KREMMLING, Colo. (CBS4) – A first of its kind, “human-powered” backcountry ski operation, announced Monday it is opening for its first official season Feb 15. Two Colorado men behind the operation have have been snowboarding and skiing in the backcountry their entire lives.
“It’s hard to learn to backcountry ski. There’s a bunch of gear you have to figure out. You have to travel in the mountains in the winter and then you’ve got avalanches and other things to worry about,” said Bluebird co-founder, Jeff Woodward.
It’s the reason Woodward, alongside friend Eric Lambert, decided to create Bluebird Backcountry.
To accumulate the appropriate gear and knowledge, it has taken them a lifetime. A limitation they didn’t think should exist for people who wanted to give it a shot.
“Our mission is to make it easier for people to learn to backcountry ski and to provide a risk mitigated area to go backcountry skiing,” said Woodward.
Lambert and Woodward looked at nearly 100 locations and settled on 1,500 acres of privately leased terrain north of Kremmling below Whiteley Peak.
The terrain is suitable for all abilities. The more experienced have 300 acres of avalanche-evaluated terrain unguided; another roughly 1,200 acres is accessible with a Bluebird guide.
“It’s unique in that we’re taking lots of disparate ideas that people have been working on, we’re putting them all into one place and creating an idea that’s different than anything else,” Lambert continued. “This is the only place we know of that’s a human-powered, in bounds backcountry.”
The men say the intention is to function as a small ski resort, sans lifts. It will have several warming huts with food and hot chocolate as well as gear rentals and lessons (which are an additional $50).
“The lessons will go over all the basics of how to use your gear, how to transition and you’ll go outside and do some backcountry skiing!” said Woodward.
In addition to ski lessons, there will be an avalanche beacon park to practice your search skills and an area to learn more about Colorado’s snow pack and snow science in general.
While such a niche market could be considered a risky venture, the two have done their research. Interest in the sport? It’s growing.
“There’s totally a need. We’ve seen massive growth in the sales of back country equipment and the number of people skiing uphill at resorts and the number of people wanting a different type of experience in the winter,” said Woodward.
For the first time this season, Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort started charging skiers to ski up the mountain. A pass, that in previous years, was free.
“We already know the terrain is pretty fun to ski because we’ve been skiing it! So, if this location works, we’d like to open for a full season next year. Like a general ski area season where we’re open all day, every day,” said Woodward.
With 2020 as its first season, Woodward and Lambert are calling this a test year. For now, it plans to operate weekends only, February through March.
“We’re going to learn a lot this year about whether this has the perfect snow, the perfect terrain and whether it’s close enough, but we’re really excited to take our business to the next level and provide the experience we’ve been dreaming for 3 years,” said Lambert.
It is limiting passes to 300 people per day which can be purchased on the Bluebird Backcountry Kickstarter site.