Copper Mountain Resort gets final go-ahead on alpine coaster, bike trail

Kevin Fixler
As part of Copper Mountain Resort's enhancement projects approved by the U.S. Forest Service on Wednesday, improved snowmaking and drainage will be installed below the Super Bee lift, pictured here, to increase early-season capabilities on the Upper Collage and West Encore trails. Those upgrades are expected to be finished in the next two years.
Tripp Fay / Copper Mountain Resort |

North America’s longest alpine mountain coaster has the go-ahead for launch.

In addition to a few other enhancement projects at Copper Mountain Resort, the new amenity was approved in a final decision document released by the White River National Forest Wednesday morning. Copper pitched the handful of year-round recreation upgrades, which include associated snowmaking and drainage system improvements, as well as a 1-mile mountain bike trail, last January, and got word of formal endorsement about 14 months later.

“It’s definitely good news for the team here at Copper and the Copper community,” said Gary Rodgers, the resort’s president and COO. “Obviously the biggest of the three, the mountain coaster, we think that is going to add another element to summer and winter programming, and help round out our offering of summer activities and just the draw for the community to Copper.”

With the announcement, the Powdr Corporation-owned resort expects construction to begin on the coaster once enough snow melts off following winter closure, with completion anticipated for late summer or early fall. At this point, the new mountain bike trail is also expected to be included in summer development, with decisions on a timeline for the latest snowmaking and drainage below the Super Bee lift on Upper Collage and West Encore trails still to come based on available funds.

“We’re really catering to families and intermediate riders, and not the downhill community, to ensure that we have a great, fun mountain bike experience on the hill.”Gary RodgersCopper Mountain Resort president and COO

The multi-million-dollar coaster, located on the west side of the American Flyer lift, will have a track of 5,800 feet, a total descent of almost 4,000 feet and a vertical drop of 430 feet. Copper plans to run the ride during both the summer and winter, and will partner on it with the same builder of a 4,800-foot-long coaster at Killington Ski Resort in Vermont, which is another of Powdr Corp.’s properties.

The projects generally follow a trend of area resort renovations that so far comprise those receiving support at Breckenridge Ski Resort through Vail Resorts’ Epic Discovery program in November 2015, and expansions at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area approved this past November. Breck will begin offering a canopy tour, rock-climbing wall and zip-line course starting this summer, while construction on improvements like 330 acres of additional skiable terrain will take place in the upcoming offseasons.

The enhancements are part of the Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act, sponsored by then-U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and signed by President Obama in 2011. The law updated the prior National Forest Ski Permit Act of 1986, which limited mountain recreation to just alpine and Nordic skiing, and provided existing ski resorts the chance to pursue summer activities on federal lands in which they already operated.

“It may appear like we’re approving a lot, but those zones on the forest are created for those opportunities and are set up to capture a lot of people who desire infrastructure like restaurants, parking lots, bathrooms and hotels,” said Bill Jackson, Dillon District ranger. “We have that spectrum for management on the landscape, and from a broader perspective we want to offer those backcountry wilderness opportunities to people in select management areas, too.”

Based on a master development plan — essentially a five-to-10-year ski area management document — that Copper submitted to the Forest Service in 2011, the local branch of the federal agency determined these improvements fit within that vision. Following the environmental assessment process, scoping period and public comment period, the White River issued its consent on the projects.

Rodgers said once the new snowmaking is online, it will offer a key trail connection on the east side of the mountain, and earlier access in the winter for those ski teams and clubs that frequent Copper for pre-opening-day training. In the meantime, the additional biking trail is just one of several planned improvements for that system down the road.

“The idea is to have a more comprehensive plan for future expansion to the mountain bike trails,” he said. “We’re really catering to families and intermediate riders, and not the downhill community, to ensure that we have a great, fun mountain bike experience on the hill.”

Rodgers added that, after completing a final budgeting process in the coming weeks, more will be announced shortly thereafter, as well as additional proposals. But the Forest Service’s green light on this first set of projects is a step toward initial upgrades at Copper.

“The projects at Copper provide us with a unique opportunity to connect people to the national forests in a confined, developed area,” White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said in a statement about the approval. “The result of this decision is providing world-class recreational access while improving resources like stream health from current conditions.”

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