P is for Panda

There are five things I love about Ski Cooper: Pandas, powder, platoons, close-in parking, and prime rib nearby. It’s the perfect place to learn to ski and snowboard, get a dose of history, have an untracked adventure in a low-key way, and cap it all of with a mighty steak.

See that flat run in the background: Perfect terrain for learners.

See that flat run in the background: Perfect terrain for learners.

Pandas

My daughter was trudging up the stairs at Ski Cooper when she made a wish.

“I wish I was a panda,” said Anya.

Just then I saw a small skier with a numbered bib with the words “Panda Express” printed on it. Perfect, I thought. Wish granted. I had planned to put her in the ski and ride school at Ski Cooper to learn to snowboard anyway.

When Anya said she wanted to be a Panda, it was really about not walking up stairs.

When Anya said she wanted to be a Panda, it was really about not walking up stairs.

Anya wanted to be a panda, I learned, because in the movie Kung Fu Panda III, pandas don’t take the stairs. At Ski Cooper, pandas do take the stairs.  I’m still counting it as a wish fulfilled by me.

I recently sang the praises suffering long hours on the bunny slope to eventually, a decade later, ski double black-diamond chutes with your kids. Our kids now rip all over the mountain. It’s fabulous. What I hadn’t foreseen was a return to green circles. I was sure our days on the Magic Carpet were behind us. But here we were.

With our daughter in a snowboard lesson, we could watch this fella ski race. More cowbells!

With our daughter in a snowboard lesson, we could watch this fella ski race. More cowbells!

So I was all about the pandas. This time, we’d leave the teaching to the professionals. Ski and ride school meant that my husband and I could take a few runs together on Cooper’s backside (somehow we haven’t skied together all season) and we could watch our two boys ski race. Sitting on the sidelines of a a ski race is torture for my daughter. “I’m sooooo bored,” is the oft repeated phrase.

For $99 (a bargain compared with $249 at Sun Valley, $248 at Deer Valley, and $250 at Vail), Anya had an all-day group lesson, lift ticket, rentals, and a lunch of chicken fingers included. 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.

Ski Cooper is a perfect place to learn to ride or ski. 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 top floor of the lodge. While we sat sipping coffee, my husband and I could watch Anya making her heelside (to heelside to heelside) turns.

At the end of the day, everyone was happy. And the snowboard lesson was the linchpin. The boys had their race; we had our skiing and spectating; and Anya had a homespun combo of TLC, instruction, and the general silliness that only a snowboard instructor can deliver.

Apres ski at the 10th Mountain Division memorial at the base of Ski Cooper

Apres ski at the 10th Mountain Division memorial at the base of Ski Cooper

Platoons

Before heading home, we stopped by the 10th Mountain Division memorial at the entrance to Ski Cooper. Anya is studying Colorado history in elementary school so it was the perfect educational capper to the day. At the memorial, we read about the soldiers who cut the first trails at Cooper for training, their pivotal role in World War II and 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 learning.

It wasn't a powder day, but we found untracked anyway.

It wasn’t a powder day, but we found untracked anyway.

Powder

Most skiers at Cooper seem to stick to the groomers. Every time I’ve been, I always seem to find pockets of untracked in the trees. And if that’s not enough, Ski Cooper has a snowcat operation that runs on Chicago Ridge, 2,600 acres of powder skiing in bowls and glades that span the Continental Divide. Runs drop 1,400 feet on 30-degree slopes. It’s not Valdez, but it can be some very whoop-worthy affordable, unpretentious powder skiing. (I wrote about Chicago Ridge in Skiing Mag many moons ago; click here for the story.)

Parking Lot

I love that you can pull into the lot at Ski Cooper and unload your lunch cooler and ski gear and walk to the lift. No shuttle bus. No pricey close-in parking fee. And it’s the kind of lot that people ski right to their cars at day’s end. (Not that I, for one, like to ski over snow speckled with gravel, but it somehow warms my heart to see others doing it.)

A snowcat smooths out main street for skijoring outside Quincy's steakhouse in Leadville.

A snowcat smooths out main street for skijoring outside Quincy’s steakhouse in Leadville.

Prime Rib

The only thing that could have made the day more excellent would have been to dive into a giant prime rib under an 1800s pressed tin roof at a restaurant where you can have anything you like on Saturday nights as long as it’s prime rib. Quincy’s on Harrison Avenue, Leadville’s main drag, has filet mignon Sunday through Thursday and prime rib Fridays and Saturdays. A vegetarian’s nightmare.

For us meatatarians, the steak-fest coupled with a sighting of a snowcat smoothing out the snow on Harrison Ave—our trip to Leadville and Ski Cooper happened to coincide with the town’s annual ski-joring festival—made for a memorable family weekend.

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