When the U.S. Army was training the ski troopers who would help take down Hitler’s Germany, it chose an 11,700-foot hill near Leadville. Today that hill is known as Ski Cooper, one of Colorado’s most family-friendly ski areas. It’s not very large, just 400 acres, with 4 chairs, so parents can let the kids ski on their own. There aren’t steep chutes or epic cliff jumps, but skiers also won’t encounter long lift lines or steep prices. Without crowds, the all-natural snow takes longer to get tracked out as well. This is how skiing used to be.
“I won’t lie. Ski Cooper has always bored me. I consider myself an expert skier, and there just isn’t the terrain to satisfy my itch. Then in January 2016, I booked a seat on the Chicago Ridge snowcat. It hadn’t snowed in more than a week, but we still had a day of incredible fresh tracks over and over again, on the kind of backcountry terrain that made me feel like a skier in a Warren Miller film. I’m still smiling nine months later.”
- This is a great mountain for families with young children. They can learn or hone their skills in a low-stress environment and they won’t get lost or wind up at the wrong base area, because there’s only one.
- Expert skiers won’t find much to challenge themselves at Ski Cooper. But Chicago Ridge is a different story. The ski area operates a snowcat to this backcountry terrain high above the ski area, 2,600 acres of thrilling alpine bowls. It’ll cost you $350, but you’ll have the kind of powder day you’ve only dreamed of.
- A Ski Cooper season pass includes days at several other smaller Colorado ski areas, so you don’t have to live in Leadville to be a pass-holder. Many families make the long drive from Colorado Springs to ski here.
Recommended season(s): December to March.
—R. Scott Rappold