This past January, my 15-year-old cousin JJ visited me in Denver from his hometown of Houston. It was JJ's first visit to the Rocky Mountains region, and although he doesn't ski, I wanted him to experience winter recreation and to also experience the beauty of the Colorado mountains.
So on a stunning, clear-blue Saturday, my girlfriend, Holly, and I took JJ to Copper Mountain ski area, where we all took to the hill, sans skis.
Our first stop was Copper's Rocky Mountain Coaster, which snakes through the forest and between ski slopes with more than a mile of track. (Read more about mountain coasters from coast to coast.)
As its name implies, the Rocky Mountain Coaster is a roller coaster, albeit one built into the mountain. But the ride also diverges from traditional theme park coasters in that riders travel in individual cars (young children can ride with an adult) and get to regulate their speeds with an acceleration and braking system. In that sense, the ride is a sort of hybrid between a roller coaster and an alpine slide.
With the high-altitude sun warming our faces, the three of us got into our cars and sat back with anticipation as a hydraulic system carried us to the top of the track, a vertical climb of 430 feet.
The Rocky Mountain Coaster at Copper Mountain covers more than a mile and descends 430 vertical feet. Photo Credit: TW photo by Robert Silk
From the top, I pushed on the accelerator, gradually gaining enough confidence to open it up all the way. I can't say how fast I went, but Copper Mountain says riders of the coaster can hit speeds of up to 25 mph.
What I do know is that at first, I tried to take in the scene of the skiers to one side, the pine forest all around and the snow-covered mountains as far as I could see. Eventually, however, my focus shifted wholly to the track, which grabbed my car and held it like a vice as I made tight, torquing turns.
JJ clearly was doing the same. He reached the bottom of the run shortly after me. Holly, however, took a more leisurely ride down the mountain.
As we exited the ride, I asked both of them for their thoughts on the experience.
"Scary," Holly said.
"I need to do that again," replied JJ. And so we did, a little later in the day.
First, though, we had a date with the tubing hill.
The tubing hill at Copper Mountain is great for families and stays open into the evening.
In its own literature, Copper Mountain encourages tubing hill patrons to "slide, spin and send it." And that's exactly what the three of us did for the next hour. We tubed facing forward and facing backward. We raced on separate tracks (Holly beat the boys) and also did a run together, holding onto each other's tubes.
Copper Mountain's tubing hill stays open into the evening hours, making it an excellent option for an outing even among families who spend the day skiing.
Naturally, the hill is open only during the winter. But the Rocky Mountain Coaster is open in summer, as well. Tickets are priced at $20 for a single ride or $70 for a day. Discounts are offered for advanced purchase.