Day Three: Ski Cooper
If you like history, Ski Cooper’s your cup of tea. The first ski tracks likely came from silver miners who crawled all over the slopes of the Continental Divide in the late 1800s, when Leadville was home to some 40,000 residents. During World War II, the famous 10th Mountain Division ski troops set up training just below the Continental Divide in Pando. A major training ground was the slopes and bowls off Chicago Ridge, which was to become Ski Cooper after the war. A shrine for the ski troops sits at the entrance to the mountain—right on the top of 10,424-foot Tennessee Pass.
The gentle slopes of Ski Cooper are perfect for cruising corduroy. Photo Courtesy of Ski Cooper.
Ski Cooper is the smallest of its Continental Divide compatriots and the only one that doesn’t lift-serve to the Divide. Like Wolf Creek and Monarch, it doesn’t boast a base area full of fancy hotels with hot tubs and gourmet restaurants. Rather, it’s a family-oriented, local ski area with a dirt parking lot and base lodge built to serve, not impress. The ski and snowboard school is geared toward the young, with plenty of level, smooth terrain off a carpet and mid-way unloading off the Buckeye Platter poma. Even the bottom-to-top 10th Mtn. Chair feeds into some of the gentlest novice runs around, but it also gives access to a trio of long blues on skier’s left and a couple of expert runs including Pando, a classic expert right-under-the-lift exhibition blaster.
It’s on the backside where things get more interesting. Slide down the ridge off the top of 10th Mtn. and you’ve got your choice of a half-dozen black diamonds that feed into the base of the Piney Basin triple chair. A few cycles can get you over to Corkscrew near the ski area boundary. On your ride up, look to the left and that’s the Continental Divide in all its 12,600-foot glory. Undoubtedly you’ll see tracks up there—and you’ll want to make your own.
Ski Cooper features plenty of beginner-level terrain and is great for families. Photo Courtesy of Ski Cooper.
That’s where Chicago Ridge snowcats come into play—and why you’ll have to stay around for another day. For a daily rate of $275 per person, skiers and riders get 10-12 runs of up to 1,500 vertical feet off the top of the Divide down to tree line. The day begins at 9 a.m. and includes a lunch and après-ski session at a yurt on the ridge. Reservations are a must and can be made here.
After all that, it’s a short coast down to I-70 and back to civilization. If your jones for Divide skiing or riding isn’t satisfied, there’s still Arapahoe Basin and Loveland Ski Area on the way back to Denver. Oh, and when you pass the exit for Winter Park, give a nod to Berthoud Ski Area, one of the original Divide areas that is no longer.