Copper Mountain’s Best Steep Runs

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This post is part of a series from ETR on Copper Mountain’s best runs. Check out other lists of top runs at Copper Mountain here

Wide open spaces and big drops in the back bowls

If there is one characteristic which is most distinctly ‘Copper’, it is probably the amazing natural layout of the mountain. Much has been said and much praise has been given to the award winning naturally divided terrain on the front side, but the same concept holds true for the bowls and steeps in the back. Copper’s bowls offer an amazing variety of terrain to work on your steep skiing. Each bowl offers something very unique and distinct in and of itself. Once you get to know the idiosyncrasies of back here, it can be really fun to jump around to the different offerings in each zone.

Before we list our five favorite steep runs, here are a few directions just to get us oriented.

  • Spaulding Bowl: The south and east aspects of Spaulding have some of the steepest, gnarliest chutes on the whole mountain – tons of fun. But right next door on the north aspect, lies much more manageable, wide-open bowl terrain – a great spot for newbies to cut their teeth in the alpine.
  • Resolution Bowl: If steep bumps are your thing, Reso Bowl is for you. Bonus points for shredding the 40 degree mogul slope directly underneath the lift.
  • Union Peak: A very quick hike (2-3 mins) opens up a super wide expanse of steep terrain beneath your feet. We just wish it were a bit longer.
  • Copper Bowl: Copper’s west ridge offers almost a mile of choose-you-own-drop-in fun. A cornice guards almost every entrance onto the excellent steep slopes below.
  • Tucker Mountain: A free cat ride (or a long hike) is the ticket to an un-tracked, consistent, and steep paradise. This is the best Copper has to offer.

With so many great zones to choose from, it was hard to pick the 5 best runs. But that’s what lists are for. So, here are our favorite spots to try out your jump turns.

 

union bowl#5. Union Peak

Union Peak is accessed via a very quick walk from the top of the Celebrity Ridge Poma or Mountain Chief lift. When you reach the 12,313 foot summit, take a moment to look around and enjoy the breathtaking views. You are in the beating heart of Copper up here, with nearly every area of the mountain visible below you. The vast expanse of the Rockies lies beyond. But it’s also probably very windy (it usually is up here), so it’s time to ski.

The terrain of Union Peak is basically a big open bowl, with no real markers or rope lines to hinder you. Bumps are usually around unless it had snowed a lot. The steepest section is right down the center and can be all kinds of fun. The wind tends to deposit snow in Union Bowl, so the coverage is usually excellent, especially after a big storm. Unfortunately, that also tends to draw the crowds, so be sure to hit this one early. As you make your last turns near the bottom, keep your eyes peeled for a series of natural kickers to pop off of. The most famous is called the Onion Roll. It can get pretty huge by the end of the season. Hopefully the jumps are devoid of gapers blindly stopped directly atop the launch pad (it’s just a little too convenient of a rest spot).

ETR Pro Tips: 

  • You don’t actually have to walk to the true summit to enjoy Union Peak. Traverse as high as you can and then cut out onto the face. This will only cost you a few feet of vertical but still provides excellent steeps.
  • If you do drop in at the summit, cut hard skiers left to find the steepest line. It will also be less tracked out.
  • The big knocks on Union Peak are the traffic and the fact that it’s just too short. Rather than lapping this, it is usually best to hit it early and then move further in. You can get a bonus lap later on your way out of Copper Bowl via Mountain Chief.

 

#4. Schaeffer’s

Copper Bowl’s West Ridge is a long line of hike-to terrain with a near continuous set of options to drop in on the south side. The wind forms a nice cornice most of the way to add to the fun. It’s hard to pick just one favorite from the runs here, but Schaeffer’s gets the nod from us. Not only is it the steepest of the bunch, but it also starts just below a small summit along the ridge. Extra uphill hiking tends to push away most hikers. You can choose how tough to make the entrance; the cornice gets bigger as you work your way uphill. Regardless of your entry point, gain control quickly as a series of rocks usually must be navigated shortly thereafter. Beyond this, the angle relents a bit and you will most likely have a mix of terrain to deal with. You will eventually run into some small cliff bands and more rocks further down. These can be avoided to skiers right, or you can hunt for creative ways through the terrain if you’re jonesin to practice your mixed terrain turns. Near the bottom, either stop at the cat line or zip down all the way to Mountain Chief to repeat the fun.

