Bluebird Backcountry, Colorado’s pioneering human-powered ski area, announced its permanent closure Monday. The decision comes after three winters of successful operation in Kremmling, where the liftless resort demonstrated the potential for its new, unique “backcountry lite” concept. Financial challenges have ultimately led to the resort’s shutdown, but Bluebird’s leaders are not without gratitude for what they created, the community who supported them and the people they impacted.
“While it’s heartbreaking to close Bluebird, I’m proud of the experience that we built,” co-founder and CEO Jeff Woodward said in the company’s press release.
Bluebird’s base lodge welcomed guests to a new type of ski resort. [Photo] Bluebird Backcountry Issue 137.
Bluebird Backcountry gained attention from the ski industry, when in January 2020 its founders announced plans for the world’s first full-service, chairlift-free alpine ski area. The resort, which promised avalanche mitigation backcountry skiing, aimed to make it more accessible and inclusive while also serving as an educational and recreational space.
“[Bluebird] Offered day passes, rental equipment, and a variety of educational programs. On-site ski patrol responded to accidents, managed avalanche terrain, and monitored the terrain. These offerings made backcountry skiing a safer and more accessible sport for guests,” Caleb Kessler, the marketing coordinator at Bluebird Backcountry this past winter, said in an email.
Bluebird, located on Bear Mountain in 1,200 acres of private land between Kremmling & Steamboat Springs, will open its doors to the public on December 31, 2020. In just three short years, the resort became a hub for backcountry skiing—attracting more than 19,000 backcountry skiers and snowboarders—and one of the largest providers of avalanche education in the nation.
“Our team helped inspire and educate the next generation of backcountry travelers, and we introduced a much-needed antidote to the overcrowded and overbuilt ski industry status quo,” Woodward said in the company’s press release.
A map of the Bear Mountain area, including everything from mellow glades and steep couloirs. [Photo] Bluebird Backcountry Issue 137.
The business was unable to continue operating due to the lack of funding and the difficulties of acquiring land.
Located 30 miles outside Steamboat Springs, the resort was unable to retain Bluebird’s core customers—60% of whom resided in the Front Range and had to drive three-plus hours each way for a day or weekend of skiing. Although the resort offered camping options and experimented with rustic lodging (which was fully booked for every offering), it wasn’t enough to boost its capital.
“Myself and our leadership chose to invest in what we collectively agreed a human-powered ski area needed to be, not just what would extract the most profit. There are many things we would do differently if we started over, but a ‘done right’ communal approach is fundamentally part of the Bluebird Backcountry spirit,” Woodward said in the press release.
Jesse Melchiskey glides through Magic Meadow, one of Bluebird Backcountry’s most popular zones, during its trial season. [Photo] Bluebird Backcountry Issue 137.
“Bluebird was a unique place with a lot of character. It was what the ski business needed, and it is sad to lose them for this reason. My hope is that Bluebird will inspire others to think outside of the box and question norms in the ski industry,” Kessler wrote.
Both parties hope that the model of inclusive and sustainable backcountry resorts will be carried on by others. “Together we’ll enjoy seeing the ski world continue to evolve,” Woodward concluded in the press release.
For those interested in carrying that torch, Bluebird will be selling its base lodging domes, buildings and equipment fleet, “essentially a ski area in a box,” according to the company.
To celebrate Bluebird Backcountry the community created a special board where you can share your photos and stories. The board will be available until the end the month.
Bluebird Backcountry was first covered in Issue No. 137. To read the original article, pick up a copy, or subscribe to read stories like it as soon as they are published in print.
The article Cloudy Skies – Bluebird Backcountry Announces a Permanent Closure first appeared on Backcountry Magazine.