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Want to hit the slopes for spring break?

Sculpt family ski memories at Copper Mountain Resort

Mauri Elbel Special to the American-Statesman
Copper Mountain Resort boasts 2,500 skiable acres and more than 140 trails. [Contributed by Tripp Fay]

I am trying to catch a glimpse of our 9-year-old, who is fearlessly speeding down the slope, disappearing entirely every so often to zip through a hidden path in the pines. His little brother trails closely behind me, cautiously retracing the serpentine tracks I’m carving into the freshly fallen snow blanketing Copper Mountain Resort.

“Mommy, can we come back to Copper Mountain again?” my 6-year-old shouts from behind, careful not to deviate from the course I’m paving down Easy Feelin’, an uncrowded, gently sloping beginner trail.

I turn to look back, spotting his giant gap-toothed grin peeking out between his scarf and ski goggles, and I can’t contain my smile either — there’s nothing quite like skiing with your children for the first time. Thick and fluffy snow flurries start to fall all around us, and suddenly I am flooded with nostalgic memories of this magical place. Growing up in Central Texas, we only took a few family ski trips. But I’ll always remember the first one to Copper Mountain Resort when my parents bravely packed me and my younger siblings into our minivan and made the 16-hour road trip to this laid-back ski resort just 75 miles west of Denver. It was the first time we got to play in real snow — not the rare and short-lived white dusting that warrants days off here in Austin. We spent cold Colorado mornings molding snowmen, while our evenings involved heavily heated snowball fights followed by steamy cups of hot cocoa. It was also the place I tried skiing for the first time, and I vividly recall my less-than-graceful first day on the slopes when my dad (also a beginner) gave me a few pointers at the top of the mountain before I went careening down it, veering off the trail and losing my skis.

Fast-forward a quarter-century and we are back at this laid-back, family-friendly ski resort nestled in the heart of the Colorado Rockies with our own three kids for spring break. This time around, we’ve swapped the road trip for direct flights into Denver, and we’re relying on Copper Mountain’s competent and patient instructors to teach our kids how to ski.

Of course, there have been significant changes since my last visit to this ski resort, which now encompasses nearly 2,500 skiable acres with 142 trails and four bowls spread across three mountains. Copper is currently undergoing $20 million in capital improvements spanning new restaurants to an upgraded radio-frequency identification technology ticket system. Just this season, the resort debuted its new high-speed American Eagle lift that includes a combination of six-person and eight-person gondola cabins and the American Flyer high-speed six-person chairlift with blue bubble enclosures that greatly increase the resort’s uphill capacity. But despite the growth, it’s immediately evident one thing has remained the same: It’s still the perfect place for families to create snow-filled memories together.

There’s an unpretentious vibe that flourishes throughout this resort, from the top of its soaring 12,441-foot summit to its base, where you’ll find three quaint walkable village areas sprinkled with lodging, shops and restaurants. On our first morning waking up at Copper Mountain, we’re greeted with bluebird skies as we make our way to the West Village to drop all three of our kids off at ski school for the first time. Copper Mountain’s ski and ride school is available for children as young as 3 and through 17, but there’s also child care for ages 6 months to 6 years for little ones not quite ready for the slopes. While our boys received refreshers from their last time on the snow exactly one year ago, our 3-year-old was able to click into skis for the first time, which allowed my husband and I to spend seven splendid worry-free hours skiing on the mountain together (the school uses Flaik GPS tracking, which allows parents to track their child’s day on the slopes). We dusted off our skis by taking a two-hour ski tour with a Copper Mountain ambassador — the free, twice-daily tours are a great way for intermediate skiers get an introduction to the mountain and scout out some of the best trails. Copper Mountain’s beginner, intermediate and expert terrain is naturally divided, so whether you’ve got little ones bound for the bunnies or teens tackling the toughest trails, the resort offers an unintimidating ski environment.

