Tam Leach makes a case for Copper Mountain, too often overlooked by visitors to Colorado.
"If there were a mountain that had terrain for skiing, it would be Copper Mountain." US Forest Service Survey 1962.
Thus said the notoriously reticent US Forest Service on carrying out its initial survey of Copper, the largest ski area in Summit County. Too often overlooked by Brits zooming past on the interstate en route from Denver to the popular resorts of Vail or Breckenridge, Copper is a skier and rider’s playground. This is a cascading, rolling mountain with a little something for everyone, be they hardbooters or skatepark jibbers, blue cruisers or backbowl freeriders, nervous six year olds or confident seniors. Copper’s back bowls aren’t as extensive as those at Vail, its bumps not as endless as Winter Park’s, its trees nothing on Telluride – but for a true mix of terrain, Copper Mountain is hard to beat.
It's also perhaps the most underrated ski area in Colorado. As the lone player in the midst of Vail Resorts-run mountains (Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek and Arapahoe Basin), Copper’s competitive ticket deals are among the best in the country.
Dumped on frequently
And, thanks to one of those peculiar quirks of geography, the mountain frequently gets dumped on when its neighbours receive a mere dusting; the resort boasts one of the longest seasons in the state. Although large in size by American standards, Copper is blessed with a natural layout that’s a pleasure to navigate. Most runs spill back into the centre of the village, a bonus for lunchtime and end-of-day rendezvous.
Despite all this, Copper’s slopes are popular with locals but little-known elsewhere. At least in part, this is due to the fact that the resort has been, until recently, just a mountain with condos attached. Unlike the neighbouring communities of Breckenridge and Vail, Copper – opened in 1972 – has a history as a commuter resort, an extended day area right off the interstate. Just 75 miles west of Denver, on crowded weekends it can still feel like a satellite annexe of the city.
The times they are 'a changing'
Yet times are changing. Intrawest (the ski resort giant who recently developed the new village at Les Arcs) has invested huge amounts over the past few years to create a snazzy new rock and timber- style village at Copper’s base, in addition to plenty of on-mountain improvements. Dining and drinking options are still limited, and the ambience is nothing on a genuine ski town, but the pedestrian-orientated layout makes it perfect for families looking for convenience.
There is also a sense of community at Copper, albeit a daytime one; it’s the type of place where you start to recognize people on the second day. Customer service is friendly and understated, with tool benches at the top of each lift, complimentary toiletries in the spotless restrooms, and lots of clean and comfy public spaces – minor touches that add up.