Tag Archive for: What to Bring

How to Stay Warm While Backcountry Touring

When temps drop, it takes a lot more energy to stay warm while out in the backcountry. If frigid temperatures cause you to opt for the hot tub instead of the skin track, consider using these tips to improve your next touring experience.

1. Strategically layer.

It’s all about the layers! Start with a thermo-regulating base layer then add multiple thin layers on top. Carrying multiple lightweight layers instead of a few heavy layers allows for more adaptability to conditions. Most importantly, avoid cotton at all costs — it doesn’t breathe well and takes a long time to dry.

2. Arrive ready.

Show up at the trailhead ready to hit the skin track — pants, skins, and beacon on, backpack packed, and ready to go. Standing around in the cold for too long is hard to recover from on chilly mornings. That said, you’ll likely spend some time discussing a tour plan and doing a beacon check before leaving the parking lot, so put an extra puffy jacket on during your morning check in.

Start off with less layers than you’d usually wear for the skin up. Photo: Doug McLennan

3. Start Cold.

You’ll warm up the second you start moving. Knowing this, start a little colder than comfortable to avoid getting sweaty right away. It’s important to not let sweat lead to damp clothes as these items will take a longer to dry in cold temps and wearing damp layers will inevitably make you colder.

4. Prewarm Gear.

During the drive to the trailhead, put your gloves on the dashboard and boots near a heating vent in the car. Beginning a cold morning with toasty gloves and boots will help keep your hands and feet warm for the remainder of the day.

5. Pace Wisely. 

Moving is the number one way to build heat, but moving too quickly will lead to excess perspiration and exhaustion. Try to set a maintainable pace that allows you to keep warm without sweating and limit the stop-and-go breaks to a minimum.

Setting a mellow pace for the whole group leads to less breaks and more time for shredding. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

6. Don’t ignore extremities. 

Often, cold hands or feet are a sign of a lowered core temperature and prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can lead to long-term nerve damage. Focus on keeping your core warm and check out these tricks for keeping your hands and feet warm.

7. Fuel Up.

You don’t always realize how many more calories you burn in cold weather until you’re bonking on the skin track. Start the day with a good breakfast and focus on a regular intake of liquids and food during breaks or when moving slowly; this helps keep the furnace burning.

Don’t underestimate the power of carbohydrates for keeping you warm. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

8. Pack liquid heat.

Bring along an insulated bottle or thermos of hot tea or warm water — you won’t regret the added weight. Better yet, bring along a mug of soup for lunch! Warmth in cold environments helps keep morale high and gives you the energy for one more lap.

9. Warm up before transitioning.

Insulated jackets don’t generate heat, they just hold it. If you know the designated transition point or you’re about to stop for a longer break, put on an extra layer 20 yards before that stopping point then carry on. You’ll build up heat for your layers to retain once you stop moving.

10. Stay off the snow.

While it’s fun to play in, sitting down on wet snow for even a minute will likely lead to some of your layers getting saturated with water. Carry a small thermarest or insulated layer to sit on, or flip your skis skin-side up and use them as a bench.

Take lots of food and hydration breaks throughout the day to maintain your energy. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Staying warm, well fed and happy is the key to enjoying your backcountry experience. If you’re intimidated by a full-on backcountry experience, check out Bluebird Backcountry — it’s the perfect place to try out touring with added amenities to keep you warm, well-fed, and stoked to come back for more.

All Our Secret Tricks to Warm Up Cold Hands and Feet

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

Tricks to Warm Up Cold Hands

1. Bring hand warmers.

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

2. Heat up your core.

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

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

3. Loosen your grip.

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

4. Do some arm circles.

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

5. Keep spare gloves in your jacket.

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

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

6. Upgrade your handwear.

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

7. Put your hands in your armpits.

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

8. Do the penguin.

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

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

9. Stay Hydrated.

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

Tricks to Warm Up Cold Feet

1. Loosen Your Boots.

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

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

2. Do the Hypothermia Dance.

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

3. Squat it out.

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

4. Add an extra pants layer.

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

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

5. Bring extra socks.

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

6. Go to extreme measures.

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

How to Layer for Backcountry Skiing and Splitboarding

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

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

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

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

What is Layering?

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

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

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

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

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

7 Fundamentals to Layer for Backcountry Skiing and Splitboarding

1. Avoid Cotton Clothing.

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

2. Start Cold.

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

3. Make Micro-adjustments.

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

4. Master Venting.

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

5. Keep it Breathable

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

6. Bring a Crisis Puffy

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

7. Prepare for the Elements

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

A backcountry skier wears an insulated jacket while ripping skins

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

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

On the bottom:

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

On the top: 

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

On your hands and feet

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

On your head: 

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

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

Two backcountry skiers with Big Agnes jackets perform a beacon check

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

What Gear Do I Need to Come to Bluebird Backcountry?

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

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

 

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

A Good Backpack

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

  • A 25- to 35-liter pack 

Avalanche Safety Equipment 

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

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

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

The Big Essentials 

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

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

Warm Layers

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

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

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

Other Essentials 

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

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

Food and Water

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

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

Emergency Safety Gear 

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

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

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

 

The Best Backcountry Touring Snacks of All Time

There’s one thing we and your dentist can agree on: Nothing is worse than biting into a frozen protein bar. Sure, you can try to warm it up in your pocket, or chip off flakes with a knife. But somehow, that just doesn’t sound as good as say, homemade banana bread or a family-size pepperoni pizza.

