12 Ski Bum-Worthy Setups for Winter Camping

As the first human-powered ski area in the US, Bluebird Backcountry is all about making skiing and splitboarding feel accessible, fun, and adventurous. One of our favorite initiatives to fulfill that mission this year: Providing access to affordable camping close to the ski area. 

But, as you probably realize, it gets pretty darn cold in the mountains in winter. Fortunately, a ton of intrepid skiers and riders have braved the temperatures this season to show us all how it’s done.

Whether you’re suspicious about the idea of winter camping for fun, or just trying to fine tune your own setup, look to these folks for inspiration. Here are some of the coolest rigs we’ve seen this season. 

A Ford van setup for winter skiing.

Photo: Justin Wilhelm 

1. This oldster with character.

Meet Kandy, a 1977 Ford Quadravan. She’s got character, she’s got a few mechanical quirks, and she’s been a regular at Bluebird all season. 

A dog lounges in a heated van built out for winter camping

Photo: Justin Wilhelm

2. This photographer’s paradise.

I recently installed a solar power system and a diesel heater that I really enjoy having during these cold winter months. Being able to stay heated, charged and connected is essential to what I do here at Bluebird,” says Bluebird’s resident ski photographer Justin Wilhelm

Skis lean against a ford van used for winter camping

Photo: Menno Sennesael

3. This ski-instructor home base.

Menno Sennesael, a Bluebird backcountry education instructor, has been based out of his Ford for the last year and a half. “Nothing like having my ski stuff with me at all times—and getting ski clothes and boots on from the indoor comfort of my van while it’s storming or super frigid outside,” he says. 

4. This slopeside patio.

This guy went all in on the Titus rental ski package—and it looks to us like the mobile fire pit definitely clinched the deal. Even his pup is getting in on some butt-warming action.

A winter tent beside a snowy truck at sunrise

Photos: Isabel Gary Harper

5. This storm-ready mansion.

Talk about living large. Sophie and Isabel brought some burly winter tents (and a wood stove!) when they came to Bluebird in February. 

A ram dodge promaster setup for winter camping with colorful quilts

Photo: Corey Buhay

6. This cozy number.

Bluebird storytelling lead Corey Buhay says this RAM Promaster kept her warm in -12°F temps the last time she visited Bluebird. “I usually put foam sleeping pads over the windows, and the rest is double-insulated,” she explains.

7. This immaculate gear closet.

It’s hard to keep a van clean, but these folks are putting the rest of us to shame. Bonus points for the sweet ski rack and sleek cabinetry, something we’ve seen in a lot of Adventure Lodge’s winter rental vans

River rocks warming on a propane stove

Photo: Nichol Wolverton

8. This minivan heating hack.

Nichol Wolverton didn’t want to install a propane heater in his minivan, but he did want to find a way to stay warmer in Kremmling’s below-zero temps. So, he installed a carbon-monoxide detector and tried this: “I found a cast-iron skillet and some nice river rocks. I placed the rocks in the cast iron and turned the burner on low, “ he says. “The rocks heat up and radiate some heat, even once I turn off the stove. This setup has kept me cozy and warm even in the windiest and coldest weather!

9. This rental with the swanky kitchen.

Who doesn’t love a good backsplash? Plus, this Native Campervans RAM Promaster has a built-in heater and snow tires—ideal for winter adventure.

Skiing skins dry in a warm winter van setup

Photo: Tanya Thomas

10. This mobile bar.

Chad and Tanya Thomas camped at Bluebird during one of our first big storms. Their drink of choice: a maple cinnamon old-fashioned. (And are those oatmeal raisin cookies we spot in the background?)

11. This family vacation done right: The queen-size bed in this Escape Camper Vans rental is big enough for you and the kids. And the twinkle lights are a nice touch, too.

A pyramid tent with a propane heaterA pyramid tent setup for winter camping

12. This example of next-level badassery. Billy Hughston, now our personal hero, decided to brave the elements to test out this pyramid shelter-propane heater combo. The verdict: “The wind was gusting to 40 mph that weekend so it was quite the experiment, but I thought it worked out okay,” he says.

a snowy camp site at bluebird backcountry

The Bluebird Backcountry camp spot is quiet, roomy, and perfectly situated for amazing sunsets. Photo: Justin Wilhelm


Want to get a taste of the ski bum life for yourself?
 

