Tag Archive for: tips and tricks

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.

Prepare for the Unexpected: Winter Emergency Skills

Inclement weather, snow-covered terrain, and cold temperatures can add extra spice to any winter backcountry outing. With good gear and knowledge, you can be prepared for an unexpected situation, regardless of the temps or your location. We may be biased, but we think there’s no better place to learn these skills than in person at Bluebird Backcountry. This season, we’ve launched a new course, Winter Emergency Skills — a full-day, interactive course covering the basics of cold-weather survival skills in the best classroom around. 

Here’s a taste of their Winter Emergency Skills course, along with gear recommendations from Bluebird’s team for staying warm when exploring in winter environments.

Students practice the Burrito Wrap technique in Bluebird’s Winter Emergency Skills Course. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Skills to Acquire

When learning to backcountry ski or splitboard, there are some basic skills you need to know that can be acquired through Bluebird’s education progression. These skills include the following; how to transition from uphill to downhill mode, what to carry in your pack and how to use your gear.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to move on to more advanced skills and take your riding to the next level. Winter Emergency Skills teaches the critical competencies you need to feel confident traveling in the backcountry. Here’s a brief overview:

1. Making a Shelter

There’s many ways to build an emergency shelter, but deep snow and available resources may limit the options. Snow acts as an insulator — if it’s windy or frigid, consider digging into the snow for protection. If there’s enough snow, you can dig a trench into the side of a hill. Make sure it’s deep enough to fit your whole party then over the trench with your emergency tarp or shelter. Another option is to build a lean-to shelter or makeshift wind-break with branches. You can spread your tarp on top to provide extra protection.

Students build a shelter in Bluebird Backcountry’s Winter Emergency Skills Course. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

2. Creating Heat

There are many ways to build heat in the backcountry — movement being number one — but once you stop moving it becomes a lot harder to stay warm. Start by putting on warm, dry layers. Insulating layers only retain heat, so it’s important to build up warmth before you stop moving… jumping jacks or burpees always do the trick. If you’re caring for an injured person, or stuck for an extended period of time, the best thing to do is build a fire. This provides heat and helps you melt snow if you need drinking water. 

Learn how to make a fire in cold environments and put together fire starters for your backcountry kit in Bluebird’s Winter Emergency Skills course!

3. Signaling for Help

Depending on your location in the backcountry, you may or may not have cell service. A satellite phone or SOS communication device (Garmin InReach, etc) is an essential item to carry for all winter recreationists. Finding a high point, like a ridge or summit, will sometimes provide better service. Even when you don’t have service, always try calling 911. When 911 is dialed on cell phones the signal is boosted to include all carriers in the region, so you may be able to get a call through. 

If none of the above work, it’s time to start using old-school tactics. If you have a fire, add green debris to make a smoke signal. Hang a bright piece of clothing in an open field for helicopters to see, and carry a whistle to call for help.

Students discuss what to do in an emergency situation at Bluebird Backcountry. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

What to Carry

Whether you’re planning a simple half-day outing or long ski traverse, it’s important to have the essentials in case of injury or an emergency situation that requires staying overnight in the backcountry. Always pack extra food and water, warm layers, a first aid kit, fire starters, knife, SOS device, and some form of tarp. Here are the best items for staying warm and dry in the snow:

  • Hers and his ultralight yet incredibly cozy down jackets.
  • Breathable mid-layer jacket – Bluebird employees basically live in this jacket all winter.
  • Sleeping bag for extra warmth – Aim for a zero degree temperature rating.
  • Foam pad to sit/lay on – This can double as a splint or emergency sled if needed.
  • Inflatable Pad — For added comfort, if you’ve got the extra space.
  • Tarp – To be used as a shelter, makeshift sled, or to protect an injured person from the elements.

Bluebird employees gather at the base area after a day on the mountain, clad in Big Agnes to stay warm. Photo: Erik Lambert

If you’re interested in diving deeper into these topics, check out Bluebird’s Winter Emergency Skills Advanced Course. You’ll get hands-on practice with building shelters and making fires, discuss how to care for injured persons when in remote locations, and breakout Big Agnes’s gear to practice all of the above.

Backcountry Tips & Tricks, Part 3: Personal Care

Let’s Get Personal

Self-care is group care — you are no good to the group if you’re too cold, hungry, or tired to travel safely, make group decisions, or assist in a potential rescue situation. Here are some tips for how to care for your personal needs while touring.