To help you level-up your winter snacking game, we polled the whole Bluebird Backcountry squad—a team of seasoned patrollers, skiers, splitboarders, and all-around winter adventurers. Here are the results. 

Warm banana bread with a little butter.

Bonus points if you bring enough to share. Photo: Priscilla Du Preez

1. Banana Bread

It’s delicious and freeze-proof, and bananas and chocolate chips provide a blood-sugar lift without being overly sweet. “This was my go-to for mega-cold ice climbing days before I started skiing. It’s still the best winter snack there is,” says our storytelling lead Corey Buhay.

2. Poptarts

They’re great pocket-temperature, and even better frozen. Plus, the added nostalgia points keep these high on our list of classics.

A volunteer cooks bacon at the Bluebird Backcountry ski area.

We’ll be serving up free bacon at Bluebird Backcountry all season long. Photo: Doug McLennon

3. Pocket Bacon

Crunchy. Salty. Oh, so perfect. Don’t have time to make yourself a pound of hickory-smoked before your ski day? We’ve got you covered. Head to Bluebird’s Perch warming hut, where we’ll be serving bacon strips hot and fresh off the grill all day, every day.

4. Cinnamon Raisin Bagel with Cream Cheese

This sweet, creamy classic is an easy make-ahead meal that always hits the spot. It’s a freeze-proof winter snack, and bagels have natural structural integrity: “It doesn’t get smooshed in your pack like a sandwich,” says Bluebird Planning Squad Member Doug McLennan.

Breakfast burritos make a great winter snack for adventures on skis.

Breakfast, lunch—when you’re backcountry skiing of splitboarding, it’s always a good time for a burrito. Photo: Rob McLennon

5. Breakfast Burritos

Make two in the morning, and you’ll have both a hot breakfast and a perfect, high-protein lunch. “They’re still delicious, even if slightly chilly from riding in your pack,” says Bluebird marketing guru Emma Walker of her go-to winter snack.

6. Full-fat Trail Mix

This is an easy recipe: Coconut flakes, cashews, and dark chocolate chips. It’s all the best parts of trail mix, but with none of the tooth-breakers. Plus, the high-fat content of the ingredients means they’re relatively lightweight, high-calorie, and ideally suited to providing all-day fuel on the mountain.

pepperoni pizza as an ideal snack for backcountry skiing and splitboarding

Whats better than hot pizza? Cold pizza after 1,000 feet of vertical gain. Photo: Amirali Mirhashemian

7. Cold Pizza

Step one: Buy a large pepperoni pizza the night before your backcountry ski or splitboard day. Step two: Fold it into quarters and stuff it into a gallon zip-top bag. Step three: Enjoy your favorite food, all day long.

8. Salted Baked Potato

It’s tough to replenish electrolytes on the mountain, especially when you’re not in the mood for goos or gummies. Our fix: Throw a few small potatoes in the oven when you wake up. Right as you’re walking out the door, pull them out, roll them in salt, wrap them in tin foil, and stick them in your pockets. “A friend of mine once pulled one out during an adventure race, still warm—it was amazing,” says Bluebird team member Rob McLennan.

9. Toasted Banana Peanut-Butter Sandwich

Almost like the classic PB&J, but way more elevated. Well-toasted bread provides a satisfying crunch come lunchtime, and the natural sugars and fiber from the banana will keep you energized during those final laps.

Bring hot soup in a thermos for your next backcountry ski tour.

Bonus: You can drink the broth. Photo: Jonas Jacobsson

10. Hot Soup in a Thermos

In the morning, throw some ramen noodles into hot broth and seal tight (we like fancy ramen and those KeenOne quinoa cups, which is why we convinced the Bluebird Snack Yurt to offer our flavors.) By lunch, they’ll be soft enough to slurp, and you’ll have a hot, hydrating meal. 

11. A Flask of Maple Syrup

Don’t knock it until you try it. A quick hit of Grade A maple syrup brings you right out of a low blood-sugar bonk. “Never leave home without it,” says rental gear fleetmaster Brock Nelson.

12. Hot Coffee

Coffee is a food, right? Bring a thermos in the morning to keep you warm and energized. (If you forget to fill up, grab Alpine Start or Wild Barn Cold Brew at the Bluebird base area to get your caffeine fix.)

13. Whitney’s Famous Power Balls

These bite-sized morsels have everything you need for a day of hard charging. Whitney Bradberry, Bluebird’s social media extraordinaire, was generous enough to share her special recipe:

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup unsweetened peanut butter 
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • Flax seeds (ground or whole), to taste
  • Dark chocolate chips, to taste 
  • Dried cranberries or pomegranate seeds, to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Combine ingredients in a large bowl until the mixture is wet enough to form clumps. (If too sticky, add more oats) 
  • Roll into balls with your hands. Let chill in the fridge. 
  • Pack a few into a zip-top bag and throw into your pack the morning before your backcountry ski touring or splitboarding outing