From Steamboat, it’s a relatively short drive to any number of ski areas. Because our friend Kenny was going to be in Breckenridge, we decided that Copper Mountain was calling our names. Copper Mountain congers fond memories for me as well. The resort opened in 1972 and I skied it sometime in the mid 70’s…by myself. I recall, on more than one occasion, being dropped off and skiing all day till my grandmother or Uncle picked me up. It was a reward for helping to “babysit” my younger cousins. It was a different time when you could explore and fly solo as a youngster and the adults didn’t have to worry about being charged with or arrested for “child neglect”.
Green Mountain Reservoir
Our biggest challenge was finding a place to stay…for free. While there were plenty of places to stay, hotel wise, campsites and Forrest Service/BLM land was a little challenging. With the exception of one location, all of the numerous Forest Service/BLM campgrounds were closed for winter. We did luck out however and found an opened gate to scarcely visited campground in Heeney (Elliot Creek) on the west side of the Green Mountain Reservoir off the I-9, toward Silverthorne. Nothing on/near the locked open gate to the campground noted that it was closed like all the other campgrounds we had perused. As it turned out, it was only a 45 minute drive Copper Mountain to ski. Piece of cake!
During our exploration of the Green Mountain Reservoir, we were amazed at the number of ice fishermen that littered the frozen mass of water. You gotta LOVE fishing, to do that over a small hole cut in the ice during freezing temps. We were also treated to meandering herd of mule deer and small herd of Big Horn Sheep, beside and on the road that led us to the Elliot Creek campground. We were amazed and intrigued at how the sheep so deftly negotiated the steep rocky cliffs and the narrow and mostly non-existent ledges.
We pleasantly surprised that we had the campground to ourselves, and frankly expected a ranger to come by to finally “lock up”, but that did not happen.
Copper Mountain is a unique ski area in that it is essentially and geographically divided into three distinct levels of expertise. They have buses that take you from one of three free parking lots (that this year you had to make “reservations” for) to one of three Villages: West, Center or East. West Village is mainly for those who prefer “Beginner”/”Intermediate” runs. Center Village is dominated by “Intermediate” runs and East Village caters to the “Expert” Black and double Black Diamond aficionados.
Over three days we skied a good portion of the resort. We highly enjoyed the East Village runs off of their “Super Bee” lift. Because of the wind, we decided not to chance the crusty double black diamond runs on the “bowl” side of the mountain. We’ll save that for next year, and softer snow conditions. Overall the staff for the mountain was great and more importantly, so were the runs. It was everything that I hoped it would be, considering the fond memories that I had. Meeting up with our friend Kenny at Frisco’s Highside Brewing and BBQ for dinner and a sampling of very tasty beer was an added treat.
Another Storm. Another Road Trip
Once again we had to retreat from another storm. This one was supposed to engulf Colorado for a good couple of days. With that we headed south. We had always wanted to ski Taos, but never found ourselves anywhere near that part of New Mexico…in the winter. Taos it was. We left from Copper Mountain, having skied to exhaustion within hours of the coming storm’s arrival. The drive from Copper Mountain to Taos (the town) was supposed to be a 4 hour drive. Snow flurries pelted us as we descended down highway 91 toward Leadville. We decided that Leadville is a “must visit”, for another trip to properly explore this tantalizing frontier town. By the time we hit Leadville, we were clear of the snow. From Leadville, we followed the 91 until it ran into US Route 24.
Fun fact: The United States Highway System originated in 1926. US Route 24 (highlighted in red) was one of the original highways in the country. It stretches from Michigan (Independence Township), and traverses through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and into Colorado, as far as Grand Junction.
US Hwy 24 is flanked by the Arkansas River, and from the number of rafting businesses that and recreation centers/campgrounds, this is a popular activity over the summer months. As we traveled south, we gazed upon the mountains to our west, that we would be traversing via the Continental Divide Trail, later this summer. Pretty daunting, but inviting.
We continued on the US 24 until it ran into US Hwy 285. This would take us most of the way toward New Mexico and our turn-off onto US Hwy 64. There is a distinct change in the condition of the road when one passes from Colorado into New Mexico. Fog lines are replaced with pot holes, so one makes sure they stay as close to the center-line as possible. I wish I had known about , The Pueblo Revolt of 1608. It would have brought the route we traveled on the US 285, Hwy 64 and later US Hwy 25 and the towns/pueblos we passed to life. So much history (and sorrow) along these routes.
