Expert skills from the backcountry instructors, guides, and avalanche professionals of Bluebird Backcountry, Colorado’s only human-powered ski area.

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.

 

 

 

So You Wanna Plan a Ski Trip?

If you wanna go on a ski trip, there’s gonna be some planning involved. But luckily, planning for a ski trip is a lot of fun. The only thing more fun than planning for the trip, is going on it. Hanging out with friends, drooling over aerial photos and maps, fantasizing about conditions — it’s very exciting stuff.

 

Ski trips come in many shapes and sizes. Flying to a remote area, taking a boat to the terminus of a tidewater glacier, hauling your gear for a full day up the glacier, setting up basecamp, and skiing 60 degree couloirs in the surrounding mountains for a couple weeks is one example of a ski trip. Skiing the hill in your backyard is also considered a ski trip.

 

Not too surprisingly these two ski trips require very different planning and preparation. The simple chart below can help you determine the level of planning required for your trip. This chart, however, doesn’t cover every type of ski trip. For example, maybe you are planning a backcountry ski trip, but you’re going to stay in the front country and maybe you’re hiring a guide or you’ve got a local friend in the area who is going to act as your guide. There are a lot of factors that will dictate the amount of planning you need to do, so this chart simply serves as a good jumping off point.

 

Planning a Ski Trip

 

The Five Ws of Planning a Ski Trip

 

The questions below are a great place to begin your ski trip planning.

 

WHO

 

Who am I bringing with me?

 

The right answer: Good company

 

The Bluebird answer: If you wanna bring 199 of your closest friends and rent out the entire mountain, you can do that. If you wanna bring your furry quadruped friend, feel free — as long as they are a dog and not a donkey or gorilla (or any other type of quadruped). If you wanna bring your friend who has never tried backcountry skiing before, please do! If you want to bring your chess club (and get discounted rates if have more than 10 in your group), come on down! Friends, family, significant others, you can bring whoever you want, as long as they are either a well-behaved human or dog.

 

Additional thoughts: Bringing a compatible crew is key to a successful ski trip. If you’re an experienced backcountry skier and you’re taking your significant other to Bluebird for their first time backcountry skiing, but you want to go ski the Pucker Chutes, it might be a frustrating experience for all parties involved. If you adjust your objective from “skiing the Pucker Chutes” to “helping my significant other learn to backcountry ski,” then you’re more likely to have a positive experience (though the jury is still out on whether teaching your significant other how to backcountry ski is a good idea, so if you’d rather leave it to the professionals then you should check out our backcountry lessons). If you really want to ski the Pucker Chutes, then you might want to consider bringing a friend with a similar level of experience.

 

WHAT

 

What am I bringing with me?

 

The right answer: A positive attitude (it goes a long way)

 

The Bluebird answer: If you got ‘em, bring your splitboard or skis with backcountry touring bindings, skins, snowboard boots or ski touring boots, beacon, shovel, probe, and backpack. If you don’t have any of this gear, no worries, we rent all of the above items (except snowboard boots). Of course you will also want to bring warm winter apparel (it can get quite chilly at Bear Mountain), your brain bucket (a.k.a. helmet), and snacks (we do have some snacks available onsite, including FREE BACON at our mid-mountain warming hut, The Perch). And if you’re staying with us, you should also bring a sleeping bag and headlight.

 

Additional thoughts: Leaving gear at home is a bummer. Take a page out of Saint Nicholas’ book: make a list and check it twice.

 

What are my goals/objectives?

 

The right answer: Be safe, have fun

 

The Bluebird answer: Maybe your only objective is to be safe and have fun. That’s great. At Bluebird, we work hard so that it is easy for you to achieve this goal. With on-site ski patrol and constant monitoring of terrain, Bluebird allows everyone to enjoy backcountry skiing and snowboarding regardless of your avalanche education. We know the backcountry can be intimidating, so we created a place where you can ski more & worry less.

Maybe you’re coming to Bluebird for a backcountry lesson or an avalanche course and your goal is to learn something new. This is another great, achievable goal, as all of our instructors have a wealth of knowledge that they are excited to share with you.

