Jul 11, 2023 - Business

Bluebird Backcountry ski area closes operations in Colorado

Skiers make their way up Bluebird Backcountry Ski Area in March 2021. Photo: Christian Murdock/Colorado Springs Gazette via Getty Images

A lift-free Colorado ski area that earned national acclaim is shutting down after four seasons and no profits.

Driving the news: Bluebird Backcountry is permanently closing its 1,200-acre ski area outside Kremmling because it ran out of money and failed to secure a long-term investor, co-founder and CEO Jeff Woodward announced Monday.

  • Moreover, its remote location β€” more than two hours northwest of Denver β€” and lack of adequate lodging made it difficult for Front Range skiers to make the trip, he said.
  • No financials were disclosed, but Woodward blamed the economy and a slowdown in startup funding.

Why it matters: As the first full-service, human-powered ski area, Bluebird's vision ran counter to the current industry model, built on volume, high prices and consolidation, and sought to return skiing to its roots. It was the first new ski area in Colorado in two decades.

How it worked: Bluebird sold tickets to backcountry skiers for access to avalanche-secured terrain that allowed them to travel uphill and ride back down Bear Mountain β€” making the dangerous and challenging sport more accessible.

What they're saying: "Our team helped inspire and educate the next generation of backcountry travelers, and we introduced a much-needed antidote to the overcrowded and overbuilt ski industry status quo," Woodward said in the statement.

Between the lines: The ski area launched through a Kickstarter campaign and rode the pandemic boom in outdoor recreation and renewed interest in backcountry skiing.

  • In its short tenure, it drew 19,000 skiers with reasonably priced passes and peaked at 300 skiers and riders one day this March. It also sold out its 41 available beds every weekend.

The big picture: In the closure, the founders argued that their vision of a network of backcountry ski areas was a viable business headed to profitability.

  • "Bluebird has been a project co-created by hundreds of people who want to shift the paradigm in a monolithic industry," Woodward said.

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