This season, Bluebird Backcountry offers camping just 2 miles from our base area. With the below-zero nighttime temps around here, we do recommend a four-season setup. Learn how to winterize your own vehicle, or camp in luxury by renting from one of these guys. (Be sure to mention Bluebird for a discount!):

Native Camper Vans  •  Denver, CO  •  10% off rentals with code Bluebird

A-Lodge Vans  • Denver, CO •  15% off with code bluebird2021 (2-day minimum)

Titus Adventure Co.  • Denver, CO •  15% off with code BLUEBIRD

Escape Camper Vans  •  Denver, CO  •  Discounted rates and complimentary bedding + kitchen supplies with code BLUEBIRD

 

All Our Secret Tricks to Warm Up Cold Hands and Feet

When the mercury dips, keeping your fingers and toes warm can feel like a full-time job. If numb digits are usually the crux of your ski day, heed these tips.  

Tricks to Warm Up Cold Hands

1. Bring hand warmers.

Throw a pair in your pockets for warm-up breaks, or use them to pre-heat your spare gloves. (Make sure to open up the warming packets an hour or two before you expect to start skiing so they have time to activate.)

2. Heat up your core.

Often, cold hands are a symptom of a cold body. Add an insulated layer and/or start skinning. As soon as the blood starts flowing, your hands should warm up.

A thin touring glove with a tacky leather or synthetic palm can prevent overgripping. Photo: Justin Wilhelm 

3. Loosen your grip.

Fingers go numb while touring? You may be over-gripping your poles. The squeezing action can impair your circulation. Try using a thinner glove, or one with better grip so you can relax your hands.  

4. Do some arm circles.

Windmill your arms in circles as big and as fast as you can manage. The shoulder workout will warm you up, and the force of the swing will force warm blood into your fingers. 

5. Keep spare gloves in your jacket.

Bring a separate pair of downhill gloves (touring gloves tend to get sweaty). While you tour, keep your downhill gloves in your pockets, or between your baselayer and midlayer. By the time you transition to downhill, they’ll be warm. (Stash your touring gloves in the same spot to keep them toasty until the next transition.) 

Thick mittens with gauntlets are our go-to for warm fingers and wrists. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

6. Upgrade your handwear.

Cold hands? You may just need to level-up your gloves. A thicker or more wind-proof glove can make a huge difference. Mittens are also vastly warmer than fingered gloves. You can also try purchasing a glove with a long gauntlet—the skin on your wrists is thin, and you can lose a lot of heat if it’s exposed.

7. Put your hands in your armpits.

When your fingers start to get numb, the tried-and-true trick is to stop, put on your puffy jacket, take off your gloves, and put your hands against the warmest parts of your body (your armpits, neck, or groin). Keep them there until they feel fully warmed, even if it takes a few minutes.  

8. Do the penguin.

There are a lot of circulation-promoting dance moves that winter enthusiasts rely on to warm their hands. Or favorite: The penguin. With your arms against your sides, straighten your palms at a right angle to your sides. Shrug your shoulders up and down. You should be able to feel warm blood shunting down through your wrists. 

Take lots of breaks for hot tea. Photo: Jonas Jacobsson via Unsplash  

9. Stay Hydrated.

Hydration makes a big difference in your circulation. Stop regularly for tea or hot cocoa breaks. Also make sure you’re eating plenty of fats and carbohydrates throughout the day so your body has enough fuel to keep itself warm. 

Tricks to Warm Up Cold Feet

1. Loosen Your Boots.

Restoring circulation can do wonders for cold toes. If that doesn’t help, you may be wearing socks that are too thick, or you might have the wrong size boot. (Need to figure out your size? Take some of our Dynafit rentals for a spin.) 

Unbuckle your boots when you’re touring to improve circulation. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

2. Do the Hypothermia Dance.

It’s a time-honored classic, you look really cool doing it, and it actually works.

3. Squat it out.

First, loosen your boots. Then, do 10 air squats and 10 leg swings. Repeat until you feel the warm blood flowing to your extremities.

4. Add an extra pants layer.

You can have the warmest boots in the world, but if you’re losing heat through your legs, you’re still going to have cold feet. The secret is proper layering. Add thicker baselayers or zip on some shells to keep in the warmth.

Wear shell pants over warm baselayers to keep legs (and therefore feet) toasty. Photo: Doug McLennan 

5. Bring extra socks.

Nothing saps heat like damp clothing. When you transition, swap sweaty touring socks for a fresh pair of woolies. Your feet will thank you.

6. Go to extreme measures.

Got chronically cold feet? Heated socks are a thing now (and they work). What a time to be alive.

10 Backcountry Touring Tips for Happier Dogs

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

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

1. Make sure your dog can handle the cold. 

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

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

2. Get your pooch in shape. 

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

3. Brush up on your commands. 

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

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

4. Ease into it. 

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

5. Pack a canine emergency kit. 

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

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

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

6. Strategize for safe skiing 

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

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

7. Listen to your dog. 

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

8. Practice good backcountry touring etiquette. 

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

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

9. Stay fueled and hydrated.

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

10. Know when to leave your dog at home.

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

 

Cover photo by Grant Robbins at The Elevated Alpine.