 

Additional thoughts: Like in any endeavor, it can be fun to set lofty goals for your ski trip, but the only way you get to those goals is by setting smaller, more achievable ones. You have to walk before you can run.

 

WHEN

 

When am I going?

 

The right answer: Whenever you can

 

The Bluebird answer: Between Opening Day and Closing Day (usually late December to late March) and between Thursday and Monday (since we don’t operate on Tuesdays or Wednesdays) — because showing up when we’re closed is a lot less fun. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to say specifically when the best time to come to Bluebird is. We tend to receive greater snowfall during the months of January and February and we tend to have more sun and spring-like conditions towards the end of our season in March. Though we’ve had warm sunny days in January and cold stormy days in March, so all you can really do is roll the dice (and sleep with pajamas inside out and backwards before and during your visit — a tradition proven to increase the likelihood of heavy overnight snowfall).

 

Additional thoughts: If you’re going on a front country ski trip to a resort, another consideration is crowds (don’t worry — you won’t find those at Bluebird since we limit the number of skiers and riders to 200 a day). If you can avoid going to a major resort during the holiday season or a holiday weekend, you will likely spend less time waiting in lift lines and more time skiing.

 

WHERE

 

Where am I skiing?

 

The right answer: A mountain (unless you’re planning a cross country ski trip)

 

The Bluebird answer: Bear Mountain – of course that’s not too specific though. With over 1000 acres of ski-patrolled and avalanche-managed terrain and 3000 acres of guided-only terrain, there’s a lot to explore. It’s not a bad idea to narrow your scope to a specific zone like West Bowl, The North Face or The Far Side and Pucker Chutes.

 

Additional thoughts: Don’t forget to plan this part of your trip. It’s hard to go somewhere if you don’t know where somewhere is. Or it’s very easy, depending on how you look at it.

 

Where am I staying? (for multi-day trips)

 

The right answer: Some place warm.

A place where the beer flows like wine. Where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano. I’m talkin’ bout a little place called… As-pen.

Lloyd Christmas (Dumb and Dumber) quotes aside, Aspen is a great place to stay if you’re skiing there (it doesn’t make as much sense if you’re skiing at Breckenridge). But the important piece here is, “some place warm.” 

 

The Bluebird answer: The Grizzly Hostel, a Skin-to Dome, a Basecamp Dome, a Campfire Cabin, a Brown Bear Cabin, in your camper in our parking lot. You’ve got options. The great thing about all these options is that they’re warm (hopefully your camper is too) because they all have a heat source (hopefully your camper does too). They’re also all ski-in/ski-out, a.k.a. no driving necessary.

 

Additional thoughts: Staying close to where you’re skiing makes a huge difference. Unfortunately the closer you are to the skiing, the more you usually pay. This isn’t always the case (take Bluebird for example), so if you can find lodging that bucks this trend then you should snatch it up.

 

WHY

 

Why?

 

Because ski trips are fun!

 

A beautiful day on the skin track

Enjoying the sunshine and blue skies during a trip to Bluebird. Photo: Lauren Deeley

 

Recent studies have shown that planning a trip (it doesn’t matter if you don’t even go on that trip) is good for your mental health. So don’t stop at planning one real ski trip this winter, plan five fake ones that you’re not actually going to take -it’ll make you happier.

 

Happy planning! (literally, it’s scientifically proven)

Using onX Backcountry for Scouting Lines Ahead of Winter

While we daydream about soft turns and wait for the first flakes to fly, this time of year is great for scouting ski lines for the upcoming season. By doing your homework, you’ll spend less time looking for lines and more time skiing them when the snow arrives.

There are a lot of different ways to scout lines. At Bluebird we like to use a combination of both digital tools and our eyeballs. Our digital tool of choice is onX Backcountry— a GPS navigation app designed for hiking and skiing. Using onX, you can explore the terrain around you from the comfort of your home. With topographic layers, satellite imagery, and 3 dimensional effects, you can figure out what terrain might become your new favorite ski zone.

