On Saturday February 15, Bluebird Backcountry is opening the first human-powered ski area in the United States, unlocking 1,500 acres of Rocky Mountain backcountry ski terrain without a single chairlift in sight.
Erik Lambert and Jeff Woodward and their Bluebird Backcountry project have developed a lift-free backcountry experience on private land just outside Kremmling, Colorado. The Peak Ranch offers a backcountry-lite experience with a view of Whiteley Peak, the prominent volcanic peak on the southern end of the Rabbit Ears range. The team has spent 18 months searching the state for slopes to support their dream of building a backcountry ski area with traditional support amenities.
As uphill skiing and backcountry touring explode, “we are seeing a confluence of factors that make this the perfect time” for a human-powered ski area, Lambert said.
Bluebird Backcountry at the Peak Ranch will provide ski patrol for medical response and avalanche evaluation, backcountry rentals and lessons, warming huts, and a selection of snacks and essentials. It also will offer backcountry-specific amenities such as designated skin tracks, backcountry clinics, and a beacon training park. The only difference – no lift lines.
“People are ready to get away from the crowded resorts and may be a little bored with traditional resort experience,” Lambert said. “The outdoor experience should be a connection between you and nature. It’s hard to do that at a crowded ski resort. The backcountry provides a connection that is hard to replicate at traditional resorts.”
Lambert and Woodward have spent 18 months developing their idea. Last year they tested their plan hosting 170 backcountry skiers during a couple of events near Mosquito Pass and at Winter Park ski area.
Lambert and Woodward spent most of 2019 chasing down potential locations for their project. The Peak Ranch outside Kremmling made sense because it has easy access off U.S. 40, a location near a town close to Denver, good snow and a variety of beginner and advanced terrain. “The ranch checked a lot of boxes.”
All backcountry experience levels will be welcome, including those who have never tried backcountry skiing or splitboarding (backcountry snowboarding). Lambert emphasized that they won’t be giving ski lessons — you need to be a skier already — but you can learn backcountry basics and practice your new skills in a safe environment. “It can be a great place for someone to get an introduction to backcountry skiing, or to skiing off groomed trails,” Lambert said. “It’s not a place to learn to ski, it’s a place to take your skiing skills, learn something new and try something new away from the groomed trails, away from the crowds.”
A day pass at The Peak Ranch will cost $50. That fee gives backcountry enthusiasts access to 300 acres of backcountry terrain from the parking area just off highway 40. Of the 1,500 acres Bluebird is leasing from the rancher, those 300 acres will be considered “in bounds” with boundaries just like a ski resort. To access the other 1,200 acres outside the ropes, you will need to hire a guide through Bluebird. Lambert said, “That option will be limited this year as we continue to establish our operational footprint.”
Introductory backcountry lessons are also offered by Bluebird Backcountry guides. “Within that boundary, the terrain will be avalanche-evaluated by professionals,” Lambert said. “We’ll have an avalanche forecast to get people into good habits around learning what’s going on with the snowpack, but the zone that is open will be an area where you can go unguided, where you can have the same comfort level that you would have going to a ski area. A lot of the terrain that would be in-bounds is lower-angle and gladed.”
They have a temporary lease with the ranch owner to use the property, with the potential for a longer lease available if the February and March trial goes well. For more information about the Bluebird Backcountry experience visit their website at bluebirdbackcountry.com/