebird for the first time?

I’ll be visiting Bluebird for the first time this winter so I’m hoping the guests might have some tips for me.

If you could be any magical or supernatural creature, what would you be and why?

Bilbo Baggins because he lives in Hobbiton which seems like an idyllic place to live and he also gets to go on wild adventures with Gandalf

What is your favorite kind of burrito?

Anything with blue agave sriracha or green dragon hot sauce

What piece of gear can’t you live without?

A beacon and a friend with a shovel and probe.

What’s the best backcountry touring tip you’ve ever heard?

If it’s a cold morning and you’ve got a long drive to the trailhead, put your ski boots in the foot space on the passenger side and blast the heat on your feet so all the hot air flows directly into your liners. This will make putting your boots on in the parking lot more like sliding into a cozy, warm pair of slippers and less like jamming your feet into a rock solid, ice cold, burial chamber, where your toes will instantly go numb.

2022 Holiday Gift Guide

gifts for backcountry beginners

Gifts for Backcountry Beginners

Whether your loved one is new to touring, you’re itching to get your kids into the backcountry, or you want to give an unforgettable experience to someone close… these gifts are sure to please.

Gifts for Experienced Riders

Bluebird is not just for beginners. With tons of new expert terrain you can find the right experience for any backcountry enthusiast.

gifts for dogs

Gifts for Your Four-legged Friends

Don’t forget to share the holiday cheer with your pups this year.

Staff Picks

Here’s what our staff is extra stoked about this winter.

Not sure what they will want?

Surprise them with Bluebird Bucks!

No need to fret about picking the perfect gift, let them choose their own adventure! We’ve made it easy… get a gift voucher that’s good for anything in our shop: from passes to courses to merchandise. Vouchers range from $25 to $200.

Ultimate Partner Gifts

Set up your best backcountry buds for the Best. Winter. Ever.

Stocking Stuffers

Looking for something small but special? We’ve got you covered with the perfect options for skiers and riders.

Beacons and Shovels and Probes, Oh My! | Backcountry Safety for Beginners

Safety is a top concern for backcountry newbies, and with good reason. While the epic views and heavenly turns of backcountry skiing are catnip for the resort-weary snowsports enthusiast, backcountry access comes with inherent risks.

If you’re new to the sport, the amount of safety gear and ever-changing avalanche forecasts thrown your way can be overwhelming. Questions abound: is a beacon the same thing as an avalanche transceiver? Why are there two names?! And do I really need a shovel? Here’s a breakdown of essential safety gear and a few tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your first ski tour or Backcountry 1 class.

Safety Gear

Backcountry safety

Beacon

An avalanche beacon, also commonly known as an avalanche transceiver, is an emergency locator device. It’s important to carry a beacon with you at all times when backcountry skiing so other skiers can find you under debris (or find someone else) in the event of an avalanche. If you’re skiing with a group of people, everyone needs to carry their own beacon.

Keep your beacon turned on at all times when backcountry skiing. If someone in your group gets caught in an avalanche, you can turn your beacon to search mode to pick up their beacon’s signal and find them under the snow.

Most beacons are battery-operated, although there are some rechargeable options. It’s a good idea to keep a few extra batteries in your backpack or car in case your battery runs out at an inopportune moment. If your battery level is below 60% capacity, it’s best to change batteries.

Eco-Tip: Don’t waste the rest of your battery! Use half-used batteries from your beacon in household items or headlamps.

Probe

A probe is essentially a big metal stick. Probes range in size based on an area’s snowpack, but they are usually no shorter than two meters. Most probes are collapsible, meaning you’ll be able to easily fit one in your backpack. While a beacon will help you find a buried skier or rider, a probe will identify their exact location in the snow.

Shovel

Perhaps the most self-explanatory item on this list: shovels are for digging! If a skier is buried beneath an avalanche, you use a shovel to get them out after identifying their location with a beacon and probe.

