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7 Reasons This is Going to Be the Best Winter Ever

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

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

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

 

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

1. The parties are going to be awesome. 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

3. There will be even better deals on passes.  

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

 

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

4. Carpooling will be officially back in style. 

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

 

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

5. You can really pack out the Air BnB.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

It started as an antidote to cabin fever. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full Moon, Full Value

It was only a few years ago that I learned a universal truth: the full moon always rises in the east at roughly the same time that the sun sets in the west. It makes for quite the year-round tradition. When the sky is clear, I gravitate to beach bonfires, dusk hikes, night floats, and untouched slopes to watch the old man peek out from behind the dunes, pines, flatwater, or cornices.

No matter the season, such a tradition is best when shared. Fortunately my cousins and closest friends remind me of the upcoming lunar cycle as frequently as I remind them.

Our skins silently press a track. We meander through aspens that tower taller than usual. Purple and blue pastels fill the atmosphere. In that magical hour, when there’s a chance to pause and breathe deeply, our skins slow. We stomp and settle in high on the ridge. For a moment we commune with Bear and Diamond Mountains, Whiteley nodding in the distance. Kat pours steaming Glühwein. No one objects, and the drink inspires a pivot to friendly chatter and beginnings of bonds among strangers.

As true darkness sneaks in, we make a last push to the top of West Bowl. We flip on headlamps and rip skins. Thick anticipation builds as we prepare to drop in to that first dark steep. When one goes, all. A zigzag of light and crisscrossing tracks swoosh the face. We throw aspen shadows in every direction. Anticipation mutates to euphoria. Like a pack raised together from birth, we hoot and howl at the emerging moon, hoping the darkness below is a never-ending run.

This was our February full moon event at Bluebird Backcountry — and my favorite run of the year. I look forward to another lap and meeting you this Saturday, March 27, for our next full moon event (tickets here). My cousin missed the last one… I’m texting him now.

— Erik Lambert, Bluebird Co-founder

Photos: Erik Lambert

A Love Letter to Bear Mountain

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

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

Those summit views 😍

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

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

Cute critters

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

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

It feels like an adventure… 

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

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

…but it’s near all the amenities

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

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

Gorgeous glades

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

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

It’s skimo-ready

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

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

Lungbuster skin tracks

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

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

More (and more varied) terrain

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

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

Plenty of snow

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

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

The best base area

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

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

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

The Story Behind the Bluebird Backcountry Portal

Somewhere between Steamboat Springs and Kremmling, Colorado, you’ll find an interdimensional portal. At over 10 feet tall it’s striking to look at, though you’d be forgiven if you mistook it for part of the mountain. After all, it’s made of native beetle-kill pine—as much a part of Colorado as the hills or the snow. 

The portal is the bridge between two worlds: The comforting familiarity of the front-country, and the beckoning wilds of the backcountry. On the way out, it serves as a reminder for backcountry preparedness. And on the way back to the base, it welcomes skiers and riders home.

The portal sign, hand-painted by Megan Norton, welcomes backcountry skiers and riders home. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

It was built, as you might expect of an interdimensional portal, by craftspeople of the highest caliber: Jack and Megan Norton, of CrossCut Reclaimed in Kremmling, Colorado.

“When Bluebird Backcountry approached us to build the Mountain Portal we were instantly taken in with the idea,” Jack explains. “The figurative and physical symbolism was just too good to pass up.”

The Nortons are in the business of transferring and preserving the spirit of Old America—an artist and a woodworker by training, they find a new purpose for everything from historical industrial interiors, to old barn walls, to wood recovered from beetle-kill zones across the West.     

“We chose beetle-kill lodgepole pine instead of reclaimed wood for the Portal structure because it’s native to the valley where Bluebird is located, and it’s totally Colorado,” Jack Norton says. Jack built the wooden structure, and the sign, created from old reclaimed floor joist, was designed, laid out, hand-painted, and finished by Megan. 

Jack Norton built the mountain portal from beetle-kill pine—a quintessentially Colorado material. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

“The goal of the overall design was to be sturdy and enduring and to age and weather to become part of its surroundings,” Jack says. “The next time you pass through the portal, give it some love because it has the potential to be more than a couple pieces of wood and metal. The Portal could represent the very beginnings for a badass mountain guide, or the starting point for a search and rescue volunteer who someday saves many lives. And it’s undoubtedly the beginning of many people’s lifelong backcountry journeys.”

Jack adds that he’s no wizard (though we certainly feel the magic of the Portal every time we pass through it).

“I’m just a guy who’s good at making sawdust,” he laughs. “But I believe that energy accumulates at locations, and I believe the Mountain Portal can be one of them with everyone’s help.” 

Beware all ye who enter here: Tons of fun lie ahead. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

P.S. Jack and Megan have hidden a message on the Portal. If you find it, there’s a prize waiting for you. Contact Jack at jack(at)crosscutreclaimed.com and tell him what it is, and he’ll make “something (small) and cool” just for you. 

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

 

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

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

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

Abstract:

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

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

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

Hypothesis:

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

Methods:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Results:

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

Conclusion:

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