For our family, one of the traditions of spring break in the mountains is to choose an alternate method for sliding downhill rather than on our usual skis and snowboards. Some years it’s been snow tubing; sometimes it’s old-fashioned sledding. This year, we treated the kids to Copper Mountain’s newest high-speed thriller: the Rocky Mountain Coaster.
Copper’s alpine coaster is a 5,800-foot-long elevated track that that twists and turns through the stands of pine under the American Flyer lift. The cars (designed for one rider or two) have a hand-braking mechanism, so you can control how fast you want to go. After Steamboat’s 6,280-foot Outlaw Mountain Coaster, Copper’s is the second longest alpine coaster in North America. It descends 430 vertical feet on an average grade of 10.9 percent.
Unlike a traditional roller coaster, this ride starts with a long mellow uphill, as a cable pulls your car to the top. I rode with my 12-year-old daughter snuggled between my legs. She’d just taken a ride with her dad, so she tipped me off to watch for Big Foot hiding in the trees. (He was.) If you’ve ever ridden the rickety wooden Cyclone at Coney Island in New York, you know it’s truly terrifying. I found the stainless-steel track with a high-tech eddy-current (magnetic) braking system of the alpine coaster vastly more confidence inspiring.
But still, I asked the fella working at Copper’s alpine coaster if it was possible to be ejected from the track (I also have memories of riders launching out of the track on the alpine slide at Vernon Valley Great Gorge in New Jersey decades ago). Alpine coasters are different. The cars are attached to a stainless-steel tube welded into an elevated metal yolk structure. Even if I went full speed (no braking!!) for the entire ride, he assured me, there was no way to fall out or fall off.
“How fast does it go?” I asked.
“Around 25 miles an hour—but it feels a lot faster,” he said with a grin.
And then he said something about not coming within 80 feet of the car in front of you.
On the descent, I was determined not to brake. (You control your own speed with a pair of handles.) I let loose with shrieks on most of the high-speed turns as the track curved and looped and dipped up and down through the woods. We glimpsed skiers on the trails and on the Flyer chairlift overhead. My daughter laughed her head off the whole way down. The bigger the Gs, the harder she giggled.
As we approached the bottom, the car abruptly slowed itself down. I guess we’d pushed that 80-foot threshold with the car in front of us. Unlike us, that father-son duo had been braking on the way down.
In order to maximize the bang for our buck, we got a driver ticket and a passenger ticket for each of my boys (14 and 17), so they each got two rides, taking turns serving as the driver. My younger son was clocked at 62 miles an hour this year on skis during a downhill race, so he’s plenty used to speed, but he still got an adrenaline rush on Copper’s alpine coaster. And it was a great capper for our spring break week.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (through end of the ski season; the Coaster will reopen June 8 for summer)
Location: Near American Flyer lift in Copper’s Center Village; you can buy tickets at the small log cabin (the Coaster Cabin) at the base of the ride (or at any lift ticket window).
Tickets: Driver, $25; Passenger, $10. Discounts for multiple rides and discounts for season pass holders.
Tip: The Rocky Mountain Coaster will run in summer and winter. If you go in winter, wear your ski pants, jacket and mittens to stay warm.
Riffing on Purgatory’s already established theme of Dante’s Divine Comedy (In addition to the resort’s moniker, trail names include “Upper Hades,” “Lower Demon,” and “Styx”), the year-round alpine coaster here has been dubbed the “Inferno,” and it’s slated to open this summer. The 4,000-foot long track features nine switchbacks, a series of dips, and a 360-degree loop, dropping 300 vertical feet. It’s part of a $15 million, multi-mountain capital improvement plan.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. this summer
Location: The Inferno can be found near Lift 4.
Tip: If you want to go old school, Purgatory also has an alpine slide situated near the new Inferno Mountain Coaster. The alpine slide operates in summer only. It’s a similar thrill, but in the alpine slide, the cars are not attached to a rail system.
This 5,700-foot coaster meanders with curves, banks, and hairpin turns through the trees between Gunner’s View and Sandy Park trails on Snowmass. The coaster opened December of 2017 and is part of the resort’s new on-mountain Lost Forest, a mid-mountain attraction set to open Summer 2018 at Elk Camp, including a climbing wall, zip lines, a challenge course, and biking trails.
Hours: 2-hour sessions between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; 2-hour sessions between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. on Ullr Nights.
Location: Located adjacent to the Elk Camp Restaurant.
Tickets: Buy a $49 Activities Pass for a 2-hour session with unlimited access to tubing and the alpine coaster (tickets are per person, all ages).
Tip: The Breathtaker Coaster will be open for night rides during Ullr Nights festivities (every Friday night during the peak of winter season) and on special holidays.
Brand-new for the 2017-2018 season, Steamboat’s alpine coaster is the longest coaster in North America at 6,280 feet. It drops 400 vertical feet, with an elevated track that rises 40 feet above the ground in spots. The track includes 360-degree loops.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Location: Near Christie Peak Express
Tickets: $20, driver; $15 companion
Tip: Tuck in any loose clothing or hair and spit out any gum before you get on the ride. Your mouth will likely be open, as you hoot and holler the whole way down.
Helen Olsson is the author of The Down & Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids. She blogs about outdoor adventures with kids at maddogmom.com.