With Copper at Woodward, free cat skiing, free snowshoe tours, ‘Cool’ isn’t just the weather
by Karen Rubin
Copper Mountain in the Colorado Rockies is not your typical family mountain destination resort. It is hip, rad, happening… Cool.
Even grandpa and grandma look cool, strutting their stuff in their helmets and gear. Skiing and riding down slopes is a great equalizer, after all, an experience of personal challenge and accomplishment that can be shared.
Rather than be geared to families with the youngest children in that Disney-esque cutesy way, Copper is oriented to teens – the teenager we were, are, or want to be – and is where Baby Boomers can set aside the prospect of enrolling in Medicare and regain that exuberance they once had.
Copper exudes a youthfulness, a spirit, an energy.
That energy is everywhere at Copper – from the color scheme and typeface that evoke the 1980s, to the music that is piped into the plaza, to the on-mountain lodges and terrain parks, and on the shuttle buses. And it’s infectious.
I mean, it is enough that the altitude, crisp, clean air, and the excitement of coming down the slopes get those endorphins going, but at Copper, they dance to a beat.
It’s not just the atmosphere, it’s also the programming on and off the slopes, most notably Woodward at Copper, which is a unique indoor/outdoor skiing/snowboarding training facility and program, (more on that to follow).
Then there are the teams that come from all around, its parks and pipes including a 22-foot Superpipe (new this season), and an active apres-ski and you have a really happening place.
It is the place that kids in the know will plead for their parents to take them.
And if ever you have thought of skiing the Colorado Rockies, this is the season to do it – the snow is absolutely spectacular, and with 22 feet of snowfall this season, the base will last until closing day, April24.
There are many things that make Copper unique (and I don’t usually use the word), most spectacularly, Woodward at Copper, free Ambassador Orientation Tours of the mountain, the Noon Groomer (one groomed trail is kept closed until noon, so there is fresh powder even in the afternoon); free snowshoe tours offered twice daily (even the equipment is provided for free), free ice skating on a small pond at the Center Village (rentals available), and a score of special events and programs like free skiing with a Ranger, and a chance to watch avalanche dog demos with the Ski Patrol (Saturdays, meet at the top of the American flyer or super Bee lifts at 12:30 p.m.).
And how about this? Free cat skiing to advanced terrain on the double-black diamond terrain of Tucker Mountain.Cat skiing at most places is sold at a premium price, but at Copper, you can take free rides, first-come, first-served. This is as close as you can get to a back-country experience while staying inbound in patrolled terrain. Two cats, each carrying 12 people each (24 people every 20 minutes), go back and forth between 11 am. and 1:30 (weather permitting). The Cat takes you up to a spot where you can ski down, but there are those who like to hike another 20 to 60 minutes to get to even less tracked terrain. This is just for experts, though – just getting to the base of Copper Bowl, requires navigating expert terrain.
There are other special events that give Copper its distinctive character (as well as added value): Kid’s Night Out, which is common at most ski resorts, has an interesting twist here (as well as at Winter Park): the $30 per child fee is waived when you spend $30 on dining or shopping in the village during the time your child is in the activity program, where they get pizza dinner and have activities (recommended “date night” dinner place: CB Grille, which is both upscale, sophisticated, yet comfortable, featuring steaks, chops, wild game and seafood cooked to perfection over a wood-fired grill), and live guitar music several nights.
On the Mountain
Copper Mountain has a most interesting configuration – literally as you move from east to west along the mountain, the trails go from the most difficult (double black) to the easiest, so by the time you get to the most western area, Union Creek, you are in the midst of a web of green trails that will keep you constantly entertained, and is where the children’s ski school programs are based.
This means there is a natural separation of skier abilities.
The middle section, accessed from Center Village from the American Eagle lift, gives you access to long blues and greens, and a whole area, Timberline, of really sweet blues. that’s where I spent most of my time.
And everyone, including green skiers, have access to the mountain top and the stunning views of the mountain peaks of the Ten Mile Range of the majestic Rocky Mountains.
