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Review: Ski Cooper 18 March 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Reviews, Skiing.
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Area Stats

Location: Leadville, CO

Bottom Elevation: 10,500′

Top Elevation: 11,700′

Area: 420-ish acres

Average Annual Snowfall: 260″

Terrain Breakdown: Beginner 30%, Intermediate 40%, Advanced 30%, Expert 0%

Adult Ticket Price: $42

Best-kept secret: Cat Skiing

Unless you have children under the age of ten, you probably won’t like Ski Cooper. And even then, it’s not much of a mountain. On a whim, C and I went anyway a couple weeks ago, taking the opportunity to explore Leadville and the ski hill it owns because of a free deal from Colorado Ski Country USA. (Check out their Gems Card next year, if you want to do the same and save on other mountains, too.)

To get a sense of the sort of person who skis here, let’s take a moment to reflect on this video.

I can’t decide which of his lines I like better: “Jub, jub BOOM!” or “HEEEEEEEEEEEEEE,” but in any event, that guy likes this place. On the other hand, if like most folks you came to Colorado for mountains like Crested Butte, Vail, and Telluride, you’ll be, shall we say, underwhelmed. There’s no gnarliness to be had, nor any cachet to make up for it. This is Midwest skiing here in Colorado. Granted, the scenery’s a little better.

The History

Located a little more than 10 miles north of Leadville (and about 100 miles from Denver), Ski Cooper began life as the training grounds for the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, whose primary objective back in the day was to kill Nazis and Italians abroad while supporting Leadville’s prostitutes back home. When the division packed up at left for Fort Riley, KS after the war, Ski Cooper remained, continuing life as one of Colorado’s first public ski hills.

In all likelihood, though, you’re more familiar with the 10th Mountain’s other contribution to the area: Peter Seibert, the division veteran who, along with local rancher Earl Eaton, founded Vail in 1962. Since then, the resorts’ paths have… diverged. The whole of Ski Cooper will fit into one of Vail’s back bowls with room to spare. But really, comparisons between the two aren’t relevant. Peter Seibert’s vision and the completion I-70 made Vail what it is today. To the best of my knowledge, Ski Cooper never held such ambitions.

The Mountain

Ski Cooper’s website suggests the resort has five lifts, or something like that. C and I could only find two, though there was evidence that a third was buried under snow and hadn’t moved in ages. These two operating lifts each serve a half of this divided mountain. Lest you jump too soon to visions of a “front side/back side” split, a la Vail, that’s not the case. The back side is more mirror image than doppelganger despite what run names “Nightmare” and “Kamikaze” may imply, and both sides offer what is probably the most consistent pitch I’ve ever skied. Without signs to distinguish beginner, intermediate and advance terrain, you likely couldn’t tell the difference.

If you’re here with kids, though, the can be kind of a blessing, I imagine. Let your kids wander off on their own and you can be sure they’ll never get in over their heads or end up at a lift where you can’t find them. Contrary to the Starbucks philosophy, in some cases, fewer options really are better.

For experts and advanced skiers, that lack of choice doesn’t leave much in the way of  prime runs, but a few merit consideration:

Mother Lode to Timber Basher: Starts out at a pitch that might qualify as a blue at other mountains, then drops you into a nice flat meadow whence you can admire the 12,500′ Chicago Ridge to your right. Drop off the meadow the right and into Timber Basher for some low-angle tree skiing.

Powder Keg: It’s the only mogul run on this mountain, and even those last just a few turns, but you can weave in and out of a the trees between this run and Kamikaze before the bumps show up. This will assuredly be the most difficult thing you’ll do all day.

Piney to Burnout: Head under the lift and duck into the trees on skiers’ left. They’re low-angle, but more enjoyable than the run itself. When they flatten out even more, head back under the lift and ski down to the steeper (again, this is all relative) section far skiers’ left. You can make five or six good turns on this pitch before heading  down into the main run again. You’re almost guaranteed fresh tracks here since everyone seems too afraid to ski it.

Slot: Good for two, maybe three, interesting turns back onto Piney.

The trees to skiers’ left off Last Chance: If you like fresh tracks, you won’t be disappointed. No one skis unmarked trees here, which is also something of a problem since a lot of small limbs still exist at eye level. Despite that, you can ski top to bottom in these relatively open trees without ever crossing someone else’s line. That’s cool, but then you’ll spend the next half hour waiting for the ancient double to haul back to the top of the mountain.

