Cooper has serious roots. It was born out of the 10th Mountain Division, the legendary World War II ski troops that trained for mountain warfare in nearby Camp Hale. In 1942, the army built a T-bar on what was then known as Cooper Hill to help the troops prepare for on-snow maneuvers. After the war, the nearby mining community of Leadville took over the 400-acre area, but it remains deeply connected to the 10th Mountain Division, which still holds ski reunions here.
I visited on a sparkling blue cloudless day last March that saw four inches of creamy powder. It was two weeks after my grandfather, who helped organize and fought with the 10th Mountain Division, died. Cooper’s main chairlift still follows the same lift-cut as the original T-bar. From the top of the lift, I criss-crossed the slopes my grandfather skied some 65 years ago. There are few resorts that can offer that connection to skiing’s earliest history; even fewer that make you feel as if it all happened yesterday.
Of course, Ski Cooper isn’t just about history. It’s also a great place to bring the family. The slopes tend toward the mellow and the meandering—wide runs with intoxicating views of the high peaks. The trees between trails hide great powder skiing for those in the know. And powder hounds can sign on with Chicago Ridge catskiing, which leaves from the base area and accesses 2,400 acres of broad, open bowls and glades. Meanwhile, nearby Leadville, the once-roaring, now almost cryogenically preserved mining town, offers extremely reasonably priced dining and lodging for those who want to take a ski vacation without the ski-town bills and attitude.
In Leadville, you can choose from several motels and Victorian B&Bs. My favorite is the Hotel Delaware, built in 1886, with the wildest antique store you’ll ever encounter. Dining options include Zicchittella’s or Casa Blanca, and don’t miss the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse, a charming yurt at the base of the hill accessed via a nordic ski trail. The Twin Lakes Nordic Inn, an old stagecoach stop located about 25 minutes west, offers locally butchered meat. Beware trying to join the house dog on the lobby couch – he doesn’t like to share.