How to Prepare for a Season of Backcountry Touring

Get your gear and yourself ready for the Best. Season. Ever.

As the snow starts to accumulate at higher elevations, a spark is lit in the backcountry community—it is time to start preparing for the winter ahead. Just like transitions when touring, a planned process helps dust off the skis and bindings and get one thinking about avalanches, decision-making and winter conditions in the backcountry. Here’s are the areas we suggest adding to your preparation process:

Bluebird Backcountry guest checks to make sure the tail end of his skins is properly secured. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Check Your Gear

Pull out your skis, boots, and poles to check for any cracks, missing screws, or damaged pieces. Make sure the glue on your skins is not glopping up and the tip and tail pieces are in working order. Did you take a fall in your helmet last season or is it more than 5 years old? If so, it’s time to replace it. 

The final step in checking gear is inspecting your avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe. Start by putting fresh batteries in your beacon, then check to make sure all the lights work and the search and send functions are properly operating. An added step in preparation is to do a range test with your beacon to see if it’s reading off accurate distances. This task is not hard as it may sound—simply pace out 3 meters in a driveway, place a beacon at one end in the search mode, then test your beacon to make sure it reads around 3 meters. Move 1 meter closer and check the reading on your beacon. Do this until you are within 1 meter. The final step is to check your shovel and probe for any cracks, and make sure the locking mechanisms are in working order. Finally, check the cable/wire in your probe to see if it is ripped or fraying in any place.

Physically Prepare

Getting in physical shape for touring makes the experience far more enjoyable. Backcountry skiing and splitboarding requires a lot of physical strength in more than just your legs, so doing some well-rounded total-body workouts along with cardio is really beneficial to get the most out of the downhill after working hard on the uphill. The better shape you’re in, the more laps you can do!

Mentally Prepare

A significant focus of avalanche education is understanding our own heuristics—the mental shortcuts or patterns that allow us to make decisions and solve problems. These heuristics influence trip plans, decisions made prior to touring and while in the mountains, and how we deal with unexpected situations. Think about the inherent dangers of backcountry touring, dig into how you make decisions, know where your blind spots are—are you motivated by powder or easily succumb to what other people think is right without voicing your opinion? Taking the time to understand your mental processing and decision making leads you to being an aware and reliable backcountry rider and partner.

Bluebird AIARE instructor demonstrates how to take notes while digging a snow pit. Photo: Erik Lambert

Refresh Your Skills with Continued Education and Practice

Another major factor of mentally preparing is reviewing avalanche education materials and continuing to learn. This step is so critical in the mental preparation area that it gets its own category. Before the season begins, make sure to review your avalanche education materials, sign up for an Avy Refresher Course, and practice with your rescue gear. Then practice again and again! Revisiting avalanche education materials before the season begins is a great way to both mentally prepare and get stoked for backcountry adventures. Focus on reviewing the following areas: avalanche rescue, trip planning and touring in a group, how to do a proper debrief, weather/snow conditions leading to specific avalanche hazards, tracking the snowpack. If you’ve never taken an avalanche course and plan to recreate in the backcountry this winter, we highly recommend signing up for an AIARE 1. If you don’t feel experienced enough to do that yet, come take our Backcountry 1–3 lessons at Bluebird to get practice with touring equipment and basic backcountry skills.

Start to Track the Conditions

If you’ve taken your AIARE Rec 1 or 2, you know how important it is to understand what’s happened over the entire season in order to track the current avalanche danger. The day your local forecasting center starts writing forecasts for the winter (usually at the beginning to mid-November), start reading them! Sign up for daily forecast emails and make a habit of reading the forecast with your morning coffee. CAIC (Colorado Avalanche Information Center) is the forecasting center for all mountain ranges in Colorado, check out their website! Focus on the Avalanche Hazard Rating and the General Summary along with tracking the type of avalanche problem, then dive deeper into the Forecast Discussion and Observations if you’re more experienced. As you start to tour in the early season, make note of what you’re seeing happen with weather changes (crusts forming, fresh snow, rain on snow, etc.). This will assist you in understanding what’s happening on top of and within the snowpack. After all, in general the layers of highest concern lie buried below the surface.