Not any shovel will work for backcountry safety. Make sure your shovel is UIAA certified and designed for avalanche purposes.

Backcountry safety

Bluebird requires guests to carry a beacon, probe, and shovel with them on Bear Mountain. At a minimum, it’s best to have those three items on you at all times wherever you’re backcountry skiing.

As you gain experience in the backcountry, you’ll want to add more safety gear to your pack. Backpacks with an avalanche airbag are highly recommended when traveling in the backcountry, but are not required at Bluebird. And if you plan to be in the backcountry overnight for a hut trip, don’t forget your headlamp! If you’re one to nerd out on snow science, put a snow kit on your Christmas list. For a full list of gear to bring to Bluebird and beyond, check out our gear article here.

Gear FAQs

Do I need to carry a probe if I have my ski poles?

Yes. Ski poles can’t get down into the snow like a probe can. A collapsible avalanche probe is a quicker, more effective use of rescue time.

I didn’t realize beacons were this expensive?! What’s up with that?

Don’t have a beacon, probe, or shovel? Bluebird is working to make backcountry skiing more accessible without making you pay for expensive gear before you’ve given touring your first go. While Bluebird requires you to ski with the proper safety equipment (we like to build safe habits!), we offer beacons, probes, and shovels for rent online in advance or at our base area the day of your visit.

Safety Tips

Backcountry safety

Tip #1: Skiing Alone Increases Risks

A partner is perhaps the most important piece of safety gear you’ll bring into the backcountry. If you get hurt, a partner can radio or call for help and provide support until help arrives. On the flip side, without a partner to take the perfect shot of your sunrise skin, did you even backcountry ski? Without a partner, who’ll be there to laugh at you as you struggle to click into your pin bindings? Skiing with a partner will maximize good vibes and minimize your chances of being stranded in the backcountry alone.

With professional, on-site ski patrol and avalanche-managed terrain, you can ski solo at Bluebird without worry. But we can’t lie –  having a friend to converse with as you make your way up the skin track makes backcountry skiing more fun! In need of a backcountry partner? Check out our Partner Finder on Bluebird Backcountry Community – it’s free!

Tip #2: Follow Avalanche Reports

Avalanche conditions are changing constantly and it’s important to stay up to speed on avalanche reports in your area. Check out the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) or Avalanche.org for regularly updated information on avalanche conditions in Colorado and beyond.

If conditions are conducive to sliding, it might be a day to head to Bluebird! When you’re feeling unsure about the avalanche conditions in your area, let Bluebird’s ski patrolled, avalanche-mitigated terrain give you peace of mind.

Tip #3: Tell Someone Where You’re Going

Just like before a hike or a camping trip, it’s never a bad idea to tell someone where you’re going when you head out on a ski tour. This can be as simple as leaving a note on the fridge for a family member or sending a friend a text. Gone skiing!

Last but not least…common sense.

You can carry a beacon and you can check avalanche conditions, but if you don’t understand how to use safety equipment and interpret avalanche reports, you might as well be heading out into the backcountry blindfolded.

Bluebird encourages education and preparation before backcountry skiing. To learn how to backcountry ski and ride in an avalanche-controlled, ski-patrolled environment, check out Bluebird’s backcountry 1, 2, and 3 courses! We think it’s the most fun (and safe!) way to learn how to backcountry ski. 

Don’t forget to have fun!

We ski out into the backcountry because it’s awesome – the solitude and sweet turns experienced outside the standard resort setting are incomparable. Carrying safety gear, understanding how to use it, and monitoring avalanche conditions elevates the backcountry experience by providing peace of mind and the knowledge that you’re doing all you can to keep you and your friends safe.

