When the brand-new ski area Bluebird Backcountry opens near Kremmling in a few weeks, the lift lines will be nonexistent. Truly. There will be no lifts – or snowcats or helicopters – to get users to the top of its slopes.
Birdbird co-founder Erik Lambert calls it the “first human-powered ski area in the country,” an alternative to the “mega resort scene.”
“We’re aiming to provide more of a wilderness experience, more solace and an opportunity to access escape,” he said.
Bluebird will also be a place to learn, with the goal of giving backcountry-curious skiers their first taste, while creating a space for the more experienced to deepen their skills. Lambert, who’s been a backcountry skier since college, notes the sport is rife with barriers: It’s expensive and, without proper guidance, it’s dangerous.
“If we can provide better access and better education than what’s currently out there, that’s great for backcountry skiing and the growth of the sport,” he said.
Bluebird Backcountry covers 1,500 acres. About a fifth of that will be open to ski unaccompanied, with the rest requiring a hired guide. For this first “test season” the company plans to open for 15 days between Feb. 15 and March 15 and will limit passes to 300 per day. The company hasn’t released price information yet and plans to sell a limited number of passes through the website Kickstarter.
Lambert described Bluebird as “backcountry lite,” a sort of training ground where people can take lessons, rent gear and experience backcountry skiing in a more controlled environment than your average swath of remote public land. In addition to warming huts and avalanche-evaluated terrain, Bluebird will offer amenities not found at your typical ski area, including designated skin tracks, backcountry clinics and an avalanche beacon training park.
The hunger for a wilder ski experience, one that doesn’t rely on mechanized lifts, has spiked in recent years. The New York Times recently reported that uphill skiing – where skiers use a nylon material called skins on the bottom of their skis to make their way up mountainsides – is the fattest-growing segment of the industry. The increase has caused sales of backcountry gear to soar and resorts to make quick decisions about the sport. While some ski areas forbid the practice, others, including Aspen, are trying to make themselves uphill skiing destinations.
But Bluebird will be the very first ski area in the country to cater exclusively to the backcountry crowd.
One goal of the venture is to make the backcountry accessible to those who may have felt too intimidated to try it. Having worked in the outdoor industry for years, Lambert has seen what he calls “exclusive subcultures” at play in the sport.
“That’s something I hope to break down,” he said.
And while he’s heard mostly good feedback, Lambert says he has gotten pushback from skiers who want to “preserve the status quo around the backcountry.” But he argues that having a place for people to learn how to do this responsibly and safely will benefit everyone in the backcountry.
“This will be a way to instill good habits in the community in ways that not only help people protect themselves, but also keep others out of danger who are skiing nearby,” he said.
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