Once you’ve identified some areas with potential, it’s fun to spend the day exploring them in person. Navigation and mapping techniques have come a long way since the days of using the position of the sun and stars. Despite these technological advancements, seeing something on a screen is never quite the same as seeing it in person.

waiting for snow to fall on backcountry lines

Admiring from afar and waiting for the Naked Lady Couloir, a classic Southwest Colorado ski descent, to fill with snow. Photo: Ti Eversole

There is a lot to consider when scoping out lines because a lot of things go into making a good ski line. Here are just a handful of questions to ask yourself when scouting ski lines:

What is the approximate slope angle or pitch?

Too steep and you may get yourself into trouble (depending on your skill level). Not steep enough and it will be difficult to maintain momentum.

If the line you are considering is in avalanche terrain, where would the best places be to dig a pit and assess the snowpack?

Even in zones with avalanche forecasts, it’s a good idea to do your own research because forecasts cover large areas and your specific line may have different avalanche problems.

When skiing the line with friends, where are the best places to regroup?

When stopping anywhere while skiing a line it is important to do so in predetermined safe zones.

What aspect is the line?

Selecting an area with multiple available aspects is great as it gives you options when different avalanche problems exist. Having a few aspect options also gives you the best chance at finding good conditions. A north facing line can ski much differently than an east facing line that is right next to it.

Is the line above treeline?

Lines above treeline are often affected differently by the sun and wind than lines below treeline. This is especially important to note if your line transitions between these two zones.

If not, are the trees spaced widely enough to make skiing possible and enjoyable?

If you want to ski rather than bushwhack through dense vegetation, it’s a good idea to figure out the answer to this one.

What other potential hazards exist?

When it comes to identifying hazards while scouting lines during the off season, you will mostly be looking at terrain hazards. Weather and snowpack hazards are typically assessed closer to the time when you will be skiing or riding. However, you may still be able to find anecdotal or historical information about the weather and snowpack hazards that exist in the area you plan to ski.

How can I mitigate those hazards?

A great way to get this information is through backcountry travel and avalanche courses. If you haven’t taken one of these courses, we highly recommend it. If you have, there is always more to learn, either through additional formal education or simply by spending time with friends and mentors assessing weather, snowpack, terrain, and human factors.

Are there any special pieces of gear I might need to ski this line?

When getting into advanced terrain, it can be a good idea to carry crampons, ice axe(s), and maybe even a harness, rope, and climbing hardware.

Do I have the experience, knowledge, and skills to navigate this terrain safely?

This is a big one. Be honest with yourself. Just because your more experienced friend thinks it will be a walk in the park, does not mean it will be easy for you. This is one of heuristic traps that backcountry travelers can fall victim to if they are not careful.

Where can I park my car?

Parking your car in the wrong spot can be annoying for others or even dangerous. Make sure you follow all parking instructions at trailheads and don’t park on private property unless it is allowed. Trailheads have been shut down due to improper parking. Access to these places we like to recreate is a privilege, not a right. If we are respectful, we will ensure that this access continues to be available in the future.

What is the best approach route to access the line from the trailhead?

While a straight line is the shortest path from point A to point B, it is usually not the best path when trying to get to the top of a line. By looking at surrounding features like cliff bands, steep slopes, ridgelines, and areas of dense vegetation you can avoid a treacherous climb or a frustrating slog.

Based on distance and elevation, roughly how long will it take me to get to the top of my line and then back to the car?

With some experience in the backcountry you can get a general gist of how fast you move through different terrain. Having this rough estimate is helpful as it gives you the best shot at skiing your objective, and will keep you from getting caught in the dark.

scouting lines close to the road

Not all scouting missions require extensive mileage. Don’t forget to make time to seek out shorter lines close to the road for those days when you only have time for a hot lap or two. Photo: Ti Eversole

This might seem like a lot to consider, but this is by no means a comprehensive list. It’s a lot of work to search for, plan for, and execute a backcountry ski line, so you might as well get started now. You’ll be glad you put in this time during the preseason when the snow starts falling and you know exactly where you’re heading to ski. As they say, “You reap what you sow.”

