Ski Cooper: Now and Then
Cooper Lays Trails for Next Chapter
Double Black Diamond. Season pass holders and returning guests will be seeing these three new words on the slopes of Leadville’s Ski Cooper this season as it celebrates new terrain with the Tennessee Creek Basin (TCB) area’s Grand Opening. But for those who wonder how trail-run ratings are determined, the answer became clear at the ski area’s Annual Community Day meeting held in October 2019.
“These designations are supposed to be relative to the terrain at your mountain,” explained Ski Cooper General Manager Dan Torsell. In the beginning, there was the green circle (easiest), blue square (intermediate) and black diamond (most difficult/expert).
“As time went on, the industry wanted to attract more adventurous skiers which prompted the birth of the Double Black Diamond. You can even find a Triple Black Diamond at some resorts now,” explained Torsell, drawing nervous laughter from the dozens of attendees at the yearly gathering.
However, that rating scale created interesting determinations for Cooper’s trails over the years, designating some runs as Black Diamond when they were simply a darker shade of blue for many skiers. But this season, that will change. In fact with the addition of the 70+ acres of conventional and gladed areas with a 25-30 degree slope range, many season pass holders will find the challenging terrain that they’ve been asking for years.
“In our case,” Torsell explains, “unless we wanted to go around this mountain, take every sign down, along with all the maps and re-designate everything, we had to go a step up.” That’s why the new trails, with respect to the rest of the terrain, have been rated as Double Black Diamond.
“And they certainly will be for those of you who ski here a lot,” concluded Torsell. “It’s going to be quite an adventure.”
Since its inception as an Army training ground for thousands of Tenth Mountain Division soldiers, straight up to its present-day TCB offerings, adventure has always been buried deep in the heart of Cooper’s terrain. So follow along as Leadville Today brings you this two-part report from Ski Cooper’s Annual Community Day meeting held in October. Find out what’s new, from trail runs, to lodge upgrades, to new maps and signs, all pointing the way to the next chapter for the mountain that honors its heritage, values its community, and provides world-class hospitality to tens of thousands of guests from around the world.
Battalions, Bumps and Bruises
“Cooper Hill was established to train the Tenth Mountain (Division) troops for World War II,” stated Ski Cooper’s Board Chairman John Clapper during his historic overview of the ski hill located just 15 miles north of Leadville. After the war ended, the land was turned over to the United States Forest Service (USFS) which eventually created a partnership with a Lake County public recreation board. This group had already dipped its ski tips into the budding sport with the creation of Dutch Henri Ski Hill, located just south of the city, presently used for tubing and sledding.
The post-war agreement between the federal and county agencies put into motion a 99-year lease with the Board of County Commissioners. In fact still true today, Lake County officially owns all of Cooper’s assets, from the buildings to the equipment to the lifts, including the new Tennessee Creek Basin T-Bar! In turn, the county contracts the resort’s operations and management to what is legally known as Cooper Hill Ski Area, Inc. (est. 1968). From the get-go, Leadvillites embraced the recreation area and growing sport.
“In the beginning,” explained Clapper “Ninety-percent of the skiers were coming from Lake County.”
That trend remained strong through most of the 20th century. Colorado’s reputation for world-class skiing and snowboarding was growing; Ski Cooper was trying to keep up. In fact, back in 2000 when the ski area had to do a master plan in order to secure an extension on the USFS special use permit, the additional acres now known as Tennessee Creek Basin (TCB) was included. The updated permit was re-established.
However, just a few years later Cooper’s management would take their turn in the Lake County “hot seat,” as residents packed the courthouse with concerns, skier numbers among them. It was a shift Clapper confirmed during his presentation: “at present, that same statistic has flip-flopped, with only 10% of Cooper’s skiers coming from Lake County.”
The 2006 heated exchange went on for hours. On one side, Lake County residents – particularly the non-skiing types – accused Cooper management of creating a private resort, fully enjoyed by only a select few.
While the other side included support for Cooper staff who were doing the best they could, considering the competition from neighboring giants like Vail and Breckenridge. Eventually, common ground was found and Cooper’s Annual Community Day was established. In the end, both sides could agree that better communication, along with a heightened level of transparency, was in order.
Since then, every fall, Ski Cooper’s Board of Directors, management, and staff hold themselves to a level of accountability almost unheard of in the industry. They provide data about guest visits, capital upgrades and budgetary reports that leave a transparency trail that Lake County residents and pass-holders can be confident in. Readers can find videos from this year’s meeting here. LT believes it’s important to understand why this meeting continues to take place. In the end, it provides accountability concerning the special permit agreement in place between the USFS, and ultimately, the residents of Lake County, via their elected officials.
In Part Two of Leadville Today’s Ski Cooper report, stay tuned for the numbers! From the number of skier visits and staff, to how many trees were removed for the new TCB terrain, LT has the #NewsYouCanUse from Leadville’s ski hill!
Until then, get out there and make some turns of your own. Then be sure to share your story/photos with LT on any of our social platforms or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.