Find Appropriate Partners

One of the most challenging parts of touring is finding backcountry ski/snowboard partners that have similar goals and the necessary education to travel responsibly in and around avalanche terrain. The first step is to get the education yourself—be the best backcountry partner you can—then be honest with what your education and experience levels are when looking for partners. Meeting partners in avalanche education courses is always a great option, or consider checking out our Partner Finder on Bluebird Backcountry Community. Come to Bluebird with someone who you’re interested in touring with as a low-consequence trial day before planning a bigger tour day.

Backcountry partners pause mid-tour to discuss their objectives and get a sense of their location. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

The 6 steps outlined above are a great starting point to prepare for a winter and spring of backcountry touring. The process outlined above is time-tested by avalanche professionals and guides, encompassing the most critical preparation steps in order to keep returning for more powder turns, and winters, in the backcountry!

What’s Next After Backcountry Basics and Your AIARE 1?

Last year you completed Bluebird’s Backcountry 1–3 lessons, then ended the season with an AIARE 1. Or maybe you’ve taken AIARE 1 and 2 and are looking to take your touring to the next level… So what’s next? 

At Bluebird, we believe in the importance of instruction and mentorship before jumping into the deep end of backcountry touring and big-mountain objectives. That’s why we’ve added Advanced Courses to our education program this season. These courses are designed for more experienced backcountry travelers. These courses offer hands-on instruction of technical skills, along with time to practice what you learned in your backcountry training and AIARE courses. It’s a great way to round out your backcountry toolkit and build experience and confidence in a more controlled environment.

From the nitty gritty of gear maintenance to ski mountaineering skills, our Advanced Courses offer a wide variety of information. We recommend taking Backcountry 4 – Reading Terrain and Backcountry Leadership and Communication as a starting point, then exploring other courses that interest you.

Take a look at Bluebird’s Advanced Courses for the 21/22 season!

START HERE

 

Backcountry 4 – Reading Terrain

In order to be aware and travel wisely in the backcountry, you must be able to read terrain, interpret avalanche hazards and danger ratings, and build a solid plan for the day. Reading Terrain offers a chance to practice these skills and is a great step for those who have taken AIARE 1. Come practice with navigation tools, route planning, and build a strong understanding of how to efficiently travel in and around avalanche terrain. 

Backcountry Leadership and Communication

Days in the backcountry quickly become frustrating when leadership and communication is not executed well. That’s why we believe this is a crucial course for everyone, no matter your backcountry experience! This course covers risk tolerance, how to set up the tour day for success, decision making in groups, the importance of debriefs and learning from experience, and why strategic communication, leadership, and planning are so important. Plus, this is all done while touring and riding!

EXPLORE MORE ADVANCED TOPICS

 

Winter Emergency Skills

Last season we did a short clinic on winter emergency skills, and this year we are diving in way deeper! We’ll learn what to do in a backcountry winter emergency, what it takes to remove an injured person from the backcountry, and the fundamentals of communication during these situations. Come prepared to dig in the snow, build rescue sleds, and learn critical skills to help build your confidence as you step farther into the backcountry.

A group of students builds an emergency overnight shelter in a clinic at Bluebird Backcountry. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Equipment Maintenance and Repair

Many of us have felt the sting of purchasing expensive backcountry touring equipment. This course teaches you how to maintain your equipment so it lasts longer and how to repair unexpected breaks in the field. Plus, get some pointers on what to put in your repair kit. 

Ski Mountaineering 1

Ever wondered what ski mountaineering really is? This course is the perfect introduction for anyone interested in taking their backcountry touring to the next level in bigger mountains. Your instructor will break out their ski-mountaineering equipment, teach the basic skills of ascending and descending in steep terrain, and explore our expert terrain at Bluebird to get a feel for what ski mountaineering is all about. It’s recommended that anyone taking this course is an experienced backcountry rider, is very comfortable with their equipment and transitions, and is able to ride 35º+ terrain.

