Ski Cooper Report: Something Old, Something New
In a town like Leadville, it’s hard to know exactly what will incite the local villagers to light their torches and head down to the county courthouse. But back in 2010, it was clear that Ski Cooper, its staff and Board of Directors was taking its turn in the “hot seat,” as more than one hundred Lake County residents showed up and demanded to know: “What was going on up at that ski hill?” and did management think “it was their own private ski resort?!” Tensions ran high back in 2010, but after all the yelling and screaming subsided, the result was an agreement that Ski Cooper would hold an annual community meeting to report on the business and financial operations of the privately held ski area.
Fast forward five years to last Saturday’s Annual Community “Gathering,” where 50 enthusiastic folks filed in to hear Cooper’s Chairman of the Board John Clapper, President/GM Dan Torsell, and Vice President Tim Kerrigan give presentations on the status of the 400-acre, 39-run ski hill.
But where were the “Friends of Ski Cooper” or the “Friends for Change at Cooper Hill?” None of these groups were present at last Saturday’s meeting, while just a few years ago they were pushing Lake County Commissioners to open the bidding process to see how another group might manage the ski area, located north of Leadville.
Fortunately Cooper’s board and management stayed the course through the storm of 2010, while also keeping their commitment to transparency. So for all you “friends” whose torches have dimmed, as well as the thousands of Cooper fans, here’s what was reported on October 24 out at the ski lodge.
A New Branding: Probably the most notable change for residents and guests is the new branding, including a shortening of the ski area’s name to simply Cooper. While their legal entity remains the same -Cooper Hill Ski Area, Inc. – for marketing purposes, Cooper will be used. New Director of Marketing & Sales Patrick Torsell, who took the position when Bob Casey retired at the end of last season, has combined “something old” with “something new,” by incorporating the old deer image with the new tagline: “The Heart of Skiing in the Heart of the Rockies.”
Upgrades, Repairs and Maintenance: Bathrooms – Upgrade! Tri-Lift – Repair! Katie O’Rourke’s Pub – Upgrade and Expansion! Trail Signs – Upgrade! Snowcats – Maintenance & Upgrade! The list goes on from there, demonstrating Cooper’s commitment to its pay-as-you-go financial model. VP Kerrigan’s presentation about the inside world of Cooper equipment repairs or what he tongue-in-cheek referred to as “Why I feel I have to justify my employment at Cooper during the summer” speech was fascinating. Clearly Kerrigan’s team is first rate when it comes to keeping machines in good operating order and upgrading/replacing aging equipment in a staggered budget-conscious manner is a clear, sensible operating plan. But as most understand, this necessary work is generally done when the mountain isn’t covered in several feet of snow!
A Deck with a View: Food service at Cooper continues to see some noteworthy changes. The recently created Katie O’Rourke’s Pub is building on its success gained over its inaugural season last year, leading to an expansion, with on-deck seating to enjoy those bluebird Colorado days. It also allows the lodge’s seating capacity to grow. This season, to help ease congestion in the cafeteria dining area, enormous picnic tables made from beautiful pine beetle wood. This change in the primary dining area, will add more seating, albeit in a picnic-style manner, which did raise one concern with the audience. So for those guests who prefer to gather around the old round plastic tables and lean back in their accompanying plastic chairs (with backs!), those can still be found upstairs for in the lodge.
What’s for lunch? Cooper fans will still see Scott Camp’s smiling face out at the ski lodge, but this year in his new role as Director of Food and Beverage. Ski Cooper choose to bring food service operations in-house in order to streamline operations; Camp choose to stay on in this new position. Scott’s got a great crew ready to serve you, however his lovely wife Steph is taking the winter off to “enjoy being a housewife and mother” (now, THAT sounds like a story!) Guests will also be pleasantly surprised to see some of their favorite items back on the menu, but at a lower price!
Plans for New Lodge: One of the more exciting in-the-works items presented was a new on-mountain lodge facility, slated for the 2016-17 season. Management hopes to begin the work next summer at the top of the 10th Mountain Double, near the current on-mountain restrooms. The new lodge would include additional food service. Last year, the ski area began experimenting with an on-mountain food cart offering a limited number of hot menu items. The results were positive and the idea will continue this season, weather permitting.
Time to Hit the Slopes: It’s time to get down to the meat and potatoes – the reason that you go to Cooper – skiing and boarding! GM Torsell opened the Annual Meeting with a glowing report about the new Ski Board and Cross Board Training and Race Course. While last year’s dipping of the ski boot into this growing sport was slow and cautious, the results were robust and beneficial for the mountain and the Leadville community. So the program will be back, but on a different trail – the course will move from last year’s Trail’s End to Sitzmark. When you’re out on the mountain be sure to check it out – Leadvillite Jeff Maddex and the Cloud City Ski Club team have done a great job with this new program, providing many opportunities to local skiers and boarders as well. Oh, and if you’ve got the time, they could always use an extra hand or two to help with the races. INFO.
The terrain park will be back again with few changes, as the reviews from the 2014-15 season highlighted the park’s “non-intimidating” nature, keeping the ramps and jumps to a reasonable combination of fun and skill.
But what will probably have skiers and boarders chatting it up in the lift lines, is the proposed expansion of skiable terrain. Cooper is considering a new trail pod and lift that they hope to install within the next 4 years.
According to management, the lift (probably a T-Bar) and trails would be in the “Motherlode Chutes” area, to skiers’ right of Motherlode. It would offer 5 new trails, of which 4 are consistent, legitimate advanced-expert level pitch (averaging 24-30 degree slope). That would really help to round-out Cooper’s terrain offerings. Now, a word of caution: this is what they hope to do. It is in the master plan, and management is taking all of the necessary planning and preparatory steps. However, the expansion is completely dependent upon approvals and permits from the United States Forest Service, since Cooper operates on federal land via permit.
Opening day at Cooper is slated for December 12, however management might consider opening earlier on weekends, depending on snow conditions. Stay tuned to Leadville Today for all the latest news and upcoming events on Leadville’s lovable ski mountain.
So there you have it, highlights from the 2015 Annual Cooper Community Meeting. There are some exciting upgrades, and expansion plans in the works, but nothing that should change the hometown feel of the area . . . or cause the villagers to light their torches and head on down to the courthouse!