When we started our backcountry program at Bolton Valley a few years ago, one of our biggest hurdles was the lack of comparable programs – not just in the country, or even North America, but literally in the entire world! As ridiculous as that sounds (even in these days of ‘fake news’), it really is true.
There were plenty of independent guiding services out there – not many offered instruction or clinics, but there was a smattering that did. Some offered limited rental equipment, or at least had a partnership with another company that did. And there were a handful of retailers that also rented backcountry touring gear. But we couldn’t find any resort where you could call their main number and book a guided tour, rent gear, sign your kids up for ski school, and book a hotel room at the same place.
The real trick for us, was to incorporate a program that offered all the above into an existing alpine resort framework with on-slope gear rental and a traditional ski and ride school. But we actually managed to pull it off pretty well! We got our booking system ironed out, and our guide scheduling organized. Our emergency action protocols and instructional frameworks are all spelled out in our handbook… Our guides are happy and our clients are stoked.
So what have we learned, and where are we going with it now?
Well… the shiny new elephant in the room this season is that we’re offering season-long equipment leases for alpine touring and splitboarding gear! Yes!
Thanks to our new Covid-based reality this season, we knew a lot of people would be looking to get into the backcountry. Alpine touring and spliboarding have been growing like crazy lately anyway, but throw social distancing in the mix, and that was just the nudge a lot of people needed to jump in. Of course, the obvious problem this year is that a lot – A LOT – of people will be seeing significantly less money coming in. And the cost of entry to backcountry skiing and riding can be a little scary when you’re talking about an entirely new quiver.
So we figured if ever there was time to start doing season leases, that time is now. The idea has been kind of pie-in-the-sky for us for a couple years, but this year we made it happen. Our friend of friends, Dynafit has been a huge help from the get-go and continued to help us out this year as well, so we love them. And our ever-friendly VT neighbor, Burton snowboards has come through big this year as well with our splitboard gear. So off we go! Lease for a season and buy the stuff out at the end of the year – give it a test and spread out the cost a bit. Win win!
Another little change this year that’s actually kind of a big deal, is that we changed the format of our guided tours a bit. This year, every guided tour or private instructional tour will include two one-ride lift tickets for each participant. Originally, the impetus was to give the guide a chance to assess the ability level of the client(s) so they can pick their route accordingly. Still important and useful, no question. But the added benefit is just simple access and efficiency.
We’re playing to our strength here because our guiding outfit is literally at the bottom of the lifts. It’s the Northeast equivalent of a heli-drop for your first run of the day! We can amble out there at the crack of 9am and be at the top of an untouched backcountry zone by 9:30 with a groomer already under our belts! What we realized though, after putting this into the plan this year, is just how unique an option this is for someone looking to hire a local guide for backcountry skiing and riding in Vermont. Saving the skin up for the third run means a lot more skiing for the same amount in guiding fees!
So things continue to grow and evolve for us here at the Bolton Backcountry. We can’t wait to get out there into what is definitely one of Bolton Valley’s best assets – our amazing and extensive out-of-bounds terrain. I grew up here on the mountain and I’m literally finding new lines and different zones every winter. It goes and goes. Hopefully this year, we’ll get a chance to share that experience with even more people trying it out for the first time, because the world would be a better place if everyone backcountry skied or splitboarded.