Happy Scouting!

If you are looking for some technical information or guidance about using onX, specifically right before and during a tour, check out our article on how our education team uses onX.

If you are looking for additional resources for planning your ski tour, check out the video below from two time US Extreme Freeskiing Champion, Griffin Post.

How to Buy Backcountry Ski Gear on a Budget

“I’ve done so much research and it still feels impossible to find the right used gear for touring,” a customer stated in a Front Range gear shop this past weekend. “How does a newbie put together their first backcountry setup?”

I spotted her and a friend looking frustrated while digging through a bin of used climbing skins. As an avalanche educator and backcountry ski instructor, I’m very familiar with the proverbial mountain that one must climb in the process of purchasing an initial backcountry set up. Furthermore, the price of the essentials — skis, boots, bindings, climbing skins, avalanche safety equipment — makes this endeavor even more challenging. 

Over the years I’ve led and instructed backcountry trips, and the main questions people ask seem to always be about gear. The struggle this woman felt is an all-too-common barrier for many people looking to start backcountry touring, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Below are some tips and tricks for approaching the process of building your first quiver of essential backcountry ski gear.

Make sure you have reliable equipment that can go the distance if you’re planning to tour farther into the backcountry. Photo: Doug McLennon

Think About What You Already Have

For the skier on a tight budget looking to use what you already have, consider purchasing a ski binding that works with a regular alpine resort boot. Frame touring bindings (also known as Randonnee bindings) work with any ski boot, are fully DIN certified, and ski like a regular in-bounds binding. This is a good option if you want a setup that works well both in-bounds and out-of-bounds. 

Think about how much time you’ll spend in a resort versus the backcountry, and plan accordingly. If you’re looking to try touring, but are an avid resort skier, there’s no need to spend a ton of money on your first backcountry setup. Consider converting an old pair of resort skis for use in the backcountry. You can switch alpine bindings for AT (alpine touring) bindings with a bit of epoxy for the holes and an understanding of how to mount skis. I highly recommend taking your bindings and skis to a local gear shop and asking them for help if you’re not experienced with these things. 

There are backcountry specific poles, but these are not necessary to begin with. You can use regular, non-adjustable, ski poles. A ski helmet is always a good idea in the backcountry, and you can use whatever helmet you wear while at a ski resort, no need to purchase an extra light backcountry-specific helmet.

Using gear that works well for all snow conditions is ideal if you’re new to the backcountry. Photo: Doug McLennon

Consider Your Budget

If you’re on a budget and cannot get all new gear, consider what is most important to purchase new. Avalanche safety gear — such as an avalanche transceiver (beacon), shovel, and probe — are the most important pieces of equipment you’ll carry in the backcountry. It’s critical to know that these items are working correctly and thus, it’s typically not recommended to buy avalanche gear used. That said, you can often find a deal on a package of these three items early in the season. Budget between $300 and $400 for these items. Remember that along with carrying avalanche safety gear, you need to know how to use it. Consider taking an AIARE Course as a first step to acquiring training and avalanche awareness skills.

Comfort is a big deal when spending time in cold, winter environments and exerting more energy than is typically used at a resort. You can work with a ski that’s not ideal for the snow conditions, but a ski boot that does not fit well may quickly ruin a backcountry day. After avalanche safety gear, ski boots are the next most important piece of equipment. If you can purchase one new item, make it boots. If you find used boots that seem to work, spend a little extra to get a boot fitting from a ski shop — this can prevent future foot pain and blisters. And if you know ski boots never fit your feet that well, make sure to get a boot fitting for any new boots you purchase as well.

Boots

You’ll potentially have multiple pairs of skis for different types of snow, but you’ll likely only have one pair of AT ski boots, and a good pair will make any tour day far more enjoyable. Weight is a factor, but not the most important. When you’re getting started with touring, find a boot that fits well — little to no heel lift, minimal hot spots, and something that is not too tight that it cuts off circulation. Something with a similar flex as what you’re used to wearing, with a walk and ski mode, is a good place to start. Unless you have a frame binding, make sure the boots have pin holes on the heel and toe, this is what makes them compatible with the AT pin bindings.

