Thursday, April 17, 2014

Colorado Capers


Struck Gold at Copper! Louise Hudson getting first tracks in the Enchanted Forest at Copper Mountain on April 14
Photo credit: Simon Hudson
I'm blogging from Denver right now, having just had five stupendous spring skiing days at Breckenridge and Copper Mountain. I'm in Colorado researching for ski stories for The Dallas Morning News and culinary travel tales for  Eat Drink Travel magazine. The Mile High City looks interesting, but right now I'm still high on my spring skiing experiences!

Day 1 and 2:

Staying at One Ski Hill Place in Breckenridge gave me a taste of cushy Colorado condo ownership, right on the ritzy hill. This is the ultimate ski in/out decadence with designer apartments, topnotch interior design, a zen-like spa area with a gorgeous indoor pool as well as outdoor hot tubs and all the steam room and massage facilities you would expect from a top resort. They like to surprise you there with extra touches such as free Starbucks or iced water at various junctures around the resort and eager-to-please ski valets who persuade you not to carry your own skis the few yards from the locker room to the snow.
One Ski Hill Place, Breckenridge
With a wide range of eateries and coffee bars, One Ski Hill Place borders the chairlift at the base of Peak 8 with views over the immense terrain parks. There are free shuttles as well as shuttle-on-command service to help you explore downtown Breck and the other satellite residential areas. Sevens at Peak 7 is close, a great place for lunch, apres ski or dinner. And downtown is really worth a visit with its beautiful buildings dating back to the 19th century gold rush.
Breckenridge: Bob Winsett
Although retaining their historic facades, these boom town buildings are now repurposed as upscale shops, trendy boutiques, restaurants, apres ski bars and services. They have been carefully restored and painted in pretty pastels or bright-coloured hues, making window shopping a kaleidoscope experience. And, of course, now there are several marijuana shops dotted around town to enhance the novelty of the picture postcard town. Although dining can be very upscale - and pricey - in Breck, happy hours offer great deals such as free nachos and salsa at Mi Casa and $10 mussels at Modis.

With an incredibly high altitude of 12,998 feet (3,963 metres), the skiing at Breck is vast and varied with 34 lifts serving its 2,908 acres. The towering peaks of the "Fourteeners" (surrounding mountains all over 14,000 feet high) ensure that Breckenridge has fabulous snow all season. And because of the huge accumulation this winter - 435 inches so far - Breck is extending its season until April 27. Over the next two weekends, the Spring Fever concert series combines skiing all day with live music and dancing in the late afternoon sunshine.

Glade skiing at Breckenridge: Carl Scofield
My favorite area to ski was The Burn off the Falcon chair where you can dip into exhilarating tree runs, find powder stashes long after snowfalls, and end up at the Ten Mile Station patio where you can relax on Adirondacks, watching the world whizz by. It's also great fun exploring the intermediate bowls and steeper hike-to areas at Peak 6 - with 550 new skiable acres, it is the biggest American ski hill expansion for a decade.

Day 3,4, and 5:

Whereas Breckenridge is well-known as part of Vail Resorts' portly portfolio, neighbouring Copper Mountain has a somewhat lower profile internationally. For those of you who have never skied there, I'm sharing a Colorado secret with you! I found out about it a few years back when Pete Seel, a professor at Colorado State University, told me that he chooses to ski there. "It's definitely the more affordable place to ski in Colorado, especially when you have the family in tow," he says. "It's our favorite area in Summit County and the good news is that the huge snow pack led Copper to plan to stay open for an extra week, so we'll get to ski there more this season."

Copper Mountain Village: Tripp Fay
This was my first visit and I stayed at Tucker Mountain Lodge, a virtually ski-in/out complex of rustically-furnished condos in the Center Village. Bordering on the main chair lifts, the village - much bigger than I expected - is intersected by a river and centered around a lake, surrounded by pathways and bridges and traversed by a zipline. The paved streets have underground heating and they are dotted with shops as well as apres ski bars and restaurants with heated patios - and, better still, very affordable happy hours.

Creating the half pipe at Copper Mountain: Tripp Fay
There are events all season long, including Sunsation which was on when I arrived - complete with pool party, Teenie Weenie Bikini contest and live bands. There are five different terrain parks/pipes plus an extensive tubing hill with four lanes, banked turns and jumps, zipline, ice-skating and the impressive Woodward Barn with its state-of-the-art indoor training facilities.

Copper's 23 lifts access really long, cruisy runs at lower mountain and challenging bowls, chutes and glades above - with less crowds than some of the big name resorts. In fact, in springtime it is just locals and workers who track out the snow. With 2,465 acres and a summit height of  12,313 feet, Copper Mountain was much bigger and higher than I expected.

Gorgeous Glades at Copper Mountain: Tripp Fay
Resorts these days don't offer much in the way of free activities beyond the usual guided mountain tours. But Copper has a free snowcat service into in-bounds backcountry-style terrain in Tucker Bowl. What a great opportunity to try out catskiing without the usual price tag! Disappointingly, it was closed when I was there. But it turned out it didn't matter: it snowed all day and night as I arrived and my first ski day was the ultimate powder day with surprisingly wintry temps keeping the pow cool and light all day long. Even the day-old powder next day was relatively light due to overnight cold.

Turns out my snow-dar was spot on, too, as I managed to head straight to the locals' caches for first tracks in the Enchanted Forest and also Union Meadows the first morning. These areas stayed soft and light for two days and on day three I woke up to pow-duroy: my word for a light layer of powder atop groomed corduroy snow. What a fabulous way to end the season!

I'll send you links to my Breck and Copper articles for The Dallas Morning News in early fall. By the way, I have now skied 42 days this season, which I think might be a record for someone living in South Carolina!
Copper Mountain: Tripp Fay

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