The Routt to Adventure: Backcountry skiing at Bluebird
Steamboat Pilot & Today
KREMMLING — I have been skiing about 15 years now, learning to Nordic ski in gym class in elementary school and growing up Alpine skiing at Okemo Mountain in my home state of Vermont. I’m by no means a daredevil, but I am comfortable on Alpine skis and my ability to get around in them.
On Sunday, I put on Alpine touring skis for the first time and felt like I was learning to walk. Thankfully, the people at Bluebird Backcountry make getting out of your comfort zone extremely enjoyable and safe.
I brought my own boots to the Backcountry 1 class but rented skis, bindings, skins and poles. I’m in the process of buying an AT setup, so in theory, I know how the equipment works, but I’d never actually used any of it.
Getting my boots into the bindings was a process. I’m so used to the swift motion of lining up my toe and clicking in my heel on a downhill binding. A pin binding is all toe, and there is a small margin of error.
Once in the binding, I felt like I was moonwalking. Having a free heel was strange, and moving forward was even odder. The motion of walking, something I’ve done my entire life, felt foreign. I couldn’t tell if I was doing more gliding or stomping. I over-analyzed where I was putting my weight on my planting and lifting feet. It felt like my lifting foot was doing more of the work than my planting foot. The age-old adage of “just put one foot in front of the other” suddenly felt way less obvious than it is. Should I consider rethinking how I’ve been taking in oxygen my whole life, as well?
That’s dramatic, of course. In short, it was humbling to learn something new but disorienting that said new thing was so similar to old things, like walking and Alpine skiing.
One does not simply walk into Bluebird. The resort stresses safety and checks you are carrying a shovel, beacon and probe before you leave the base area through the “Mountain Portal.” A machine beeps as you pass through the arch, proving your beacon is on, and you’re ready to enter the backcountry.
The class started cruising uphill into the West Bowl area. Moving uphill was more effortless than I expected. Skins are a genius invention! They are so much stickier than I imagined, though. My gloves kept latching on to the adhesive.
With good weather, Bluebird Backcountry is a little over an hour from Silverthorne.
The entrance, 2 miles north up Highway 14, is clearly marked by a large Bluebird sign. The road leading to the base area is 2 miles long and packed snow. Four-wheel drive vehicles are ideal.
Thankfully, it was warm enough for me to ditch the gloves, as well as other layers. Sunday was abnormally warm at Bluebird, which is prone to getting blasted by wind.
It was even warmer once we got in the trees on the Lost in the Woodwards skin track, one of 10 marked skin tracks.
There are so many little things to remember during the process of transitioning from uphill to downhill. Getting over that hump of not knowing anything to being able to hold your own can be tough. So many people are into AT or uphill skiing, and it can be hard to confidently tag along if you don’t know what you’re doing. Now, I feel like I’ll be able to use my AT setup as soon as I figure out what bindings I want.
Even on a Sunday afternoon on a holiday weekend, there were still plenty of powder stashes to enjoy. I will admit, I fell the second I hit powder, since I’m used to skiing on skinny East Coast skis in crummy East Coast conditions.
The day was certainly humbling but in the best way. I’ve said it before, but I’m a huge believer that people should keep learning. It’s important for us to feel out of sorts and awkward and be reminded that we don’t know everything. It makes us better humans, not to mention, expanding our skillset is fun!
I will definitely go back to Bluebird to take another class, or two, and continue to learn.
Shelby Reardon is the sports and outdoors reporter at SteamboatPilot.com.
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