by Marissa Lorenz
Kremmling Chamber Director Tara Sharp announced the October 2020 Business-of-the-Month this week, awarding the honor to Bluebird Backcountry Ski Resort, which is readying to begin its second season in the Kremmling area.
“I am so pleased to announce the October 2020 Business-of-the-Month goes to Bluebird Backcountry,” stated Sharp. “I met Jeff, the founder of Bluebird Backcountry, last year as they embarked on their first year as a backcountry ski area. They knew exactly what Kremmling was missing and they brought the vision to life. After a very successful first season, Bluebird Backcountry is back this year!”
Bluebird Backcountry is the concept of Jeff Woodward and Erik Lambert, avid snow enthusiasts who wanted to “serve the growing curiosity and demand for alternative/backcountry experiences; provide a welcoming place for everyone, including families and more risk-averse skiers, create a safe space for people to try, learn, practice, and hone their backcountry skills; instill good habits and create a bridge into and out of traditional avalanche safety courses; and revive the soul of skiing, giving the backcountry community a place to gather.”
They launched that dream last year on Peak Ranch’s Whiteley Peak, the prominent “Grinch-looking” peak about 20 miles north of the town of Kremmling. They offered 400 acres of “avalanche-evaluated terrain” which guests could explore on their own and an additional 1,100-ish acres that required a guide. By the end of their four-week trial period, they had welcomed over 1,000 visitors from 27 states, 40 percent of whom had never been backcountry skiing before.
And that is really what makes the endeavor more special than unique, according to Lambert. “What really separates us is we’re focused on education. Because going into true backcountry is truly dangerous and requires a deep skillset, we feel a responsibility to make sure our operations focus on teaching good habits, teaching good etiquette, and teaching responsibility in backcountry and avalanche practices.”
“We’ve built a ski area designed for anyone who’s curious about backcountry to come and learn in a friendly and welcoming environment,” Lambert continues. “Our entire brand is built around welcoming people to backcountry and meeting them where they’re at. We try to demystify backcountry for our guests.”
“You don’t need to know anything about backcountry skiing to get started at Bluebird Backcountry. We will welcome you; we’re built for those who are not yet comfortable with backcountry skiing and we’ll guide your development, giving you a friendly place to experience backcountry and develop your skillset.”
None of that is to say that the experience is easy or doesn’t offer challenges to advanced skiers. Bluebird’s education focus extends beyond beginners to the most seasoned of backcountry skiers and includes opportunities for avalanche education. They are partnered with the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE), the “gold-standard” around certifications for instructors teaching avalanche education in Colorado, as an official provider of all of AIARE’s recreational courses.
They have also built their own curricula of backcountry education to help individuals prepare for those AIARE classes. Bluebird will offer three different levels of backcountry training, after which they encourage participants to pursue AIARE certification.
“Our educational offerings are expanding substantially,” says Lambert. “Last year, we focused on providing an intro course for those who are just getting started. But our vision is that Bluebird Backcountry will be the educational center for backcountry learning and avalanche education. So no matter your experience level, there will be courses/clinics/mentorships/opportunities to learn.”
For the 2021 season, after evaluating the demand, the guest experience, and the terrain and snow quantity and quality, Bluebird Backcountry will be moving their operations just north of last year, to Bear Mountain.
Lambert explains that, while Whitely Peak offers a vast variety of terrain, from open slopes to aspen skiing to meadows to steeps, the mountain sits in the rain shadow of Rabbit Ears Pass. With the closer proximity of Bear Mountain, the hope is for more and better snow, in order to meet the number one request of last year’s visitors. The mountain will also triple the in-bound terrain to 1,200 accessible acres.
That terrain will be ready to open for guests on December 24. Bluebird plans to operate a full season this year, opening Thursday through Monday until March 28, permitting 69 operating days.
COVID-19 precautions will be in place in the registration tent and warming huts. Online ticket/pass purchasers will receive a QR code to their phone and will have the option to skip registration and head right to the gate, making it “as easy as possible to get on the mountain,” Lambert says. “But outside of the lodge and warming huts, it’s a very friendly environment during times of COVID. Backcountry allows people to be outside, spread out, get some exercise, have fun, and be safe.”
Early Bird Season Passes and Bluebird+ memberships are on sale now. 2021 early-bird season passes cost $299 until October 14
(while supplies last) and guarantee unlimited access to the resort without reservations. Day passes will be available online later this month for $50/each or $179 for a transferable pack of four. Everything else will be open for booking by Thanksgiving.
To purchase tickets or passes, to register for your official AIARE course now, to find out how to apply for the 15-ish positions open for the winter, or to learn more about Bluebird Backcountry Resort, go to bluebirdbackcountry.com, or look for them on Facebook and Instagram.