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Opinion: Copper Mountain Is The Best Ski Area On I-70

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[leadin]The I-70 corridor in Colorado boasts some incredible skiing, with seven ski areas packed within an hour drive. They’re all pretty awesome, but my favorite is Copper Mountain.[/leadin]

copper mountain snowboarding
Snowboarding some powder at Copper Mountain; photos by Tripp Fay

On the east side of Vail Pass where Highway 91 heads up to Leadville — known in the old days as Wheeler Junction — is the ski resort I have called home for almost four years.

Its easily accessed north facing slopes, family friendly nature, and nearly 2,500 acres of terrain set this ski area apart from every other ski area along the crowded I-70 ski route…in fact, it’s like no other resort in the country. For my money it’s a sure bet every time.

Here’s why:

Free Cat Skiing And Bowls

Copper Mountain Bowls
Photo by Sean McCoy

Locals at Copper know the Tucker Mountain Snowcat well – a free snowcat that runs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (depending on conditions) to expert, non-lift served, in-bounds terrain at Copper. While the resort doesn’t offer any backcountry gates, so there’s no “sidecountry” per se, the area offers amazing high alpine terrain. There is more than 1,000 acres above treeline spread across three peaks, including the terrain on Tucker Mountain only accessible by the cat or hiking.

Indoor Freestyle Training Open To Public


The Woodward Copper Barn is a world-renowned 19,400-square-foot indoor freestyle training facility with trampolines, foam pits, ramps, and skate bowls. Sessions are available for all ability levels ages seven and up. This is a place to learn aerial awareness before hitting the big lines on the mountain.

Copper Mountain’s Laid Back Attitude

copper mountain resort nightlife
Even Copper Mountain’s nightlife is laid back; photo by Tripp Fay

As a low-key Telemark skier (I know, nobody cares…), Copper is the perfect amount of laid back, and skiers of every ability and stoke level feel comfortable on the mountain and in the village. There are no restaurant chains or corporate lodging and therefore, the entire scene is just less crowded and more chill.

Rarely A Lift Line

copper mountain powder
Who wants to wait in line when you can do this? Photo by Tripp Fay

Summit County has been bursting at the seams with visitors in the last few years. And while the local economy is doing great, skiers, especially on weekends, are seeing more and more epic lift lines. But that’s not really the case at Copper. An expert can bus straight to a lift that serves only black diamond terrain and avoid the fracas of ski schools and family outings first thing in the morning, thanks to …

Naturally Divided Terrain

Copper mountain trail map

It’s hard to overemphasize how much this enhances the ski experience. Thanks to the natural slopes of the mountain and engineering of ski lifts, Copper is divided like no other resort. On lookers left, you have your expert terrain. Mountain center is intermediate. Far right is beginner. Of course the back bowls are mostly expert terrain.

There are interesting terrain features and tree skiing all over the board, but for the most part, newcomers to the resort can easily find a lift or part of the mountain where they feel comfortable, and experts can get away from the hoards of beginners among the steep and deep trees, bowls, and bumps.

Free Parking

copper mountain best ski resort
Copper stands tall; photo by Tripp Fay

You know what I hate about Vail? Paying for parking. Parking is free all the time, every day in Copper’s Alpine Lot, just off Highway 91. Dogs can run free and tailgates drop, all without getting out the wallet. Free shuttles run to Copper’s three base areas – Center, East, and West Villages. And all of Copper’s inner parking lots are free after 1p.m. Even the B lot right in center village is only $20 and rarely fills up.

Walkable Base

copper mountain night
Copper Mountain’s small base is easy to navigate by bus or foot; photo by Tripp Fay

I love the fact that Copper is small and pedestrian-friendly. There’s no need for a car with the free shuttle around the resort; not to mention Summit County’s Summit Stage free bus system to take you into Frisco or Breckenridge for additional dining and activity options.

Ski And Ride University

copper Ski and Ride School
Copper offers and incredible deal for new skiers; photo by Tripp Fay

For beginners committed to becoming ski bums, there is no better deal than this.CopperColorado.com/SRSUSki and Ride University offers three lessons (including lift tickets, equipment rentals, close-in parking AND lunch on the 2nd and 3rd day) for just $199. Upon completion of the 3rd lesson the “graduate” receives a free Copper Mountain season pass for the remainder of the season. No shit. Graduates can also receive 50 percent off the following seasons’ pass. Check CopperColorado.com/SRSU for all the details.

The ‘Resort’ Is Affordable And Chill

copper mountain lodging
Copper Mountain base area; photo by Tripp Fay

Copper doesn’t really have a “town,” but the base area offers plenty to do. Reasonably priced lodging (by Vail and Aspen standards), low-key, modestly priced restaurants, and a local vibe make Copper a comfortable place to simply hang. There’s plenty to do for non-skiers (tubing hill, ice skating, snowshoeing) and Frisco, as noted, is nearby and easy to reach by bus.

For lodging deals, check out CopperColorado.com, the resort’s email blasts, and social media. There’s not a ton of inventory in the Village (see point #1), but it’s worth scoping out AirBnB as well because there are some sweet houses and condos nestled here.

Don’t forget donuts with Sugar Lips…the founder of which I asked to marry me at the top of Copper four years ago.

Unpretentious Food

The famed mid-mountain Soup Shack is now the Belgian Bean, but it retains some of its original charm – and convenience. There’s soup, a grill, beers, coffee and hot chocolate, and just the right amount of indoor and outdoor seating for those in the know. The T-Rex Grill at the base of the Timberline Express lift is also a great spot for a burger and a beer on warm sunny days. I also like both Endo’s and Jack’s, both located in Center Village, as low-key spots for après or lunch with drink and appetizer deals daily. That said, there are a couple of higher end spots, the token Mexican joint, and the free bus that runs into Frisco for even more options.

Summer’s Actually Better Than Winter

“Come for the winter, stay for the summer.” That old adage about Colorado aptly applies to Copper Mountain. The village is basically empty, wildflowers speckle the mountain, hiking and biking trails abound, and trout run rampant all along Ten Mile Creek through the village.

There’s also a free disc golf course; but you have to pay for real golf, if that’s what you’re into. The paved Summit County bike path runs from Copper east and west and is second to none. My daily ride from Frisco to Vail Pass and back was a source of inspiration I will never forget. But don’t take my word for it…check the whole scene out for yourself. See you up there.


copper mountain chairlift
Beautiful terrain in Copper Mountain’s Union Bowl; photo by Tripp Fay

Not yet convinced? Copper secretly informed me that potential guests can save up to 53 percent on lift tickets by purchasing online even just one day before a visit. In my 26 years of ski bumming, that’s one of the easiest deals going for anyone looking to immerse himself or herself in the sport. If you fly Frontier Airlines to Denver be sure to save your boarding pass because you can show it at the ticket counter and get a 2-for1 lift ticket.

Discontinued this year, the Snow Day Pass was one of the best-kept industry secrets…for $119 you got Super Bowl Sunday, Closing Day, and access every time it snowed more than four inches. Maybe they’ll bring it back?

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