Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

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Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby jamesdeluxe » Mon Jan 27, 2020 8:26 am

As I continue my survey of independent Colorado ski areas this season, EMSC mentioned that his son's racing team was going to be at Ski Cooper on Sunday so I figured that it'd be nice to catch up with him and break up my habit of usually skiing solo over the last few years.

You're aware that Ski Cooper is one of the Colorado Gems group, not affiliated with Epic Pass or Ikon. While it's not one of the I-70 resorts, the only access from Denver is by taking I-70 past Copper Mountain, then driving a further half hour or so near historic mining town Leadville. I'm really starting to feel like a real Denver Front Range skier, having to join other weekend warriors on the way up I-70, including the occasional dreaded "red-snake" effect at certain points.
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Exiting at Copper...
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... I got there in a little over two hours:
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Similar to Sunlight and Powderhorn from last weekend, its audience is almost exclusively local families and retirees. The terrain is mostly green and blue (the blacks are at most double-blue) along with a cat-skiing operation on Chicago Ridge, which overlooks the in-bounds area.
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EMSC's ski team on the backside triple:
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Little did I know that exactly a month ago Cooper had opened its first new terrain sector in many moons, along with a brand new t-bar (I didn't realize they were still being manufactured), the Tennessee Creek Basin off the backside where the first-aid cross is in the map above. As we headed up the frontside lift, EMSC mentioned that he was looking forward to checking it out and that a recent press release really played up that intermediates should not attempt it:
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Given the comparatively mellow pitch of the rest of the mountain, EMSC figured that the warnings about difficulty were likely exaggerated; however, after they dropped the rope around 10 am and we headed in, he agreed that the single-black pitch combined with very tight trees combined to create a legit expert sector and that they should consider glading it a bit in future years.
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While he's a very strong skier, I'm not quite there, so I wasn't able to link turns or do much beyond picking my way gingerly through the pines. Hitting the bumps alongside the t-bar was a more realistic option for me:
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The rest of the terrain, which had received a foot of snow over the past week, was skiing beautifully: velvety groomers with soft chop along the sides and on ungroomed trails. The weather prediction was 36 and sunny the entire day; however, high clouds hung on until the early afternoon, so my pix from the morning aren't very clear (I seem to be saying that a lot recently). Still, we enjoyed high-speed runs through the cut-up leftovers, with Chicago Ridge in the first pic:
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By the time the sun came out, I was getting tired of taking pix so I only have a few, but it was pretty ideal with ski-on lifts, albeit with a fair amount of stops and starts from all the young kids:
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In short: an enjoyable day, conditions about as good as it gets without anything fresh or untracked, and great to ski with EMSC.

Good thing that I left in such a pleasant mood as the drive back on I-70 was absolutely hideous, far worse than anything I ever encountered while living in Brooklyn and having to enter Manhattan through the GWB after skiing in the Catskills. Based on traffic reports from radio stations in Frisco as I drove by, the I-70 parking lot is standard operating procedure on Sundays. It took me just short of four hours to make it to C-470 in Denver, no joke. Apparently, that's standard operating procedure as weekend crowds head back to the Front Range, so for the rest of the season, I'm likely not going to ski anything west of the Eisenhower Tunnel (i.e. sticking with Loveland or Winter Park if I can score a discounted ticket) on Sundays or I'll stay for drinks and dinner and not get on the highway until well past 7 pm.

What Epic Pass and Ikon hath wrought -- or was it always this way?
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Re: Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby EMSC » Mon Jan 27, 2020 11:42 am

jamesdeluxe wrote:he agreed that the single-black pitch combined with very tight trees combined to create a legit experts-only sector and that they should consider glading it a bit in future years.


You can see in the pics (above and below) that the terrain is Black, but the trees, with few exceptions, are not very well thinned and in many (most?) cases nearly impossible to make more than one or two turns at a time. They really do need to thin things out more broadly across that face of the mtn. Which is not to say every last bit needs to be thinned, but 20 foot wide thinning in only a handful of spots is conducive to making narrow bump runs, not providing a particularly fun glade.

jamesdeluxe wrote:Good thing that I left in such a pleasant mood as the drive back on I-70 was absolutely hideous, far worse than anything I ever encountered while living in Brooklyn and having to enter Manhattan through the GWB after skiing in the Catskills. Based on traffic reports from radio stations in Frisco as I drove by, the I-70 parking lot is standard operating procedure on Sundays. It took me just short of four hours to make it to C-470 in Denver, no joke. Apparently, that's standard operating procedure as weekend crowds head back to the Front Range, so for the rest of the season, I'm likely not going to ski anything west of the Eisenhower Tunnel (i.e. sticking with Loveland or Winter Park if I can score a discounted ticket) on Sundays or I'll stay for drinks and dinner and not get on the highway until well past 7 pm.

