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Colorado entrepreneurs plan to open backcountry ski area

LIST: Some ski areas closing Sunday, others closing in May
Posted at 12:23 PM, Feb 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-01 14:23:42-05

DENVER (AP) — Two entrepreneurs are planning to open a backcountry ski area in northern Colorado’s Rabbit Ears range.

Erik Lambert and Jeff Woodward have spent 18 months hosting test events and searching the state for slopes to anchor a ski area with all the trimmings of a traditional hill — ski patrollers, instructors, guides, a base hut, gear rentals, a mountain warming hut, trails and avalanche hazard reduction — minus the chairlift.

“Part of going outside in the winter is this special experience you get communing with nature and it’s hard to do that at a crowded resort,” Lambert told The Colorado Sun. “That’s a big part of what people are seeking in the backcountry: more solace. They are looking for the soul of skiing.”

Lambert and Woodward tested their plan last year when they hosted 171 backcountry skiers near Mosquito Pass and at Winter Park ski area. One of the volunteers who is helping the pair develop the project had a relative who owned a ranch north of Kremmling, and they hammered out a plan to lease a portion of the property for skiing in February and March.

Bluebird Backcountry at Peak Ranch — about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southeast of Steamboat Springs — will open for 15 days between Feb. 15 and March 15. Tickets will cost $50, and a two-hour backcountry lesson will cost another $50. No more than 300 skiers a day will be allowed on the mountain, where 300 acres (121 hectares) will be open for unguided skiing and 1,200 acres (485 hectares) will be open for guided turns.

The slopes won’t be groomed, and runs won’t be cleared.

Nick Sargent, the head of the SnowSports Industries America trade group, said he thinks the opportunity to safely learn backcountry skiing in a controlled environment could reach millions.

“Bluebird Backcountry has a chance not only to revolutionize how people learn to backcountry ski but also to reshape the skiing industry as a whole,” he said.

The private ranch flanking 10,115-foot (3,083-meter) Whiteley Peak offers 2,200 vertical feet (670 vertical meters) of open meadows, northwest-facing aspens and dense brush on a variety of steep to low-angle slopes.