 

 

 

Meet the Team: Aaron Peterson

The past two seasons Aaron has taught AIARE Courses with us and we’re super excited that this season he’ll be returning as our Avalanche Program Lead! Aaron grew up in Minnesota and currently resides in Crested Butte with his wife and toddler. You may recognize his name from our Spooky Snowpack Blog, in which we chatted with him about snow science and avalanche inspired halloween costumes. He is more than just an avalanche expert and costume connoisseur though. He is a man of many talents. When there isn’t snow on the ground, he is a chiropractor for performance horses. Continue reading to learn what piece of gear Aaron can’t live without, and more!

Title (Position):

Avalanche Program Lead

Social Media Handle:

@Double_Eh_

How many seasons have you worked at Bluebird?

This will be my third.

Why did you want to work for Bluebird?

I love Bluebird’s approach to creating a safe, accessible, and welcoming place for folks to get out backcountry skiing. Plus it’s a really fun crew to work with.

What are you most excited for this season?

I’m a bit of a snow nerd, so watching the individual snow crystals and the snowpack they create morph and change throughout the season is always fascinating. And skiing… and bacon.

Favorite skin track at Bluebird?

Wapiti Way for the endless aspen groves.

Favorite run at Bluebird?

Cow Call / Krem de la Krem for the same aspen surfing.

Outside of Bluebird, where else do you like to ski/ride?

I’m based in Crested Butte and love seeking out new places around my home valley.

What’s your go-to après food or drink?

It’s probably an unpopular choice, but Dogfish Head actually makes a really good Pumpkin Ale. That and chocolate chip cookies.

When not skiing/splitboarding, what do you love to do?

Ride around the neighborhood with my toddler on his strider bike.

Aside from Bluebird, what’s your favorite type of bird?

The loon- I grew up listening to them in Minnesota

If you could be any magical or supernatural creature, what would you be and why?

I’ve always liked elves for their forest knowledge. Particularly the JRR Tolkien type, but North Pole and Keebler elves are cool too.

What is your favorite kind of burrito?

Anything that includes avocados or guacamole and cheese.

What piece of gear can’t you live without?

A thermos in the winter and sunglasses year round

What’s the best backcountry touring tip you’ve ever heard?

It’s supposed to be fun.

Meet the Team: Scott Leigh

At the beginning of August we hired Scott Leigh, our new General Manager and Chief Operating Officer. Perhaps you learned a bit about Scott and his extensive experience in the industry if you saw the announcement in Ski Area Management or Snow Industry News this summer. But there’s a lot more to Scott than what they say about him in these articles. For example, you probably didn’t know that Scott’s après beverage of choice is an old fashioned. Continue reading to learn about the best backcountry tip Scott has ever heard, and more!

Name:

Scott Leigh

Title/Position:

GM & COO

How many seasons have you worked at Bluebird?

This will be my first!

Why did you want to work for Bluebird?

Passion for the backcountry and disrupting the ski industry

What are you most excited for this season?

Inviting our guests and employees out to Bluebird to enjoy the mountain

Outside of Bluebird, where else do you like to ski/ride?

Telluride

What’s your go-to après food or drink?

Old fashioned

When not skiing/splitboarding, what do you love to do?

Spend time with family, enjoy coffee and classic vehicles

Do you have an insider tip for guests visiting Bluebird for the first time?

Have fun!

What’s the best backcountry touring tip you’ve ever heard?

Stop for bacon at the Perch

Spooky Snowpacks: Understanding Avalanche Danger Below the Surface

A Q&A with Bluebird’s Avalanche Program Lead, Aaron Peterson

Spooky season is here folks. It’s time to carve pumpkins, tell your best ghost stories, and learn about avalanches…? The month of October can be a spooky time for the snowpack. It’s around this time that we usually see our first snowfall here in Colorado, and this is where the scary story begins — but more on this later.

Avalanches are a lot like the evil villains featured in many Halloween specials. They are often complex, multifaceted (snow science pun very much intended), and misunderstood. Perhaps if someone had sat down with Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, or Jason Voorhees and taken the time to really get to know them, then maybe they wouldn’t have killed so many people… or maybe they just would have killed one more person (that person being whoever was stupid enough to try to sit down and talk with them). Unfortunately, unlike these fictional bad guys, avalanches are real and they can’t talk (though Michael and Jason also weren’t much for conversation).