How to Choose a Backcountry Ski Setup 

So you’ve been backcountry skiing a few times and you’re ready to choose a backcountry ski setup. Making the leap is one of the most exciting parts of getting started in backcountry skiing. But it can also be pretty overwhelming. 

Camber or rocker? Paulownia or poplar? Fiberglass or carbon? There are so many skis out there (and so many friends with really strong opinions). If you find yourself leaving gear conversations with your head spinning like a kid throwing 360s at the terrain park, you’re not alone. 

To demystify the process and help you choose a backcountry ski setup that works for you, we talked to Andy Merriman, who’s been involved in engineering and designing skis for nearly 17 years. As Black Diamond’s ski category manager and an experienced backcountry skier himself, he’s got some insider tips for picking the perfect setup. 

1. Think of your backcountry ski setup as an integrated system.

Think of your boots, bindings, skins, and skis not as four distinct pieces of gear but as a single system designed to work together, Merriman says. Different bindings work better with different boots, and some skins work best with certain skis. Before you buy something new, ask an expert how it will pair with what you’ve already got. 

Your boots, bindings, skis, and skins should work in harmony. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

2. Pick a mid-weight ski. 

“Weight isn’t everything, but it does matter,” Merriman says. Resort skis, which are often made of heavier materials like fiberglass and poplar wood, handle well on the downhill, but the weight will leave you huffing on the uphills. Lighter skis, on the other hand, are dreamy while touring, but they can result in a bouncier, more unstable ride. Plus, the lighter the ski, the less durable it will be.

Merriman recommends finding a ski that hits the middle of the weight spectrum by using a mix of materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber, and lighter woods like paulownia or balsam. (Around 5.5 to 8 pounds is a good ballpark range, though your ideal ski weight will vary depending on your height and weight.)

3. Look for a 95- to 105-mm waist.

“When it comes to the width of the ski, the snow that you ski is obviously a factor,” Merriman explains. “In places where they get a ton of snow, you’ll see people skiing with 115mm underfoot. But most of the time, 95 to 105 is that sweet spot for a backcountry ski. “Whenever I travel to ski, unless I have a specific objective, I take a Helio Carbon 104,” Merriman says. “I would say that for 90% of what I go out to ski, the Helio Carbon 104 is perfect.”

4. Stick with the length you’re used to. 

Sure, shorter skis can be helpful when it comes to making kick turns or maneuvering in tight trees, but they provide less float when it comes to powder, Merriman says. At the end of the day, “I wouldn’t think there’s anything different about selecting a ski length for the backcountry than a resort.” Stick with the length you’re used to skiing. 

A waist between 95 and 105mm is the sweet spot for most backcountry skiing.

5. Consider your goals. 

When you choose a backcountry ski setup, it’s important to consider your actual plans for use. Are you going all in on backcountry skiing? A lighter-weight, backcountry-specific ski (like the Helio Carbon 104 Merriman likes) could be the best option for you. Want to split your time between the resorts and the backcountry? Pick a ski designed to do both. “The Helio Recon is a great option,” Merriman says. “It’s got a poplar core and it’s pretty light, but it’s made with fiberglass instead of all carbon. It’s a really solid in-bounds and out-of-bounds ski.” Bonus: It’s also a little less expensive. 

6. Pick a ski that’s intuitive to use. 

Aggressive, hard-charging skis may sound fancy, but stiff skis make it harder to initiate turns—which is already tough enough in variable backcountry snow. If you’re new to backcountry skiing, look for a ski that’s a little softer with a shorter turn radius. (Again, the Helio Carbon ticks this box. It also has a full ABS sidewall, which means great edge stability for a really intuitive feel.)

7. Look for traditional camber and early-rise tip. 

The best ski shape for you totally depends on your personal preferences and style. However, Merriman says that some of the most popular backcountry skis are those with a traditional camber (that means they’re arched in the middle) and an early-rise tip (they scoop upward at the front to give you a lift over powder.) 

Pick a ski that matches your goals. In this case: as many backcountry laps as possible.

8. Find boots that fit. 

The most important qualities in a boot: They keep your feet warm, and they fit you well. We recommend going to a professional bootfitter or reputable shop when you’re working to choose a backcountry ski setup. There, you can have your boots professionally fitted and your liners molded to your feet if need be.

