Over the MLK Holiday weekend, I enjoyed a truly wonderful trip with a childhood friend. In summary, Copper was awesome. It has gentle groomers, ungroomed trails, steep groomers and bumps, and phenomenal side country on 3 peaks, over 2,000 acres, and 2,700 vertical. While we didn't get too much into the trees, the bits we sampled were great, and it seems pretty clear there are tons of tree stashes. Below is a description of the trip and some pictures that you hopefully enjoy. A big thank you to my buddy, who totally hooked me up, and to Gefilte for the Copper intel - much appreciated! Three really fun ski days below.
Day 1: Arrival
The first piece of our puzzle was acclimation. I grew up at 3 feet above sea level(!) and live less than 120 feet above sea level on Long Island. (Please don't hold my area of residence against me ). My buddy is very fit and sent me the University of Utah six week ski workout, which I think was the reason I had energy and muscle strength, if not always wind at altitude. By the third day of skiing, I think I aclimated and never needed to stop before my buddy by that point.
Step one for acclimation: a relaxed dinner at Beau Jo's Pizza in Idaho Springs off Route 70 halfway between Denver and Copper. I am a bit of a pizza snob, but loved it. It was a cross between Chicago and Neopolitan (NY) pizza, if that makes any sense. Here are a few picks of Idaho Springs, which claims to be the place of origin for the Gold Rush. It reminded me of Telluride, minus the box canyon:
After a total drive time of 90 minutes, we were at Copper on the other side of the Continental Divide. This was the first time in my life I have seen Oxygen Bars. I am guessing there is a significant need for that with a base altitude of 9,752 feet!
Also at that altitude, less pressure is exerted on prepackaged foods, causing the packaging to bubble out. I never got tired of it:
Besides waking up every few hours to drink water and being winded while walking, the altitude change was not bad. Apparently, when not acclimated, we breath more rapidly due to less air (and therefore less oxygen), causing us to exhale more water, leading to dehydration if you do not drink enough water at altitude.
Day 2: East and Center Village:
On the first day of skiing, we spent most of the time in the East and Center Village area of Copper. I don't have too many pictures from that day, but it was a ton of fun, and a good warm up. Even though we planned only to ski for a few hours, we ended up skiing 8:30-3:30. Lucky for us, our crash pad was less than a two-minute walk to the lift.
One selling point for Copper is the lay out. Unlike some mountains, it is hard to get yourself in a situation where there is a lot of cross traffic, and typically the easy terrain is near West Village, moderate groomers near Center Village, and on-piste steeps in East Village. It is an oversimplification, but you get the picture:
Near the top of Copper Mountain (one of three peaks) - over the top of the lift are the SKY shoots from the back side of Breckinridge. To ski them, a probe, shovel, and beacon is mandatory, and you have to inform Copper ski patrol, as the skiers are visible to Copper patrol.
After skiing, we drove into Frisco, which is about 5-10 minutes on I-70 back toward Denver. I was amazed by the scenery, which you can see below, along with a picture of Copper at night, with some groomers in the background:
Day 3: Hitting the Nacho
My mantra for the trip was literally 'All Good'. But I still had one ski goal: to get into the double black hike-to side country at Copper located on Tucker Mountain. Thanks in part to a phenomenal instructor/guide, mission accomplished! In advance, I called the ski school and asked for a Cert III that wouldn't mind taking me into Tucker, as I know nothing about Western skiing. Quite honestly, even though I believe I can ski anything on the East Coast safely, I barely knew how to ski powder going into the trip.
Copper ski school did right by me! I had a phenomenal guide/instructor named Phil A., a PSIA RM examiner at Copper. He was smart, had an awesome attitude, and is a great instructor and guide. I frankly just felt safe huffing and puffing up to 12,400 feet in 40-60 mph winds on a narrow ridge with him. And since my wife was super generous in allowing me to leave her and two kids under 8, I was going to do my best to come home uninjured! (PS - if you want Phil's contact info if you are headed to Copper, let me know and I'll PM you). Oh, I forgot to mention Day 3 of the trip was my 6th ski day of the season and also my sixth ski day since a May surgery on my right knee to repair a medial (outside) bucket handle tear of my meniscus, along with an ACL repair. I guess I should be recommending my surgeon, too! Happy to do that for NY metro folks.
The Cat line:
Another Cat line pic; note the Nacho drop in is just about down the middle of this picture:
After a few minutes in the Cat line, Phil, me, and ten of our closest random-stranger-stoke-sharers were on our way up to the 'Saddle', a dip between Jacque's Peak (13,200) and Tucker Mountain (12,337). For no particular reason, I had set in my mind that at least I wanted to make it to the Taco or the Nacho.
Once we got out, we had a 20-30 minute hike to our objective. In my case, I am sure it was at least 30 minutes. While I felt quite strong, I had difficulty with my wind, which wasn't helped by the constant 40-60 mph winds. As part of our pre-ride briefing, a very calm patroller told us there was wind-affected snow (an overstatement for any eastern skier) and 'some wind' (a very calm patroller understatement).
