Madeline Martin here, the Marketing & Sales Assistant at Slifer Denver. Backcountry skiing is something that I’ve been interested in learning more about recently, so I decided to grab some friends and make a trip out to Bluebird Backcountry. Located just outside of Kremling, Colorado (south of Steamboat), Bluebird is the first-ever backcountry ski resort in North America. They officially opened on February 15th and I was lucky enough to go during their second operating weekend. I had such a great experience at the resort that I wanted to share my story and provide some helpful tips for my fellow ski-bums looking to get into the backcountry.
With the commercialization of backcountry skiing on the rise and Alpine Touring gear being the fastest growing market within the ski industry, backcountry skiing is more popular than ever. More and more skiers are looking to avoid the lift lines, earn their turns, and get to the “soul of skiing”. Though quite a few hurdles exist within the sport that makes it difficult for beginners to get started. Bluebird aims to break down those barriers, by providing a safe practice area, affordable on-site gear rentals, educational Avalanche training, and a supportive community of other like-minded backcountry skiers.
After hearing about Bluebird from one of the guys in my Avalanche course, I was intrigued. Word about the new resort had spread quickly around the backcountry community, and within 48 hours the Kickstarter campaign had reached a quarter of its goal. I donated $50 to their start-up fund and in exchange, I got my day pass almost a month in advance. I was excited to see what everyone was talking about.
At first, I admit, I was skeptical. It didn’t seem like a sustainable business model to me. Why pay for a day pass at Bluebird when you can backcountry ski virtually anywhere. I mean, isn’t that the point of the sport? I was even apart of the exact demographic that they were targeting, beginner backcountry skiers looking to break into the sport. In fact, I had only toured twice before, the first time being my avalanche course and the second being a guided tour in Crested Butte.
Though after my experience at Bluebird, I’m happy that such a place exists in Colorado. And whether you’re planning a visit to Bluebird or your next hut trip, here are some of my tips for those looking to learn more about alpine skiing.
Avalanche Training & Education
If you’re just starting out, I recommend taking an Avalanche course before skiing any out-of-bounds terrain (even side country!)
- Start by taking an AIARE Level 1: Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain. Check out the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education for a list of all the AIARE approved courses available in Denver.
- Once you’ve completed your avalanche training, be sure to utilize Bluebird’s beacon park where you can practice your rescues and be prepared in case of an emergency
- Consider hiring a guide for your first (or second) time skiing in the backcountry. Ask your guide to point out terrain traps and explain their decision-making process when trip planning and route finding. Bluebird has on-site volunteer guides available who can safely lead you through the “guided only” section of the ski area.
Backcountry gear is advanced, technical gear and not to mention—costly. An alpine touring set up includes powder skis (or split board), pin bindings, skins that attach to the bottom of your skis, touring boots that can switch between ski and walk mode, and avalanche safety gear (beacon, shovel, probe). If you’re new to the sport, I recommend renting your gear before investing in an expensive AT set up.
Here’s where to rent your gear in Denver:
- Confluence Kayaks – Denver’s premier backcountry ski shop, where you can rent an avalanche package (beacon, shovel, probe) and AT set up or split board
- Wilderness Exchange – Thrift store selling both new and used outdoor gear. Call ahead of time and make sure they have your boot size
- Bluebird – has on-site, affordable gear rentals available. Make sure to email them ahead of your visit in order to reserve your gear. They require that everyone on resort carry a beacon, shovel, probe—so don’t forget your safety gear!
- If you’re traveling to Bluebird from Denver, I suggest taking the Greyhound bus from Union Station directly to Kremmling, Co. Be sure to call Bluebird to see if they can arrange a shuttle for you from the bus stop to the ski area.
Practice Makes Perfect
In order to ensure that you’re in great shape for your next hut trip and on a similar level as your skiing partners, I recommend doing a few practice laps with your group. In avy training, our teachers emphasized how important it is to know your partner's limits before heading out as a group. You’re only as strong as your weakest skier, and the group should never take on more risk than anyone person is comfortable with. Bluebird’s safe practice area for beginners is a great resource—so that you feel comfortable before heading out into the backcountry.
Another one of the biggest hurdles for me was getting used to the tricky pin bindings. I had the hardest time clipping in on top of the mountain—frustrated as I struggled to get a good foothold in the powder and clip into my tiny pin bindings. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get comfortable with your gear, practice transitioning, skinning uphill, and even skiing in deep powder.
The Backcountry Community
Another cool thing about Bluebird is that it’s a great way to meet other backcountry skiers, and the best part about the resort was—hands down—the volunteers. They were all super excited to be there, and when asked about their volunteer experience one girl replied, “Bluebird feels like one long hut trip”. Volunteers were stationed at each of the canvas tents playing music, having fun, and grilling bacon for everyone to snack on in between laps. One of the volunteers even greeted us at the top of the slope, offering us hot apple cider to enjoy as we transitioned into ski mode. Towards the end of the day, one volunteer even announced that she was hosting a volunteer dinner and anyone who'd like some “fettuccine alfredo with elk sausage” was welcome.
The volunteer's enthusiasm for the sport got me excited about the backcountry. It felt like Bluebird was truly a “human-powered ski resort” fueled by the enthusiastic volunteers and supported by the backcountry community.
All in all, I had a beautiful Bluebird day at Bluebird, and would recommend it to anyone trying to learn more about skiing. Whether you’re a backcountry skier looking for fresh tracks, or strictly advanced après, I hope that everyone enjoys the beautiful spring skiing season ahead.
See you on the slopes!