My Favorite Things: Copper and A-Basin
Story & photos by David McKay Wilson
On our first night at 9,700 feet at Copper Mountain, John Coltrane’s soulful rendition of “My Favorite Things” wafted over the sound system as we split a couple of tasty wood-fired pizzas at JJ’s Tavern in East Village.
It seemed an appropriate tune for a mid-December trip to ski the steeps in Colorado’s Summit County, where snow before Christmas had dumped so much fluff in the high peaks that vast above-timberline terrain was open for late-autumn cruising.
Copper is one my favorite Colorado ski resorts, dating back to my first visit in the late 80s when heli-skiing was a thing there. We also spent a day at Arapahoe Basin, where almost 500 acres of new terrain opened this year, adding to the mystique at one of Colorado’s iconic mountains, which is now among its most affordable, especially for families with young children.
For those of you keeping track – and that’s important in today’s mega-pass ski world with $200 lift tickets during holiday periods – Copper is on the Ikon pass while A-Basin is linked to the Epic pass.
Another one of my favorite things?
Chasing my son and his college roommate down the mountains and through the wooded glades, which had already received over eight feet of snow, including the six inches that fell a day before we arrived, and was piled up, untouched, in the glades.
And what could be better than staying in Center Village, where we had a well-appointed two-bedroom condo at Copper One, right above Jack’s Slopeside Grill & Bar. We even had a commanding view of the Burning Stones Plaza, where an indie rock quartet cranked it up Saturday afternoon, and we listened from our window perch.
The early season had been good to Copper, which we quickly learned once we began our exploration. It didn’t take long before the boys led me down Triple Threat, one of those Copper bump runs that go on and on for seemingly ever. Then it was another mogul-filled trailed called Too Much, which, it turned out, wasn’t.
Our second day was even better, after learning that the Ski Patrol intended that morning to drop the ropes on the Copper Bowl. It’s one of the perks of skiing before Christmas when the resorts hold off opening certain lifts until just before the holidays.
We arose early like kids wanted to see what Santa had left as an early Christmas present. With two of the lifts down that morning, it took two hikes and two lifts to reach the summit before the Ski Patrol arrived.
When they did, we were among a handful of powder hounds who descended through untouched powder all the way through Union Bowl to the Mountain Chief lift. We then proceeded to ski several laps down through the bowls on an unexpected powder day. It was one of those magical mornings, with nary a line, and untouched lines all along the steep bowl and meadow below.
As if the thrills weren’t enough in the powder, the boys had their eyes on the Rocky Mountain Coaster, the four-season mini-roller coaster that operates in Center Village. For $25, you get a 5-minute ride up, and a hair-raising 3-minute ride swooping down through the spruce forest. There are brakes on the single-person cars, but I didn’t touch it, to experience the full force of the turns. It was a sign that the 20-somethings were still kids. And Dad held on for dear life.
Family ski vacations teach you how to roll with the punches because you can never remember everything. No reason to panic, especially in a place like Copper.
My son had forgotten his ski pants – those hand-me-down Burton’s I’d passed along while he was in high school. On the first day, he skied in his workout tights – an outfit that recalled my ski attire in the mid-80s. On the second night, we headed down to Frisco, just six miles down I-70, to buy a pair. We shopped Breeze, Pioneer Sports, and finally Epic Mountain Gear, where my son found his Christmas present – a pair of North Face pants, which just happened to be on sale.
The bonus at Epic Mountain Gear was a dinner recommendation – Hacienda Real – which was packed with locals and tourists. Where else can you get a margarita for $5.95 and burritos so big we had enough for lunch the next day?
Staying at Copper provides numerous opportunities for skiing, with Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail and Arapahoe Basin all within a half-hour’s drive.
On Sunday, we arrived at A-Basin at 9 a.m. The place was abuzz. The Colorado parents I spoke to in line at guest services explained its allure.
You get an adult season’s pass for $379, with kids costing just $279 for seven months of skiing, at an area whose base starts at 10,800 feet. In addition, kids under 12 get two free tickets a year.
This fall, A-Basin christened its newest lift – a high-speed quad that serves the groomers and glades in an area called the Beavers, which that locals skied for decades. We were led down the new terrain by lift operations manager Louis Skowyra. He’s the man who took a crew of 25 men and women that hiked up each day this summer to clear out the glades, and remove selected trees.
The Forest Service would allow up to 20 percent of the trees to come down, but Skowyra’s team only took 5 percent, which left enough room for turns while preserving the evergreen forest canopy.
It’s worth splurging for lunch at A-Basin’s Black Mountain Lodge, halfway up the hill, with a commanding view of The Wall, where intrepid skiers descend later in the season. A half-rack of spicy St. Louis ribs, with a pile of waffle fries, kept me fueled for our final afternoon.
While the new glades beckoned, we found the best snow on A-Basin’s signature run and my favorite there – Pallavicini. There, we skied the steeps to our heart’s content. Palli’s big bumps, which were spaced just so, were crowned with forgiving piles of powder.
We skied together, up and down, up and down, until the sun was low in the mid-December sky.
David McKay Wilson, a veteran journalist who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, is an avid cyclist, skier and swing dancer. His travel writing has taken him around the world, with his work appearing in the Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Hartford Courant, and several Gannett daily newspapers.