Earn your turns at Colorado’s newest ski area: Bluebird Backcountry, an out-of-bounds playground unlike any other in the state

Earn your turns at Colorado’s newest ski area: Bluebird Backcountry, an out-of-bounds playground unlike any other in the state

Colorado's first backcountry ski area has got the goods

VicesFebruary 14, 2020 By Will Brendza

There hasn’t been a new ski area to open up in Colorado for almost two decades — but that’s about to change.

Just north of Kremmling; just before Rabbit Ear’s Pass and not far from Steamboat Springs; at a place called “Peak Ranch,” on a mountain known as Whitley Peak, Colorado’s freshest, most out-of-the-box ski area opens on Saturday, February 15th: Bluebird Backcountry.

And there’s not a single lift anywhere on the mountain.

Bluebird BackcountryPhotos courtesy of Bluebird Backcountry.

That’s right, if you want to shred the powder-blanketed slopes of Bluebird, you’re going to have to clip in, skin up and earn those turns — just like Nature intended!

It’s the first all-human-powered ski area of its kind anywhere in the state (maybe even in the world). Bluebird Backcountry has everything you’d expect from a resort, except for two things: lifts and the crowds that come with them (looking at you Vail).

“Bluebird backcountry is designed to welcome people of all backcountry experience levels—even those who have never tried backcountry skiing or splitboarding,” says Erik Lambert, one of Bluebird Backcountry’s co-founders. “Like a lot of outdoor sports, backcountry skiing can be intimidating, especially if you don't know other people who are willing to teach you.”

Even for the most gnarly of shredders, the raddest of skiers, the boldest of boarders, getting out into the backcountry without the proper training or experience can be both dangerous and nerve racking. Particularly if you’ve never done it before.

That’s why, at Bluebird there will be beacons, shovels, probes and other equipment for rent. There are educators and guides who will be able to walk visitors through how to use the gear and how to tour. There will be regular avalanche monitoring on several of the slopes and ski patrol on standby to come to the rescue when needed.

Bluebird BackcountryPhotos courtesy of Bluebird Backcountry.

“The fact that we have a ski patrol evaluating our zone, opening and closing terrain, and there, on hand, is a huge comfort for our guests,” Lambert says. “We also have an Intro to Backcountry Skiing lesson that's designed for first-timers.”

That resolves one of the biggest barriers of entry to the sport: mentorship. Without someone to teach you how to tour and backcountry ski/board, it’s almost impossible to get into the sport safely. Which, has kept a lot of people out of the backcountry and in the resorts. Unless you have a friend, family member or acquaintance who can take you out and teach you the ropes, you are largely out of luck.

Bluebird Backcountry resolves that problem, though. They will be your mentor and your backcountry guru. They’ll provide everything you need, show you how to use it, take you out (or let you go) where it’s safe to ski and they’ll close off the areas where it isn’t.

Bluebird is also designed to minimize crowds. One of the most appealing aspects of backcountry skiing and boarding is escaping the hordes of weekend warriors that flood the resorts; getting to places where the runs are fresh and uncut, where you get to pick your line every time and never have to deal with Jerry’s, Gapers or Weebs.

It’s why Bluebird will only allow 300 people into the 1,500 square acre area, per day.  

“Part of the reason our guests are choosing Bluebird Backcountry is to escape the busy and overbuilt resort scene,” Lambert says. “Days with fewer than 300 guests are early in the season and will help us ramp up operations. This allows us to learn and improve the guest experience as we welcome more people to Bluebird Backcountry.”

Bluebird BackcountryPhotos courtesy of Bluebird Backcountry.

Day passes will cost $50. Season passes — which the area is only selling around 100 of — will run at $250. Either one gets you access to the mountain’s inbounds area on the Northwest face of Whitley Peak (where avalanche danger is lowest). There are also two “Out of Bounds” areas where guides are required for access.

This weekend marks the beginning of Bluebird Backcountry’s inaugural “test season” which will run from February 15th to March 15th and will only be comprised of 15 days (mostly on the weekends).

“We hope the test goes well, and if so, may continue to operate and further develop the property,” says Lambert. Adding that, if things go well at Whitley Peak, they have several other possible locations on their radar as well.

Which is to say, Bluebird Backcountry is not just one mountain, but a concept that could be applied at several different locations. There could be Bluebird Backcountry areas tnroughout Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, California, anywhere you’ve got mountains, snow and skiers willing to earn their turns.

“Ultimately if we are solving a set of problems that exist for skiers here in Colorado, we expect there are other places that would make sense for future Bluebird Backcountry locations.”

Bluebird BackcountryPhotos courtesy of Bluebird Backcountry.

Of course, there are those backcountry skiers who aren’t on board with this idea; who see this as an unnecessary way spill the beans and let the secret about backcountry skiing out. Those Coloradical Subie-loving local natives who haven’t seen the inside of a resort in decades and think of anyone who has as a chum or a schmuck; those hardcore backcountry skiers and boarders, who think that Bluebird is just going to start a flow of skier traffic out of the resorts and into the largely unexplored backcountry.

And maybe it will. Maybe Bluebird will introduce backcountry skiing to a lot of people who learn to love the sport; maybe it will get more people into backcountry areas that have, so far, been kept a secret. But it’s not going to pump the backcountry to capacity; it isn’t going to overcrowd the out-of-bounds.

So, if backcountry skiing or split-boarding is something you’ve been curious about, or even if it’s something you’ve done your whole life, Bluebird should be on your list. It’s not every day (or even every decade) that Colorado gets a new ski area, and especially one this unique.