As soon as you head west of Denver on Interstate 70, the scenery transforms. Steel and concrete morph into pine and granite, and the front range of the Rockies fills the windshield. WATCH FOR WILDLIFE, cautions a yellow sign; bighorn sheep, pushed from the peaks by heavy snows, casually gaze through a curlicue of horn at the cars streaming by.
By the time you reach Dillon 60 miles later, you’ve nearly climbed to the roof of the Rockies. Summit County sidles up against the Continental Divide, spiked with peaks and elevations that range from 8,000 to 14,000 feet. Its ample dry snows, top-notch ski areas and picturesque resort towns—all linked by the free Summit Stage bus system—make this region a no-brainer for winter sports fans.
Wedged between behemoths Vail and Breckenridge, Copper Mountain is favored by Denverites but is still a sleeper to much of North America. Once you ski or ride there, you’ll hope it stays that way. Lovely fall-line cruisers go on forever, fringed with glades and powder stashes. High-alpine bowls crown the peaks like rough-cut diamonds.
Like the old ad slogan, Copper Mountain just tries harder. A well-designed network of high-speed lifts makes it easy to move around the mountain. Beginner and intermediate runs are impeccably groomed, as is the 22-foot half-pipe, the new Olympic standard. On weekends, a snowcat offers rides—free with a valid lift ticket!—up double-diamond Tucker Mountain.
At the end of the day, skiers and riders glide seamlessly onto sundecks that skirt the entire base. Copper Mountain doesn’t really qualify as a town—it has Frisco for that, six miles down the road—but it exudes a happy vibe, with live music, bonfires, festivals and torchlight parades. It quickly feels like a friendly community, where you wave and smile at newly familiar faces.
That makes Copper great for families. Along with its tubing hill and terrain parks, the resort offers loads of programs for kids—all within walking distance—including pizza-making night at a pizzeria, Bricks 4 Kidz (LEGO activities) and the Cage, a teen lounge with table tennis and video games. Frisco’s Peninsula Recreation Area offers dinner sleigh rides, an acclaimed Nordic ski center and the Frisco Adventure Park, with tubing, a terrain park and a day lodge.
But good luck dragging your kids away from the indoor ski and snowboard training facility, Woodward at Copper. “The Barn” has trampolines, rails and synthetic-snow ramps that launch riders into giant pits filled with foam blocks—a good testing ground before trying tricks on snow. One-day camps and shorter sessions let participants learn at their own pace.
Bricks 4 Kidz: 112 Village Square, Copper Mountain, CO 80443; 970-668-2715
Frisco’s Peninsula Recreation Area: Two Below Zero; 970-453-1520
Nordic ski center: 970-668-0866
Frisco Adventure Park: 970-668-2558; townoffrisco.com
Woodward at Copper: 970-968-3400; woodwardatcopper.com
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.