Planning a family ski trip to Colorado? Can’t decide between Vail, Steamboat, or Breckenridge? Well how about Ski Cooper, truly the best family ski area in Colorado.
As you pull into the rutted and potholed parking lot, you see a small base area, but big enough for the essentials. A rental and retail building, ski patrol, ski school, and of course, an Irish pub sit across the lot from the Tennessee Pass Nordic center. You’ll also probably notice the lack of cars in the lot, even on a powder day.
For never-skied beginners, there’s a large open bunny hill fenced off from the rest of the trails, making for a great place to learn your turns. Once you’ve mastered the magic carpet, you can move to the frontside double, which, although slow, accesses a ton of terrain, including long, consistently sloped green runs, tight trees, and the race course, Black Powder. Off the backside triple chair, named Piney Basin, there are more good groomed green and blue runs, as well as some narrow steeper runs to the skiers left that are good for honing your quick turns. On either side of Piney Basin, there are the tree runs of Corkscrew and Powderkeg, which are the hardest on this side of the mountain.
Once you are confident on the frontside and in Piney Basin, you can head to the further backside, Tennessee Creek Basin, where you’ll find the newest and most challenging terrain at Cooper. Steep tight tree runs are found everywhere with sustained pitches all the way to the bottom, where your legs won’t be able to rest too long as you’ve got to ride the t-bar back up. This provides a fantastic workout, but also moves you up the hill faster than anything non-detachable would. You can keep lapping Tennessee Creek, getting to the shorter, yet steeper runs to the skiers left. The catwalk gets longer, but the runs are still just as fun.
After the lifts stop turning at 4, you can head back to the nearby town of Leadville. Unlike other nearby towns such as Vail or Breckenridge (both of which are less than 30 miles away as the crow flies), you’ll find reasonable prices everywhere. One example of that is the Quincy Tavern, where Filet Mignon could run you as little as $12. But it’s not just the low prices that take your breath away. Leadville is the highest elevation city in the country at 10,200 ft., so watch your drinking as it’ll hit you hard up here.
After a well-priced stay at your lodging, head over to City on a Hill Coffee for a fabulous cup of joe and pastries. As you sit drinking your Cafe Florentine, you can admire the laser cut wood, all made to resemble different 14ers, displayed around the coffeeshop. Walking around town, stop in the numerous outdoors, thrift, and art outlets before heading over to Melanzana to pick up a Leadville made classic, the Micro Grid Hoodie. Other attractions in town include the National Mining Hall of Fame and the Mineral Belt National Historic Trail, which provide interesting historic fun facts to bombard your friends with when you return. If you’re driving back to Colorado Springs, laugh as you head in the opposite direction of I-70 and toward Pikes Peak for a relaxing and scenic drive home.
Ski Cooper may not be the biggest, steepest, or craziest ski area in Colorado, but for a family vacation, it provides that world-famous Colorado skiing for a fraction of the price of any Summit county resort, as well as one of the best and most historic mountain towns in the state. Start making your vacation plans HERE.
images from SkiCooperChicagoRidge FB or personal