Copper’s Mountain affords 126 trails and 2465 acres of skiing, including bowls, glades, accessed by 22 lifts. The lift system is well done – most of the lifts are detachables – quads, six-pack – giving that easy on/off experience (the best thing to happen to skiing since shaped skies) and you never wait more than a few minutes even when there are long lines(thanks also to the computerized readers and the cheery operators), and there was rarely any wait at all once you got on the mountain; The trails are so beautiful – even on a busy day, there are trails that are hardly touched (an Ambassador can point you to the best ones; I found Jacque’s Pique (a play on Jacque Peak), one of several stunning blue trails off the Timberline Express, which you almost feel you have to yourself, and was that day’s Noon Groomer trail.
I found the most magnificent views at the top of the Rendezvous lift (which leads to the Otto Bahn trail to the Copper Bowl). At the top of the lift, you have the Ten-Mile Mountain Range sprawled out in front, then you can take down one of Copper’s most scenic trails, Wheeler Creek, a green, which gives you just a taste of going through trees (if you want).
The greens and the blues are for the most part wide and forgiving, and with that delicious champagne powder or (what I call) whipped butter snow, make you feel like you can do anything (go to an interactive map).
I had that feeling, too, because of the skis I rented from Copper Mountain Sports was superb. Shaped skis have changed everything – making it so much easier to turn – but the high-performance woman’s shaped skies, K-2 Burnin Luv were so responsive, it was like driving a Mercedes. And the Head boots (made specifically for the rental shop, so they conform to the ski bindings) were the most comfortable I’ve ever had. (They were out of the Head boots at the East Village shop, so I went to the Center Village Copper Mountain rental shop to get them, but you can return the equipment to any of the three shops, located in each of the three base villages.) Take advantage of the ability to get the rentals the afternoon before, so you aren’t stuck in the shop the morning you want to ski.
There is limited food service or even bathrooms on the mountain, but the ones there are strategically placed. The most beautiful and elaborate on-mountain lodge, Solitude Station, at 11,375 ft., offers a grill that serves really unusual fare for a ski resort – Vietnamese, Cajun (homemade crawfish etouffee, jambalaya and gumbo) – plus more traditional burgers, pizza, fresh salads, in a magnificent setting, at the top of American Eagle lift (where you meet up for the Ambassador tours);
There’s a snack shop at the base of Timberline (a mid-mountain lift providing access to some of the greatest blue trails), and an Flyer’s soup shop with a 1950s theme, right in the middle of the mountain, offering 10 cozy seats inside, and a table outside, where you can get a bowl of hot soup or a fresh burger.
At the top of American Eagle, you also find a log Wedding Chapel; indeed, destination weddings are extremely popular at Copper Mountain – there is one scheduled every weekend this summer, and even in the winter, when you are likely to find guests in formal attire and ski boots.
There are three separate base areas. The main one, Center Village, has absolutely everything and even more – a really fine conference center, an eclectic range of eateries from fancy to whimsical, a host of shops, and marvelous activities, including free ice skating on West Lake (which is also the resort’s main source of water for snowmaking), right at Center Village (skate rentals available at Chubs sandwich/crepe shop)
One of the best ways to get familiar with Copper Mountain’s riches is to join one of the twice daily free Ambassador orientation tours. An intermediate (if inelegant ) skier, I joined Ambassadors Jim Powell and Pam and was delighted to be brought to areas of the mountain that I would never have considered doing on my own, and also enriched by the fascinating commentary about the environment and history of Copper provided. (For example, Copper Mountain was named because copper was found here, but it never was of good enough grade to warrant mining; today, they mine white “gold” instead). He throws in naturalist tidbits, also, like when we looked at a whole mountain face of aspen trees and he said that they all have a single root, and that the Aspen tree is the largest living creature on the planet (except for coral).
If it weren’t for the ambassadors, I never would have dared go to the back side of Copper Mountain, along Otto Bahn, a blue trail, for the most exquisite view of the back bowls, to a quaint double-chair back up to the top of the mountain.