The fruits of that labor are pictorally set out below. The first 100 yards of the hike were cake. But by the end, I was down to a Himilayan shuffle (only 12,000 feet shy of the Himalayan mountains!). After discussing the line with Phil, we dropped in to about 1,100 feet of vertical with an initial 50+ degree pitch on the Nacho. We descended 3 or so turns at a time initially, but it was a blast. While there was a light wind crust of a few inches, that portion skied exactly like packed powder to me. Below that there was a real, deep reservoir of powder(!) I hope I never forget the feeling of one perfect (at least to me) turn: as I came through the transition into the belly of the turn, mounds of fluffy powder bellowed off my skis as I tried to remember to keep my weight more evenly distributed over my skis from the apex to the completion of the turn than I would on the east coast. I don't have a picture of it, but in my mind's eye, the moment still exists.
Here are the pics I have from the Nacho descent:
The hike up Tucker Mountain ridge, in strong winds. Notice my s-eating grin -
Proof that I actually descended -
Our tracks down the Nacho. On looker's left, you can see toward the bottom of the track where I hit something or lost balance: my outside ski leg popped up, leaving only my inside track, and then I recovered that leg, bringing back two tracks. Wish I got video of that! -
And at the bottom of the Nacho, a jaunt through 4 feet of powder and a few trees. In about 1 minute, Phil got this east coast skier hopping and then turning through the powder. A glorious feeling!
Back at Copper Peak (12,441), with a view of the Tucker side country and, if you look closely, the Cat track.
Day 4 - Refills
On our fourth day, we had 4 inches fall over night. It made the ungroomed trails really fun! Not much to say here, except to give you a few pics, which I hope you like:
While it is not super accurate, I couldn't help ticking off the trails I sampled. I definitely missed some
Thank you for the patience to read this. An especially big thank you to my buddy, who hooked me up and skied with me. And to my wife and kids, who let dad disappear for a few days. My best ski days are with my family. In a year or two my seven-year old will be roasting me. In the mean time, it was awesome to sample Copper's goods. I am looking forward to the next visit with my buddy, and the day I bring my family there. See you all on the NY hills. DomB.
Great report! On short west coast trips I’m a fan of anything that maximizes precious time. Trip I took to Squaw, having an Olympic skier-cross veteran and Squaw local as my private instructor/guide (at a group lesson rate, the way it worked out) was amazing. I also have used guides for my backcountry days. So, tell me more about your instructor/guide hookup. How’d you set it up, was it a private lesson?
Thanks JTG! I really enjoy your TRs and hope to get into backcountry at some point. Any tips on how you approached it would be appreciated.
Yes, my experience going into the side country was a private 1/2 day lesson. Copper obviously has lessons available but then they also make instructors available as guides through the ski school. I don’t know if there is a precise difference.
How I approached it was to call the ski school and let them know my objective was to get into in the side country. I made it very clear that I had close to zero powder experience and had not been on hike to terrain, and I asked for a cert 3. The ski school on the phone kind of made a big deal of saying that they couldn’t guarantee a cert 3. (Though I could not recommend the ski school or Phil too much-I had a great experience).
On the appointed day, I check in and Phil, the examiner, was totally cool and said that when he saw the objective he grabbbed me as a ‘student’ because it looked interesting.
I have heard some mountains have free guide programs, but the one at copper is just skiing around on some blues (not necessarily a bad thing) to get a feel for the mountain layout.
The lesson was not cheap but it was perfect for me. Also, I was lucky on the trip: my buddy hooked me up with a place to stay and comp tickets, and when I purchased the flight, I got a pop up to get a Southwest card that made my effective cost of the flight $43. So my costs were our food and school plus tip.
Yeah, the private option is nice. Being able to ski what you want, at your pace, not having to worry about the composition of a group. Nice when other savings help make it viable!
I’ve rolled the dice and gotten lucky a few times booking expert group lessons. I’ve found that few experts actually take group lessons, so the last two times I did that I had great privates at a group rate (plus a nice tip), with top level instructors/guides. But you take a chance, yrmv.
I think that most mountains charge too much for private lessons, although, like at Copper, if you can bring your own group and split the cost it can make it a good deal. We did that at WF a couple times until they jacked the price and instead of allowing you to have up to five people for the (pretty high) price they had a per person add on.
When you do get into backcountry skiing you will see that you can pretty much do a full day of privately guided backcountry for what Copper (like other mountains) charge for a half day private. Heck, a cat skiing day out at Tahoe was about the same price. Signing on to a backcountry group tour is a good value, and I’ve made out ok with that.
If backcountry is more of a will do some day but not a pressing need.....next time you need/get new equipment consider that. That’s how I got in. I was ready to invest in a new setup, I was happy to continue my progression to a wider ski, I was headed to Tuck’s and had interest in getting outside the resorts some, so I invested in a frame binding (Marker Baron, but there are numerous options). Something like that is a full on resort binding that also gives you the option to tour.
When and if you get into longer tours and full on backcountry days you may end up with a lighter tech binding setup (like I did)....so be care careful about being bitten by the bug, because you will end up spending. Not just the equipment, as it’s useless without avy gear and acquiring the knowledge to use it, and clothing (layering, functionality) becomes more involved (read: expensive) than what you might typically use at a resort.
But, man....has my skiing gotten so much more fun/rewarding since I started getting into the backcountry.