9. Don’t overthink your bindings.

After a pricey ski purchase, it can be tempting to skimp on bindings. But the last thing you want when you’re transitioning on a frigid, windy ridge is having a binding freeze, get stuck, or break. Bindings are a crucial part of a backcountry ski setup. It pays to buy a pair that’s high quality, and that works well with your boot. 

For first-time backcountry skiers, Merriman recommends keeping it simple. Like skis, look for something that’s in the mid-range in terms of weight. Then, “make sure it has the features you’re looking for,” Merriman says. For new backcountry skiers, brakes and two or three levels of heel riser settings are usually the way to go, he adds. 

10. Test-drive as much gear as you can. 

The longer you backcountry ski, the better idea you’ll have of what gear you like and don’t like. Before you choose a backcountry ski setup, it can be helpful to try out as many models as you can, says Merriman. (Bluebird Backcountry offers rentals of boots, skins, splitboards, and backcountry skis—including the Helio Carbon.) 

Bluebird’s rental fleet, at your service. Photo: Erik Lambert

How to Layer for Backcountry Skiing and Splitboarding

Smart clothing choices are important whenever you venture into the wilderness, but it’s especially important to layer for backcountry skiing and splitboarding. After all, it’s hard to focus on learning and having fun when you’re cold or damp. 

As a backcountry-only ski area (there are no lifts, but plenty of warming huts!), Bluebird Backcountry is a great place to dial in your layering system in a more controlled environment. Don’t know where to start? Here are our tips to layer for backcountry skiing and splitboarding. 

Two backcountry skiers carry their skis across a bridge in the snow

Layering is the secret to staying warm and dry while working hard to earn those turns. Photo: Big Agnes 

What is Layering?

At a ski resort, you dress for one goal: stay warm. Well, maybe two goals: stay warm, and keep the snow out of your pants. Layering for backcountry skiing and splitboarding is a little more complicated. 

In the backcountry, there’s a lot more variation in activity level. It’s easy to overheat and break a sweat when you’re skinning uphill. In the winter, sweating is a bad thing: Moisture saps heat like nothing else. Sweat too much, and you could become too chilled to finish out your day.

The secret to a comfortable backcountry tour is layering, or wearing lots of thin items of clothing instead of one thick winter coat. That way, you can add and subtract insulation to maintain the perfect temperature—not too hot, and not too cold. 

Three backcountry skiers gather around a person in a sleeping bag and discuss layering for backcountry skiing

Bluebird instructors teach the principles of layering to prevent (and treat) hypothermia in a recent clinic. Photo: Justin Wilhelm 

7 Fundamentals to Layer for Backcountry Skiing and Splitboarding

1. Avoid Cotton Clothing.

Cotton traps moisture, which pulls heat away from your skin. Wool and synthetic base layers, on the other hand, retain warmth even when wet.

2. Start Cold.

As soon as you start skinning, you heat up. It can be tough to stop soon enough to drop a layer before you break a sweat. Take off your jacket before you begin your tour—the goal is to feel just a little chilly when you start. 

3. Make Micro-adjustments.

Bring a warm hat (we like knit beanies that are easy to stuff into a pocket), a neck gaiter, and gloves. Add or subtract these items to adjust your temperature without stopping.

4. Master Venting.

For touring, we love jackets with full zippers, like the Big Agnes Smokin’ Axle Jacket, and ski-touring pants with full-side zips. Unzipping is another great way to make a micro-adjustment and dump heat on the go.

5. Keep it Breathable

Airflow keeps you from sweating, which is why we often leave our hardshell jackets in our packs when we’re moving uphill. Softshell fabrics and breathable layers, like a Primaloft vest, insulate without getting clammy or damp.

6. Bring a Crisis Puffy

Layering for backcountry skiing and splitboarding means being prepared for sunny tours and cold transitions alike. As soon as you stop, put on a big puffy jacket to keep warm while ripping skins above treeline. (Pro tip: Down insulation tends to be warmer and more packable than synthetic insulation. It doesn’t stay warm when wet, but it’s a great choice for an emergency layer.) 

7. Prepare for the Elements

Your insulated layers only do so much if the snow is dumping or there’s a hard wind blowing. Always bring goggles, windproof layers, and waterproof gloves just in case. 

