Le Routt à l’aventure: off-piste skiing at Bluebird
KREMMLING – I’ve been skiing for about 15 years now, learning Nordic skiing in gym class in elementary school and growing up downhill skiing at Okemo Mountain in my home state of Vermont. I’m not a daredevil at all, but I’m comfortable on downhill skis and my ability to move on them.
Sunday, I put on alpine touring skis for the first time and I felt like I was learning to walk. Fortunately, the folks 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 gear works, but I’ve never used one.
Putting my boots in the bindings was a process. I’m so used to the quick motion of aligning my toe and clicking into my heel on a downhill binding. A pin binder is all toe, and there’s a little margin for error.
Once in the binding, I felt like I was moonwalking. Having a free heel was weird, and moving forward was even weirder. The movement of walking, something I have done all my life, felt foreign to me. 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 work than my planting foot. The age-old adage of “just putting one foot in front of the other” suddenly felt a lot less obvious than it is. Should I also consider rethinking how I’ve taken in oxygen all my life?
It’s dramatic, of course. In short, it was humbling to learn something new but disorienting that this new thing was so much like old things, like walking and downhill skiing.
We don’t just enter Bluebird. The station emphasizes safety and checks that you are carrying a shovel, beacon and probe before leaving the base area through the “Mountain Portal”. A machine beeps as you pass through the arch, proving that your beacon is on and you are ready to enter the backcountry.
The class started going up in the West Bowl area. Going up was easier than expected. Skins are a brilliant invention! They’re so much stickier than I imagined, though. My gloves kept snagging on the tape.
Luckily, it was warm enough for me to ditch the gloves, along with other layers. Sunday was abnormally hot at Bluebird, which is susceptible to wind blowing.
It was even hotter once we entered the trees on the Lost in the Woodwards skin trail, one of 10 marked skin trails.
There are so many little things to remember during the process of transitioning from ascent to descent. Getting over that hump of not knowing anything to be able to defend yourself can be difficult. So many people love mountain biking or downhill skiing, and it can be hard to follow confidently if you don’t know what you’re doing. Now I feel like I will be able to use my AT setup as soon as I figure out what bindings I want.
Even on a Sunday afternoon of a bank holiday weekend, there was still plenty of powder to enjoy. I have to admit, I fell the second I hit powder, as I’m used to skiing on thin East Coast skis in lousy East Coast conditions.
The day was certainly humbling but in the best of ways. I’ve said this before, but I strongly believe that people should keep learning. It’s important for us to feel uncomfortable and to remember that we don’t know everything. It makes us better humans, not to mention that expanding our skills is fun!
I will definitely be returning to Bluebird to take another course or two and continue learning.
Shelby Reardon is the sports and outdoor reporter for SteamboatPilot.com.