The very first time Erik Lambert attempted a backcountry ski trip, he nearly got blown off the mountain. Lambert, a writer and marketing guru who launched his branding and communications agency, Bonfire Collective, back in 2016, learned the sport as a wee grom in upstate New York. But he hadn’t explored its wilder side until a college buddy nudged Lambert to sink some dough into new gear and join him on a trip to New Hampshire’s feisty Mount Washington.

They didn’t get very far—after nasty weather blew in, the two called it. “When we slept there that night in a tent, we were being lifted off of the snow by the wind,” says Lambert. “It was so wild that we just turned around the next morning and left. We didn’t even really get to ski.”

In addition, the lack of chairlift-related costs will help make the experience more affordable than a traditional day on the slopes.

The friends later found redemption, carving turns on a gorgeous day at the peak’s Gulf of Slides area, which is littered with massive avalanche paths. Lambert loved it, but was also keenly aware of his own inexperience in the backcountry. “I had to buy hundreds of dollars worth of equipment. I had to have a friend and mentor kind of show me how to use it. I had no training,” he says. “And I was in a place that I shouldn’t have been without any of that training.”

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Class in session. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

As Lambert experienced, there’s a massive barrier to entry for backcountry skiing. You have the expense of dropping beaucoup bucks on appropriate gear. Then there’s the need to learn how to read terrain and understand avalanche risks. And of course, it’s critical to receive training and mentorship to learn and progress. But what if there was a place where you could dip your toes in the powder bit by bit, by renting gear, learning from pros, and practicing on ungroomed terrain that’s also had avalanche danger mitigated, at least somewhat?

Enter Bluebird Backcountry, a ski resort without chairlifts—or, well, a location. But we’ll get to that. The “backcountry lite” concept, meant to welcome more people into the pursuit, is the brainchild of Lambert and his friend Jeff Woodward, an energy tech entrepreneur and fellow snowsports enthusiast. The idea germinated a few years back when Woodward took his little brother skiing at Coney’s, a backcountry area near Crested Butte, Colorado; his brother was so enamored with the experience that he framed a photo from the trip as a Mother’s Day gift.

Jeff Woodward, talking backcountry. Photo: courtesy of Erik Lambert

The experience got Woodward to thinking—his brother would have never felt comfortable venturing into the backcountry if he hadn’t taken him out, and Woodward wouldn’t have been turned on to backcountry skiing in the first place if he hadn’t been introduced to it in college. He wondered if there was a way to help funnel more people into a sport he loved.

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Woodward started brainstorming and researching the viability of his ideas. He also began considering possible business partners and reached out to Lambert, a friend from college. The two devoted several hours a week, on top of full-time jobs and other obligations, to drafting a concept. What they ultimately came up with is essentially a semi-backcountry experience—ungroomed runs accessed by maintained skin tracks paired with ski patrol services, avalanche control, gear rentals, ski lessons, and various educational offerings—say, avalanche courses and rescue clinics. And, of course, a place to après.

The idea is that Bluebird would cater to multiple types of skiers, from complete newbies who would be welcomed into a typically intimidating sport to those with some experience who want to build their skill set and confidence—or maybe even folks who just want to enjoy a few avy-free turns away from the bustle of a traditional resort.

In addition, the lack of chairlift-related costs will help make the experience more affordable than a traditional day on the slopes. “Our hope is to make sure that everyone, no matter their backcountry experience level, feels incredibly welcomed,” says Lambert.

Lambert, far from a lift line. Photo: courtesy Lambert

Last month, the duo tested the concept with over a hundred skiers and splitboarders at Colorado’s Mosquito Pass; next up is a second “prototype” event at the Winter Park Resort later this month. They’ll use the feedback from both events to further dial in the bones of what will become Bluebird Backcountry. Of course, when all is said and done, Lambert and Woodward still need a location, perhaps their biggest challenge. They’re still exploring options, whether that involves partnering with an existing resort that has space to spare, applying for a special use permit to start from scratch on government-managed land, or finding the snowy needle in a haystack that is private land with killer slopes and the right mix of terrain to drum up sweet backcountry vibes.

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Once they do find a location? There’s funding to gather, insurance to coordinate, infrastructure to design, staff to hire…as you might gather, launching a ski area, even one without chairlifts, is no small task. But Woodward and Lambert are down for the challenge, excited at the prospect of spreading the stoke.

“It’s kind of in my blood that way. If there’s something that’s fun, I don’t want to keep it to myself and have this secret; I want to share it,” says Woodward. “It comes from a place of love.”

 

You can participate in Bluebird Backcountry’s ongoing survey here. Spots are still available for their Winter Park prototype April 27 & 28—more information here.


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