Properly layer before hitting the skin track, it will help make your ascent more efficient. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Dressing the Part

  1. Layers are your best friend – Multiple versatile layers are more beneficial than a few thick layers. This way, you have more options for the unpredictable mountain weather. Carry various layers including a waterproof jacket, insulated layers, and wind protection. It takes time to find the perfect combo so test out different options before settling on your go-to layering system.
  2. Stay warm, but not too warm – Be bold and start cold on the skin track. You’ll quickly warm up when going uphill. Try to prevent excessive sweating, as this leads to wet layers, and be cautious of long periods with no movement. Most people lose heat very quickly when they stop moving in cold conditions. About 200 feet from the summit or your stopping point, put an extra layer on, then continue uphill to build heat before stopping. Check out more tips on staying warm in the backcountry here.
  3. Keep your skin covered – Exposure to the sun and cold can be lead to serious ramifications. Make an effort to keep as much of your skin covered as possible, and put sunscreen on whatever is exposed to the skin. Buffs are the best neck protection for both spring sunshine and winter cold. And don’t forget the brimmed hat, even when it’s negative temps!

Never forget the brimmed hat on a sunny day. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Fueling for Success

  1. Eat more than you think you’ll need — You may not know how many calories you’ll burn on any given backcountry tour, but we can assure you that on cold days your body will use more energy (in the form of calories) working to keep itself warm. Make sure to fuel up before touring, and have carbohydrate and fat-rich foods for snacks throughout the day.
  2. Always carry snacks in accessible pockets — If you start to bonk on the skin track, digging through your pack to find snacks is even more frustrating than usual. Keep some snacks in your pockets for breaks or transition periods. Bonus: putting energy bars in your chest pocket helps keep them warm … because no one likes biting into a frozen energy bar.
  3. Stay hydrated — It’s easy to forget to drink water when it’s cold out and you’ve got powder fever. No matter the air temps, being at elevation and in windy conditions more quickly leads to dehydration. Carry warm water in a thermos; it’s easier to drink when it’s cold out and helps keep you warm & hydrated.

Take the time to prepare a good breakfast before hitting the skin track, your stomach will thank you later. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Treating Aches and Pains

  1. Prevention is key — It’s worth a bit of pre-work to prevent any injuries or pain while in the backcountry. Make sure your boots fit well, you have the right layers for the weather, you’re physically able to accomplish your goals, and there’s no underlying injuries you’re ignoring to search out fresh powder. It’s easier to treat any aches and pains while at home than when you’re in a cold, wet, exposed environment.
  2. Carry what works for you — The basic first aid kits are great as a starting point, but if  you know that Aleve works better than Ibuprofen for you when your back seizes up, add that to your bag! Personalize your first aid kit in a way that works for you, while still carrying the essentials.
  3. Duct tape those blisters — It may sound strange, but it does the trick. The minute you feel a blister coming on, pull out your repair kit or first aid kit, dry off the area around your hotspot, and apply some tape on top of the blister or hot spot. Duct tape sticks better than Moleskin, removes relatively easily, and prevents friction between your skin and boots.
  4. Worship your feet — You’ll spend most of the day (or week) on your feet when touring, so treat them kindly! Make sure to pre-apply duct tape (as mentioned above) or blister dressings to areas you know you easily get blisters. Give your feet some breathing room by not buckling your boots too tight, and follow these tips on how to keep your feet warm.

Loosely buckle your boots for the uptrack to prevent loss of circulation or blisters. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Mentally Prepare

  1. Pay attention to where your head’s at – Backcountry touring can be mentally taxing. After all, you’re dealing with many variables and potentially life-threatening terrain. If you’re having a mentally off day, or not feeling great, share this with your group before leaving the trailhead, or give yourself permission to take a rest day. Being mentally aware is important for backcountry travel.
  2. Listen to your body — The human brain can be astonishingly strong — even when our bodies are telling us to take a break. Physical exhaustion can lead to potentially life-threatening situations if you’re far from help. Make sure you’re both physically and mentally prepared and feeling good before embarking on a backcountry tour.

Checking in with your group makes for more fun throughout the day! Photo: Erik Lambert

Take personal care seriously in the backcountry — this habit helps keep the excitement alive for more adventures. It also shows your ski buddies you care about being a good backcountry partner and ultimately this benefits all parts of your backcountry touring experience. Check out Part 1 of this series focused on education and Part 2, all things gear to complete your backcountry tool kit. We hope this 3 part Tips & Tricks blog helps you feel more confident when exploring winter environments.

Backcountry Tips & Tricks, Part 2: Gear

All Things Gear

There are many new skills to learn when stepping into the rewarding uptrack of backcountry touring — last week’s focus of education was just the beginning. The next major topic to cover is all this backcountry gear. From purchasing equipment to what to carry, we’ve put together a list of tips and tricks to help you dial in your gear and backcountry travel.