Ski mountaineer on Three Fingered Jack. Photo: Ben Kitching via Unsplash

Women In The Backcountry : Next Level Skills

Come spend the day learning in a fun and welcoming environment with the incredible Brittany Konsella—highly accomplished ski mountaineer, all around shredder, and second woman to ski all the 14’ers in Colorado. This course is designed for female-identifying and non-binary individuals looking to bolster their backcountry skills and take their riding to even farther into the backcountry. It is recommended that participants have taken their AIARE 1 or have at least 2+ years of backcountry experience. This six-hour course will discuss all the details of backcountry touring for gear for female-bodied individuals, dive into group communication and varied travel styles, and discuss how to set goals. You’ll walk away with tips and tricks from experts on steep skiing/riding and all this backcountry touring. 

REFRESH YOUR AVALANCHE KNOWLEDGE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON

 

Avy Refresher Course

Designed for anyone who’s taken an AIARE 1 or 2, Avalanche Rescue Course, or those with many years of backcountry experience. This one-day course (with a digital component as well) is meant to be taken near the beginning of every season to brush up on your rescue skills, practice reading and navigating terrain, and re-engage your avalanche awareness after a summer away from snow.

Still looking for more? We’ll be offering 4 specialty clinics throughout the season with experienced guest instructors. 

The old-school way of learning how to backcountry ski involved throwing newbies into harsh environments with little instruction or fun baked in. We think there’s a better way. That’s why Bluebird has developed our educational progression that starts with the basics, prepares you for your avalanche education, then provides opportunities to practice these skills with a bit more instruction in a less risky environment. Take the next step and continue to progress in your backcountry pursuits with Bluebird! And please let us know if there’s something else you’d love to learn about backcountry skiing or avalanche safety that you don’t see here. We’re always evolving our curriculum and pay special attention to our guests.

Are you an Advanced+ Member? You get access to two advanced courses (or an Avalanche Refresher course) as part of your membership! 

Sign up for an advanced course today and get ready for the Best. Winter. Ever.

6 Ways to Share Your Winter Stoke

The Bluebird vibe is all about bringing people together. Alongside our volunteers and guests, we’ve created a place for backcountry enthusiasts, new and old, to share adventures. With that in mind, 4 Pack and 10-Pack Pass bundles offer a perfect opportunity for you and your friends to share in the Bluebird experience in many different ways. There are no blackout dates or reservations for these passes, and they come with a ridiculous amount of flexibility to share them on any day with anyone.

Here are six creative ways to put your Pass Packs to good use this season:

A proper West Bowl party lap, tele turns included. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

1. Host a 10-person party on the mountain –

Party laps in the true backcountry are not always an option as avalanche conditions usually prescribe riding one at a time. Bluebird is different. Our professional ski patrol team manages Bear Mountain’s terrain, so you can lap slopes all day long, riding alongside your whole group. Save up to $291 off day passes (with the 10 Pack) and have some cash leftover for aprés drinks and s’mores by the base lodge campfire.

2. Test Out Future Backcountry Partners –

It’s important to know that you trust the people you’re touring with, as lives depend on backcountry knowledge and avalanche rescue skills. Going for a test run with potential backcountry touring partners at Bluebird before heading out for longer objectives is an easy (and fun) way to build friendship and trust. You can purchase a Pass Pack and share a few tickets with future partners to get a sense of compatibility level in a lower-consequence environment.

Practicing avalanche rescue skills at Bluebird’s beacon park is a great way to sharpen your skills and see how you and your partner work together. Photo: Doug McLennan

3. Get the Fresh Powder Without the Crowds–

For all those resort passholders who moonlight as backcountry powder hounds, adding a 4 Pack or 10 Pack to the mix this season gives you flexibility to avoid the lift lines and find fresh snow on blackout dates or busy weekends. No reservations are required with a Pass Pack, which makes a Bluebird pass the ideal access tool for storm-chasers.

4. Make It a Family Affair –

Do you have a Bluebird Season Pass but your family does not? Or maybe you are all new to the touring world. Getting a Pass Pack is a great way to share the backcountry experience with the family. We’ve got rental gear for all (kids included) along with introductory and advanced backcountry touring lessons. Introduce your family, or friends, to what the backcountry is all about… with a few added perks, like free bacon and live music!