ETR Pro Tips:

  • Every run along the west ridge is pretty great. If you don’t mind just a little bit of sweat equity, lapping the ridge and dropping each respective chute can be a great way to spend the day.
  • Schaeffer’s (like all the runs here) is south facing. The sun can do all kinds of work on it, from soupy slush to rock hard grundle in the spring time. given the time of year you go, plan accordingly.
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The entirety of Tucker Mountain and Copper Bowl’s West Ridge. The chutes on the right are all spectacular, and Schaeffer’s get the nod from us. (Click to enlarge)

#3. So Fine

This name isn’t lying. Not only does it have the single greatest max angle at Copper, but it is one of the best overall chutes on the hill. So Fine is in Spaulding Bowl in the middle of all its chutes. But the key to So Fine is that the entrance is a bit past the main attractions. Ski past Cornice Chute and descend slightly down the ridge to reach So Fine. From here, you will most likely have the steep, somewhat narrow chute all to yourself. A big cornice awaits the bold who want to huck into this. But be cautious: thin rocks force you into a line right down the middle. There aren’t too many other secrets to this one. It is short but it will certainly command your attention. Saddle up and enjoy.

ETR Pro Tip: The entrance to So Fine can be confusing to find from the top – it’s a bit of a hidden start. Take a lap on a different Spaulding run and stop to survey the terrain looker’s right of the center chutes once you get down. You will probably see one that makes you think, “Wow, that hidden little line sure looks like fun.” And now you have it.

 

#2. Freemont Two

The Freemont Glades are at the far east side of Tucker Mountain. They are the crown jewel for steep powder skiing at Copper. As of 2016, these chutes are only accessible via the free snow cat (operating Friday – Sunday) or via a full hike around Copper Bowl. There are plans to put in a chairlift to the top of Tucker in coming years, so make a trip to enjoy the unspoiled glades before they are gaped out.

All of the chutes are good, but one of our favorites is #2. The roll at the top drops you into a steep, consistent line for well over 1,100 feet. What lies below you will vary depending on coverage and conditions, but you are almost guaranteed to find a mix of steeps, rocks, cliffs, and (most importantly) amazing snow to enjoy the whole way down. One of the things we especially love about #2 is that the steeps continue right on into the trees. The angle stays pretty high as you work your way into wide cuts through the glades. Either veer off to the side to enjoy true tree skiing, or stay in the avy path and revel in the very long and consistent steep turns. We have enjoyed multiple days of true 12-18 inch powder back here, so if the snow is fresh, make the trip.

ETR Pro Tips:

  • Bring your beacon for VIP access to the snow cat. Copper has done a lot to promote avy safety recently, and part of that is by incentivising safe snow travel. So, there are two lines: one for people with beacons, and one for everyone else. In our experience, the ratio of beacons to non is approximately 10:1. It pays to bring one along.
  • Tucker Mountain can remain closed multiple days after a big storm in order for ski patrol to do avy control. As such, the snow can stay good and catch some people off guard with regard to timing. Ask ski patrol (or a liftie) about recent openings to get a sense of how fresh it will be.

 

IMG_2205 (1)#1. Patrol Chute

Patrol Chute doesn’t hide anything. It proudly sits at the apex of Spaulding Bowl with its cornice and direct fall line, just begging to be skied. As you look down, you can see the whole thing directly beneath you. You will notice the natural funneling effect in the center as the rocks narrow the line. It is not all that tight, but certainly narrow enough to keep things interesting. The drop in is as hairy as you want to make it. Big cornices abound, but there is usually an easier entry somewhere as well. Patrol Chute is one of the steepest runs on the whole hill and probably one of the toughest as well. But the challenge is all part of the appeal. Enjoy the straight shot to the bottom.

ETR Pro Tip: This one sits at the very top of Spaulding Ridge and is on display for all to see. You’re sure to have a few cautious onlookers lurking at the top, just waiting for someone else to drop in and lead the way. This is your chance to be a hero.

 

The Bonus Lap: Freemont One > Valentines

We couldn’t resist throwing in another IMG_2021Tucker run. Freemont One is at the extreme east edge of the ridge. It has it all. The initial drop is the steepest of all the Freemont Glades and the average drop is also the highest of the group. Given its position at the very end of the hike, it is almost guaranteed to have the best snow. Revel in the (likely) deep pow as you descend to the trees. You can go skiers right to continue on One, but this requires a pain in the butt hike/traverse to get back to the Blackjack lift. We prefer to continue down on a slightly leftwards course to hit a run called Valentines. The terrain is relatively comparable and the tree skiing will be sublime.

 

Other Articles From Exploring the Rockies’ Guide to Copper Mountain

Disclaimer: ETR’s Guide to Copper Mountain is an entirely subjective, unofficial guide to the mountain and is not officially associated with Copper in any way. All of the insights here are simply our opinions based on many runs down the hill. It goes without saying, but follow all resort rules, evaluate conditions as you go, and ski at your own risk. 

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