What Epic Pass and Ikon hath wrought -- or was it always this way?


:-k Definitely not always that way in history. Unfortunately that way, way too often in recent years. Though you hit an even more spectacular version of it than usual is my take. The typical slowdown starts a mile or two up the hill toward the tunnel's from Silverthorne. You hit back ups all the way to Frisco - so at least several extra miles of stop and go. It is now standard operating procedure to 'meter' traffic at the tunnels using traffic lights, so the back-ups to get to the tunnel are now entirely common on Sat and Sunday evenings.

We stayed much later at the hill (left a bit after 4p) and then also stopped for dinner so we hit less of the delays, but still managed to add nearly an hour of extra time on our drive due to the metering at the tunnel.

Glad to have a ski partner for much of the day, and it's been a few years since I've seen James. Conditions were pretty nice with a touch of firm small lumps in random spots at times. The deepest snow I found was ~6-8" just to the right of James' favorite frontside run. The reason why is that 2/3 of the way down it keeps pushing you up against the B-Net of the frontside race arena (my son used the backside race arena). So then I had to cut hard left through trees back onto Homestake, but super fun for 2/3 of the trail.

And for Ski Cooper in January, yesterday was probably the warmest I've ever seen it. Usually highs of maybe 20F -if you are lucky- that time of year.

Here's some more pics:
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Chicago Ridge Snowkitty picking up for the day


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Proof that James did actually attempt the trees :)


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Note the 'angled' lift towers on the new t-Bar


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If you look close you can see one of the cat roads on Chicago Ridge in the background.


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Backside triple


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Jr and I were able to get in 2 T-Bar laps after his race was finished
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Re: Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby jamesdeluxe » Mon Jan 27, 2020 2:55 pm

LOL, that's about the best I looked in those trees, standing still:
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I was shocked to learn the price tag of that new t-bar: $800K according to EMSC.
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Re: Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Jan 28, 2020 11:06 am

EMSC wrote:You can see in the pics (above and below) that the terrain is Black, but the trees, with few exceptions, are not very well thinned and in many (most?) cases nearly impossible to make more than one or two turns at a time. They really do need to thin things out more broadly across that face of the mtn. Which is not to say every last bit needs to be thinned, but 20 foot wide thinning in only a handful of spots is conducive to making narrow bump runs, not providing a particularly fun glade.

With the conspicuous exception of Steamboat and Wolf Creek in my experience, tree spacing in most Colorado ski areas sucks. It's usually only good for max 500 vertical of subalpine below tree line, then tends to close out.

jamesdeluxe wrote:LOL, that's about the best I looked in those trees, standing still:

However, I thought that easterners are the ones who pride themselves on tight tree skiing and comment about SoCal's comfortably spaced lodgepole pines, "That's not real tree skiing." :stir:

I look at that trail map with the new expansion, separate mostly mellow terrain pods of ~1,000 vertical in three directions. It reminds me a lot of Lookout Pass. But Lookout Pass has quite good natural tree spacing.
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Re: Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby jamesdeluxe » Tue Jan 28, 2020 11:27 am

Tony Crocker wrote:However, I thought that easterners are the ones who pride themselves on tight tree skiing and comment about SoCal's comfortably spaced lodgepole pines, "That's not real tree skiing."

I saw that comment ^^ coming down Broadway and will let EMSC, a far better skier than me, respond.
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Re: Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby sierra_cement » Tue Jan 28, 2020 7:58 pm

I read somewhere this resort has very good beginner terrain. I think the elevation is > 10k so I gave up on planning a trip to ski here sometime. If I end up going to Vail or Beaver Creek for a week-long trip on a timeshare exchange, I will try to go here on one of the weekend days.

Then again, I keep thinking, is there any reason for someone like me based in California to ski in Colorado? Utah seems better from pretty much every perspective.
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Re: Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Jan 29, 2020 12:33 am

As a broad generalization I would say Colorado is more beginner friendly terrain wise than Utah. But it's also usually more expensive, especially coming from the West Coast. Some Colorado areas like Keystone, Copper and Winter Park, have an immense amount of low end terrain. Those places are close enough to Denver to be quite busy though. Buttermilk and Snowmass also have a lot, and they usually have plenty of elbow room on the slopes.

