Cloudy Skies: Bluebird Backcountry Announces Permanent Closure

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] Courtesy Bluebird Backcountry from 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. Promising avalanche-mitigated backcountry skiing, the resort aimed to make the sport more inclusive and accessible while serving as a safe educational and recreational space.

“[Bluebird] offered reasonably priced day passes and rental gear, a wide range of educational opportunities, and on-site ski patrol that managed avalanche terrain and responded to accidents. 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.

Opening their gates to the public December 31, 2020, Bluebird sat on Bear Mountain on 1,200 private acres between Kremmling and Steamboat Springs. 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 trail map of the Bear Mountain zone, which included everything from mellow glades to steep couloirs. [Photo] Courtesy Bluebird Backcountry from Issue 137.

While their backcountry resort concept gained traction, the challenges of land and location paired with a lack of continued funding, were too much for the business to overcome.

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] Courtesy Bluebird Backcountry from Issue 137.

“Bluebird was a unique place with a lot of character. It was something that the ski industry needed and it is especially sad to see them fold for that 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 hope to see the inclusive, sustainable backcountry resort model 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.

If you would like to celebrate Bluebird Backcountry, the community has created a dedicated board for sharing photos and experiences that will be open through the end of the month.

We first covered Bluebird Backcountry 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.

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