6 © Bluebird Backcountry _ Justin Wilhelm.jpg

A skiers descends snow fields of Bluebird Backcountry, what was billed as North America’s first backcountry ski area when it opened last spring between Kremmling and Steamboat Springs. Bluebird announced expanding for its first full season this winter. Photo courtesy Justin Wilhelm

A Colorado ski area billed as a one-of-a-kind worldwide has plans to expand for its first full season.

"After an amazing test season this past spring, we've been working on the next big thing," read a recent newsletter from Bluebird Backcountry, "and it is BIG."

This winter, operators expect to unveil 1,200 acres of inbound terrain for what is considered an untapped clientele: those wanting to learn backcountry basics and others preferring their chairlift-less adventure to be in a less extreme, avalanche-controlled environment.

The expansion revolves around Bear Mountain, just up the road from where Bluebird debuted at a 400-acre tract between Kremmling and Steamboat Springs. The move will grant more snow and "tons of variety," operators promise. While at a lower altitude with lesser vertical — Bear Mountain caps at 9,845 feet — the skiable acreage compares with Arapahoe Basin (1,428 acres) and outsizes Monarch Mountain (800 acres).

The 14-day trial last spring "proved that the world is ready for a ski area without chairlifts," Bluebird co-founders Erik Lambert and Jeff Woodward wrote in an annual report.

They counted more than 1,000 skier visits in that two-week span, including 280 guests who took a backcountry lesson. The co-founders thanked supporters of a Kickstarter campaign that exceeded $107,000 in pledges and 200-plus volunteers who made possible the opening.

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All within 100 days, Lambert and Woodward wrote, land and insurance was secured, patrollers and instructors hired, a mid-mountain base built and deconstructed and rental gear amassed.

"We've been pinching ourselves a bit lately," the co-founders wrote. "Did that all really happen?"

They recognized the new reality of COVID-19 approaching this winter. While still said to be finalizing plans, Bluebird has offered a limited number of season passes for $299 with no restrictions or reservations required.

The ski area is slated to open five days a week starting Christmas weekend through March.

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