A backcountry skier wears an insulated jacket while ripping skins

When it’s time to transition, layer up as soon as you stop. It’s easier to stay warm than get warm. Photo: Big Agnes

What to Wear: A Sample System to Layer for Backcountry Skiing and Splitboarding 

On the bottom:

  • Thin wool base layer
  • Softshell touring pants or hardshell pants with full side zips
  • An insulated skirt or other bonus layer for emergencies

On the top: 

  • Thin wool T-shirt
  • Thin long-sleeve quarter-zip
  • Lightweight insulated vest
  • Fleece or synthetic midlayer (The Bluebird staff all use the Big Agnes Barrows Jacket, which offers great balance between breathability and warmth retention. Our love affair with this jacket is a big reason that Big Agnes is Bluebird’s official insulated apparel sponsor.) 
  • Big puffy jacket
  • Hardshell jacket 

On your hands and feet

  • Lightweight gloves for touring
  • Warm, waterproof gloves for going downhill
  • Warm ski socks
  • AT boots 

On your head: 

  • Sunglasses and sunhat for touring
  • Helmet and goggles for skiing 

Want a full packing list? Check out our ultimate Bluebird gear checklist

Two backcountry skiers with Big Agnes jackets perform a beacon check

Bring a big puffy (like the Big Agnes Shovelhead jacket, left) and a lighter-weight jacket (like the Big Agnes Barrows jacket, right) to adjust your temperature whether you’re working hard or standing still. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

What Gear Do I Need to Come to Bluebird Backcountry?

There are ski patrollers but no lifts? Gear rentals but no heated cafeterias? As the first backcountry-only ski area in the US, Bluebird Backcountry kind of created its own category of outdoor adventure zone. So, if you have some questions on what exactly you need to bring to ski or ride at Bluebird, you’re not alone. 

To help you prepare, we created the ultimate Bluebird Backcountry packing list.

 

Opt for a 25-35 liter pack with a good hipbelt. How else are you going to carry all those dog treats? Photo: Kathryn Ciamaichelo 

A Good Backpack

Your packing list starts with a good backpack. Backcountry safety is all about winter self-sufficiency, and that means having a system to carry the essentials with you. We recommend a pack with a wide, sturdy hipbelt to take the load and keep your shoulders from getting sore. A good hiking pack will do, but most backcountry skiers and splitboarders strongly prefer a backcountry touring pack with dedicated compartments for avalanche gear. 

  • A 25- to 35-liter pack 

Avalanche Safety Equipment 

Bluebird Backcountry is patrolled by some of the best snow safety experts in the biz. We close slopes that we evaluate to have high avalanche risk. However, Bluebird still sits somewhere between resorts and wilderness on the spectrum of avalanche safety. Whenever there’s even the slightest concern about snow conditions, it’s best practice to bring a full avy safety kit. To ski or ride at Bluebird, you must bring the following gear (avalanche safety gear is also available for rent at our base area): 

  • Avalanche beacon (required)
  • Avalanche probe (required)
  • Avalanche shovel (required) 

Avalanche beacon, probe, and shovel are required at Bluebird. Plus you’ll need them to win cool prizes in our rescue drill contests! Photo: Doug McLennan

The Big Essentials 

Now for the fun stuff. You can rent the following gear at Bluebird or bring your own.

  • Boots (make sure any ski boots have a walk mode; regular snowboard boots are compatible with splitboard bindings) 
  • Skis or splitboard with AT bindings 
  • Collapsible poles
  • Skins 

Warm Layers

A big part of having fun and learning effectively in the backcountry is knowing how to stay comfortable in cold and variable weather. That all comes down to smart layering. We recommend wearing and/or packing the following. 

  • Wool or synthetic baselayer bottoms
  • Wool or synthetic baselayer top 
  • Ski socks
  • Wool or synthetic undies
  • Neck gaiter
  • Warm hat
  • Lightweight touring gloves
  • Warm mittens or downhill gloves
  • Wool or synthetic midlayer
  • Softshell pants (or hardshell pants with zippers for venting)
  • A waterproof shell jacket
  • A warm puffy jacket for stops and emergencies
  • An insulated vest or lightweight puffy

A good hardshell jacket, like the Black Diamond Liquid Point Shell, pictured, blocks wind and keeps out snow while you shred. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Other Essentials 

Stay comfortable over a full day outdoors by packing these important odds and ends. 

  • Face mask
  • Sunhat
  • Chapstick
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Goggles

Food and Water

Bluebird Backcountry has lots of great food offerings at our base area this year. Think giant s’mores, chili, and breakfast burritos. However, it’s always good practice to throw a few things in your pack to keep you fueled on the skintrack. (If you forget, you can stop by the Bluebird Base Area, where we offer snacks from local brands like Patter Bars, Kate’s Real Food Bars, Upqua Oats, Mike’s Mighty Ramen, and Honeystinger.) We also recommend bringing warm beverages—they make it easier to stay hydrated in the cold. 