Before becoming villains, Freddy, Michael, and Jason were all just people. Before becoming a dangerous force of nature, an avalanche is just a bunch of stationary snow. So what makes a person or a bunch of snow become so menacing? Since we’re not psychologists, we’re going to focus on the latter. To put it very simply, a bunch of snow becomes menacing due to certain events in the past. When these “certain events” occur, the snow enters a sleeping giant phase — temporarily dormant, but incredibly powerful and dangerous if awoken. You don’t want to wake a sleeping giant.

As backcountry travelers, it is very important to be able to figure out where these sleeping giants lie. If you can do this successfully, you can greatly decrease your chances of triggering an avalanche. In order to do this you have to play a role that is part historian, part geologist, and part detective — it’s no easy task. Thankfully we’ve got someone who is up for it.

Aaron Peterson is Bluebird’s Avalanche Program Lead. Aaron grew up in Minnesota and currently calls Colorado home. He lives with his wife and two-year-old son in Crested Butte. In addition to being an avalanche expert, Aaron is also a chiropractor. He’s not your average chiropractor though. He’s a chiropractor for performance horses.

Aaron Peterson demonstrating his fine sense of ski fashion

We sat down with Aaron to talk about spooky snowpacks, Jason Voorhees, avalanche inspired halloween costumes, and more.

Q: Is it true that Colorado typically has one of the more unstable/spooky snowpacks in the country?

A: 100% it does. Colorado leads the nation in terms of avalanche incidents and fatalities. There are a combination of reasons for this. One reason being that we have a large population of backcountry skiers. Another reason being the snowpack, stated Aaron. We often have very cold nights in Colorado. While the air temperature at night can fall well below freezing, the ground temperature stays right around 0° C / 32° F. This happens because the snow insulates the ground like a blanket. This large temperature gradient between the ground and the air causes the energy from the relatively warm ground to shoot up through the snow towards the colder air in an attempt to create an equilibrium. This pulverizes the snowpack into sugary snow. This is the type of snow that is really difficult to make snowballs with because it doesn’t stick to itself. Because this snow doesn’t bond well, it can create a weak layer in the snowpack where avalanches can be triggered.

Most winters in Colorado we get an early season storm that leaves us with somewhere between 6-12 inches of snow that just sits on the ground for several weeks before real winter storms begin to roll in. The cold nights turn this snow into that sugary snow. Then when it starts snowing a bunch in December, January, and February, all this snow is sitting on top of a persistent weak layer of snow that came from that first early season storm. This remains a concern through most of the winter until the springtime, when temperatures rise and the snowpack becomes more cohesive.

Q: Are there places that tend to have relatively more stable snowpacks?

A: Maritime type climates have relatively more stable snowpacks. This includes the Pacific Northwest, down through the Sierras, and some parts of Alaska. This is because nighttime temperatures are relatively warm in these places and the snowpacks tend to be quite deep. Deeper snowpacks are heavier and this causes compression which results in a more well-bonded snowpack. They certainly have their own avalanche problems in these places, but the problems tend not to be quite as unpredictable as the ones that exist in Colorado.

Q: What are some ways to identify spooky snowpacks?

A: The classic visual one is digging a snow pit and looking at all the different layers of snow in there and seeing if there are any weak ones. The challenge with that is that you get a really good idea of what’s exactly at that location, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what’s going on 10 feet away. If you change your aspect or elevation you may find very different results.

The classic auditory cue is something called “whumpf-ing.” “Whumpf” is the noise you might hear when you’re skinning or skiing and you feel all the snow around you sink or collapse. This is the sound of you triggering an avalanche on flat terrain where the snow can’t slide anywhere. You also might see cracking. This is similar to being on thin ice. When skinning or skiing cracks can occasionally shoot out 20 or 50 feet from where you are traveling. These cracks are the result of a strong layer of snow breaking on top of a weak layer of snow.

