Bluebird Backcountry to Close Permanently After Three Seasons
Closure Is a Blow to Burgeoning Notion of Liftless Ski Areas
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#SkiTwitter has been an important part of The Storm’s growth, and I’ve built a large following on the app. But the site has become less reliable, from a technical point of view, over the past six to eight months. Morale has seemed low. Everyone seems annoyed at everyone else, all the time. I entered broadcast mode months ago, meaning I rarely read my @mentions or interact with anyone. I just drop links and leave.
So I was hyped when Threads debuted last week to immediate acclaim. The mood was jubilant, a community relieved to have a valid alternative to Twitter. Slopefillers documented the U.S. ski industry’s quick embrace of the platform. I joined myself. You can follow me here:
I’m not leaving Twitter. I’ve worked too hard on it. But I’m going to ride the Threads train as long as it’s still moving.
“I think almost any startup founder, what they would say is that you have these existential challenges and sometimes you can't solve them.”
Bluebird Backcountry, the 1,200-acre uphillers’ paradise lodged between Steamboat and the rest of the civilized ski world in northern Colorado, will permanently close, resort officials confirmed.
The center opened in 2020, amidst a Covid-driven surge in human-powered skiing and relentless and unprecedented crowds descending upon Colorado’s ski resorts. Despite these advantageous external forces, an affordable product, and a fist-bump rap from hard-to-please skiers and ski media, Bluebird’s operators could not establish a sustainable business model.
The culprits, according to a Bluebird press release, were lack of outside investors and the ski hill’s remote location.
“I think almost any startup founder, what they would say is that you have these existential challenges and sometimes you can't solve them,” Bluebird CEO and co-founder Jeff Woodward said in an interview with The Storm Skiing Journal. “And that's really, really challenging. But I hope that when you take a step back again, you're like, ‘this is amazing what we built and we proved it to the industry, and hopefully there's people who will follow in our footsteps.’ And we're really happy to help the people who want to follow in our footsteps.”
Bluebird fused the controlled environment and relative safety of a ski area with the grit and exhilaration of the uphill ski experience. The operating model, stripped of expensive chairlifts and resource-intensive snowmaking and grooming equipment, appeared to suit the current moment of reflexive opposition to mechanized development in the wilderness. For a moment, this patrolled, avalanche-controlled, low-infrastructure startup appeared to be a model for future ski area development in the United States.
So what happened? How and why did Bluebird fail? And what does its closure say about the potential for human-powered ski areas, and about the state of U.S. skiing in general? Was Bluebird ahead of its time, or proof-of-failed-concept, a confirmation that uphill skiing is a niche part of a niche sport whose appeal lies primarily in its lack of a lift ticket? Let’s take a look:
Below the paid subscriber jump: I really thought it would work, why it’s so hard to find land for a ski area, the future of lift-less ski areas, and much more.
A new era, disrupted
Let’s start here: I really thought it would work. As I wrote when Bluebird joined Indy Pass last summer:
Bluebird has a lot of the trappings of a lift-served ski area, with 28 marked runs and 11 marked skin tracks, making it a really solid place to dial your uphill kit and technique before throwing yourself out into the wilderness.
I haven’t really talked about this yet, but I think Bluebird may be the blueprint for re-igniting ski-area development in the vast American wilderness. The big Colorado resorts – other than Crested Butte and Telluride – have been at capacity for years. They keep building more and bigger lifts, but skiing needs a relief valve. One exists in the smaller ski areas that populate Colorado and are posting record business results, but in a growing state in a finally-growing sport, Bluebird shows us another way to do skiing.