There’s a ton of AT boot options out there, and no two people’s feet are alike, that’s why renting before you buy is always a good idea. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Bindings

If you’re starting with a frame binding, over time you’ll likely want to upgrade to a lighter AT binding for ease of use. If you want a crossover binding that can be used for hard charging in resorts or the backcountry, consider something like the Salomon Shift binding. It’s more complicated to transition from uphill to downhill mode however, so make sure to practice before heading into the backcountry. A lighter option is the standard tech binding, something like the Dynafit Radical Alpine Touring. This binding is in the mid to lightweight range but still very stable, that will hold up for many years. You do not need the lightest, fastest set up when first starting to venture into the backcountry, in fact this may make your experience less enjoyable. Until you’re comfortable skiing variable conditions off-piste (non-groomed trails), stick to a more stable backcountry binding that has a toe rotation/release for safety reasons, like the previously mentioned, Dynafit Radical.

AT bindings can be hard to set up, so consider taking your skis and boots to a professional. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Skis

For an all-around good backcountry ski, consider something with an underfoot width of 95 mm – 105 mm. If you’re a strong skier and know what you like, then go with a similar width but remember the wider the ski, the more resistance you’ll have when touring uphill. For the general backcountry skier, versatility is the most important thing when picking a ski. Cutting weight to get the lightest ski possible is not always the best choice. You want a ski that can ride subpar snow surface conditions — the lighter the ski the harder it is to break through bad snow. Look for something that is light enough but not too light — the Black Diamond Helio Recon 95 and Salomon QST 99 are both very popular all-around backcountry skis. For length, pick a length you’re comfortable riding; everyone is different and depending on your skills and style of skiing, you likely have a size range that works for you.

Look for a good all-around ski as a starting point. There’s lots of options out there, including Black Diamond’s Helio ski line (pictured above). Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Climbing Skins

Skins are arguably the most challenging piece of equipment to buy. Since they’re not needed for resort skiing, many newbies to the backcountry have no idea what these sticky, strange, apparatus are. Check out Bluebird’s free Skins 101 online course to learn the basics of how to use and care for skins. 

There’s two main types of skins: nylon and nylon/mohair blend. Pure nylon, which are a bit bulkier but have more grip and less glide, tend to last longer. Nylon/mohair blend skins are lighter and tend to glide better. For beginners, nylon skins are a safe bet as you’ll appreciate the extra grip and durability. You can buy climbing skins used, but make sure to test the glue (it should be sticky to touch and not have many/or any balls of glue on the bottom side). When looking at skin sizes, the width is the first place to start. Full coverage is only really needed in the middle of the skin, since that’s where you’ll have the most traction. Find a skin width that is 5-7mm less than the widest part of your ski. For example, if your ski measures 125-105-119, a 120 mm skin will work. Use the instructions on the manual, or follow these instructions, to trim your skins. If you’re buying used skins, look for a skin that is wider than the narrowest part of your skin, and get a trimming tool to cut skins — it’s worth the money. An exacto knife truly does not do a good job. The length of skins can generally be adjusted with most popular brands. If you’re buying used skins, you’ll want the tail clip (or end of the skin) to not exceed the length of the ski, otherwise the clip will not work properly.

Make sure you practice using skins in the parking lot, base area, or at home before hitting the skin track. The more practice the better! Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Where to Find Used Gear

Don’t rule out used gear because it seems too complicated to patch together a setup that works. Oftentimes, gear stores will sell demo equipment, which is an awesome way to get lightly used gear for a deal. Start looking for a backcountry setup in the summer, as many gear shops have discounted prices and demos for sale in the off season. Check your local used gear store, or look online for used gear. Cripple Creek Backcountry sells new and used gear on their website, and Wilderness Exchange is a great in-person and online used gear store. Bentgate Mountaineering in Golden, CO has discounted prices all summer on their snowsports gear, and their team is very knowledgeable. 

