Going Further Afield: Ski Cooper - Old School Colorado 4
Ski Cooper, near Leadville, Colorado, is a throwback ski area to the 1960s, 70s and heck even the 1940s! Ski Cooper was the original training location of the famed 10th Mountain division during World War Two. It retains a lot of the rustic flavor of the time, but still manages to provide some fine skiing at a very low cost. It is a nice break from the mega resorts of Colorado.
Located in the Tennessee Pass at an elevation of 10,000 feet, Ski Cooper gets lots of snow. This season the snow came late which allowed Ski Cooper to stay open an extra two weeks. This worked out great for me as we arrived on closing day, which happened to be Easter day this year. My family found Ski Cooper 100% open with great conditions and fine sunshine.
The backside triple. Photo provided by Amy Allen.
The ski area has two lifts and a surface lift. The area has a distinct front and back (a la Ski Liberty). The front has 10 trails serviced by an unfortunately very slow but aptly named 10th Mountain double chair and a surface button tow. The back has 11 trails serviced by the Piney Basin Triple which is a little quicker than the lifts on the front. But don’t let the slow lifts dissuade you. The trails are great! The trails are all wide, solid blues with nice pitches. My family group of 5, aged 7-65, were well entertained all day.
The old school lodge at Cooper. Photo provided by Amy Allen.
Ski Cooper markets itself as an affordable alternative, and it sure was! I got my group of 5 on the hill for a total $82! This is much less than a lift ticket down the road. Ski Cooper markets to the locals and day trippers out of Denver and Colorado Springs. The lodge was classic old school; groups with coolers abounded. As it was the last day of the season, the staff held an on-snow cookout and welcomed all to stop by and have a hot dog or burger for free. I just can’t see that happening at Beaver Creek…
But don’t think Ski Cooper is just a place for family intermediates. Ski Cooper also offers CAT skiing on the Chicago Ridge, which looms above the resort The CATs will take skiers as high as 12,600 feet in elevation atop the Continental Divide. The slopes vary from 3,000 to 10,000 feet in length with vertical drops up to 1,400 feet per run. Of course Ski Cooper does this at a more reasonable rate than other resorts.
Closing/Gapper Day at Cooper. Photo provided by Amy Allen.
Not only was it closing day, it was Gapper Day as well. Employees were out in force having a great time. The locals and workers were out in costume having a grand time. Chinese downhill races, skiing in bikinis, etc… I liked the guy boarding in a neon one piece with a boom box blasting 80’s tunes. They were having a great time! Overall Ski Cooper was a nice change of pace, it had great snow, fun trails and fun times. If you have an extra day on your trip and are looking to ski old school at a very affordable price, you can’t go wrong.
Well done on $82 for the whole family!
Very cool Ski Cooper connection for military history buffs:
10th Mountain Division History
The following is an excerpt from an article in the March/April 1992 issue of Snow Country
(In 1942) the biggest ski school in the United States was held along the eastern slopes of Tennessee Pass in Colorado. It was organized by the U. S. Army's first mountain-infantry division, the 10th Mountain Division, which trained for World War II at Camp Hale. Its 12,000 men included ski teachers, Russo-Finnish war veterans, fur trappers, rock climbers and Jewish refugees. Thousands had never seen snow. Few had skied with pack and rifle.
After two winters, 600 instructors had been trained, more than existed in the entire United States in 1940. Recruits learned to ski with packs and rifles, walking up every run then skiing down. Sometimes an entire regiment of 4,000 men took lessons together. The amazing feat remains unduplicated. Today, there is still no resort teaching 4,000 skiers at a time on the same mountain.
The soldiers learned the "military Arlberg" ski technique, originally fashioned by Hannes Schneider to train Austrian troops in World War 1. The G.I.'s spent the first eight hours of lessons walking in their skis on flat snow. After 18 hours, they would make wide snowplow turns, requiring the tendon-stretching position that caused Southern G.I.'s to refer to their skis as "mah torture boards" After 100 hours, they finally arrived at the sliding stem Christie turn. By the time they left Camp Hale, they could ski across mountains all day and bivouac in the snow at night.
The 10th landed in Naples, Italy, at the end of 1944 and headed for the Apennine mountains. Patrols on skis led to the lOth's breakthrough of the German Army's Gothic Line. But then there was a thaw, and skis were never used again. When the 10th reached the Brenner Pass in May, it had chased the Germans faster and farther than any division in World War II. The price: 30 percent casualties, the war's highest for a military division. The men of the 10th had earned more medals than any U.S. division.
The 10th veterans became the backbone of the postwar American ski boom. To name a few: Monty Atwater went to Alta, Utah, to establish the first avalanche control with explosives. Friedl Pfeifer designed Aspen Mountain, started Aspens ski school and ran the first racing circuit. Pete Seibert was a member of the 1948 Olympic team and founded Vail. The veterans plan to gather this fall in Vail to celebrate the 50th anniversary of an extraordinary outfit.
Cooper is great, but you have to mention nearby historic and picturesque Leadville which should be visited at the same time. There is a fine community feel to Cooper with many families either working in the lodge or skiing on the hill, making it both uncrowded and friendly. It's 100% natural snow as well. It's an easy drive from the Copper Mtn exit and at the entrance is a nice monument to the 10th Mtn Div and nearby the site of Camp Hale. There are several good books and documentaries about the 10th, all well worth the time of a ski and mountain enthusiast. Thanks for dredging up Cooper, I don't often have a connection to the places you visit.
My son and I did a day with the snowcats about 15 years ago. We lucked into a strong group and got 11 runs. It was $95/day, the cheapest in the country at the time and about the same as a lift ticket today at Vail. Today it is $275 and still possibly the cheapest cat day in the country. We had a lead guide and a 2nd one who swept the rear, a 10th Mountain Div. veteran in his 80s. He took catnaps in the cat on the way back up!
I concur with Robbie Allen's comments about Ski Cooper.It's very much like what US ski areas were in decades past.It has a variety of slopes on the front and back of the mountain, most of which are very pleasant to ski. There are also some challenging runs on the backside , including two or three in the woods. I patrolled there for several years, and thanks to the kindness of 10th Mountain veterans who live and ski at the area, I became an honorary member of the 10th Mountain Division.