My attitude as a beginner/low intermediate was that I would not spend the $$$ to fly out of state for skiing until I could handle most of the terrain available in a destination resort. I realize that's a minority view. Fortunately my 30-day 1978-79 season was sufficient to reach that goal, so I skied a week in Aspen the next season.
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Re: Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby EMSC » Wed Jan 29, 2020 12:56 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:
Tony Crocker wrote:However, I thought that easterners are the ones who pride themselves on tight tree skiing and comment about SoCal's comfortably spaced lodgepole pines, "That's not real tree skiing."

I saw that comment ^^ coming down Broadway and will let EMSC, a far better skier than me, respond.


I'm pretty adept at skiing 'rabbit warrens' (Eldora has plenty), but much of the forest at Ski Copper is simply too tight. I found it super interesting to see a number of places with dead branches/branch parts littering the ground.... It's the first season of skiing ever back there, so tons of even simple dead branches at snowpack height have not been cleared either purposefully, nor by skiers yet. Based on what I saw though, simple skier traffic won't be anywhere enough to clear things out. There are a couple of good lines back there, but not many, They should at least double the amount of clearing already done IMHO.

sierra_cement wrote:I read somewhere this resort has very good beginner terrain. I think the elevation is > 10k so I gave up on planning a trip to ski here sometime. If I end up going to Vail or Beaver Creek for a week-long trip on a timeshare exchange, I will try to go here on one of the weekend days.

Then again, I keep thinking, is there any reason for someone like me based in California to ski in Colorado? Utah seems better from pretty much every perspective.


I'd argue that Cooper has to be one of the most ideal learning hills anywhere, and certainly in the Rockies. 100% natural snow, very nice views, low angle terrain, no crowds, cheap prices both on and off hill (eg cheap motels in Leadville), etc... That said, is it worth travelling all the way from California for? Doubtful. The money saved on tickets and motels at Cooper would be consumed by airfares and rental cars. Probably good enough learning terrain at Boreal, Sugar Bowl, Mt Rose or Northstar etc.. that is just as useful for early stage skiers.

Longer term, are you going for the skiing only? Or for the full 'experience'. Utah only has one real mtn town, Colorado has many; though also certainly not the only place with real mtn towns (eg Jackson Hole, etc...).
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Re: Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby Sbooker » Wed Jan 29, 2020 7:11 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:As a broad generalization I would say Colorado is more beginner friendly terrain wise than Utah. But it's also usually more expensive, especially coming from the West Coast. Some Colorado areas like Keystone, Copper and Winter Park, have an immense amount of low end terrain. Those places are close enough to Denver to be quite busy though. Buttermilk and Snowmass also have a lot, and they usually have plenty of elbow room on the slopes.

My attitude as a beginner/low intermediate was that I would not spend the $$$ to fly out of state for skiing until I could handle most of the terrain available in a destination resort. I realize that's a minority view. Fortunately my 30-day 1978-79 season was sufficient to reach that goal, so I skied a week in Aspen the next season.


Fair call I guess but some skiers have to travel to ski regardless. When weighing up all considerations (snow reliability, cost, adventure, some place new) suitability of terrain is a factor but not one that dictates the destination in my view. I would have thought that getting out of ones comfort zone terrain wise would advance skiing ability anyway?
I watched a video a few days ago of my son skiing harmony/symphony bowl in Whistler. It was from when he was 6 I think. He was skiing with a kind of permanent modified snowplow of sorts. By the next year (and without many days skiing and no lessons) he was skiing the same hill with parallel turns. Maybe that's just the advantage of being young and reasonably athletic?
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Re: Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby jamesdeluxe » Thu Jan 30, 2020 6:30 am

Tony Crocker wrote:with the new expansion, separate mostly mellow terrain pods of ~1,000 vertical in three directions. It reminds me a lot of Lookout Pass. But Lookout Pass has quite good natural tree spacing.

I made a similar comment about the Lookout trees after my 2013 visit.

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Re: Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Jan 30, 2020 1:52 pm

sbooker wrote:Fair call I guess but some skiers have to travel to ski regardless. When weighing up all considerations (snow reliability, cost, adventure, some place new) suitability of terrain is a factor but not one that dictates the destination in my view. I would have thought that getting out of ones comfort zone terrain wise would advance skiing ability anyway?

Sbooker's situation is extreme, with lengthy and usually expensive travel required. In my case, once I could ski 90+% of Mammoth, I was confident I would not have problems terrain wise elsewhere. Other aspects of skiing, notably powder, came to me slower.

EMSC wrote:The money saved on tickets and motels at Cooper would be consumed by airfares and rental cars. Probably good enough learning terrain at Boreal, Sugar Bowl, Mt Rose or Northstar etc..