A rider learns how to use their equipment while transitioning to downhill mode in the aspen glades of Bluebird Backcountry. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Getting Started

  1. Try before you buy – Backcountry gear can be a big investment! Find a way to demo or rent gear before purchasing. This will help you decide what you like and don’t like. Bluebird Backcountry is a great place to try gear and see if you like the backcountry touring scene before getting your own ski or splitboard set up. Bluebird’s rental fleet consists of various top brands, including Black Diamond, Dynafit, Ortovox, Elan and Weston.
  2. Know your gear – Do some research so you understand how to fix your skis/splitboard and boots if something breaks when you’re far away from a repair shop. It’s better to know before you really need to know. Bluebird offers an Equipment Maintenance & Repairs course to address any questions you can’t find answers to on the internet and provide a hands-on learning experience with field repairs and maintenance.
  3. Put your beacon on at the house – When you put your bibs or ski pants on at home, don your beacon harness or put your beacon in its designated pocket. This way you’re guaranteed to have it when you show up to the trailhead. Plus, you won’t have to de-layer in the parking lot to put your beacon harness on top of your base layer (that’s the proper place to wear a beacon harness).
  4. Keep extra batteries in your carFor the inevitable day when you show up to the trailhead and realize you forgot to turn your beacon off last weekend, store extra batteries in both your car and repair kit.

 

A group practices avalanche rescue techniques at Bluebird Backcountry, familiarizing themselves with their gear. Photo: Doug McLennan

What to Pack

  1. Carry the right tools – Depending on the season, carry ski wax (cold temps), skin wax (warm, wet temps) and a scraper. Having a multi-tool with the heads to adjust specific screws on your equipment is important as well.
  2. Take two headlamps – It’s a real bummer when one of your headlamps simply stops working. Carry an extra headlamp in your repair kit for longer tours, hut trips, or emergency situations.
  3. Two pairs of gloves are better than oneNo matter the weather, always have a spare set of gloves at the bottom of your pack for those wet or extra cold days.
  4. The more ski straps the betterRubber ski straps (Voile or other similar styles) are one of the greatest tools in the backcountry. Acting as a multi-tool of sorts — use them to repair a lost or broken skin clip, help secure old skins that aren’t sticking to your skis/board any more, fix a broken binding in a pinch, and so much more! Keep one wrapped around your ski pole or in a pocket for easy access and two or three more stowed in your pack.
  5. Always have the essentialsCarry a first aid kit, emergency communication device, navigation tools, light of sorts, fire starter kit, extra layers, food, water, and a shelter of sorts. There’s many resources to learn about what the essentials are for winter backcountry travel including Bluebird’s Winter Emergency Skills course, where you will learn about building shelters, the best gear to carry, and how to manage emergency situations in cold environments.

The contents of a basic repair kit. Photo: Lucas Mouttet

When Touring

    1. Keep the goggles in your pack – Unless it’s snowing hard and very cold, store your goggles in a dry place in your pack and wear sunglasses while skinning, then transition to the goggles for the downhill. This tactic will prevent your goggles from fogging on the uptrack. Make sure to always wear some form of eye protection when in the mountains — snow blindness is real and not something you want to experience.
    2. Take good care of your skins – Forgetting to properly care for your skins, even just once, can ruin a high-quality set. Follow these rules during and after every tour and your skins will last you many seasons:
      1. Store them (in the field and at home) glue to glue, or roll them if the manufacturer recommends. 
      2. Keep the glue side off the snow as much as possible
      3. Remove ice/snow from the top or bottom sides when you first notice buildup. 
      4. Properly dry them out after every single tour by hanging them to dry by a heat source or in a warm place. 
      5. Keep skins away from animal hair/fur and dirt as much as possible.

A guest at Bluebird checks his skins to make sure the tail clip is properly attached before heading uphill. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

It takes time to find the right gear and understand how to use it. Consider taking an intro to touring course with your local guiding service, or check out Bluebird Backcountry near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It’s a great place to take a lesson, go out on your own, and explore more advanced terrain in an avalanche-managed environment. Check back next week for part 3 of this series — tips and tricks for personal care while backcountry touring. 

If you’re interested in learning more basics, like how to build a repair kit, and tips on skinning technique, check out Bluebird Backcountry Community’s Premium Membership — an virtual hang-out space with courses, gear exchange groups, partner finders, and forums.

Backcountry Tips & Tricks, Part 1: Education

Snow covered peaks and smooth descents down untouched slopes in the backcountry is a practically irresistible pull for anyone skier or snowboarder, especially those looking to avoid resort traffic and exceedingly long lift lines. Yet the switch from resort to backcountry can be intimidating — there’s new gear, extreme elements, avalanche danger, and an added challenge of finding backcountry partners — that said, the feeling of earning your turns and riding untracked powder is worth any initial hurdles.