Bluebird has a whole fleet of rentals, including skis and boots for kids. Photo: Rob McLennan

5. Win Them Over With an Unconventional Experience –

There is no better gift for a skier or boarder than fresh tracks. Give the gift of a 4 Pack or 10 Pack to friends or family (or that certain someone you’ve been crushing on) and join them for an unforgettable adventure at Bluebird Backcountry.

6. Do It All

The best part of these packs is that they are 100% transferable — you have total flexibility to make the most of your passes and season.  With the 10 Pack, you can mix and match how you use the pass packs all winter long. Bring the family two times, go on five dates at Bluebird, host a couple mountain parties, or give the gift of Bluebird to nine different people (plus yourself of course). 

 

Snow has already fallen in the high country of Colorado, and stoke for winter is building. If any of the above sound fun, you can get a head start on planning today. Set yourself up for a season of adventures with a 4 Pack or 10 Pack before prices go up on October 1st. You’ll be one step closer to the Best. Winter. Ever! 

Buy your 4 Pack or 10 Pack here.

Two Passes Are Better Than One

There’s no rush quite like the one right before dropping into a backcountry line. It’s the sweetest reward after your effort to hike to the summit. You rip your skins, transition your bindings, and switch your boots (yep, both of them) into ski mode… and now it’s time to cash in.

But let’s be honest—it’s tough to fight the allure of lift-served powder laps. We all love riding a chair or gondola once in a while.

Luckily, there’s no need to choose resort over backcountry—join the 80 percent of Bluebird passholders who also rock an Epic or Ikon pass. Combining a Bluebird Backcountry season pass with your Epic, Ikon, GEMS, or Mountain Collective pass offers the best of all worlds. Whether you’re new to backcountry riding or fully seasoned, adding Bluebird days to your winter is a unique and incomparable experience… with zero lift lines—guaranteed.

Here’s everything you need to know about joining the Bluebird passholder community:

Bear Mountain summit sits at 9,845′, with spectacular views of Rabbit Ears Pass. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

1. Skip the pesky reservation process –

No reservations required to ride at Bluebird Backcountry for season passholders. This means you’ll get access to Bluebird terrain any day we are open, without having to plan too far in advance… truly ideal for storm chasers and powder hounds.

2. Plan a multi-resort ski trip to take advantage of all the Colorado resorts on the Epic or Ikon Pass –

Bluebird has camping for a worthwhile stop along your trip (5 nights free for passholders) and is conveniently located not too far from various Ikon and Epic resorts. Plan a trip to ride Steamboat Springs or Winter Park, then head over to Bluebird on the weekend to avoid the crowds and add a backcountry twist (and s’mores… yeah, we have those) to your resort vacation.

3. Learn a new skill –

Bluebird is a backcountry education center for every experience level. Learn new skills through our backcountry courses, practice these skills in avalanche-managed terrain, and meet new friends while you’re at it! You’ll get free Backcountry 1, 2, and 3 lessons or advanced courses if you add a membership to your pass, plus discounts on AIARE avalanche courses. Bluebird is the ideal classroom to practice backcountry touring, or simply improve upon your base of knowledge with advanced courses and time on the mountain.

There is an art to setting a skin track, and Bluebird is the perfect place to practice. Photo: Doug McLennan

4. Maximize your winter with fun workouts –

Ski the resort on the weekdays then skip the lines and come to Bluebird on the weekends for more fresh tracks and less crowds. Bonus, the uphill workout greatly improves downhill strength for those days at the resort where the snow is too good to stop, even though your quads are burning from riding fresh powder all day.

5. Don’t worry about purchasing fancy new gear –

Have downhill gear but no backcountry equipment? No need to buy a second setup. You can demo all the backcountry gear you need with us. Season passholders get a discount on rental gear, and you can try out different brands to figure out what you like before making a big purchase. Make sure to reserve your rentals in advance so you secure the gear you need, which can be done on our website starting mid-autumn.

6. Try out party laps, backcountry style –

Bluebird season passholders get a free Guest Pass (up to $59 value), along with five Buddy Codes (20% off day passes), and unlimited dog passes ($10/day value). If you’ve got a group of friends without season passes, bring them along to get some off-piste party laps in, then enjoy refreshments and live music on weekends at the base.

