Cooper is an unpretentious outpost and the perfect place to learn to ski and ride.
Each winter, our family spends one to two weekends at Cooper. Compare Cooper’s stats to some of the behemoth resorts down the road, and it’s easy to overlook Cooper’s unassuming 400 acres. Yet this storied ski hill set on Tennessee Pass has much to recommend it.
Perfect Learning Space
For starters, Cooper is the perfect place to learn to ski and ride. My daughter took a snowboard lesson at Cooper last season while my sons were competing in a ski race. The instructors are low-key and the price is right. For $99, she had an all-day group lesson, lift ticket and a lunch of chicken fingers.
She only had three kids in her group, which made it practically semi-private. And she got to throw snowballs at the director of the ski school. Compare that price to the more than $200 price tag for a kids’ group lesson at mega destination resorts and you can see it’s a bargain.
The wide apron that spreads out in the learning zone is long and tilted at just the perfect angle. You can see it all right from the top floor of the lodge. While we sat sipping coffee, my husband and I could watch my daughter making her heelside turns. Toeside turns? Another day.
Ultimately everyone was happy thanks to the snowboard lesson. The boys had their race; my husband and I had our skiing and spectating, and Anya had a homespun combo of TLC, instruction, and generally fun and silliness that only a snowboard instructor can deliver.
During World War II, Cooper was the training site for the 10th Mountain Division, which was based at nearby Camp Hale. We stopped by the 10th Mountain Division memorial at the entrance to the ski area to read about the soldiers who cut the first tails at Cooper for training, their pivotal role in World War II and eventually the impact that many of those soldiers had on the ski industry when they came back to Colorado after the war. It gave us the opportunity to add a teachable moment to a day of on-snow learning.
It’s refreshing that you can pull into the lot at Cooper, unload your gear and walk to the lift. No shuttle bus. No $25 parking fee. It’s the kind of lot that people ski through to their cars at day’s end. I, for one, think it’s unwise to ski over parking lot snow, all speckled with gravel, but somehow it warms my heart to see others doing it.
Granted, you won’t find Crested Butte or Telluride style steeps and cliff drops here. The terrain at Cooper is defined by modest pitches. However, most visitors here seem to stick to the groomers. We have always found pockets of untracked snow in the trees.
Cooper also has a snowcat operation that runs on Chicago Ridge, 2,600 acres of powder skiing in bowls and glades that span the Continental Divide above the mountain’s lift-served trails. Accessed by the snowcat, runs drop 1,400 feet on 30-degree slopes. It’s some very whoop-worthy, affordable, unpretentious snowcat-accessed powder skiing.
Leadville’s Close By
We’ve always stayed in Leadville, just down the road from Cooper. This mountain town has its own brand of unpretentious charm. Every winter, they bring in tons of snow and snowcats to cover Harrison Avenue, Leadville’s main drag. The temporary strip of snow plays host a ski-joring competition, where horses pull cowboys on skis at high speeds down the street. The skiers then launch off jumps built along the way. That, my friends, is extreme skiing.
Here you can also dive into an enormous prime rib under an 1800s pressed tin ceiling at Quincy’s. A great big steak—not sushi or French cuisine—is the perfect capper to a day spent at Cooper.