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Editor’s note: This winter, we’re honoring five Colorado resorts celebrating milestone anniversaries, including Copper Mountain, Vail Ski Resort, Eldora Mountain, Steamboat Ski Resort, and Telluride Ski Resort. Read more about their history, hear from their fans, and learn how you can join in on the fun.
Millenia after ancestors of the Utes and other Shoshone people roamed the land, centuries after the first non-native Americans pulled trout from its waters, and decades after the Gold Rush brought miners looking to strike it rich, a ranger with the U.S. Forest Service surveyed the stretch of ground known as Tenmile Canyon. Pointing out its steeper eastern slopes, its more approachable terrain in the middle, and its gentle angle on the western side, the official deemed the acreage ideal for one thing. “They said if there was one national forest area that would be perfect for a ski resort, it would be Copper Mountain because of how the terrain is already shaped,” says Loryn Roberson, senior communications manager at Copper Mountain Ski Resort.
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That assessment happened in 1952. Thirty years later, on December 5, 1972, Copper Mountain welcomed the masses for the first time to its so-called “perfect” terrain. Chuck Lewis’ vision of a guest-focused resort that likewise treated its employees well opened with five lifts servicing 22 trails on 26 miles of skiable terrain. There were also ski school amenities, a nursery, and warming pits to elevate the skier experience. “From day one, Copper was all about guest service,” says Chris Colman, who worked at the resort for 49 years. “For Chuck Lewis, who was the president of the company that first decade, guest service was just a continued emphasis.”
Now offering 24 lifts, more than 155 marked trails, and 2,507 skiable acres, it’s clear Copper has grown considerably over the past 50 years. Known as the “athlete’s mountain,” it’s hosted major events like the U.S. National Alpine Championships, the Winter Dew Tour, and the Grand Prix, as well as notable athletes like Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White, and Bode Miller. Today, it’s also the training ground for Olympians like Mikaela Shiffrin and hopefuls like Brian Rice.
Despite all of the change, Copper remains committed to offering podium-seekers and first-timers alike a great day on the slopes. “That was Chuck Lewis’ whole dream,” Roberson says. “He wanted to treat the community and the employees like family, and I think Copper does a really good job of still doing that today.”
How to Celebrate
Many events are still in the works (including a big celebration this spring) with dates and details still being confirmed. Still, guests can get in on the anniversary-themed fun all season long with an assortment of specials and on- and around-mountain sights. When shredding under the gondola, keep your eyes peeled (and camera ready) for this Easter egg: a single gondy cabin wrapped with the anniversary logo. For another Insta-worthy photo op, collect your crew at the base of the superpipe in Center Village and snap some pics in front of the commemorative 50th anniversary snow sculpture, which stands an impressive 20 feet tall and 50 feet wide.
Down in Center and East Villages, head to Camp Hale Outfitters for a grab-and-go custom 50th anniversary milk or white chocolate bar (also available at Jack’s Slopeside Grill, West Village Café, and the Conoco gas station). Or, stay and sip a while with a festive “50 Sent” golden ale by 10 Barrel Brewing or a “Snow Drifty Fifty,” a rosemary-forward cocktail made with RumChata, vodka, ginger beer, and a touch of lime. Both bevvies can be enjoyed at Ten Mile Tavern, JJ’s Rocky Mountain Tavern, and Sawmill Pizza & Taphouse. If you’re looking for a good read (or perhaps a gift for your favorite history buff), snag the coffee table-style book, Copper Mountain Resort: Fifty Years of Fortitude by Tim Nicklas, which recounts the resort’s history. It’s available at Camp Hale Outfitters in Center Village.
One Run to Try
Pay homage to Copper’s founder and visionary, Chuck D. Lewis, with a lap on CDL’s Trail #20, a black diamond run accessed from East Village via the Super Bee lift or Center Village via the American Eagle and Excelerator lifts. Experts will dig the trail’s wide expanse and steep angle, perfect for linking tight, zippy turns or flowy, graceful S’s—your choice.
Where to Stay
Book a stay at Element 29 or one of the apartment-style condos, townhomes, and upscale private homes. Though these lodging options aren’t a part of Copper’s official 50th celebration, guests will be close to the action given their convenient location—most are just steps away from chairlifts, restaurants, retail shops, and 50th anniversary-related activities.
Copper, in the Eyes of a Local Legend
Back in the spring of 1971, Chris Colman had his girlfriend, Andi, by his side as he drove his 1966 Volkswagen Microbus from Vermont to California’s Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. A former ski racer who often helped with his family’s construction business, he had his sights set on a job with their ski patrol. Fate intervened.
The couple’s shabby ride broke down in Vail, an inconvenience for sure, but thankfully Colman had a couple buddies living in town who let them crash for what was supposed to be just a few nights. When the VW’s repairs cost more than Colman had in his wallet, he inquired just over Vail Pass in Wheeler Junction, where he’d heard a big construction project was underway. “The guy hired me on the spot,” Colman says.
The construction project was Copper Ski Area, and Colman spent all summer cutting ski trails. “That was the start of my career there,” he says. “It was never a plan to stay in the ski business, but I decided it was a lot of fun and hung around for 49 years.”
Over those years, Colman wore a lot of hats. He held roles as a construction supervisor, winter ski lift supervisor, director of operations, and director of village operations. He also worked with the lodge company and with the real estate development group before retiring in 2020 from his position as an environment and real estate planner.
Though he calls Copper Mountain “a very special place” geographically, it was the resort’s commitment to its guests—instilled by its first president, Chuck Lewis—that kept him there. The resort was one of the first to have a “bubble” to protect guests on the long-gone F lift on “really nasty days,” Colman says. Its restaurants were some of the first in the ski industry to use the now-common “scramble system,” where guests can pick up any food items they want rather than wait in a single (slow-moving) line.
And when Copper’s parking lots were moved farther away from the base area in the late ’70s and early ’80s, resort officials invented the customized buses we all use today with low floors to facilitate easier navigation in ski boots, Colman says. “It’s been pretty darn cool to watch all of it roll out as the company grew and the mountain grew,” he adds. “It’s been amazing to see how that [customer-focused] philosophy has held through throughout all those years.”