That was my point. The SoCal locals were more than adequate terrain wise when I was in the progressing intermediate stage. I didn't have much vacation time back then, so skiing one local day every weekend I was not at Mammoth in 1978 and 1979 seemed the best way to make progress. I was at Mammoth 2 weekends in 1978 and 4 plus a one week vacation in 1979.

My view is that skiing more days on the cheap at drive up ski areas will speed the learning curve better than skiing fewer days per season at destination resorts.
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Re: Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby sierra_cement » Thu Jan 30, 2020 7:00 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:As a broad generalization I would say Colorado is more beginner friendly terrain wise than Utah. But it's also usually more expensive, especially coming from the West Coast. Some Colorado areas like Keystone, Copper and Winter Park, have an immense amount of low end terrain. Those places are close enough to Denver to be quite busy though.

All of these resorts are not blacked out by the cheaper version of Ikon/Epic pass. So my guess is they will be extremely crowded during holiday periods.

Keystone's greens are like the easy blues at Park City or Northstar. Lessons at Keystone were cheaper than most other Vail Resorts thought ($290 for 3 full days). If I go to Keystone now, I might enjoy the terrain more than I did back in Nov 2018. But I probably never go back to Keystone again because of the low snowfall record, crowds, elevation and ability to get affordable accommodations elsewhere.

My attitude as a beginner/low intermediate was that I would not spend the $$$ to fly out of state for skiing until I could handle most of the terrain available in a destination resort. I realize that's a minority view. Fortunately, my 30-day 1978-79 season was sufficient to reach that goal, so I skied a week in Aspen the next season.


That was my point. The SoCal locals were more than adequate terrain wise when I was in the progressing intermediate stage. I didn't have much vacation time back then, so skiing one local day every weekend I was not at Mammoth in 1978 and 1979 seemed the best way to make progress. I was at Mammoth 2 weekends in 1978 and 4 plus a one week vacation in 1979.

My view is that skiing more days on the cheap at drive-up ski areas will speed the learning curve better than skiing fewer days per season at destination resorts.


I hear you, Tony. I just haven't figured out how to make it happen from the Bay Area. Weekend trips with kids are not really feasible due to traffic leaving the Bay area and also in the mountain roads. In my limited research, Mt. Rose was the area with the best combination of beginner terrain, affordable lessons, and crowds.

I think I need to reconsider how I plan on skiing for next year. I'm probably making plans using some bad assumptions and opinions shaped by previous trips. I got soured by bad experiences on my first/second trips to Tahoe. Once it took 9 hours to reach South Lake. On another trip, I fell due to icy conditions and had a minor injury to my left knee. A friend gave up skiing after he blew his ACL in icy conditions in Tahoe, so I decided to prioritize better conditions over cost. Another driving factor was I could get nicer accommodations for the same number of credit card/hotel points in Utah/Colorado. Now, my travel booking strategy is with timeshare points/exchange, so I need to rethink when/where to go. School calendar restrictions begin next season as well.


EMSC wrote:I'd argue that Cooper has to be one of the most ideal learning hills anywhere, and certainly in the Rockies. 100% natural snow, very nice views, low angle terrain, no crowds, cheap prices both on and off hill (eg cheap motels in Leadville), etc... That said, is it worth travelling all the way from California for? Doubtful. The money saved on tickets and motels at Cooper would be consumed by airfares and rental cars.

yes. Plus the I-70 traffic mentioned above. We had no traffic issues when going to Beaver Mountain in Northern Utah for MLK weekend.


EMSC wrote:Probably good enough learning terrain at Boreal, Sugar Bowl, Mt Rose or Northstar etc.. that is just as useful for early stage skiers.

I agree. I'm looking forward to a week of skiing from Feb 22 to 29 at Mt. Rose. I picked a week with a good probability of snow conditions and low crowds after President's day. I will put my daughter in the ski lessons for 50% pass holder discount and wife and I will take 1 or 2-hour private lesson each day for $49/hour.

Northstar has good beginner terrain but I don't think it is well suited for learning to ski due to crowds and expensive lessons. Plus the walking required through their stupid base village.


Longer term, are you going for the skiing only? Or for the full 'experience'. Utah only has one real mtn town, Colorado has many; though also certainly not the only place with real mtn towns (eg Jackson Hole, etc...).

I have been to Park City 3 times for skiing so far and I still haven't yet visited downtown Park City :)

My daughter definitely missed ice skating and tubing during our recent trip to Beaver Mountain, Utah. Right now, we are more driven by considerations of whether friends can join us, snow reliability, terrain, affordable lessons, and accommodations. The quality of the town is not a big consideration right now.

