Colorado Quickie: A Firsthand Report 3
Author thumbnail By Matthew Graham, DCSki Columnist

$138 Roundtrip to Denver from BWI!!! Including taxes and a direct flight! I got this in my email box as an e-saver deal from United Airlines. Karen and I hadn’t really planned on going to Colorado. But for 138 bucks, how could we not? We even had a free place to stay for a couple of nights because a friend had recently moved to a town 45 minutes west of Denver. So we loaded up the ski bags on a Saturday afternoon for a Colorado Quickie.

The base area at Loveland. Photo provided by Karen Carra.

The next morning we were on the slopes of Loveland Ski Resort with our friends Allen and Stacy and their son Colton. Loveland is the “local” ski area. Allen says even on weekends it doesn’t get the crowds of the better known Colorado Resorts. Karen and I were both exhausted from the trip because we had hit the sack at 2 a.m. our time the previous night.

Author Matthew Graham at Loveland, Colorado. Photo provided by Karen Carra.

Base at Loveland is at 10,600’. Karen and I were not only tired. We were sucking wind from the get-go. Allen, AKA Sparky, showed us a few intermediate slopes to warm up. We felt almost human while skiing with gravity doing the work. Whenever we had to pole to the lift or otherwise move around, however, our oxygen starved bodies turned us into slow moving slugs. The resort has over 80 slopes, 11 lifts, a 2410’ vertical drop and 1365 skiable acres. We barely skied a tenth of the mountain in four hours on the slopes. Loveland has several distinct skiing areas and you have to use multiple lifts and specific trails to move around. Sparky told us that he hasn’t skied large sections of the mountain -; and he has a season pass and skis there almost every weekend. He really wanted to show me one of the bowls at 12,700 feet. I really wasn’t up for it. But I relented after another couple of runs. Karen wisely decided to hang down lower with Stacy and Colton.

Sparky and I arrived at the top of the lift into a snow squall and couldn’t see ten feet. Of course you couldn’t just ski down off the lift. No. You had to traverse several hundred feet to get to the bowl. I plodded along behind Sparky on the ridge crest following his silhouette and wondering how I was going to ski down the bowl in a whiteout when I could hardly breathe. Fortunately the skies cleared enough that we could see to the bottom of the bowl. I zipped down the 700’ bowl in a couple of minutes. Then we had to traverse about a quarter of a mile at 12,000’ feet to get back to the main slope. Ugh! We met back up with Karen, Stacy and Colton and all skied a few more intermediate runs before calling it a day at noon-thirty. I would have been happy to adjourn to take a nap. Sparky had other plans.

He had bought a big old traction kite and wanted to try kite skiing on a snow-covered frozen lake. Stacy and Colton returned home and Karen, Sparky and I drove a half hour west to a large lake near Keystone. Several others were already kite-skiing when we arrived. They all had small 2-3 sq. meter kites. Sparky’s kite is 9 sq. meters -; more appropriate for kite boarding on water than kite skiing. We decided to forego the skis and try foot drags. As is typical with wind sports, as soon as we laid out the kite, the wind died… and stayed dead for about 45 minutes. Finally, an approaching squall generated some wind and Sparky and I each took turns skidding across the lake on hiking boots instead of skis. As the wind strengthened I heard a small popping and cracking sound from below. And then a BOOM BOOM BOOM across the ice!!!! The ice was cracking and we hustled to shore. The other kite skiers remained as though it was no big deal. So Sparky and I ventured a little ways out onto the lake for a few more minutes of being dragged through the snow. Karen stayed put on shore. She’s smarter than us. Another loud boom, however, scared us off for good. Karen asked one of the kite-skiers near shore why they weren’t afraid of the cracking ice. He replied, “Oh. Those boomers happen all the time.” Yikes!

Sparky launches a kite on the ice. Photo provided by Karen Carra.
More kit skiing. Photo provided by Karen Carra.

We treated our hosts to dinner at a Thai restaurant in Evergreen, Colorado that evening and then went for a soak in Sparky’s new hot tub. The following morning we said our goodbyes and headed to Copper Mountain. I had found a room in a lodge next to one of the lifts for $129 a night through Orbitz. I had tried using Copper’s Web page to find lodging deals. However, their reservations page is a complete disaster -; slow, clunky, circuitous and user unfriendly.

It was snowing as we arrived. Four inches of fresh powder coated the mountain and several more inches were expected. Karen and I decided to warm up with an intermediate run. The heavy powder made for more work than we expected. And the trail was much longer than we expected. It keep going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny. Copper has 125 trails, 22 lifts, 2,433 skiable acres and a 2410’ vertical drop. I’ve skied on mountains with larger vertical drops. Somehow, however, the trails at Copper are much, much longer. Yet despite its size, it’s very easy to get from one part of the mountain to another because there are plenty of lifts that go from the base to the main summit. Above the main summit are several bowls served by separate lifts. Another nice feature is that many of the chairs on the lifts have a trail map on the restraining bar.