I was content just seeing the experts coming down the bowl, whisking up powder, then taking up a quaint doubt chair back to the top, where I found myself on a slightly slick, wind-blown rounded table (still enough snow on it not to be too difficult getting down).
Woodward at Copper
Woodward at Copper deserves extra discussion, since it not only makes Copper Mountain distinct among the major mountain destination resorts, but also underlies its personality/character.
Woodward at Copper is where anyone, from 8 to 80, intermediate to Olympian, can learn the techniques and practice freestyle tricks and rails in a controlled, safe environment (they said they had a 72-year old in there who was doing 360s and back flips). This 19,400 sq. ft. facility, known as The Barn, opened in 2009 and up until recently, was the only one in the world to offer indoor/outdoor ski/snowboard training (something like it has just opened in Laax, Switzerland).
It incorporates a program adapted by Olympic gymnastics medalist Phoebe Mills from gymnastics training, where you cultivate aerial awareness then muscle memory, in an indoor facility on graduated slopes carpeted with snowflex, an artificial snow material, and practice the maneuver into a pit of foam blocks. You work through a progression of exercises inside the building, first on Olympic-grade trampolines, then onto a secession of artificial slopes, and then go outside to a real hill, but do the trick onto an air bag, before finally graduating to doing the trick onto snow.
During the winter, the program can be a single day, where you learn tricks in the Barn and then take them on snow the same day. Also during winter, kids (or adults) can take advantage of a drop-in program, where you can spend a couple of hours practicing ($29). Everyone is required to take a “One-Hit Wonder” program once, which teaches safety ($70).
The Barn also has skateboard bowls and an entire indoor street-style skate park, where you can spend an hour or two. Kids can also hang out in a lounge, where they will find an electric guitar. Woodward at Copper even has its own YouTube channel (www.woodwardatcopper.com).
This atmosphere is continued at The Cage, at Center Village – on first blush, a retail shop featuring the “coolest” in ski and riding apparel. But walk inside and there is The Lounge, where teens and tweens can hang out, play foosball and ping pong, watch videos of extreme skiing/riding, play video games, and even use an indoor skate bowl. There are also computer stations where they can use I-Mac video editing software, and then upload. The Cage was opened, initially, as Woodward at Copper was being built, and now is kind of an annex.
And if that is not enough to cement Copper’s place with perennial teens, there is the Copper Cade, a shack housing an arcade, right on West Lake, prime real estate.
Over the Hill Gang
It’s not just teens who revel in their youth at Copper. The Over the Hill Gang, the premier Senior Program in the USA for ages 50-plus, has returned to Copper in a new and improved format. After an annual $20 joining fee members can select from as little as 4 days to 48 days of guided all-mountain skiing or snowboarding and also access a range of one day and multi day clinics specifically designed and tailored for the senior snowsports enthusiast.
Lay of the Land
Copper is one of the most convenient major mountain resorts to reach – a two-hour drive from Denver Airport and right off I-70 highway (which is the good news and the not-so-good news, since this stretch can be clogged with traffic from the mountain resorts on a Sunday afternoon)
Copper sits in the base of the Ten Mile Range – flanked by a wall of mountain peaks, separated by I-70 highway. It is a sprawling place – that takes a bit of getting used to – with a range of architectural styles, from boxy-institutional such as you might find on a college campus, to units that capture the Old West flavor. One way to think about it, is that Copper manifests the “anything goes” kind of philosophy appropriate to the 1980s.
All the units are owned condominium units, whose owners choose to put into a rental pool – so there is a real hodgepodge.
But you arrive and check in at Central Lodging which also houses a magnificent Athletic Center, with Olympic-sized lap swimming pool and fitness center, and spa, where you can indulge in massage. If your room is not ready, you can store your baggage with the bell service (they will deliver it to your room as soon as the room is ready, and you will get a text message what room you are in). You can use the Athletic Center’s facilities, or change to your ski clothes and hit the slopes.
The next thing you have to become oriented to is the shuttle system. Copper is spread out among three villages. Don’t even try to walk in winter.
