Cooper, Not Copper

Every time I tell people I’m heading to Ski Cooper, they say, “Cooper? You mean Copper, right?” While we ski a fair amount at Copper, my kids often have ski races at Ski Cooper, which is about 10 miles down the road from Leadville and far enough off the I-70 to feel a world away.

My daughter: a tad out of place with the fur-trimmed hood at Ski Cooper.

My daughter: a tad out of place with the fur-trimmed hood at Ski Cooper. Photo by Helen Olsson


I spent two weekends at Ski Cooper this season. And after skiing at Aspen, Vail, and Breckenridge, here are a few things that stand out: People don’t use those fancy store-bought ski-specific harnesses to control their kids on the slopes. They use a 20-foot length of thick rope. The kind rope you might lasso a wild horse with. Nobody’s here to valet your skis for you overnight or to hand you a tissue if your nose is running. The lift operator has hair past his shoulders and a name tag that reads “Lift Ninja.” And at day’s end, folks just ski right through the sloping parking lot to their cars.

Instead of escalators down to the bathrooms, the lodge has a steep staircase that’s narrower than the steps down to a 1970s basement. Surely it wouldn’t pass code today. You have to sort of turn sideways in your ski boots when you meet someone on the stairs. The ride up the main double chairlift, named for the 10th Mountain, which trained here in the 1940s for WWII, is somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours. It was so quiet and peaceful, I nearly fell asleep on the way up, I am not kidding. The lack of a frenetic pace also means you can get fresh tracks at 2 p.m. In a nut, Ski Cooper is a no frills throwback kind of place.

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Powder frenzy at Ski Cooper, 2 p.m. Credit: Ski Cooper

Miners on Skis

While my son was inspecting the course for his second run, I rode up the lift with Henry Tuxhorn, a miner who was one of the few workers not laid off from the Climax Mine in 1986, when the company went from 3,000 to 300 employees, devastating the town of Leadville. Henry was quick to tell me the reason he has boot heaters in his telemark boots is only because he has a pinched disk that leaves his left leg cold. Otherwise the hardscrabble skier wouldn’t think of utilizing such a high-tech luxury gadget. “This is not a fancy pants kind of place,” said Henry.

After my son’s race, we took a run on the Piney Basin triple chair, where we ran into Henry again. At Ski Cooper you run into the same people all day because there are only nine of you. On the lift, Henry told us the uses of molybdenum, which is mined at Climax. It’s a lubricant but also what makes the Japanese Samurai sword so strong. When he’s not working on the mine’s electrical system, Henry is here at Cooper some 50 days a year. “Not as much as I’d like,” he told us.

Perfect Learning Venue

Ski Cooper is not a fancy pants place. Credit: Ski Cooper

Ski Cooper is not a fancy pants place. It’s more of a frozen beard and black pants place.
Credit: Ski Cooper

We were at Ski Cooper for ski races, but clearly the mountain would be the ideal spot to bring kids (or adults) for reasonably priced lessons. In the liftline (and I use the term “line” pretty loosely here; there are virtually no lines at Cooper), I met another friendly fellow—who happened to be wearing a bear backpack. We hit it off immediately, given my last blog post was on skiing with a stuffed bear on my back. He told me that both his daughters learned to ski and ride at Cooper. “Rentals are only $18 a day for kids,” he said. “We’d rent skis in the morning and snowboards in the afternoon.”

An all-day group lesson for kids cost only $95 (including lift ticket and rentals). At resorts like Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, and Vail, group lessons can run more than twice that price, and you still have to get rentals. An adult all-day ticket is $47; kids are $27. Those are prices circa mid 1990s at the major ski resorts.

Now it’s true that the terrain here is mellow. Ski Cooper, admittedly, has some flat spots. But when your kindergartener is learning to ski, it’s not like they’re ready to drop cliffs in the Extreme Limits at Crested Butte or huck themselves into Corbet’s at Jackson.


After we left Henry, my son and I skied through the bumps and trees, catching pockets of fresh tracks all the way down. On the ride back up, we talked about molybdenum, the race, and school. The laid-back pace of Cooper gave us time to connect. Which brings up another point: we were also blissfully unplugged, because when you travel back in time, you don’t get cell reception.

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The main chair at Cooper is not high speed. It’s not a quad. It will, however, transport you back in time. Credit: Ski Cooper

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  1. Nice Helen.

    I worked with a 10th Mountain Veteran, but have never skied there!

  2. Thanks for sharing such an amazing day with us! We hope you’ll get to ski with us again next year!

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