Perfectly spaced aspens and avalanche-mitigated terrain make for ideal party lap conditions. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

7. Experience the backcountry, with added comforts –

Resorts are great for many reasons, and easily accessible food and bathrooms are a perk. Unlike most full-on backcountry trips, we’ve got these amenities at Bluebird, including complementary skin track bacon, bathrooms at base and mid-mountain, and fire pits throughout the in-bounds terrain to keep you warm. All these things make the backcountry touring experience a bit more comfortable.

8. Avoid the crowds on holidays in the backcountry –

Most common backcountry trailheads get way too full on holidays or people can’t ride the resort because of passholder blackout days. Come to Bluebird on the holidays and any blackout dates, or those major storm days when access to resorts simply gets insane, and find a unique experience waiting to be had.

Does all of this sound intriguing to you? Considering that you can score a Bluebird season pass for nearly the same price as two lift tickets at an in-bounds ski resort, this deal is pretty sweet. (Ahem, you also get two free days at Arapahoe Basin with your season pass.)

Book your season pass today.

If powder days have taught us anything, it’s that more is more, and a Bluebird pass is an easy addition to this season’s repertoire. Get the best of all worlds with a Bluebird pass and prepare yourself for the Best. Winter. Ever! Get your season pass here.

 

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. 

 

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!

Peer Reviewed: Bluebird Is the Solution to All Your COVID Dating Problems

A year ago, we never thought we’d still be here—swiping, messaging, zoom-dating, and still struggling to find love in this weird era of dating limbo. So, for this Valentine’s Day, we decided to do something different: Speed dating on skis. In keeping with our Bluebird mission, we would make it easy and casual, giving out goodies and setting out way stations to keep the focus on exploring and having fun. It would be a grand experiment, aimed at solving one of the biggest issues of the modern world: finding love in a pandemic. (Pretty noble, right?)  

So, experiment we did. We called it Lovebirds: A Ski Dating Event. Here is our formal report. 

Abstract:

Backcountry skiing or splitboarding is the perfect solution to the complicated reality of pandemic dating. For one thing, it’s about as COVID-safe as it gets: You’re outdoors, so the ventilation is great. It’s cold, so no one ever forgets a face mask. And it doesn’t matter if you’re skinning or carving turns—six feet of distance is pretty much a given if you don’t want to step on someone’s skis. 

Backcountry skiing is also a clever way to filter out bad dates. First, you’re automatically guaranteed to meet backcountry enthusiasts. You can then get to know them in a beautiful setting. (Bonus: at Bluebird, that beautiful setting is managed for avalanche risk so you can focus more on acting cool and likeable and less on monitoring the snowpack.) Better yet, it’s impossible for your partner to do that thing where they lie about their fitness level on the first date to seem more badass than they really are. And if you don’t vibe with someone? You still make a new backcountry friend, and you get a workout in. Boom. 

Backcountry skiing: Six feet of distance, guaranteed. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Hypothesis:

Given all of the above, we were certain that Bluebird Backcountry was going to be the humble facilitator of some real, bonafide, true love. 

Methods:

On Sunday, we introduced the Ski Dating Event. The premise was simple: We’d gather a bunch of unattached backcountry enthusiasts and do a little meet and greet to set a relaxed tone for the day. Then, we’d mix and match the skiers and riders, and send them off on a lap together. Partners could switch at the bottom of each lap or at our mid-mountain warming hut if the vibe just wasn’t right. 

The day before, the Bluebird Base saw dumping snow, live music from Tara Rose and the Real Deal, a very competitive Nerf Biathlon tournament, and a raucous s’more-eating contest, but Sunday, all was quiet and calm. And by our highly scientific measurements, love was in the air. 

Costumed Nerf Biathlon competitors faced off at Bluebird on Saturday (just check out that Moose onesie). Nerf Biathlon, as it turns out, is also an excellent way to make new friends. Photo: Kat Ciamaichelo

That morning, a dozen (supercool, very interesting, and extremely attractive) skiers showed up. We paired them up and watched the magic happen. The pairs spent the day touring under sunny skies, switching up partners, sipping hot coffee and matcha from Alpine Start, and nibbling giant s’mores from Camp Toasted in the Bluebird snack yurt. The whole atmosphere was friendly, polite, and casual. Though there was a range of skill levels, no one got left in the dust—a testament to just how many wonderful people are out there in the Colorado backcountry community. 