At the western end, Union Creek houses the children’s ski school programs in what appropriately looks like and is called The Schoolhouse” – exceptionally well organized. It is also the mountain that has the greatest concentration of green (beginner) trails. It is also where you can go to take advantage of the superb snowshoe tours that are given twice daily – at 10 a.m. (a three-hour, aggressive tour, about 4-mile loop), and a 1 p.m. (much less aggressive, suitable for families, and absolutely wonderful).
Here, kids as young as 3 are accommodated in learn-to-ski/ride programs, and get to go down fun-places like Alliroo Alley; 6-15 year olds are out on the mountain most of the day. All the participants in ski school get a FLAIK GPS, which keeps track of where and how far and how high you go, and you can access the data online in the evening.
Union Creek is also where the snowshoeing tours depart from, and it is just a short walk to the Recreation Path, which in summer, is dedicated to biking, and goes to Vail.
Center Village is the main base, with most of the shops, an amazing range of restaurants (sushi to crepes), and a great selection of condos. There are two lifts from the base that bring you to the widest range of trails, from long, interesting greens and blues.
This is also where you will find the Belly Button Bakery, the child-care program for non-skiers which was pioneering in its day, and still very special – kids still actually bake cookies during their stay. They also are introduced to snow, such as learning how to slide, but the emphasis is on fun snow play.
East Village, (where I stayed, at the Fox Pine condo).has a wonderful base, as well, with après-ski activity (live music), an amazing $5.99 lunch deal (chef’s choice), JJ’s for apres-ski, and access to the toughest blacks and blues.
East Village is also where the family can enjoy afternoon tubing (until 6 pm), and a new Critterland play area for kids 6 and under, too tiny for the regular tubing hill, where there is a gentle slope and various clever creations, like a Squeal (a combination squirrel and a seal).
Free Ambassador Snowshoe Tours
I arrived at Copper around noon, just in time for the 1 pm free snowshoe tour. My room wasn’t ready, but no matter – I changed my clothes at the Athletic Center (which guests can use throughout their stay including the days of arrival and departure), gave my luggage to the bellman, hopped the shuttle bus for Union Creek where I joined up with the free Ambassador snowshoe tour at the Schoolhouse. Notable is that even the snowshoes and poles and provided for free.
The 1 pm. tour is less aggressive than the 10 a.m. tour (which is three hours, and includes about a 400-foot rise in elevation in the course of the four-mile loop). I was content with the 1 pm which is designed to be suited to first-timers and families, and was just enough, especially if you are still getting adjusted to the 9500-ft. altitude. The trail, which is actually groomed (though we could tromp through the knee-high powder if we wanted), follows the recreation path which in summer, is a dedicated biking path that goes all the way to Vail, and was wonderfully scenic and open, even though it goes near (and under) the I-70 highway.
While I was there, I got a text telling me my room was ready, so hopped the shuttle to the Fox Pine Lodge in East Village, changed and still had time to pick up my ski rentals so I would have them for the next day (if you rent through Copper Mountain sports, you can return to any of the three different shops at the resort), and got ready to explore the apres-ski offerings.
Apres Ski & Dining
At Center Village, the place to go as the lifts close is Jack’s Bar, where Lefty Lucy had the place pulsating.
East Village also has an apres-ski venue, JJ’s Tavern, a casual “chop house” in a turn of the century tavern based on the legacy of JJ and Molly Brown, historical figures of the area, serving lunch & dinner, and live music.
There is also wine tasting at CB Grille, where the wine list will bowl you over, and the executive wine sommelier, Michell Kane (who is also the restaurant manager), will astonish you with her expertise. Every Saturday at 5 pm., you can come and learn about new varietals and sample the tapas menu (included in the $20 charge, call 970-968-3113 to reserve). Stay for dinner, though.
The North American Bison I had, a 12 ounce strip loin, was cooked to perfection and served with spaghetti squash, crispy fingerling potatoes, house made ancho barbeque and sweet onion puree ($32). North American Elk Chop is served with cranberry and butternut squash risotto, braised fennel, Brussels sprouts, smoked Cheddar cheese and “onion rings” ($36).