Fuel up between runs with giant s’mores at the Bluebird base area. Photo: Doug McLennan

Emergency Safety Gear 

We also recommend getting into the habit of packing these backcountry essentials, too, which will give you an extra layer of security in the true backcountry. (However, thanks to our staff of trained patrollers, this gear is less critical at Bluebird Backcountry and isn’t required.) 

  • Extra batteries for your beacon
  • Headlamp 
  • First-aid kit
  • Repair kit 
  • Satellite beacon (PLB)
  • Backcountry radios 
  • Emergency shelter or safety blanket 
  • Spare socks
  • Spare gloves
  • A helmet (not required at Bluebird, but recommended)

Softshell pants, lightweight gloves, and a synthetic midlayer are usually perfect for skinning in Colorado’s typical dry snow conditions. Photo: Doug McLennan

 

How to Camp in Your Car in Winter

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

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

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

 

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

Safety Considerations for Sleeping in Your Car

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

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

How Cold is Too Cold to Sleep in My Car?

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

Trucks and SUVs

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

Cargo Vans

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

Campers and RVs

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

Do I Have a Backup Plan?

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

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

 

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

Outfit Your Car for Winter Camping

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

1. Fold down your back seats.

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

2. Add insulation.

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

 

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

 

3. Throw in a mattress.

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

4. Build your bedding.

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

 

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

 

5. Pick the right pajamas.

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

6. Heat it up.

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

7. Crack your windows.

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

8. Dream of fresh pow.

And in the morning, shred.

 

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

How to Make 2021 Your Best Season Yet

Instead of making a New Year’s resolution you know you’ll never keep, commit to something you can really get excited about: Have more fun on skis or a board. 

It’s our favorite resolution because it makes improvement almost inevitable. Resolve to have more fun, and you’re all but guaranteed to improve your skiing and riding skills, up your experience level, and get out more in 2021. 

We polled the Bluebird Backcountry crew—a stacked team of lifelong skiers, splitboarders, and powder hounds—for their best tips. Here are our favorites for having more fun on the slopes and making 2021 your best year of skiing or riding yet.

 

a backcountry skier on dawn patrol looks at sunrise through snowy trees

Sunrise is better when there’s no office window in the way. Photo: Holly Mandarich via Unsplash

1. Play Hooky on a Powder Day.

The best way to have more fun on skis or a board? Make it feel just a little more badass. “Play hooky from work at least once,” recommends Bluebird team member and photographer Doug McLennan. Get in the habit of tracking upcoming storms on a weather app like OpenSnow, and treat yourself to a sick day the next time your favorite spots get a few inches of fresh. 

2. Up Your Snack Game.

You’re a grownup now, and it’s time to start snacking like one. “Stop bringing along that same stale Clif bar that’s been getting smushed in the brain of your pack for the last 3 seasons,” says Bluebird’s brand and marketing guru Emma Walker. “Bring food you’ll actually eat (and enjoy), and you’ll be amazed how much better your days on the skintrack feel!” Need some suggestions? Check out our list of the all-time best backcountry touring snacks.

 

a backcountry skier with skis on her back hikes under a rocky ridge

Set yourself a new challenge. You never know what new terrain you might end up in. Photo: Robson Hatskukami Morgan via Unsplash

3. Set a Crazy Goal.

Maybe it’s skinning 30,000 feet of vertical gain over the season, or finishing a skimo race [[link to cripple creek race]]. Maybe it’s sending your favorite run in a prom dress. Regardless, it’ll motivate you to get outside your comfort zone. Here’s a great one to start with: “Ski every run on the mountain—you’ll be sure to find some surprises!” suggests Bluebird volunteer and Jill-of-all-trades Sara Higgins. 

4. Get Out with Different Partners.

Life is just better with more adventure buddies. “Plan outings with friends of different abilities levels—people you can learn from and people you can teach,” says Bluebird partnership wrangler Laura Hansen. You’ll pick up a lot of tips from following a master’s lines. Conversely, teaching a newbie is a great way to refresh your own memory on the basics.

a group of backcountry skiers gathers on the mountain for a backcountry ski clinic

The best way to have fun? Hit the mountain with confidence.

5. Invest in Yourself with a Lesson or Course 

There’s no getting around it: Sports are more fun when you know what you’re doing. So take a little cash out of your self-care budget and buy yourself a movement skills lesson and/or an avalanche course to boost your confidence on the mountain.

6. Start Tracking Your Backcountry Days.

Data nerds, this one’s for you. Try an app like Strava or Gaia GPS and start recording your mileage, vertical gain, and touring loops. Not techy? Just start counting your days out. If by March you find you’ve reached 9 backcountry days, you might just feel motivated enough to squeeze in an even 10. If not? That’s OK, too—you’ll have a great benchmark for any goal-setting next year. 