Overall Experience

Coloradans’ complaints about the I-70 resorts hold merit. But it only takes a day of skiing to explain why those resorts each draw more than one millions visitors a year while Ski Cooper struggles to attract the leftovers: the mega-resorts are simply better mountains. They offer more amenities, better terrain, and greater challenges. I see every reason for a place like Ski Cooper to succeed in Michigan or Pennsylvania or West Virginia. Just not here in Colorado.

A Coda

Now forget everything I just said. For $275, you can hop on board Ski Cooper’s Chicago Ridge Snowcat Skiing and explore 2460 untracked acres behind the lift-served mountain. It includes a gourmet lunch and 10-12 powder runs.  I haven’t done it, but I hear it’s a best-ski-day-of-my-life kinda thing, and it affords and opportunity to stay in Leadville—always a good decision. Check it out.

Skiing Eldora 22 December 2010

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Nothing brings Christmas cheer like sunny skies in Denver and feet upon feet of snow in the mountains. Actually, no. I’d take some snow here, too, but at any rate, the soft flakes continue to fall in the high country—even as we speak, dear readers!—again meaning that I assembled my crack team of product testers and headed west, this time to sample the slopes of Eldora.

Please forgive me for thinking it sounds like something out of a Tolkien novel, but really… Eldora? As in, “There, beyond the last gates of the city Nederland lies the elven enclave of Eldora, a place steeped in legend and mystery.” But I’ll come off it. In reality, Eldora’s not the stuff of legends, or even day dreams for most folks. If anything, it’s convenient.

After fighting against I-70 traffic every weekend, trying a hassle-free drive instead holds some merit. And at only 21 miles from Boulder and 45 miles from Denver, Eldora offers that. You won’t get any gray hairs from that commute, and you won’t grow much older either. In fact, it almost feels like a Utah ski morning: the drive up the canyon; the sunny skies giving way to clouds; the snow piling up with elevation.

But at the end of the road, you’ll find Eldora, not Alta or Brighton. Bummer, dude.

If you liked East Coast skiing, you’ll feel at home here. Quirky, slow lifts are the norm, and the terrain never rises above treeline. If you squint, the town of Ned kinda sorta looks like Brattleboro, but not really. At any rate, seeing all this in Colorado will bring about fond or perhaps painful memories for anyone who grew up skiing the Ice Coast.

Our test day, a Sunday, fell on the second or third day of what has become a storm of epic proportions. On Monday, NOAA actually called the thing “epic,” citing “phenomenal” snow totals in an inspiring display of vocabulary. Some areas of Colorado will see eight feet when it’s all said and done—and the residents of Crested Butte and Silverton have been told to stock up on perishables. A very white Christmas indeed.

But Eldora had reported 7″ overnight, for a total of 11″ in the past 72 hours. Not bad given that the snow continued throughout the day. It felt like less than that, but whatever. New snow is new snow. We rolled up at noon and still experienced quite a bit of it. And that’s the thing to like about Eldora, I think. Or maybe the other thing, since it’s convenient, too. Hardly anyone’s skiing there, and those that do confine themselves to a few blue slopes. Even with the trees closed, we managed to find trails where we were the only ones in sight, despite the fact that this place, when fully open, comprises just 680 acres.

Eldora is a place nearly as big as the biggest, baddest resort in the East, Killington. It lies within a couples hours’ drive for a good portion of the Front Range’s four million residents, yet it lacks lift lines. Altogether, it sounds like a winning combination, and in Maine or New Hamphire, it probably would be. But here it ranks only as mediocre.

>Nearly everywhere else in Colorado receives more snow. Nearly everyone else has steeper terrain. Nearly everyone offers better lifts and more services at the base area. I can ski better trees at Keystone, better steeps at A-Basin, better snow at Vail, and I don’t have to pay that much to do it. Sure, if you ski Eldora, check out the Corona and Indian Peaks lifts. When Corona Bowl’s open, I’m sure it can be a fun little powder field, but overall it’s too small a place to keep experts entertained for too long. The lack of lift lines only creates more opportunities to lap the same terrain. Eldora isn’t a place to explore.

But at the same time, H said she got good vibes from it. Lots of positive energy there and none of the frantic powder mania at the I-70 resorts, even on a solid powder day. We found freshies at three when patrol dropped some ropes. We found more in the trees. And for that, I can appreciate Eldora, but I simply can’t appreciate it enough to choose it over A-Basin.