And at the end of the day, the whole group gathered for a (socially distanced) hang-out sesh by the fire ring before going home with some goodie bags—our treat to celebrate a Valentine’s Day well spent.

Ski Dating Event participants went home with some pretty adorable goodie bags. Photo: Kat Ciamaichelo

Results:

Of the dozen skiers who met up, two have already been on second dates, and a third is planning to meet up with his Ski Dating partner sometime soon. That means that—according to our totally statistically significant sample size—you have a 25% chance of finding someone at Bluebird. Pretty good odds, eh?

Conclusion:

Dating during a pandemic is hands-down the worst. But backcountry skiing is a pretty fun solution. Stay tuned for news on another Ski Dating Event this spring!

New Terrain Opens on Bear Mountain!

It’s finally here: the winter we’ve been waiting for! Looks like Ullr has been paying attention to all our snow dances—the latest storm brought enough snow to Bear Mountain to open another 40% of Bluebird Backcountry’s terrain. Not bad for a ski area that doesn’t make its own snow. 

Our operations and ski patrol teams have been working hard to open Bear Mountain’s north face. When the snow showed up last week, we took some guests out to tour the new terrain. Now, it’s open and ready to rip for anyone with a Bluebird pass. Here’s what you need to know about the terrain we just opened.

Download the Bluebird trail map

The Bear Mountain summit is now open!

With a little hard work, Bear Mountain’s summit is all yours. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

There’s something about arriving at a summit that never gets old. We’d say it’s unbeatable, but the truth is… skiing off the peak is even more fun. So we’re thrilled to open skin tracks all the way to Bear Mountain’s 9,845-foot summit — plus challenging runs all the way down.

On a clear day, the top of Bear Mountain boasts views of Rabbit Ears and our former stomping grounds, 10,115-foot Whiteley Peak. The summit is marked, but there are no services at the top.

Newly opened runs are rated blue, black, and double-black

Skinning Elkhide Uptrack on the way to Bear Mountain Summit. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Skyline runs straight off the summit along the Continental Divide. It’s rated double-black with no shortage of natural obstacles and tight trees to keep you on your toes.

Ursa Major, a reference to the peak’s Latin name, offers an enjoyable 1,000 vertical feet of evergreen tree skiing. It’s closer to a black-diamond run at a resort.

Below, four Bear Claw Meadows open up for hootin’ and hollerin’. These gorgeous intermediate aspen groves glisten on bluebird days (and look spook-tacular when it’s socked in). 

Ruder’s Ridge — which runs along the peak’s prominent cliff band — gains 610 feet of elevation in just under three-quarters of a mile. Fortunately, the scenery will distract you from your aching quads. This part of the mountain shares its name with Bluebird’s Director of Business Development, Trent Ruder, who’s quick to point out that it’s not actually him the run is named for, but his family. Trent can trace his family’s Vail lineage back five generations. His grandfather, Leonard Ruder, ran a sawmill and cut runs at Vail Resort in 1961. There’s even a Ruder’s Run named for Leonard at Vail, complete with a plaque in his honor. 

“The Ruders build ski areas,” Trent says of his family’s legacy. “I’m honored to be part of Bluebird, where we’re doing something totally new.”

Bluebird instructor Jared Current checks out the new terrain. He approves. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

There’s something at Bluebird for everyone. For folks who want to ski difficult tree runs, this new terrain is it. Aside from the Bear Claw Meadows, expert skiing or riding ability is recommended. 

There’s more where that came from

Scheming is part of the game. It’s hard not to peek over to The Far Side (coming soon…) Photo: Justin Wilhelm

With 35% of our terrain still waiting for a little more snow, Bluebird’s Bear Mountain location has plenty more tricks up its sleeves. The Far Side’s runs are named for the locals—the Hammerdown run is a nod to our hosts, while Krem de la Krem tips its hat to nearby Kremmling. Keep checking the Uptrack Journal for more info on the rest of Bluebird’s runs as they open this season!

Book a pass to explore the new terrain!