Q: How can one avoid spooky snowpacks?

A: The best way to manage your risk when dealing with persistent slabs/old snow problems is to manage your terrain choice well, explained Aaron. The best way to do this is to avoid steeper slopes. In most conditions an avalanche can’t begin its slide downhill on slopes less than 30°. Here the friction between layers of snow is greater than the gravitational pull at these lower angles.

Q: When and where have you experienced your most scary snowpack?

A: It’s been around Crested Butte. One was four or five years ago when we had a big storm around Thanksgiving. The avalanche danger was high and I went skiing with a friend and our plan was just to stick to low angle terrain. We were seeing cracking almost everywhere we went. The slabs of snow didn’t slide anywhere because we were on slopes less than 25°. It was crazy to think if we were on steeper terrain every single crack could have resulted in an avalanche, Aaron explained.

AIARE students on the look out for an spookiness hiding in the snowpack

Q: What is a good recipe for a spooky snowpack?

A: Some snow falls in November and then it gets clear and cold for weeks after that so the snow all turns into the sugary snow that doesn’t bond well. Then it just starts dumping snow. You have all this amazing fresh snow that everybody is excited to ski on, but it’s sitting on a super weak layer that is omnipresent. This is what we get most years in Colorado, so maybe it’s not that creative on my part. And in some ways it may not be that spooky because you know the problem exists everywhere and you know to really dial it back, Aaron stated. It’s as if there were 50 hockey-mask-wearing Jasons from Friday the 13th all hanging out at the bar so you just don’t go to the bar.

What might be spookier is surface hoar. Surface hoar is essentially frozen dew that has this beautiful feathery look to it and forms during cold and clear windless nights where there is a source of moisture, like a creek, present underneath the snow. Then, when new snow falls this surface hoar becomes a weak layer. In this case it’s happy hour at the bar (new snowfall = happy hour) and there is just one Jason hanging out at the bar, but he isn’t wearing a hockey mask and he looks like a totally normal guy until he kills you. This is arguably spookier because you can’t see it coming.

Q: What is a good recipe for a really stable snowpack?

A: It’s warm, dry, beautiful, and sunny until December first and we get to have an extended mountain biking and rock climbing season. Then in December it starts snowing. The snow comes in a steady trickle where we’re getting 4-6 inches of snow every 2 or 3 days without clear cold dry spells in between, without any massive storms that drop more than a foot or two of snow, and this pattern lasts all winter long until April. It’s the boom and bust cycles of snowfall that contribute to a lot of instability here in Colorado.

Q: What resources does Bluebird offer to help backcountry skiers and riders identify spooky snowpacks?

A: There are great instructors to get people feeling comfortable to approach and start investigating all there is to backcountry skiing, Aaron explained. There is a lot of lower angle terrain that you can poke around in and examine up close because you know you’re on terrain that’s not going to produce an avalanche. It’s like being able to go talk to Jason at the bar, but you have some sort of protective barrier between you and him. This allows you to get a sense of what the danger is like without putting yourself in harm’s way. You can discover where Jason’s vulnerabilities are. Perhaps he is blind in the right eye and you can use this information to your advantage if you meet Jason in a setting where you don’t have a protective barrier.

Pairing the manageable terrain with the expertise of the Bluebird’s AIARE and backcountry instructors allows visitors to build their confidence and learn about the spooky things in a safe setting. I know that sometimes folks jump right into the deep end or are pulled in by their friends. All of a sudden they can find themselves at the top of a steep backcountry slope thinking “Oh my god, these spooky things are out here somewhere and I don’t know where. I’m just gonna try to survive this day and then I’ll take up golf or basket weaving.” I hope we can avoid that response from as many folks as possible. I want everyone to have a welcoming experience when they start backcountry skiing. It can be such a fantastic life-long activity, Aaron said.