To help with the leap from lift to human-powered access, Bluebird’s education team compiled a 3-part series of backcountry tips for beginners. Starting with education, this blog focuses on advice about all things avalanche education and making the most of your first avalanche course. Report back for part 2 and 3 of the series where we dive into gear and personal care in the backcountry.


All Things Education

Every outdoor activity carries inherent risks. While we all hope we’ll never encounter an avalanche, hope is not enough preparation when traveling in areas with possibility of avalanches. It is imperative that you can identify avalanche terrain, get educated on how avalanches work, and understand what to do if you encounter or are caught in an avalanche. Here’s advice from experienced backcountry skiers and avalanche educators on how to get started with your avalanche education:

Before Your First Avalanche Course

  1. Start with the basics – Take an introduction to backcountry touring course before diving into your first avalanche course. There is a ton of information included in an avalanche course — becoming familiar with your gear and knowing how to travel in the snow will help you be more comfortable and thus able to absorb more information in your first avalanche course.
  2. Know your options – there are many avalanche course providers that use curriculum from the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) or other curriculum developers, approved by the American Avalanche Association (A3). While A3 oversees all avalanche education taught in the US, AIARE is regarded as the gold-star by many. They offer courses across the world with various providers, such as Bluebird Backcountry — one of the nation’s leading AIARE providers, and the only ski area in the world designed for backcountry education.
  3. Prepare for your course – follow these steps to get the most out of your avalanche course:
    • Do the pre-course reading and work – it will help you better understand the in-person content and not be too overwhelmed with new vocabulary.
    • Pack a warm beverage – Bring a thermos with coffee, tea, or warm water for the field portion of your class. This will keep you warm and motivated to learn!
    • Bring snacks to share – Pack enough snacks for yourself, plus some to share. It’s always nice when someone offers you gummy bears while on the skin track. 
    • Pack an extra layer – you’ll likely be standing around a fair amount and talking, so bring an extra down jacket to keep warm.

A group of students from Bluebird’s Backcountry 1 lesson practice their skinning technique. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

During Your Course

  1. Connect with your fellow students – avalanche courses are a great place to find future touring partners. Get your peers numbers and stay connected, it’s a bonus to already know that new touring partners have avalanche education equivalent to your knowledge/experience. 
  2. Ask questions – no question is a dumb question. It’s likely that if you are confused about something, there’s another person in your class confused as well. Speak up and get clarity on the information you need in order to get the most out of your lesson.
  3. Use the field book – the AIARE field book is an incredible resource. Make sure to use it during your course, then return to it on future personal tours as a tool for planning, managing terrain, and riding safely.

 

Students plan their route for the day at the before heading out in an AIARE Level 2 course at Bluebird Backcountry. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

After Your First Avalanche Course

    1. Keep practicing outside the classroom – these skills are perishable if not used. Continue to use the rescue, trip planning, and navigation tools you learn in avalanche courses by getting together with friends at a beacon park, having set times for tour planning conversations, and reading Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain.
    2. Start small – begin by planning simple tours in terrain you know and are comfortable in. Practice your skills by touring uphill at a resort, or better yet, come to Bluebird and explore avalanche-managed terrain and refine your tour planning, navigation, and decision-making skills in the perfect environment (that includes real fun terrain). 
    3. Refresh your skills each season – start with the AIARE course progression (Level 1, Avalanche Rescue, Level 2) by taking one course a season, then keep refining your skills at the beginning of each season by taking an avalanche refresher course.
    4. Track the season’s conditions – whether you tour 5 times per season or spend the whole winter in the backcountry, tracking the season’s snowpack and avalanche activity is critical for informed backcountry travel. Use your local avalanche forecasting center to read the forecast with your daily coffee, and reference the observations and forecast discussion to know what’s happening in your zone. You can also subscribe to many forecasting center’s bulletins — this ensures you get an email with the forecast each morning.  
    5. Find a good mentor – the backcountry touring community can be hard to enter, but there are many seasoned riders who are apt to mentor newbies and help you build a backcountry tool kit. There are forums and mentorship programs, and Bluebird has a Ski with a Mentor lesson that facilitates learning and relationship building.

Students watch as their AIARE Level 2 instructor digs into the season’s snowpack. Photo: Erik Lambert

Avalanche education is a life-long process. If you’re new to the backcountry world, start by signing up for a recreation level 1 course. Follow the steps outlined above to set yourself up for a great course, rewarding relationship with the ski track, and a fellow community of snow-lovers. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series discussing gear tips and tricks!

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!