 

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 Bluebird Backcountry Works to Keep Our Community Safe

At Bluebird Backcountry, we hope our guests have fun (and maybe even learn something), but safety is our top priority. That’s true whether we’re talking about avalanches, weather conditions, or other risks associated with traveling in the mountains. 

It’s also true — and we never thought we’d have occasion to say this — about operating during a pandemic. That’s why we spent the lead-up to the 2020/21 ski season developing a comprehensive COVID-19 Plan. Our plan has been approved by Jackson County, where Bear Mountain is located, and by the State of Colorado. To keep our guests and staff healthy, we:

  • Communicate with guests before they arrive at Bluebird
  • Strictly enforce measures like physical distancing and mask wearing for all guests and staff
  • Frequently and carefully sanitize common areas
  • Have a response plan in place in case of a positive test result or exposure
  • Make sure our guests never, ever have to wait in a lift line

Here’s what you need to know about Bluebird Backcountry’s efforts to keep our guests and staff safe during these uncertain times.

Communicating Early and Often

A chairlift with a sign that reads "Sorry, out of service. Please use skintrack"

No lifts means no lift lines, which means less worrying about physical distancing.

Bluebird believes in developing good backcountry habits, like clear communication, early on. That’s why we’ve worked hard to make sure guests are aware of our COVID-19 policies before they arrive on site. (Check out what a day at Bluebird looks like.) 

Our efforts to prevent COVID-19 transmission begin before guests show up at Bear Mountain. This means having guests sign waivers online to minimize in-person contact, limiting the number of people on our 1,200 acres of terrain to 200 or fewer, and minimizing the number of people signed up for lessons to a number smaller than the CDC-recommended max. 

Contact Tracing

Face covering requirements are strictly enforced at Bluebird. There are still plenty of smiles under those masks!

We’re keeping careful records of everyone who shows up at Bluebird. We require all guests to have a day pass or season pass, and our new scanning system ensures we know who visited and when. This means that in the event of a positive test result, we’re able to quickly notify everyone who we know was in close contact. 

Like many ski areas, much of our staff resides in communal housing during the season. Bluebird staff are assigned to “pods,” meaning they primarily interact with members of their own households. (Don’t worry; our team is awesome and gets along just fine.)

On the Mountain

Backcountry travel lends itself to physical distancing as everyone settles into their own pace on the skin track.

Bluebird takes COVID spread prevention seriously at the mountain. We’ve moved as much of the day outside as possible to minimize person-to-person contact. On the rare occasion that folks do need to be in the lodge, face coverings are strictly required, and markers on the ground help guests maintain at least 6 feet from one another. Masks are also required when passing on the skin track and any other time physical distancing of 6+ feet can’t be maintained. Oh, and have we mentioned that no lifts = no lift lines? 

Our on-mountain staff has also been trained to understand as much as possible about COVID transmission, symptoms, and the requirements for sanitizing, distancing, and personal protection. Bluebird staff knows management will have their backs when it comes to enforcing those rules, too — that’s why we’re not shy about making sure everyone on site is wearing face coverings properly.

Response

In the event of a confirmed case of COVID at Bluebird, our contact tracing procedures mean we’re prepared to notify all staff and guests who we know were in close contact and may have been exposed. When staff may have been exposed, we provide testing resources and stay isolated until negative results come back. 

The bottom line: We care more about health and safety than making a buck. If a situation dictates that it’s best for our staff and guests to close down, we’re prepared to do so until guidelines signal resume operations again. In that case, we’ll work to notify guests as quickly as possible. (For more on our refund policy, check out our COVID page.) 

Next Steps

We’re continuing to refine our COVID plan as we get more information about the virus to better protect you, our staff, and the season. As a result, we’ll be implementing some changes in January 2021 and beyond, including (but not limited to): 

  • Moving all staff meetings outdoors
  • Implementing a testing program for staff
  • Improving ventilation
  • Developing redundant staff pods within each team
  • Cross-training staff on other team duties
  • Building additional safety barriers between staff and guests at check-in and in the rental shop
  • Activating a limited operations plan to remain open should any essential staff members get COVID in the future

Questions about Bluebird and COVID-19? Read more about whether it’s safe to ski during a pandemic or send us an email at info@bluebirdbackcountry.com