7. Check the Avalanche Forecast Every Day. 

You don’t need a new year to start making this one a habit. Checking the local avalanche forecast only takes a few minutes, and it can make a huge difference in your personal safety.  And, of course, we recommend getting as much avalanche safety education as you can.

 

After all, the best way to truly guarantee a good backcountry day is to make sure you’re down safe in time for beers. 

7 Snow-Day Rituals to Pray for Powder

Whether it’s wearing your pajamas inside out or tucking a spoon under your pillow, there are dozens of snow day rituals out there. While the scientific community hasn’t weighed in on exactly how effective these methods are, one thing is certain: You’re never too old to pray for snow.

 

Putting a spoon under your pillow is an old tradition to get a snow day.

The spoon-under-the-pillow trick is a classic snow day ritual. Photo: Dstudio BCN via Unsplash

1. Put a spoon under your pillow.

This is one of the older snow day rituals in the US, and it’s a common one throughout the East Coast. You can use a teaspoon or soup spoon—it doesn’t matter too much (Bluebird Backcountry Storytelling Lead Corey Buhay says she sometimes made do with a wooden spoon growing up in Georgia.) But why not throw in the whole cutlery drawer just to play it safe?

2. Wear your pajamas inside out.

This is another common East Coast tradition (some suspect it originated in New Jersey) and a tried-and-true method for coaxing enough snowfall to cancel school. Want to go the extra mile? Some recommend wearing your PJs both inside out and backwards.

 

Throwing ice cubes in the toilet is one folk method for ensuring a snow day.

Eh, just throw in a whole pitcher. Better safe than sorry. Photo: Tomas Listiak via Unsplash

3. Flush ice cubes down the toilet

This snow day ritual is a Midwestern classic. “Growing up in Ohio, our tried and true method was flushing ice cubes down the toilet and then doing a snow dance,” says Bluebird Ad Wrangler Erin Moeller. Some recommend flushing a cube for every inch you want. Some say a cube for every snow day. (Maybe flush 18 or so just to be sure?)   

4. Do a Snow Dance

People have been dancing to manifest weather since time immemorial, but the American version of the snow dance may have its roots in Native American tradition. In fact, traditional dances have been followed by significant snowfall both in the Lake Tahoe region and in Vail, Colorado.

 

Putting a white crayon on a window sill is a classic snow day ritual.

When was the last time Junior actually used that white crayon, anyway? Photo: Kristin Brown via Unsplash


5. Put a white crayon in the freezer.

The crayon trick has some interesting regional variations. Some recommend leaving it in the freezer overnight, while others swear by tucking the crayon under your pillow just before bed. Others say you’ve got to put it on a windowsill. Regardless, we recommend waiting for the kids to fall asleep before pillaging their school supplies.

6. Stack coins on the windowsill.

Some folks swear by taping a quarter to the window or stacking pennies on your windowsill. We’re not sure where this one originated, but we like the quantitative component: Legend has it that you’ll get an inch of snow for every penny you stack.

 

Some say eating ice cream the night before will guarantee a snow day.

Ice cream is never a bad idea. Photo: American Heritage Chocolate via Unsplash

7. Eat ice cream the night before.

We had a hard time confirming the regional origin or the success rate for this snow day ritual. But what does it matter? We’ll always take another excuse to eat ice cream.

17 Must-Do Adventures Near Bluebird Backcountry

Nestled in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, Bluebird Backcountry sits between two adventure epicenters: Kremmling and Steamboat Springs. Take advantage of the prime location by sampling the full array of winter adventure, good food, and mountain town charm. To get you started, we put together this guide to the best things to do near Bluebird.

The Steamboat area is famous for deep pow and fun terrain. Photo: Sean Kelley via Unsplash

Adventures 

The Colorado Rockies offer adventures of every shape and size. Round out your visit with these unforgettable outings.

1. Go ice climbing at Fish Creek Falls.

This 80-foot waterall just east of Steamboat Springs freezes in the winter, providing great introductory terrain for ice climbing. (Be sure to hire a local guide service if you’re new to the sport.)

2. Try Nordic skiing at Howelsen Hill.

America’s oldest operating ski area, Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs, provides free skiing on Sundays.  

3. Go ice skating.

Howelsen Hill also offers free outdoor ice skating on its two tennis courts, which are converted into rinks in winter.

4. Soak in a hot spring.

Take a rest day to soak those sore muscles in the natural, spring-fed Strawberry Park Hot Springs or downtown Steamboat’s Old Town Hot Springs.

