Tag Archive for: Backcountry skiing

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.

Weekly Update : Events + Courses

Week of January 27th, 2022

With a mid-week snow refresh, Bluebird is primed for excellent conditions and a fun weekend ahead! We’ve got a special event on Saturday, plus Backcountry Lessons and AIARE Courses running every day. Check out the full events calendar and lineup of  backcountry education lessons, advanced courses and avalanche courses below!

Participants discuss the geologic make up of Bear Mountain on a special geology tour at Bluebird Backcountry. Photo: Erik Lambert

Thursday, Jan. 27

  • Dog Days at Bluebird – learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson – book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Friday, Jan. 28

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here
  • Backcountry 4 : Reading Terrain NEW THIS SEASON, an advanced course for those who’ve taken an AIARE 1 and want to improve their navigation and terrain analysis skills, learn more and sign up here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Saturday, Jan. 29

  • Beacon Seekin’ Saturday — 2 – 3 pm at the base area. Practice your rescue skills and dig some prizes out of the snow! More info.
  • Sunset Tour & Film Fest SPECIAL EVENT, 4 – 7 pm at the base area. Set out on a special, after-hours tour of Bluebird then enjoy the watch the Backcountry Film Festival. Get your tickets today. 
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Sunday, Jan. 30

  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Women in the Backcountry: Next Level Skills Course NEW THIS SEASON. Come spend the day learning in a fun and welcoming environment with the incredible Brittany Konsella: highly accomplished ski mountaineer, all-around shredder, and second woman to ski all the 14’ers in Colorado.  Learn more and sign up here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Monday, Jan. 31

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

AIARE Courses

  • Saturday, Jan. 30 – Sunday, Jan. 31 — AIARE Rec 1 Hybrid CourseSOLD OUT.

Find out more about Bluebird’s Education Program and sign up for courses here. Learn more about Bluebird’s AIARE Avalanche Education courses on our website. You can also find our full events calendar on our website — plan your next trip to Bluebird around one of exciting onsite events, Backcountry Lessons, Advanced Courses or Avalanche Courses this season!

See you on the mountain!

 

Weekly Update : Events + Courses

Week of January 20th, 2022

There’s an extra cool event planned at Bluebird this weekend, new terrain opening (stay tuned for updates), plus a schedule full of lessons, an Avalanche Refresher Course, and an AIARE Rescue Course. Check out the full events calendar and lineup of  backcountry education lessons, advanced courses and avalanche courses below!

One of Bluebird’s newest runs, named after one of the all-time best skintrack snacks. Photo: Erik Lambert

Thursday, Jan. 20

  • Dog Days at Bluebird – learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson – book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Friday, Jan. 21

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Saturday, Jan. 22

  • Beacon Seekin’ Saturday — 2 – 3 pm at the base area. Practice your rescue skills and dig some prizes out of the snow! More info.
  • Geology Tour of Bear Mountain — 12:30 – 2:30 pm. SPECIAL EVENT, lead by a professor of Geology — learn all about the volcanos surrounding Bluebird while skinning and riding. Sign up now, there’s a limited number of spots!
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.
  • Equipment Maintenance & Repairs — NEW THIS SEASON, learn more and sign up here.
  • Avalanche Refresher Course — learn more and sign up here.

Sunday, Jan. 23

  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Monday, Jan. 24

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

AIARE Courses

  • Sunday, Jan.  23— AIARE Avalanche Rescue – there are a few spots still available! Learn more and sign up here.

Find out more about Bluebird’s Education Program and sign up for courses here. Learn more about Bluebird’s AIARE Avalanche Education courses on our website. You can also find our full events calendar on our website — plan your next trip to Bluebird around one of exciting onsite events, Backcountry Lessons, Advanced Courses or Avalanche Courses this season!

See you on the mountain!

 

Weekly Update : Events + Courses

Week of January 13th, 2022

The conditions at Bluebird were amazing last week, and this weekend the sun will be shining on some fresh snow — perfect touring weather! There are fun events and a full lineup of  backcountry education lessons, advanced courses and avalanche courses on the calendar. Check out the complete schedule below and come celebrate the long weekend at Bluebird!

Our team scoping out the backside of Bear Mountain after last weekend’s storm. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Thursday, Jan. 13

  • Dog Days at Bluebird – learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson – book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Friday, Jan. 14

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.
  • Avalanche Refresher Course – learn more and sign up here.

Saturday, Jan. 15

  • Beacon Seekin’ Saturday — 2 – 3 pm at the base area. Practice your rescue skills and dig some prizes out of the snow! More info.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Sunday, Jan. 16

  • Live Music — A Steamboat favorite, solo acoustic musician Jon Fog, 1 – 3 pm at the base area. More info.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Monday, Jan. 17

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

AIARE Courses

  • Saturday, Jan. 15 — AIARE Avalanche Rescue – there are a few spots still available! Learn more and sign up here.
  • Monday, Jan. 17 – Wednesday, Jan. 19 — AIARE 1SOLD OUT! See more course dates here.

Find out more about Bluebird’s Education Program and sign up for courses here. Learn more about Bluebird’s AIARE Avalanche Education courses on our website. You can also find our full events calendar on our website — plan your next trip to Bluebird around one of exciting onsite events, Backcountry Lessons, Advanced Courses or Avalanche Courses this season!

See you on the mountain!

 

Weekly Update : Events + Courses

Week of January 6th, 2022

We are rolling into our second operating week of the 2021/2022 season full steam ahead. Snow is on the forecast for the next 5 days, our calendar is staked with fun events and there’s backcountry education lessons and advanced courses for everyone this week. Check out the complete schedule below!

