by Mikaela Ruland
I grew up skiing Copper Mountain.
Back then, the days looked a little bit different. I’d awkwardly stumble through the parking lot, carrying the whole family’s poles as my mom kept my sister upright and my dad precariously balanced four pairs of skis in his arms.
Hot cocoa breaks were frequent, runs were fueled by the fruit snacks my mom kept in her jacket pocket and the day would inevitably break down into my sister and I taking solo runs on Timberline’s groomers while my parents watched from the lawn chairs outside of T-Rex Grill, wearily sipping a beer.
After a several year hiatus to slopes on the east side of the Eisenhower Tunnel, we returned to skiing Copper when I was eighteen.
Twenty three years after those first runs on the bunny hill, a day at Copper looks a little different now.
We hate sitting in traffic, so we leave Denver long before the sun rises. My dad always DJs and it’s always classic rock. We watch the first streaks of pink light up the sky to Aerosmith and Ozzie.
Sometimes, my husband comes along, or a friend, but the best days are when it’s just me and my dad.
The perfect balance of leaving early enough to avoid traffic, but late enough to get to the slopes at a reasonable hour always eludes us. We pull into the parking lot of the Frisco Whole Foods and remember, as we always do too late, that the store opens at 8am. We troll the streets of Summit County for coffee and breakfast burritos before ending up in Alpine One, still half an hour early, and listen to more music.
We always procrastinate facing the cold for too long, and never get the first chair, but that’s okay.
A day at Copper always starts in East Village. We take the Super Bee up and dip over the edge to “warm up” on Resolution’s double diamond face. The southern facing slopes get the early morning sun, making it one of the warmest places on the mountain first thing. Those beautiful southern bumps also start to soften early, so we get tracks in on our favorite runs before the rocks and stumps start melting their way through.
Though I know the mountain as well as he at this point, I always let my dad choose the runs: I love skiing the entire mountain.
We take the T-Bar up the mountain, our height difference landing the bar on the back of his knees and in the small of my back.
From there, we usually pop into the Enchanted Forest, looking for the stashed powder that hangs around days after a storm. Sometimes we’ll traverse to Copper Bowl to see if the snowcat is running up Tucker Mountain, but more often than not, we’ll grit our teeth over icy slopes and swear we’ll never come back unless it’s a powder day*.
“Keep up your speed!” my dad yells, as we pop out of the trees and attempt to make it to the base of Sierra Lift. Sometimes I don’t listen and end up huffing and puffing up the hill and then across the bottom of the bowl.
Despite my perennial answer of “up to you!” when asked where I want to ski, we always end up at the top of Jupiter off of Sierra Lift. My dad knows this is my favorite run.
When you’ve been up since 4:30am, 10:00am suddenly become a perfectly acceptable time to drink. We take a “warm up” break mid-morning. One year, our bar of choice was Flyer’s Soup Shack. There was never any place to sit and there’s no plumbing so you have to pay for water, but it smells like belgian waffles and you make new friends quickly when you’re all pressed up against each other in a mountain hut, which is always a win.
Sometime the 10am warm-up break turns into lunch. If we stop at JJ’s at the base of Super Bee, we can’t help but order the pulled pork nachos. We were heart-broken when they disappeared from the menu for a year, but last season they made a triumphant comeback.
We’ll ski Timberline in the afternoon, when the grass umbrellas are out and the lift line feels like a tropical party. For old time’s sake.
We ski liftline, because that’s where my dad broke his shoulder, and then we’ll pay very close attention as we traverse the entire mountain in one go and end up back at the base of Super Bee.
At some point in the day, we always end up on Bouncer, off of American Eagle, and without communicating, I always ski to the bottom and serves as lookout, letting my dad know when the slopes are clear. He’ll dip down over the edge, gain speed, and attempt to jump off the lip at the top. Sometimes, I try to take pictures. It pretty much never works.
The last runs of the day, when your legs are shot and the sun is a little too warm for your jacket, are reserved for A-Lift. We’ll take a few of the longest mogul runs ever, relishing the rest as the ancient orange chair meanders up the mountain.
As previously mentioned, we really hate traffic, so we always leave the mountain by 1:30pm. If we didn’t get nachos, we usually stop at the Rio in Frisco for margs. Mine is frozen, dad’s is on the rocks. We watch the highway from the bar, making sure traffic isn’t getting too thick, and then head back to town.
Try as I might, I always fall asleep on the way home. Something about being in the car after a long ski day, Steven Tyler’s voice coming through the speakers, makes my 25-year-old-self feel like a little girl again.
If only somebody would carry my skis.
*We always come back, even when it’s not a powder day.