Chef Adam Jess has a creative but sensitive palette, bringing together interesting flavor combinations. Take for example the C.B. Winter Salad: shaved cabbage and baby spinach with sweet persimmon, radish, grilled mushrooms and hard cooked egg topped with pistachios, Gorgonzola cheese and apple cider vinaigrette (12). CB Grille has just introduced a Sunday brunch, 10 am-1 pm. Even if you haven’t come for a wine tasting, CB Grille loves to show off its range: each of the menu selections has a suggested pairing that best enhances the flavor of both the meal and the wine, plus you can take advantage of wine “flights” – two-ounces of three different wines around a certain theme ($10). During Happy Hour, 5-7 pm, the Tapas is 50% off, and what a selection! and wine flights are $2 off, Colorado native draft beers are $3. CB Grille is four-star in my book. (check out the menu – it is a delight).
Pizza Carlo does a really interesting ” Kids in the Kitchen” program, where the kids are the chefs, 4 p.m., make reservation – kids get chefs hats and apron, watch dought being mixed, roll the dough, put on the sauce and toppings, and while the pizza is cooking, make a dessert pizza – the sloppiest, sweetest ingredients you can imagine. Then, everyone sits down to dinner – pizza, family style salad, soda, and dessert pizza, and child chef gets certificate ($60 for family of 4).
We so enjoyed Alpinista Mountain Bistro, with a gorgeous European ambiance, for breakfast that goes beyond the typical or humdrum (burritos, stuffed fritattas, Cinnamon Bun French Toast), lunch (crepes, sandwiches on baguettes, cheese fondues), and dinner (fondues, alpine specialties, pastas) and extensive beer and wine list (970-968-1144, www.alpinistabistro.com).
Incline Grill is a casual eatery almost a sports bar, which a good selection of Colorado beers on tap, serving such far as Lobster mac & cheese, Guinness Sheppard pie, Grilled Elk Rack with juniper and orange encrusted, topped with wild mushrooms, demi served with smoked gouda potato cake (www.inclinegrill.com).
The Belgian Bean offers excellent coffee and Belgian Style Waffles. Just $5 for a small coffee or hot chocolate & a waffle on your way to the chair.
Storm King Lounge, at Center Village, is a true Japanese experience in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Grab a table or a seat at our sushi bar for fresh nigiri, rolls and other specialty item. In an odd twist, the Sushi lounge also has poker tables and pool tables.
There are several places to get great value – at East Village, at the base of the Super Bee lift, Grand Hall Market is the home of the 5-spot featuring chef’s choice for only $5.99 each; and in Center Village, you can get a hotdog and soda or beer for just $5.
There are also some wonderful nightspots, like Green Fairy Bar, has an Absinthe Bar featuring what is claimed to be the world’s largest selection of Absinithe, and Mulligan’s Irish Pub.
Off the Slopes
There’s plenty to do off the slopes as well.
You can take a dogsled ride, attend a mushing class, or tour the mountain trails above 10,000 feet on a Polaris snowmobile. Or, take a sleigh ride (a 40-minute Scenic Sleigh Rides, offered at 5:30 pm, is $35 adult $25 child; A Triple Treat Sleigh Ride, offered at 4pm and 6:30 pm consists of a 30 min sleigh ride through the Valley of the Ten Mile range, time to get off the sleighs, take pictures, and pet the horses, warm up in a tent with hot cocoa and s’mores while listening to live music played around the woodstove, $50 adult $40 child, call 866.416.9872 for reservations).
You can also try your hand at Colorado Kite Force, which uses the skills of snowboarding or skiing, to cruise snow-packed Lake Dillon.
During the season, there are also a score of activities that take place at the fire pit in Center Village, amid the burning stone torches; about five times a season on a Saturday night, there are bonfires throughout the village, fire spinners, a torchlight parade and grand finale of fireworks.