Generally though, I don't think there is a ski resort with a nice town and affordable lessons. Aspen, Steamboat, Park City lessons run > $200 per day for kids. I haven't checked Telluride. Breck is out of consideration due to crowds and >9k elevation. Jackson is not suitable for beginners (I think).

As a family, we may have to keep going to the resorts that are not on Ikon/Epic for at least a few years. I might do a couple of trips without family to the Epic/Ikon resorts.
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Re: Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby Tony Crocker » Fri Jan 31, 2020 1:55 am

It would never have occurred to me that it would be easier to learn to ski in SoCal than in the Bay Area. It surely helped that I skied 16 SoCal local days in 1978-79, which remains the best overall season I've seen here. Next most was 11 days in 1991-92, another good year which was my son Adam's age 7 breakout season. I would not have wanted to learn skiing in SoCal during most of the past decade though.

Weekend drives from the Bay Area to Tahoe are shorter than SoCal drives to Mammoth. In both cases it depends upon from where in the big metro area, and my location in SoCal is about as good as it gets for avoiding Friday rush hour. And yes Tahoe can be a traffic nightmare especially in bad weather. I'll defer to tseeb as the Tahoe veteran though. He's been commuting to his family cabin in South Shore for a long time.

The bottom line is that this discussion reinforces the prevailing opinion that the price barriers to new skiers are higher now than 20-40 years ago. The aspects of skiing that are cheaper in real $$$ like season passes and air travel, are those that favor the already committed not the new entrants.
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Re: Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby tseeb » Fri Jan 31, 2020 9:31 am

Not sure this belongs in Ski Cooper thread. I feel for Bay Area Weekend Warrior skiers, especially those who are on I-80, where there is so much truck traffic, and a lot of people driving to Reno for weekend unprepared for snow, that it does not take much weather or driver error to cause long delays. Having places to stay at cabin in SLT or with friends near Truckee gives me more flexibility than those booking rooms where cancelling at last minute costs you. My wife has skied more out of state in the last few years, than at Tahoe as she did not have much vacation and did not want to deal with weekend traffic especially during storms. That should change with her retirement today as we can now go and ski Sun-Wed and avoid worst of crowds.

Some strategies to avoid traffic and crowds on hill include:

1. Ski Sun/Mon instead of much more crowded Fri/Sat. When I skied Squaw last week, Fri had way more people that Wed and Thu combined. Either have a leisurely drive on Sat or drive very early Sun AM. Not only do avoid the Sun PM traffic leaving ski areas and returning to Bay Area, both early and late on Sun are less busy at ski areas due to late risers and early departures, respectively.

2. If you have to ski Sat, either leave San Jose at or after 7 PM Fri evening or at 5-5:30 on Sat AM. It's hard to leave early enough on Fri afternoon to avoid traffic on (or getting to) 680 through Fremont. This may improve slightly when extra lane is completed, but you probably still won't want to leave on Fri between noon and 7 PM. One problem with leaving late on Fri is that it can be close to midnight when you are crossing pass and I've have to drive through snow when already tired many times, but at least on US-50, you usually are not sharing road with many people. Carson Spur, just W of Kirkwood, can be a problem with early Sat AM drive as it often closes for avalanche control when they get a foot of new snow. If closed it adds almost 60 miles getting there and means sharing US-50 with people going to Sierra Tahoe and Heavenly.

3. Wait until late March and into April when crowds and chance of worst weather both go down.

4. If I return to San Jose on a weekday, I need to quit skiing at noon at most areas (probably can stay until almost 1 at Kirkwood or other places closer to home) or ski until almost closing to avoid very slow I-680 S through Milpitas. I've gotten off 10 miles before exit I'd prefer and taken surface streets to avoid slow freeway.

5. Also on weekdays only, pay for the bridge on 680 vs. going through Tracy and Stockton as their is AM traffic approaching Sacramento on I-5. This does not apply to going to Kirkwood. It's now $3 with transponder set for 3 or more passengers during commute hrs. and $6 otherwise. If using this bridge more than once a year, you need to have a FastTrack that you can set to 1, 2 or 3 passengers.
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Re: Ski Cooper, CO: 01/26/20

Postby jamesdeluxe » Fri Jan 31, 2020 12:54 pm

I know that the CEO of Indy Pass was at Ski Cooper this week. As mentioned in a previous TR, my hope is that Indy Pass (currently not active in Colorado) will absorb as many of the Colorado Gems ski areas as possible. The format of two tickets for each mountain per season would be perfect for me.
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