While the route seemed fairly barren, we could not ignore the large barbwire enclosed buildings that wafted the distinct smell of cannabis. Unique cloud formations flanked us as we drove into the waning light. With no moon, we soon were driving in what felt like oblivion, with only our headlights opening a portal to the next realm. Cell service was non-existent. When a horse and buggy (with headlights) passed us from the opposite direction, we thought we might have traveled back in time.
Taos Ski Valley
After a circuitous route from US Hwy 64, thanks to “Martha”, we arrived at our lodging for the night in Taos at the Best Western. Morning found us at a local laundromat (our clothes were a bit “gamey”) and the local market (fresh food for the next few days) before we headed to the Taos Ski Resort. Because of Covid and New Mexico’s strict mask and gathering rules, Taos Ski Resort requires that you make a reservation to ski. Had we been paying better attention, we could have made a reservation for the later half of the day and skied an additional day at Taos (live and learn). From the town of Taos, you wind your way via a narrow canyon that leads to a remote alpine village, that is the Taos Ski Resort. The beauty of this resort is that they allow en route camping (fully self-contained) for free. Not only did we travel back in time, but we traveled to another country…somewhere in the Bavarian Alps. (Click on this link and you will discover a unique and endearing story about how this fantastic resort came to be)
Because of COVID restrictions, he resort had limited the capacity to something a little over 3,000 visitors. The moment we drove in, we were more than a little intimidated. Our first glace at the mountain created a “crick” in our necks as our eyes surveyed its face, and a lift that practically goes straight up from its over 9,000 ft base.
This ski resort is NOT for the faint of heart or beginner, as over 51% of the runs are for those expert/advanced. 14 lifts serve 5 distinct areas: West Basin Ridge – all double black diamond; Highline Ridge – all double black diamond; Backside – 50% black diamond; Upper Front side – mostly advanced/intermediate; Lower Front Side – mostly advanced/intermediate. We were treated to some fresh powder which made the steeps a little less terrifying and certainly easier on the body when you have a “yard sale”. I think we would have had even more fun if we weren’t so worn out from skiing Copper the day before (…and if Paul’s sciatica wasn’t acting up ). The fact that we could easily retreat to our camper for a snack (or lunch) and head back up the mountain made for a nice and relaxing time.
We lucked out and skied two weekdays with nary a crowd, and were thankful that we caught the first lift up the mountain on that Saturday morning. By the time we came down, due to lack of visibility, and the fact that we were just plain gassed, we were surprised to see the massive line for the lift #1, up the mountain. We had initially thought that we would just grab a bite to eat and let the weather on the top pass, but once we surveyed the crowd, we called it and decided to pack it up.
Hugs ALL Around
We considered heading back up to Colorado to access a few more ski areas, but nixed that plan when I called my dad (who lives in southern NM), and he not only told us that he was not only TOTALLY cancer free, but had also had his second COVID shot. Absent COVID I hadn’t seen him or my step-mom for over a year, due to his cancer treatments. With COVID it had been nearly two years since we had been able to talk face to face, let alone go on an adventure. Confident they were in the clear, they invited us over to visit. What a joyous reunion. We were the first people they had had into their house in over a year, and we were able to give them their first hugs in over a year. One should NEVER be starved for/from and/or underestimate the power of human touch.
We had a great visit, and ate entirely too much excellent food. It was here that we realized that it was time to head home and let our legs, and Paul’s back recover a bit in the comfort of our own home, and especially bed.
But Wait There’s MORE
It was a good thing that we headed home when we did, for as we approached the Arizona/California border our brakes became a bit “soft”. We made a mental note to check them as soon as we got home. Holy Guacamole! We were SO lucky that during that remaining stretch we didn’t have to slam on the brakes, for when Paul pulled off the right front wheel to look at the breaks, its caliper was missing. SHIT! Further inspection revealed a small but steady leak to the rear brakes. Between Paul’s YouTube mechanic skills, and my brother’s ACTUAL mechanic skills those repairs, and a few others that surfaced out of those repairs, were completed. Hopefully this will buy us another year or two with our current truck.
On the down side, that kind of ended our ski-cation adventures for 2021. Paul’s contortions whilst completing the repairs to the truck and some other repairs within the camper, didn’t bode well for his back. This also stalled our intended May 3rd CDT thru-hike plans.
Not to worry. Paul has healed up significantly and we are currently back to training for the CDT. We expect to start sometime early/mid July, with a SOBO direction in mind.