KREMLING, Colo. (CBS4) - It was pre-pandemic when the founders of Colorado's newest ski area launched their concept for a human-powered ski area. This season, they've expanded terrain and are nearly sold out of season passes.
"It's funny because even before the pandemic, like people's number one motivator to go backcountry skiing was to get away from the crowds and a lot more people want to get away from crowds right now," said Jeff Woodward, co-founder of Bluebird Backcountry.
Last season, Bluebird Backcountry saw more 1000 paying customers in a two-week period.
"We saw a lot of people take our backcountry one lessons which are really how to get started in the sport and how to learn, basically learn how to do it and decide whether you like it and we got really good feedback from those," said Woodward.
Bluebird is going for a full season this year, offering more educational opportunities and more terrain in a new location on private land, east of Rabbit Ears Pass.
"The mountain is three times bigger; it's getting about 45% more snow on average, and we're going to have the season open all year," said Erik Lambert, co-founder of Bluebird Backcountry.
CBS4 reached out to the director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) about the upcoming season in the backcountry who believes all signs point to an increase in riders.
"There is certainly a chance that more people will be interested in winter backcountry recreation this year. We have had some shops and equipment manufacturers tell us the demand for equipment is higher than normal. But I have not seen any numbers," said Ethan Greene, Director of CAIC.
Greene also told CBS4 search and rescue groups in the high country have seen an increase in calls over the summer, a trend that may continue into the winter.
"Lots of people are talking about increased backcountry use this winter. So yes it is definitely a discussion point," Greene said. "For the CAIC, we are always trying to help people with avalanche safety. Recreation is part of that. We feel that people should enjoy winter recreation and we want to help them do that safely. That part of what we do doesn't really depend on the number of users. We are trying to reach as many people as possible and if there are more people to reach, we'll try to reach them."
Bluebird Backcountry added many new educational opportunities this season, helping to spread knowledge of backcountry safety. It is now an official AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) provider and will teach avalanche courses with experienced and credentialed instructors.
"We expect backcountry use and demand for avalanche education to be at an all-time high this year," said Vickie Hormuth, executive director of AIARE. "Recreationists of all abilities and backcountry experience levels will be looking for uncrowded places to play, making education more important than ever. Bluebird Backcountry is filling a much-needed gap to help resort skiers transition properly by learning both backcountry and avalanche essentials in a comfortable environment. Bluebird's model is the future of in-bounds backcountry learning, and we are proud to partner with them to provide top-notch, forward-thinking avalanche education."
In a press release, Bluebird also announced the introduction of a mentorship program called Bluebird+, which offers aspiring backcountry travelers access to backcountry courses, unlimited clinics and ski-with-a-mentor days, as well as discounts on AIARE training, guided lessons, and snow safety gear.
"Right now we're the only operation in the world like this. There are some places that have done really good grading of terrain for backcountry skiing, but none of them have that have a boundary professional ski patrol, warming huts, food and beverage, lessons avalanche courses... rentals all in one place, we're the only place in the world that offers that," said Woodward.
Bluebird caps riders at 200 people per day and offers season passes as well day passes, along with options for contactless check-in.
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