‘The athlete’s mountain’: Copper Mountain Resort remains grounded to its roots 50 years after its inaugural opening day
Since its inception in 1972, Copper Mountain Resort has always been “the athlete’s mountain.” Although it wasn’t until much later that Copper readily marketed itself this way, Copper has always had athletes in mind.
Copper Mountain Resort officially opened for its inaugural season on Dec. 5, 1972 with five lifts and more than 20 trails.
Before opening up to the public in 1972, several years of planning took place in order to ensure that Copper would be a place that riders could visit for generations.
Initially leading the charge to develop Copper was former Dillon District Ranger Paul Hauk.
According to “Copper Mountain Resort: Fifty Years of Fortitude” by Tim Nicklas, Hauk set out to find a piece of Forest Service land that could possibly be developed for skiing. In 1952, he formally recognized Copper Mountain as an area for a ski resort.
Despite recommending the area for a ski resort, Copper remained dormant until 1967 when Hauk once again recommended the mountain as an ideal site for all the Alpine skiing events for Denver’s 1968 bid to host the 1976 Olympics.
According to Nicklas, Hauk thought Copper was an ideal spot for Alpine skiing competitions and expected it would remain a popular ski resort for the public after hosting the Olympics. Even though Denver lost its bid for the 1976 Olympic Games, Hauk had sparked a deep interest in developing Copper into a ski area.
In 1969, Charles Froelicher began the process to develop Copper as a ski resort and soon after named Denver native Chuck Lewis to head the project. With $500,000 from Froelicher’s investment group —Copper Mountain Associates — Lewis and Froelicher both began the process to turn Copper into a ski resort.
After an arduous process to secure permits from the Forest Service, the final term and annual special use permits were issued, giving the green light for construction to begin.
After hosting a snowcat-only skiing season during the 1971 winter season, construction crews worked rapidly in order to officially open to the public by the time winter hit in 1972.
One thing that Lewis, Froelicher, Chris Coleman and Charlie Davis discovered early on when developing Copper was the availability of naturally separated terrain.
Former Copper Mountain employee Peter Siegel said this naturally separated terrain sets Copper apart from other resorts as it allows Copper to offer three distinct zones for guests to explore. Today guests can access expert terrain in East village, intermediate terrain from the Center Village and easy terrain from the West Village.
“Copper has really taken advantage of what the mountain has to offer and that is why it has always been great,” Siegel said. “Another big advantage of Copper is that it is small and that you can be dropped off right at the base of the mountain. It is focused on convenience.”
After opening up to the public in 1972, Copper quickly became a destination for athletes and recreational guests alike.
“Before there were any structures here, Copper opened as a ski resort and was pretty quickly identified as a place with great terrain, high elevation and a long season,” said Dustin Lyman, the president and general manager of Copper. “It was these early, multi-generational ski families that were the original athletes here at Copper.”
The families soon paved the way for professional athletes to visit the mountain as an event venue or a training ground. In 1976, Copper hosted the Alpine World Championships, opening the door for a firm relationship with the U.S Ski and Snowboard team and international athletes.
To this day, Copper remains a hot spot for athletes to come and train. Whether it be on the U.S. Ski Team speed center venue or at the Woodward Copper training facility, it was only a matter of decades before Copper became a go-to spot athletes to train for their upcoming seasons.
“It has always focused towards the athlete,” Siegel said. “If you really want to ski, if you really want to ride and if you really want to experience the mountain this is the place to come.
Beyond offering a training ground for professional athletes, Copper has also focused on making sure its values are the same they were on opening day in 1972.
Siegel — who currently is the executive director of three corporate nonprofits at Copper — says the resort has been down-to-earth, personal and accommodating to guests since he first started working for Copper as a ski instructor in 1978.
One thing that has stuck with Siegel for the last 44 years, is something Lewis said to his employees during employee orientation on one of Siegel’s first days on the job.
“One of the first things Chuck said was that everyone has inherent worth and dignity,” Siegel said. “That has stuck with me through my life. That is really how you treat fellow employees, that’s how you treat guests. You separate yourself out with how you treat people.”
Lyman strives to provide the same employee and guest experience that Lewis strived for in Copper’s early days, finding the happiness of employees — as well as guests— fundamental to the long term success of the resort.
“We take a lot of pride in our mountain,” Lyman said. “We take a lot of pride in our guests and how much they enjoy their experience. And we take pride in our employees and what their experience is here. Whether they are here for the winter season, the summer season or year-round, we want that to be an enjoyable experience where they feel like they are participating in something exciting.”
Siegel went on to further say that not much has changed in the time he has been involved with the Copper area. The ski resort still offers the opportunity for guests to come out and experience Copper’s breathtaking runs in a unique part of the country.
“What hasn’t changed is that Summit County is an awesome place,” Siegel said. “Copper skis and rides really well and it is as beautiful in the summer as it is in the winter. You get to be with friends and family and all of that is the same regardless if it is a fixed-grip double or high-speed quad. It is still the key ingredient in why people come out and visit the area.”
Siegel said the biggest change over the last five decades is that the sport has drastically modernized. Snowboarding has become mainstream, the shape of skis has changed and terrain parks are common at almost every ski resort. Copper has adjusted with the flow of snowsports and have accommodated the needs of guests along the way.
In the years to come, both Siegel and Lyman hope to continue to see Copper grow.
“We will always focus on that on-mountain experience and make it the best it can possibly be,” Lyman said. “So always looking for opportunities to expand or improve the venues we have on the mountain.”
Lyman also hopes to offer events and concerts that will continue to bring people to the slopes of Copper.
Copper Mountain Resort will host a 50th anniversary party on Saturday, Dec. 3. Festivities will last all day, and guests are encouraged to wear their best retro ski gear.
“I am really excited to meet and interact with some of the people who helped to build Copper into what it is today,” Lyman said. “If not for them we would not be in as strong of a position as we are right now.We are looking to build on that legacy.”