Matthew at Copper Mountain. Photo provided by Karen Carra.

We had somewhat acclimatized to the altitude. The base is 9,712 feet and the summit 12,313’. Still, we tired out at 3:30 after doing a handful of runs on each of the four main sections of the mountain. We never made it up to the bowls. Copper is an Intrawest Resort. Thus it has the familiar village with shops and restaurants like Snowshoe and Stratton. We strolled around and checked out the shops and then Karen got a massage at the spa while I attempted to work out. Whoo! Lifting weights at nearly 10,000’ with only one day to acclimate sure ain’t easy.

Light snow continued to fall on and off most of the evening. In the morning the skies cleared and about 60 percent of the non-bowl trails had been groomed overnight -; time for some corduroy. We started with a trio of blue cruisers on the main face: Fair Play, Foul Play and Bittersweet. Then we tried the apropos named Bouncer. While not being moguled, the uneven terrain still sent you up and down over and over again. We traversed over to the East side of the mountain for the very long Andy’s Encore trail followed by the Expert Rated Rossi’s Run. Portions of the blue slope Andy’s Encore actually seemed steeper than Rossi. Karen was still having some trouble with the altitude and didn’t want to move up to the bowls. Thus, we traversed to the West side to hop on the Noon Groomer -; American Flyer. Most days a trail is groomed late morning and opened at noon. American Flyer and the half dozen trails served by the Timberline Express lift are a few of the shorter tails, seeming very much like the slopes at Whitetail.

Grooming at Copper. Photo provided by Karen Carra.

After a couple of quick runs we returned to the main village via a long green trail….and then grabbed lunch (soup and a wrap) at the Alpinista Mountain Bistro, one of a over a dozen restaurants in the center village. With only a couple of hours left for skiing, it was quite difficult to decide where to go. I really wanted to hit the bowls and Karen wanted to stay low. So we compromised. We skied together for an hour on the main face and then Karen returned to the room -; leaving me to my own devices for the last hour of the day. As I took the American Eagle high-speed quad back up to the top, a snow squall moved in. Crap! I swooshed down Fair Play in the near white out conditions thinking that maybe the squall would move through quickly. No such luck. The bottom half of the mountain was mostly clear. The top, however, remained in thick fog and snow. I enjoyed a couple of more steep black trails, each time hoping it would clear up and then returned to the lodge. No bowls for me.

We packed up that evening and departed for home in the morning. We could have easily spent several more days at Copper. Actually, to get the most out of any of the big mountains in Colorado, you really need more than a day or two. A lot of it is just getting used to the higher altitude. And mountains like Copper are so big there’s no chance of learning the whole mountain in a couple of days. So if you ever plan a Colorado Quickie -; DON’T. Make it a Colorado Longie.

About Matthew Graham

Matthew Graham is a skier as well as a hang glider and paraglider pilot, SCUBA diver, cavern diver, equestrian, polo player, sailor, hiker, biker, rock climber, paddler, and skater. He's also yoga teacher and certified personal trainer and has dabbled in just about every other sport, even stunt car driving and bull riding! He has written for the Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine, USA Weekend Magazine, Hooked on the Outdoors, Richmond Magazine, Chesapeake Life Magazine, Metro Sports, American Fitness, Blue Ridge Outdoors, Recreation News and numerous other outdoor and travel publications.

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Reader Comments

Connie Lawn
March 19, 2007
Wonderful story and photos dear friends, Hope Charles and I have as good a time at Crested Butte. Unfortunately, it will be a lot more expensive and difficult to get to. We will report later! Connie and Charles
DCSki Reader
March 19, 2007
Thanks for the reports Matthew. Maybe try diamox next time?
John Sherwood
March 20, 2007
When I visited Peruvian Andes, I asked a travel nurse about Diamox. She said that if you have never shown any signs of altitude sickness, it is better to simply acclimatize properly than rely on Diamox every time you decide to venture above 3,000 meters. Diamox apparently has some unpleasant side-effects. The cure can be worse than the disease for some folks.

In Peru, I spent my first days in the Sacred Valley (2,800 meters) before venturing to places above 3,000 meters. The strategy worked well and I did not have any problems. Oh, and I did not drink any Coca tea because my job requires mandatory drug testing and I was told that it is possible to pop positive from Coca Tea (maybe an urban myth but I avoided the stuff nonetheless). :(

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