5. Keep skiing!

Colorado is a great place to ski, and ski-area hopping is an amazing way to get to know the state. Here are some of our favorites (other than Bluebird, of course):

  • Seamboat Resort: Steamboat is a great lift-accessed ski area with a lot of character. You can pay for a lift ticket, or splitboard or ski uphill at the resort as long as you go before or after operating hours and sign up for a $20 uphill season pass.
  • Local Backcountry: Experienced groups will also find plenty of unmitigated backcountry terrain to keep them busy. Try Buffalo Pass for easy to intermediate lines, or Hahn’s Peak for great views and some glade skiing.  

Table 79 offers upscale fare in a mountain-meets-urban atmosphere. Photo: Table 79 Foodbar

Food & Drink

Mountain town eateries have tons of character (and amazing food, to boot.) These local brew-pubs, restaurants, and cafés offer Bluebird visitors some amazing deals. 

For Date Night

Head to The Barley in Steamboat Springs for top-notch drinks in fun, laid-back digs. Sip Colorado craft beers on the patio, or get a round of beers and snacks to toast a backcountry day well-spent. Sweet perk: Bring your Bluebird day pass for BOGO drinks.

We also love Blue Valley Spirits for local craft vodka, whiskey, and gin. Then there’s Steamboat Whiskey Co., which provides all-day happy hour pricing with your Bluebird day pass or season pass (you can also grab a coin at the Bluebird base area lodge for a free whiskey tasting). 

Bring your Bluebird pass for a free beverage at Aurum. Photo: Aurum Food & Wine

For Celebrations

When an occasion calls for a little extra flair, treat yourself to an elevated dining experience at Aurum Yurt or Table 79 Foodbar. Bonus: At Aurum, Bluebird day pass gets you a free house wine, draft beer, or well drink with the purchase of a small plate or app.   

For Casual Family Dining

The Dean West restaurant in Kremmling is our go-to for hearty meals with easy-going atmosphere. Also check out partner establishment Grand Adventure Brewing for pub fare and an extensive tap of local brews. Bring your Bluebird passport for a free beer. (Get more than half the stamps? Make that two free beers.) 

For Breakfast

Grab an omelet, homemade French toast, or a hot cup of coffee to fuel your ski day at Kremmling’s Moose Café. You can also grab a breakfast at the Bluebird base area—The Drunken Onion will be providing breakfast burritos on-site this season.) 

For Groceries

Looking forward to a night in? Grab groceries from the locally owned general store, the Kremmling Mercantile. The ‘Merc has a lot of character and a great selection. (It’s where we source all our ingredients for Bluebird’s base-area food offerings, too!)

Head to Hotel Eastin for a cozy, quirky home away from home. Photo: Hotel Eastin

Lodging

Whether you’re looking for a cozy mountain cabin or a VRBO big enough for the whole family, these nearby lodging options have you covered.

Hotels

Check out the boutique Hotel Eastin for historic western digs. (Note: Some rooms share a hostel-style communal bathroom, which lets Hotel Eastin offer them at a very economical price point.) Hotel Eastin is about a half-hour’s drive from Bluebird Backcountry. 

For a more traditional hotel experience, try Steamboat Hotel in Steamboat Springs, also about a 30-minute drive from Bluebird. Steamboat Hotel, Hotel Eastin, and the nearby Steamboat Mountain Lodge all offer 15% discounts to Bluebird day pass or season pass holders. Just mention Bluebird at checkout. 

Cabins

If a cozy winter cabin is more your speed, we recommend booking a stay at the Muddy Creek Cabins. Each one has a kitchenette, wifi, and a gorgeous view of the surrounding valley.

VRBO

This lodge-style vacation rental sleeps up to 14 adults and offers discount for Bluebird skiers for stays two nights or longer (just email eschumm@msn.com and mention Bluebird). It’s located just north of Kremmling, about 35-minute drive from Bluebird Backcountry. 

Backdoor Sports offers a great variety of gear—and some unique flair. Photo: Rahel Schneider

Shopping

Get your gear fix and expert fitting advice at one of these local shops.  

  1. If you’re into thrifting: Check out Boomerang Sports Exchange in Steamboat Springs for a great selection of second-hand gear.
  2. If you’re driving from the Denver area: Be sure to stop by Two Pines Supply in Granby, Colorado, which sits right on the border of the breathtaking Rocky Mountain National Park.
  3. If you’re passing through Steamboat Springs: We recommend stopping in both Backdoor Sports and One Stop Ski Shop, both of which offer unbeatable customer service and quality ski and splitboard gear. Keep an eye out for Honey Stinger snacks and Big Agnes camping equipment—both are local brands, born and bred in Steamboat.