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Chairlift to Heaven

Copper Mountain’s new Three Bears lift accesses some of Colorado’s steepest and deepest inbounds terrain—delivering you to this powder playground in exactly seven minutes.

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Tucker Bowl, on the backside of Colorado’s Copper Mountain, has long been one of Colorado’s secret jewels, renowned for its snow-choked chutes that put your jump turn to the test—not to mention your bootpack stamina. (It was only accessible via a snowcat ride and 30-minute hike.) Now, in one of the most anticipated lift-served expansions in skidom, a new lift called Three Bears will whisk skiers and riders to the summit of Tucker in seven quick minutes—an addition that solidifies Copper’s rightful place as a world-class resort.

Copper Mountain has always been known as a skier’s mountain—a hardcore haven amidst Colorado’s corridor of cobblestoned “resorts” busy courting the Four Seasons crowd. Its unapologetic focus on the skiing experience—instead of centering the shopping, dining, and nightlife—has gained it a cult-like following among local Front Rangers.

This season, however, the opening of Three Bears—a fixed grip triple chair that will access 273 acres of nearly 40-degree, powder-choked terrain on 12,421-foot Tucker Mountain—will put Copper squarely on the map as having some of the best lift-served terrain in the state. The new lift, named after POWDR founder John Cumming’s family nickname, will spin skiers and riders into 1,100 vertical feet of terrain previously accessible via snowcat and hike, and will operate from the end of December through April, snow-depending.

Part of a $100 million multiyear expansion, the new lift delivers skiers from the bottom of the existing Blackjack lift to the top of the newly named Curecanti run (formerly Taco Chute). The summit of Tucker boasts 360-degree views of both the Tenmile and Gore ranges, and it feels so pristine you won’t believe you’re just on the other side of I-70. The exposed, high-alpine aprons of powder funnel down into puckering chutes and glades, all with a north-facing aspect that keeps the snow soft and chalky. Even the wind is benevolent, loading the slopes with a continuous refresh of light, buffed crystals. Everyday pow is a reality back here, even when high-pressure systems bring dry skies.

“The skiing back there is phenomenal,” says Todd Casey, a longtime local ski instructor who’s known as the unofficial mayor of Copper. “It’s all expert-only chutes and trees. The ridgeline is above 12,000 feet, and they often couldn’t even run the cat due to snow safety concerns. So the fact that the lift will spin all winter, regardless of weather, is huge.” Stephanie Backes, Copper’s marketing and communications manager added, “When you drive up to Copper, you only see the bottom of the frontside. But with Three Bears, we now have more than 1,000 skiable acres of lift-accessed high-alpine terrain that you have no idea exists until you get to the top. It’s incredible.”

Also new this year: Copper has built a new ski patrol building that will double as a warming hut at the top of Three Bears, replacing the old ramshackle patrol hut affectionately referred to as “the dumpster.” Additionally, many of the runs have been renamed to reflect their Colorado heritage. Fremont 1, for example, is now called Boulderado, and is Backes’s all-time favorite run on a powder day.

According to Backes, the locals are “overwhelmingly excited” about Three Bears, and even the small contingent mourning the loss of their secret hike-to goods see the benefits. Chief among them: a longer season. (The snowcat ran only on weekends for an average of two months of the season). More skier compaction will hold the snow better and allow the resort to keep Tucker Mountain terrain open longer. So do your squats and lunges, because this season is going to be rad. 

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