Before purchasing new or used gear, make an effort to try before you buy — this allows you to figure out what you like. With a season pass to Bluebird Backcountry, you can add on an unlimited ski or split board rental package, plus gain access to avalanche-managed backcountry terrain to test new equipment.

If you’re new to the backcountry, consider taking a lesson at Bluebird before heading into the backcountry on your own. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

While it can feel intimidating to understand what equipment is needed, these tips should help a new-to-the-backcountry skier get started. The main things to remember when purchasing used gear is to do a thorough check of the item. Boots have a lot of screws and are constantly flexed when in motion, same goes for bindings, and it’s common to find used gear with missing screws. This can be a major bummer later on. Make sure you’re purchasing something that is still in good shape without too much wear and tear. As for skis: look for large gashes or “core shots” on the bottom of the skis. Core shots can be patched, but if there are too many patches the ski’s strength is compromised. Take time to learn what you’re looking for, talk to gear experts, and look for quality options at the best price you can find. With a solid setup and avalanche course under your belt, the backcountry becomes your playground — saving money on tickets and investing in human-powered adventures. Once you’ve built your set up, take it for a trial run at your local backcountry area, or check out Bluebird Backcountry, the perfect place to practice with your new-to-you equipment and dial in all your other pieces of gear.


About the Author

Erika is an AIARE avalanche instructor and backcountry educator, and has worked in the field of education for the past 5 years. She’s spent the non-snow season working as a backcountry guide and outdoor educator, along with developing her art business and working as a content creator for various outdoor companies.

Where to Find Summer Backcountry Turns in North America

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

1. Saint Mary’s Glacier, Colorado

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

2. Skyscraper Glacier, Colorado

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

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

3. Grizzly Peak’s North Couloir, Colorado

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

4. Lamb’s Slide, Colorado

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

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

5. Mount Shasta, California

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

6. Mount Rainier, Washington

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Best Spring Skiing Spots in Northern Colorado

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

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

Get Up High

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

Torreys Peak

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

Mt. Elbert

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

Quandary Peak

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

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

Explore More Complex Terrain

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

Rocky Mountain National Park

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

Cameron Pass

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

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

Keep It Simple

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

Loveland Pass

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

Indian & James Peak Wilderness Areas

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

 

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

Backcountry Planning : How Bluebird’s Education Team Uses onX

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initial Planning Steps

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

1. Avalanche forecast

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

2. Weather forecast

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

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

3. Choosing an area

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

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

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

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

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

4. Mapping route options

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

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

Final Planning Steps

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

1. Check past & present conditions

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

2. Add notes & waypoints for reference

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

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

3. Download maps

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

4. Share routes

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

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

Important Skills to Aquire

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

1. Know how to recognize avalanche terrain

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

2. Practice with avalanche rescue techniques and gear

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

3. Obtain basic emergency skills

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

4. Know how to move through backcountry terrain

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

5. Learn group management and decision making skills

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

8 Perks of Visiting Bluebird in the Spring

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

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

1. More sun for extra laps.

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

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

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

 

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

3. Stashes of cold snow.

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

4. You can party on the mountain every day.

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

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

5. The more creative layers the better.

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

6. An awesome event lineup.

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

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

7. Après-friendly conditions.

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

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

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

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

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

For Women by Women : Elevating Ladies in the Backcountry

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

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

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

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

Tips & Tricks for Ladies on the Skin Track

1. Don’t fear the extra layers.

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

2. Invest in a properly fitting pack.

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

3. Embrace the drop seat bibs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Identify areas of growth.

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

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

Inclusive Opportunities

1. Women in the Backcountry : Next Level Skills Course

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

2. SheJumps Backcountry Day

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

3. VENTURE OUT Backcountry Festival with VNTRbirds

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

4. Shred with Elevated Alpine

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

5. Wild Barn’s Boot-Tan Fest

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

6. AIARE Women’s Mentorship Program

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

7. Backcountry Babes

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

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

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

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