My husband and I spent the rest of the afternoon gliding down the groomers in the sunshine and had just enough time to rest our legs at Ten Mile Tavern, where we grabbed seats at the copper-finished bar, sampled a couple of the 20-plus beers on tap like 10 Barrel Brewing’s Joe IPA and Pray for Snow winter ale, and shared spicy Korean beef tacos and wild mushroom tostadas before retrieving our kids from ski school. While ski schools can be hit or miss with our kids, all three of ours gave big thumbs-ups to the one at Copper Mountain Resort. Perhaps it’s due to the low ratios — for 3- to 5-year-olds, group lessons cap at five students per instructor, while classes for 6- to 17-year-olds have a maximum of eight students per group. But it also has something to do with Copper’s patient and passionate instructors, like PSIA-certified ski instructor Amanda Burnham, who is in her eighth season teaching at Copper Mountain.

“I’ve taught at a number of resorts, but I love Copper,” says Burnham, who started skiing at age 2 in her home state of Vermont but returns to Copper Mountain Resort each season. “Copper really values its training, and it’s really taken with pride here. There is something special that you can almost feel here. It’s a big resort, but it’s really close-knit. It’s like a big family.”

Following a successful day of group lessons, we booked a private lesson for our boys with Burnham while our 3-year-old reported back to ski school for another day of lessons interspersed with highly anticipated hot cocoa breaks (her favorite part of ski school). For Burnham and many of Copper’s seasoned instructors, there is one main goal with every lesson: instilling a love of the sport to others.

“We are all about making snow memories and creating a lasting experience,” she says. “We know that everyone is starting from a different point, so we make sure that we rely on their goals and not our own. Especially with kids it’s important to remember that they have had a long journey just getting out here.”

For our boys, becoming confident on skis has been a joyful journey. Following a day of ski school and a day of private lessons with Burnham, our 6-year-old and 9-year-old were both riding lifts up the mountain and skiing down intermediate trails with us by the third day. It was by far my favorite ski day yet. There’s something magical about watching your kids fall in love with skiing, remembering what they’ve learned, trusting their bodies and grinning ear-to-ear as they fly past you. I, just like them, can’t wait to be back.

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IF YOU GO

Stay: We stayed slopeside in a cozy two-bedroom condo at Copper Springs, located in the East Village just 150 yards from the Super Bee chairlift that proved especially convenient for families like ours with kids who aren’t used to getting around in bulky ski clothes or carrying their own ski gear. Just outside the lodge, free shuttles drop by every few minutes to transport you throughout the resort.

Eat: When hunger strikes, there’s no need to leave the resort. Fuel up for the day in Center Village at Toast & Co. with savory breakfasts like huevos rancheros or a quinoa breakfast bowl and barista-made coffee. For lunch, warm up with a steamy bowl of soup without breaking your snowy stride on the mountain at Flyer’s. Enjoy apres-ski on the south-facing patio at the newly built Downhill Duke’s, which boasts stellar cocktails, sharable plates and even a menu of dog-friendly fare (the restaurant’s namesake is the four-legged legend known as Duke). If you’re craving Mexican food for dinner paired with bigger-than-your-face margaritas, head to Casa Sanchez. For upscale romantic dining, reserve a table at C.B. Grill, where fresh, local ingredients create chef-inspired dishes like beef tenderloin lollipops and citrus- and pistachio-crusted Colorado striped bass. Take advantage of the resort’s Kids Night Out program for children ages 3 to 12 — parents just have to spend $30 anywhere in Copper’s Village Area to receive free child care for up to three hours.

Play: Copper offers ample off-the-slope adventures. Copper Mountain’s tubing hill is one of the best in Colorado, where hourlong sessions provided endless laughs and thrills for our boys as they zoomed along the snowy curves. At the base of the hill, our 3-year-old found toddler-size entertainment at Critterland, a snowy playground full of colorful houses and characters. Families can ice skate in Center Village, brave the resort’s 5,800-foot-long Rocky Mountain Coaster or capture thrills on the Alpine Rush Zip Line. Woodward Copper, a year-round action sports facility, offers everything from snowboard and ski to skateboard and BMX programming. Our boys loved bouncing and getting their first taste of skateboarding inside Copper Barn, a 20,000-square-foot indoor playground equipped with everything from foam pit jumps to Olympic-grade trampolines. Serious athletes can perfect their skills on the snow at six nationally-ranked terrain parks featuring a beginner halfpipe and an Olympic superpipe.

More at coppercolorado.com.