Q: Have you ever had an avalanche themed halloween costume? If so, what was it? If not, what would you be and what would you wear?

A: I don’t think I’ve ever had an avalanche themed halloween costume actually. If I was going to go as something avalanche themed I’d go as surface hoar. I’d dress in drag and I’d wear a 1920’s flamboyant flapper dress with a bunch of feather boas because surface hoar has a feather-like appearance and I find it to be really pretty. I might even shave my beard and I’d carry a machete because in addition to being beautiful surface hoar is also dangerous.

An AIARE student striking a pose next to her snow pit

If you want to learn more about identifying spooky snowpacks the best thing you can do is take an AIARE course. By taking one of our on-site AIARE courses you get awesome hands-on experience exploring the snowpack and playing the role of historian, geologist, and detective to figure out what’s going on below the surface. These courses are filling up fast, so secure your spot now!

Getting in Shape for Ski Season

Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

Are you one of those people that thinks to themselves every fall, “This is the year that I actually physically prepare myself for the upcoming ski season?” You’re not alone. If you don’t want to feel like a newborn deer on your first day of skiing this season we’ve got some tips for you.

If you follow this one simple trick you will have legs of steel that can go a full day of touring and never get tired!

Just do an hour of wall sits everyday until your first day of skiing. If you can’t do one hour straight, then just go as long as you can and simply repeat this process until you hit a cumulative hour or until you can’t physically stand back up. By the time ski season rolls around your quads will be so jacked you’ll have to buy custom tailored snow pants.

All jokes aside, this is a terrible strategy. Don’t do this. Instead, try the routine we’ve created below. It incorporates 19 different moves over the course of 20 minutes. It targets your core, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, and quads — all of which are used when skiing or riding.

When preparing for ski season, flexibility and endurance are just as important as strength. Cutting your day short because you’re too tired to ski another lap or because you pulled a muscle isn’t fun. Working on your flexibility and endurance can prevent this. The end of our routine includes several stretches to help you stay loose. To work on your endurance, we recommend doing roughly three hours of cardio a week. Cardio can take many different forms. Trail running, hiking, and mountain biking are a few good ones as they also incorporate balance.

Important Notes

For the best results, do these exercises three times a week (only a one hour weekly time commitment) at least six weeks before getting on snow.

This routine is intended to be both accessible and modular. You don’t need a fancy home gym or gym membership. No equipment is required for any of these exercises. You also don’t need to set aside a big chunk of time for this workout — just 20 minutes. We created this routine so that there is no planning required on your end, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick to it. Feel free to modify this workout however you’d like. As you get stronger, you can slowly increase duration or repetitions of the exercises.

Be patient with yourself and don’t force your body to do things that it isn’t ready for.

Lastly, before starting any workout routine you should talk with your doctor or a certified training professional to help you decide if it is a good fit for you.

The Routine

Additional Resources

If you live in or around Steamboat Springs, check out the Ski & Snowboard Fitness class at Old Town Hot Springs offered several times a week through November 20th. If you’re in the Denver, Breckenridge, Vail, or Winter Park area, check out the wide variety of fitness classes that Gravity Haus offers at their Dryland Fitness locations.

While fitness is a big part of preparing for the winter, there are other important elements to consider. Check out this blog to round out your pre-season preparation.

Best of luck with your training and remember the 5 Ps: Proper preparation prevents poor performance.

Exercise Videos

Jumping Jacks

Russian Twists

V-Sit Crunches

Windshield Wipers

Fire Hydrants

Clamshells

Standing Kick Backs

Donkey Kicks

Bridge

Side Lunges

Jumping Lunges

Squats

Wall Sit

Butterfly

Upward Dog

Lying Down Pretzel

Cross Legged Toe Touch

Heel to Butt

Lying Down Knee Hug