What I Did on My Winter Vacation, Part III: Copper Mountain

The drive from Monarch to Frisco and Copper Mountain was the most intense 104-mile drive of my life. It took three hours. During the trip I probably saw about five total miles of bare pavement, the rest was all ice-encrusted. I’ve been living in Oklahoma for the last three years; this was not an environment for which I’ve had a lot of recent experience. My goal for most of the drive was that, when they got close enough to see my plates, the Coloradans would back off a little and say to themselves, well, for an Oklahoman, he’s actually doing okay.

Anyway. Most of the roads looked like this:

Okay, so this was actually the road to Monarch from Salida a couple days earlier. But the coverage in the oncoming lane was about what it was from Salida all the way to Frisco. The actual highway isn’t pictured because I had way too tight a grip on the wheel, and I was a little too focused to be breaking the camera out.

Also, traffic was really bad through Buena Vista (a town in Colorado).

By the time I got to Leadville, I really had to use the restroom, so I took this shot from the gas station:

One of the ancillary problems with being sketched out by the road conditions is that the drive itself was (probably) really pretty. I took little notice.

And then I got to Leadville, elevation 10,151′. Cool mining town that was featured in one of my favorite non-fiction books, Making of a Hardrock Miner. But also: 10,151′! Leaving town, then, there’s a sign that says that the actual high point of the pass is still several miles ahead. That was Fremont Pass, elevation 11,318′. Holy carp, Colorado. This was early January, snow covered, storm on the way in, and you got your 11,000-foot passes wide open. Equal parts intimidating and impressive.

Also, and just to be clear, the road conditions weren’t a problem for my Jeep. Nervousness was 100% on me. No, I’m not just being an enabler for my car.

Then I was in Frisco. My brother Garry got there that same night, having driven down from South Dakota. He was there for five days and I was there for seven. I got five days in at Copper out of those seven, which is pretty good for me. Snow was decent on Saturday, then pretty close to excellent for all the other days. Copper does a great job of spreading people out even on high-traffic days.

What else?

This was on, I think, the Monday. Garry has since forsaken the yellow jacket. RIP.

Here’s a panorama shot I thought was decent from the top of the mountain. It’s the Rendezvous lift at left and the top of Blackjack at right.

Copper had added a really good barbecue place at the center village base. The food looked like this:

I mean, once it was mostly eaten.

On the Tuesday on our way up there, it had snowed so much overnight that they closed the freeway between Copper and Vail, yielding traffic that looked like this:

It cost us about 15 minutes.

The skiing was pretty amazing after that. One of the great oddities of Copper Mountain is that, while most of its visitors are families and intermediate skiers, they also have a lot of interesting terrain available. So, even though it was a powder day and there were plenty of people on the mountain’s front-side, Copper has this backside that seems utterly forgotten and where, therefore, there’s still plenty of good snow long after it’s been skied off on the front side. The two chairs back there are slow two-seaters, but whatever: it’s kind of nice to have a long ride between runs to help you catch your breath.

At lunch on the Thursday of that week, given similar snow conditions, I composed the following.

Blackjack, January 12, 2017

Orange slow and lonesome:
With a snow specter’s howl,
I ski you knees-deep.

So there was that.

Staying in Frisco was a good bet once the condo’s owner got the maids to actually come. Condo had a good view of snow, particularly the snow that kept piling up in the parking lot.

It was a good place at a decent price (once it was split among two people). It also made abundantly clear to me that my house in Oklahoma is just way, way too big. This place in Frisco was a 2BR, three-story townhouse (the first floor was the one-car garage, the second floor was the kitchen and living room, and the third was the two bedrooms), and despite being out of breath every time I climbed a flight of stairs (Frisco elevation: 9,075), it seemed a more comfortable living arrangement than what I have in Norman.

Man, but I will not miss this place.

Frisco is a cool, if perhaps fake, town. Fake in the sense that it exists mostly as a place for tourists to rent condos. It was probably a real mining town once or something. They have a nice, fake main shopping area, though, where Garry and I got Cajun food that tasted good and sat bad. That — that was about the extent to which we interacted with Frisco, unless you count the trip to the Safeway and the outdoor goods store where Garry bought a pair of pants.

Then Garry took off for home, and then I took off for home.

My drive back was during the weekend of The Great South Plains Ice Storm of ’17. Kansas geared up for it by painting wet-look stripes all over I-70.

Of course, then, on that Saturday when everyone who ventured out doors was predicted to spontaneously implode due to contact with ground ice, the temperatures never really got below 35. It was kind of nice — given all the bitter prognostications from the weather-industrial complex, there was no one on the freeways and I was free to cruise largely unmolested. I hope for more such ice storms in the future and will doubt forever the integrity of weathermen.

And that was my winter vacation. Now you know.


1 comment

  • Ricardo Hernandez

    Hello Brian,

    I am reaching out because I wanted to ask permission use your mountain traffic picture. It would be for commercial use. We are a small business, and wanted to use this picture in a small poster/mini video clip on our site.

    I’d appreciate you getting back to me.