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A skier earns turns at the new ski area Bluebird Backcountry. (Provided by Bluebird Backcountry)
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Skiers who yearn to get away from the resort experience and graduate to the adventure of the backcountry typically have had two options: Tag along with experienced mentors willing to share their knowledge and expertise or hire professional guides, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

Soon there will be a third alternative. Bluebird Backcountry, a ski area without lifts on the flanks of 10,115-foot Whitley Peak, will open next week on 1,500 acres of private property 20 miles north of Kremmling near the foot of Rabbit Ears Pass.

“We’re trying to do three things,” said co-founder Erik Lambert. ”First, to increase access for people to try and learn backcountry skiing. The second is education, to instill good habits and give people a place to practice and continue to develop their skill set. The third is to bring skiing full circle, back to its roots, to give the backcountry community a place to gather and bring a bit of the soul back to skiing.”

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Lambert and co-founder Jeff Woodward saw an opportunity to carve out a niche and tap into the growing numbers of uphill skiers with a new kind of ski area because it can be so difficult for people to take up backcountry skiing. The equipment is different from downhill gear, skiing ungroomed snow can be challenging for the inexperienced and avalanche safety requires education.

“The barriers to entry are very high, and people don’t know where to begin,” Lambert said. “What ends up happening is that, because the barriers to entry are high, people are bypassing those barriers and just going for it without proper education, experience and sometimes without the equipment that is necessary.”

Lambert is calling this a “test season,” with the area operating 15 days between Feb. 15 and March 15. That will include weekend days and some weekdays, including Presidents Day (Feb. 17). A temporary structure will serve as a lodge. Backcountry gear will be available to rent. A full rental package will run about $120.

“One of the big barriers to entry is the fact that even if you have a mentor, you need to go find a shop, rent the equipment, get your boots fitted, take the equipment up to ski and then go back to the shop,” Lambert said. “We think that is unnecessary. We’re trying to put the basic amenities that you’d have at a ski area into Bluebird Backcountry. There will be a brand new rental fleet on-site where you can get your boots fitted and get set up with some high-quality backcountry equipment.”

Of the 1,500 acres Bluebird is leasing from a rancher, 300 will be considered “in bounds” with boundaries just like a ski resort. A day pass will cost $50. An introductory backcountry lesson will cost $50.

“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.”

To ski the other 1,200 acres outside the ropes, you will need to hire a guide through Bluebird. That option will be limited this year, Lambert said.#newsletter_ad {float: right;width: 40%;padding: 0.5em;border-left: 2px solid #EDB207;margin-bottom: .2em;margin-left: .5em;}@media (max-width:416px){#newsletter_ad {width:100%;}

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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.”

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