• Copper Mountain's Tucker Mountain Snowcat Review

    A group of us decided we wanted to experience the Tucker Snowcat at Copper Mountain. It is a service provided by the resort, free to lift ticket holders. There were two cats running the Friday we decided to give it a try. Each cat takes 11 people to a drop-off point in Copper Bowl. I estimate the drop-off to be in the saddle separating The Nacho and The Taco, based on my Garmin Player file. I'm told you have to have an account activated to see the names of the runs on the file, otherwise all you will see is a map.

    On the day we went, the wait was four snowcats. We boarded the fifth cat. Total wait time from the time we got into the cat line until we were dropped off at the top of the mountain was about an hour.

    I was a lucky dog and got to ride in the front seat with ski patrol member, Dick. (I didn't get a last name.) I believe Dick told me he has been with Copper Mountain patrol for 28 years. I know that the Tucker Cat is not intended to run forever, as a lift is planned for Tucker Mountain. Both Dick and I lamented a bit that a chairlift will change the skiing experience on Tucker.

    A lift changes the experience for a few reasons. First, the snowcats only run Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Because it had snowed Tuesday and Wednesday before our trip, we were able to experience untracked powder. Second, the volume of people skiing Tucker is far less than on slopes that are serviced by a chairlift. Not only does this mean good snow, it also means the steep slopes have not turned into just another bump run. Though our powder had a bit of firm snow on top, I can imagine that a new snow day would define "steep and deep."

    During our instruction session with Dick, he let us know that the best snow was on the far end (read: a long hike with skis) because few people are willing to walk that far and they had just recently opened up Freemont Glade. We decided since we were there for the adventure, we were going to hike to the best snow.

    (Scott Ellis, Doug Pearson, Pete Graham)

    For those of you into data files, the hike was from time 2:19 to 3:16 on the player file – a 1.23-mile hike. Hiking this far in ski boots at 12,000 feet of elevation is not a fun experience for everyone – our group savored the experience. Know that we stopped several times and took photos. (Big thank you to Doug Pearson and Pete Graham for some of the photos.)

    (Top photo is looking back towards the drop-off point, note the tiny people in the background. In the bottom photo, you can see the Mountain Chief lift in the background.)

    (In the top photo, looking down the backside of Tucker Mountain is Highway 9 heading to Leadville. The tailing ponds are visible here. The bottom photo looks across to Copper Bowl, with the cat track visible in the valley. Click on the photo and you can see the Mountain Chief lift in the background.)

    (Pete did a great job of getting photos of all of us hiking and getting ready to take the plunge!)

    The ski down the face of Tucker Mountain to the Freemont Glades was excellent. I was able to ski untracked snow for a good portion of the run until we got into the trees. For some reference, launching off of the top of Tucker is similar to the run skier's right of the giant rock formation visible from the Mountain Chief chairlift. On the Garmin file, it was part of our warm-up for Tucker – the run between Matchless and Bradley's Plunge.

    (On the tippy top of Tucker Mountain you can see tiny dark spots - those are people waiting to ski down. I think the skier closest to me is Doug Pearson.)

    It is possible to experience Tucker and ski a blue run. The way to do this is to ski the cat track back down the mountain. If you get up on the ridge and freak out, it would be a long side-slip down the mountain. I'd suggest walking back down the ridge to meet the cat.

    There are slopes that don't require a 1.23-mile hike, so that is an option as well.

    Dick told me the new chairlift, part of Copper Mountain's The 12's Project, is scheduled to be installed the summer of 2015 – if – everything stays on schedule.

    (This is a view of Tucker Mountain that Doug took, over his shoulder looking back across the valley while riding the Blackjack lift.)

    Not easy, but worth the trek. All of us said we'd do it again.

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