At Bluebird Backcountry, our philosophy is that it’s easier to learn about avalanche safety—a crucial component of backcountry education—when you already know the basics. That theory is rooted in a core tenet of experiential education called the hierarchy of needs. This idea was developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow, and posits that our basic needs (food, shelter, water) must be met before humans can move onto more complex endeavors (in this case, snow science).
That’s why Bluebird introduced the backcountry lesson during our first season in February 2020. After the huge success of that lesson, our education team decided to expand. Now, you can sign up for all kinds of Bluebird educational offerings, all of which are designed to help get you ready for an avalanche course by giving you a strong foundation of both technical skills and backcountry confidence.
Take this quiz to figure out which Bluebird Backcountry lesson is right for you.
First, tell us about yourself.
How many times have you been backcountry skiing or splitboarding?
A – Zero! This will be my first time.
B – Just once.
C – A handful of times.
D – I’ve been quite a few times, but never taken an avalanche course.
How familiar are you with your touring gear?
A – Not at all. If something went wrong, I’m not sure I’d know!
B – A little. I can transition without help.
C – Pretty familiar. I know what everything’s called and what it does, but I couldn’t fix anything if it broke.
D – Very. But I could probably be more efficient at using it.
How long are you comfortable being outside in the winter backcountry?
A – I have no idea! I’ve been snowshoeing or skiing at a resort, but I know this is different. I’m not sure what to expect.
B – Most of a day, especially since I know there are warming huts on the mountain.
C – I know how to stay warm and hydrated, so I’m mostly confident for a full day outside.
D – I’m a seasoned winter athlete. I’ll stay out as long as it takes to get in a bunch of laps!
Quick: Moguls or groomers?
A – I’m still working on tackling ungroomed terrain—my comfort zone is that sweet, sweet corduroy.
B – I’m ready for some medium-sized bumps, but I’m not sure about icy spots or obstacles.
C – I’m comfortable on just about anything at the resort.
D – I’m ready for whatever conditions the backcountry can throw at me.
Are you comfortable using maps to plan a route and follow it?
A – Maybe, if I’ll be on trails the whole time.
B – I think I can identify avalanche terrain, but I’m not super confident yet.
C – Most of the time. I can even set a decent skin track!
D – Oh yeah. I’m a pro at using my Gaia GPS app.
If you got…
Backcountry 1: Intro to Backcountry
Our classic Intro to Backcountry lesson is geared toward brand-new backcountry skiers and riders and folks who have only clicked into their AT bindings a handful of times. You’ll get to know your touring and rescue gear and learn basic skinning techniques, backcountry etiquette, Leave No Trace best practices, and how to transition from uphill to downhill.
You’ll leave this course acquainted with your gear and ready to hone your backcountry skills. At the end of the three-hour (half-day) lesson, your instructor will make a personalized recommendation for the next step in your backcountry journey. Then you can decide whether to take another lap or head back to the base area for a s’more.
Backcountry 2: Backcountry Skills
This lesson is geared toward skiers and splitboarders who have spent several days on touring gear and are comfortable with their equipment and basic skinning techniques. In Backcountry 2, you’ll learn best practices for staying comfortable in the remote backcountry (including basic equipment troubleshooting), develop more efficient skinning techniques for varying terrain, and improve your downhill technique in variable conditions, which requires very different movement skills from typical in-bounds skiing or snowboarding.
You’ll leave this course knowing how to prepare for a day in the backcountry, and with better uphill and downhill technique. At the end of this lesson, your instructor will make a personalized recommendation for the next step in your backcountry journey.
Backcountry 3: Avalanche Prep
You’re so close! The final installment in our three-lesson Backcountry Progression is the bridge between the skills you’ve already learned and your avalanche education. This lesson is geared towards folks who are familiar with their touring gear, can skin uphill in terrain of varying steepness, and can comfortably ski or splitboard most of the terrain at Bluebird Backcountry. It covers trip planning basics and introduces how to make useful observations about current conditions, as well as more advanced skinning and downhill movement.
You’ll leave this course feeling prepared to learn about avalanches and how to avoid them. Most importantly, you’ll know enough about backcountry travel that you’ll be able to focus on what matters in your AIARE course.
Sounds like you’ve got some backcountry experience under your belt, and you’re ready to sign up for an AIARE avalanche course. If you’ve got some time before your AIARE 1 and want to brush up on any specifics, check out a two-hour Bluebird clinic. Bluebird offers several at our base each week on topics like Skin Like a Pro, Route Planning Basics, Equipment Repair 101, and Winter Emergency Skills. Or sign on for a Ski with a Mentor session, which is basically a short private lesson where you can pick your mentor’s brain on the skills you’re looking to improve.