 

Shasta, Bluebird’s lead Powder Pawtrol, and Amelia Altavena work their way up the Into the Woodwards skintrack. Photo: Jeff Woodward

Thursday, Jan. 6

  • Dog Days at Bluebird – learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson – book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Friday, Jan. 7

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — free to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.
  • Avalanche Refresher Course – learn more and sign up here.

Saturday, Jan. 8

  • Beacon Seekin’ Saturday — 2 – 3 pm at the base area. Practice your rescue skills and dig some prizes out of the snow! More info.
  • Live Music — Jeff Lambert & JC McKim, 2 – 4 pm at the base area. More info.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — available to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Sunday, Jan. 9

  • Solar Sunday BBQ & Games — Sponsored by our solar partners Elevated Independent Energy, hot food from 12 – 2 pm and snacks from 2 – 4 pm at the base area. More info.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 2 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — available to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.

Monday, Jan. 10

  • Dog Days at Bluebird — learn more and get your dog pass here.
  • Backcountry 1 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Backcountry 3 Lesson — book your lesson here.
  • Ski with a Mentor — available to guests with a Backcountry+ or Advanced+ Membership, or $35 per session. Reserve your spot here.
  • Backcountry 4 : Reading TerrainNEW ADVANCED COURSE THIS SEASON! — Book your lesson here.

Find out more about Bluebird’s Education Program and sign up for courses here. You can find our full events calendar on our website — plan your next trip to Bluebird around one of exciting onsite events, Backcountry Lessons or Advanced Courses this season!

The Perch, our mid-mountain warming hut, is up and running again — and free bacon is back! There’s lots of new snow and fun turns to be had.

See you on the mountain!

 

How to Prepare for a Season of Backcountry Touring

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

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

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

Check Your Gear

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

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

Physically Prepare

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

Mentally Prepare

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

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

Refresh Your Skills with Continued Education and Practice

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

Start to Track the Conditions

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

Find Appropriate Partners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

START HERE

 

Backcountry 4 – Reading Terrain

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

Backcountry Leadership and Communication

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

EXPLORE MORE ADVANCED TOPICS

 

Winter Emergency Skills

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

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

Equipment Maintenance and Repair

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

Ski Mountaineering 1

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

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

Women In The Backcountry : Next Level Skills

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

REFRESH YOUR AVALANCHE KNOWLEDGE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON

 

Avy Refresher Course

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

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

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

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

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

How to Properly Store Your Skis or Snowboard Over the Summer

To truly love your gear is to care for it during the times when it’s easy to prioritize (i.e. powder days) and the times when it’s not (i.e. mountain biking season). An easy way to show that love: Store your skis or snowboard with care to ensure your gear outlasts the summer heat.

Before you give your backcountry skis or splitboard one last loving caress for the season, there are a couple of things you should do first. Follow these six tips, and your planks will remain snappy, supple, and damage-resistant for seasons to come.  

skier looks over the edge of a rocky couloir

Spring skiing: Sun, glory—and plenty of mud and core-shots.🤘 Photo: Lucas Mouttet

1. Clean ‘em up.

If you did your fair share of spring skiing, you’ve probably got some mud and pine needles stuck in your bindings. Scrub them down with water and a clean rag. (Try to avoid using soap or detergents on your bindings.)

2. Scrub off any rust.

Use a scouring pad to remove any rust from your edges to prevent corrosion during storage. Fix any obvious burrs. Better yet: Go ahead and get your edges sharpened and base tuned now to avoid long wait times in fall.

A ski tech in a blue jacket tunes a pair of skis

Get your skis professionally tuned over the summer to give yourself a head start on next season. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

3. Treat Your Base.

If you live somewhere with hot summers and dry air, you may want to treat your base before you store your skis or snowboard for the season.

  1. Scrape off any residual wax or skin glue. Wipe down your base with base cleaner.
  2. When the base is clean and dry, fix any core shots.  
  3. Cover the entire length of the base with a thick layer of hot wax. Use a soft storage wax, usually labeled as warm-weather wax or base-prep wax.
  4. Leave the wax on. It will keep your planks from drying out or becoming brittle over the summer. (When the snow starts falling again, scrape off the storage wax and re-wax with a temperature-appropriate product. Voila: You’re ready for your best season yet.)

4. Take off your bindings.

If you want to get serious about improving the longevity of your backcountry gear, store your skis or snowboard separate from your bindings. Bindings create tension through the base, and leaving them on could alter the shape of your skis or board over time. Be sure to store your bindings somewhere they won’t get lost or crushed. You may also want to consider loosening them or turning down the DIN to reduce tension even further.

Skis and snowboards in storage lean against a wall indoors

Store your skis or snowboards in a cool, dry corner where they won’t be knocked over or disturbed during the summer. Photo: Erik Lambert

 5. Find a safe spot.

Don’t store your skis or snowboard in rooftop boxes, attics, or other places that get ultra-hot in the summer. Instead, find a closet or a cool, dry corner of the garage or basement. Make sure your skis aren’t tightly strapped, compressed by locked-together brakes, or hanging from their tips when you put them away; they should be in a neutral, relaxed position. If you keep them in a bag, make sure both your skis and the bag are completely dry first. Otherwise, you risk rust.

6. Wish your winter gear sweet dreams. 

Sing your skis a lullaby, wish them well—whatever you need to do to ease the pain of goodbyes. After all, winter will be here before you know it, and you’ll be reunited with your old friends soon enough.

Want to give you and your skis something to look forward to? Bluebird Backcountry 2021/22 Season Passes are on sale now!

a small bird sits atop a pair of red skis under sunny, blue skies

Your backcountry gear worked hard for you this season. Thank it by storing your skis or snowboard with care. Photo: Logan Mayer via Unsplash

 

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