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Passport Stamp #1 (of 22): Copper Mountain

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Digging Copper Mountain

We made it to Copper Mountain on New Year’s Day to make good on our resolution of hitting all 22 ski areas with my son’s fifth grade pass. It was a later than intended start of our season, as the snow gods hadn’t yet done their part in bringing us early snowfall, but the nice flip side to that is crowds were unseasonably thin. And with Copper’s new added RFID system to read ski passes, chairlift gates opened fast allowing skiers to zip through quickly.

Copper mountain is unique in that its terrain is naturally divided by levels into three areas. Standing at the base of the mountain, from right to left you’ve got Copper’s west village, which houses its ski/board school and easiest terrain of greens and easier blues. The center village is made up of mostly intermediate blue runs. And to the east side of the resort are more challenging blues, expert blacks, double blacks. What’s brilliant about this is that tentative beginners don’t have to worry about getting mowed over by more advanced speed demons racing straight down from the top. Likewise, in the east village of the mountain, advanced skiers don’t have to dodge sloth-paced skiers/boarders meandering unpredictably in their path.

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Nice digs

We didn’t arrive at Copper until the early afternoon as we’d flown in from holiday travels late the night before and still had to pack for the slopes. Early check in was available and we got situated into our lovely condo, located in the center village’s Tucker Mountain Lodge, just steps from the American Flyer lift. We scored a one-bedroom with a full kitchen (for added convenience and saved us a bundle from eating out).   We got in a few hours’ runs, enough to get our ski legs back as our first trip of the season and not overdo it our first afternoon. We rewarded our muscle’s hard work in the lodge’s hot tub that evening.

When using your fifth grade pass you’ll need to stop by the ski area’s ticket counter to get a lift pass for each day; you can’t simply get a 3-day pass. Luckily, Copper’s ticket counter is open late allowing us to get our next day’s pass the night before which freed us from having to wait in line the next morning. We also swung by the ski school for early check-in for my son’s snowboarding lesson the following day.   

A little background on my skiing/boarding

This would also be my first day back on a snowboard in 13 years and I had a bit of a panic the night before worrying if I was “too old” to really do this again. I learned to board in the mid 90s when I was living in Salt Lake City for three years. There, my boarding ability quickly surpassed that of my skiing. I’d learned to ski when my family was stationed in Germany four years in the mid 1970s (my Dad was a pilot in the Air Force). The dollar was strong and from fifth to eighth grade our base ski club, the Sitzmarkers, afforded us the luxury of skiing the alps for peanuts. I became a mom late in life (at age 44) so returning to a snowboard after a 13-year hiatus, at age 55, suddenly seemed… worrisome. While my son got to bed early I googled, “oldest snowboarders” and was relieved to find it’s a thing—for those riding in their 50s and 60s, parents boarding with their kids, grandkids and even leaders in the sport industry who still board.

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Getting schooled on how to ride

I shadowed my son’s class to capture photos and notes for this blog series (and secretly be in close proximity to ski patrol, should I fall and shatter a hip or worse, fall and simply not be able to get back up). My son sailed down beautifully his first attempt, although forgetting the turning part, and colliding into the sign at the bottom that (rather ironically) cautioned snowboarders that they were entering at their own risk (or something to that effect.) Resilient as most fifth graders are, he shook it off and climbed back up. The day progressed from learning the Falling Leaf, J-, C- and S-turns, and graduating quickly to the magic carpet. Up the conveyor belt-like lift to a longer/steeper run that reinforced the same skills and prepared the class for the chairlift after lunch.

Group lessons at Copper include lunch and snacks. With bellies refueled on mac n’ cheese, my son’s class embarked on the Kokomo Express chair lift. I made it off the lift without falling or having to stop the lift. Our trusty snowboarding instructor, Chris Bobbitt, broke the run up into a series of games to keep attention spans engaged and the fun rolling. There was the Star Wars Laser tag (which encouraged kids to point their “air laser guns” and along with them their torsos to direct their turns).  Another game kids made a snowball and had then carefully carved S-turns all the down the hill to where the instructor was waiting. Those who could reach him without falling (and losing their snowball) could then lob the instructor with their snowball.

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I didn’t fall once the entire day, though I didn’t attempt anything more difficult than the beginning class I was shadowing my son in. I’m eager to give it a whirl again after some fresh (and more forgiving) pow. As for my son, he’s so skilled at skiing, having to slow down to take a more remedial pace to learn to snowboard took some convincing. I underscored that both sports take about 10 days before the fun factor kicks in consistently. But, there’s something to be said for learning to delay gratification and follow through with the commitment of learning a new sport. The payoff is huge and I’m eager to be there to experience it when he gets there later this season. At the end of his lesson, as we carved turns beside one another in tandem, neither of us could wipe the grins off our faces. “I can’t believe we’re both snowboarding, mom!” he said just before his snowball went careening towards me. I ducked, sitting down, just in time for it to hit his instructor, Chris.

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Coaaaaaaaaaaster fun

We celebrated our success with a ride on Copper’s new Rocky Mountain Coaster. (Tip: the line can be longer towards the end of the day. It was a good call to send my son to stand in line while I dashed to our lodge lockers to drop off our snowboards. I got back just as they were roping off the line for the day and to join my son who was now just two people away from the start.) The coaster creeps up the rail slowly a good 5 minutes it seemed before we rounded the corner at the top and began to careen down (you control your own speed) swirling in and out of the trees, whipping around turns and over bridges that overlooked a ski run below. Our screams and shrill of laughter turned heads from skiers and boarders below. It was the perfect adrenaline thrill to complete our day on the hill.

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Day three, we switched back to skis so we could move quicker and explore the entire mountain. A great idea is to take advantage of the free guided mountain tour at 10am or 1pm (which meets at the top of the American Eagle chairlift) daily to give you the lay of the land and instill a little area history. We typically do this the first day at a new ski area but as things unfolded, we didn’t have that opportunity until the last afternoon of our 3-day visit. As long as you’re of a solid intermediate-level (skier or boarder), the tour is a good fit. Our guides were well versed in bringing the history of Copper to life, from its mining to logging days, through the 1970s when the resort opened to today, pointing out how certain runs got their name. Like Skid Road, named after the area of the mountain where lumberjacks would roll logs down the mountain.

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Adrenaline central

Before hitting the road home, we stopped by Copper’s Woodward Center where my son took an intro class. Inside this 19,400-square foot massive barn is a haven of extreme, adrenaline-pumping adventure. From the second-story viewing platform where other parents and I watched from above we could see ramps of varying heights. One at a time, with a coach’s hand signal, a kid would careen down on a scooter, roller-skis or board, up into the air to do a trick and land in a foam pit. Across the other side of the barn was a sea of Olympic-sized trampolines and a super trampoline. My son and his group could bounce, catch incredible air, some did flips and landed into a foam pit. Woodward offers classes and camps for every level of freestyle enthusiast.

The snow is coming down now as I wrap this up and look forward to planning our next adventure in our conquest of visiting all 22 of Colorado Ski Country’s ski areas, hopefully next weekend.

Follow along with Lori’s journey to ski at all 22 Passport ski areas here.