All of Copper Mountain’s lodgings are privately owned condo units that the owners choose to put into a rental pool. They range from efficiencies to one to five-bedroom condos – but there are some hotel units like mine at Fox Pine Lodge, in East Village (it also had a microwave and coffee maker) which is ski in/out to the SuperBee lift, and the most challenging terrain at Copper.
I particularly liked the condo units around West Lake as well as Passage Point, located right at the Passage Point bridge, so beautifully lit at night.
All the buildings are different, so you should look online at photos, and see where the lodging is located on the resort map.
For all these reasons, Copper Mountain offers great value, excellent quality, an unusually eclectic mix of activities, and is a superb place for family reunions and group programs (a planner is available to help organize).
New Lift for 40th Anniversary Season
Looking ahead, Copper Mountain plans to begin construction on a new chairlift beginning this summer, which should be in service in time for its 40th anniversary season, 2011-12. The new detachable quad lift, manufactured by Doppelmayr USA, will replace the High Point fixed grip double chair located at the base of Union Creek, which has served Copper since 1976.
The new lift will provide improved service to all levels of skiing and riding ability. The lift, manufactured by Doppelmayr USA, will have a new alignment to help improve skier and rider circulation in and out of Union Creek. In conjunction with the new lift, the addition of a new trail connection from the east will make the circulation from the Catalyst Terrain Park and the tremendous beginner and intermediate terrain in the area, much easier.
No longer part of Intrawest (Copper used to be a sister resort with Winter Park and Steamboat, which are still Intrawest), in 2009, Copper Mountain Resort was acquired by Powdr, which owns Park City, Utah; Bachelor, Oregon; Killington and Pico in Vermont, Boreal, Soda Springs Witner Resort and Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort.
Four Season Resort
The combination of sensational snow base and a late Easter means that Copper Mountain will remain open later than ever this year, until April 24.
But Copper is very much a four-season resort.
Most notably, Copper Mountain has the highest altitude championship golf course in America – “Your buck and your ball go further,” they say. The course, which winds around the entire resort, offers a mix of links and mountain style holes designed by the venerable Pete and Perry Dye.
Biking- particularly road biking – is a big deal here. Copper Mountain is right at the hub of the most amazing network of hundreds of miles of dedicated biking trails and byways. You can do four or five different rides – including Vail Pass, Highway 91, 10th Mountain Division Huts (a multiday tour where you stay over in the huts established by 10th Mountain Division soldiers); and around scenic Lake Dillon.
You can get an activity pass (last summer, was $30/guest or $49 for non/guest), which lets you use the quad power jump trampoline, go kart, rock climbing wall (the largest in North America, just in Center Village), use bumper boats, peddle boats on West Lake (kids can also go fishing on the stocked lake), and play on a miniature golf course. There’s also geocaching, as well as concerts and events on the mountain.
And Woodward at Copper really comes into its own during summer, offering week-long training programs in skiing and snowboarding, designed for safe progression in the Terrain Park and Half Pipe using state of the art facilities and techniques, plus skateboard and cheer camps (Cheer Camps).
Use Copper as the base for nearby adventures, including horseback riding at Copper Stables, white water rafting, ATV tours, cattle drives (like in the movie, “City Slickers,” you get on a horse, wrangle the cattle and take them to eat or to drink; it’s okay for beginners, I am told).
Gray Line operates the shuttle service between Denver International Airport (DIA) and Copper Mountain, about $60-$80 one-way (grayline.com), and if you need to arrange private car transportation, such as between Denver and the mountains, you can contact CO Jitney, 888-774-7311, 303-883-6177,www.cojitney.com.
As the snow season winds down into Spring – when the days are long and warm – lodging packages are as much as 43 percent off.
Check out package deals, as well as photos of the various lodging choices, at Copper’s website,www.coppercolorado.com. For lodging info and reservations, 888.219.2441, Guest Services/general info, 866.841.2481.
Wednesday, 9 March, 2011
© 2011 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visitwww.examiner.com(In National), www.examiner.com(Long Island) orwww.travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate. Send comments or questions toFamTravLtr@aol.com. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com