by Lu Snyder
If you thought a winter vacation in the Colorado Rockies was all about skiing or snowboarding, think again. Now that Copper Mountain’s new Rocky Mountain Coaster is open, there are even more ways to enjoy the mountain – whether or not you like strapping boards to your feet.
Never been on an alpine coaster? Neither had I. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Imagine a cross between an alpine slide and a one-car rollercoaster that winds down the mountain, in and out of pine forests, along and over ski runs.
Once you purchase tickets (available at Guest Services and any ticket window) head to the small building at the bottom of the mountain, just west of Jack’s Slopeside Bar and Grill in Center Village and the American Flyer lift. You can opt to ride alone or with a passenger. Once you’ve learned the basic safety requirements, how to control (or maximize) your speed and are safety strapped in, cables will pull your car uphill along the tracks. This is the time to soak up the scenery and the small details, like the way the snow’s surface sparkles like diamonds in the sun or look for the porcupine hidden among the branches.
When the track turns downhill, it’s up to you to decide how fast you want to go. While you won’t experience the dizzying heights or plummeting downhills of a modern-day roller coaster ride, the Rocky Mountain Coaster offers breathtaking beauty and plenty of thrills as you roll down the mountain, curving and looping sharply in, out and through the trees before popping out on a bridge that takes you across a ski run, 25-feet or so above the ground.
At 5,800 feet long (that’s more than a mile!), Copper’s alpine coaster is among the longest in North America. It descends more than 400 vertical feet, with an average grade of 10.9 percent (consider that the steepest sections of Vail Pass are only 7 percent).
Even the most tentative riders usually pull into the bottom station grinning widely, eager for another lap.
A word of caution though: the ride can be cold. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon when my daughter and I rode the coaster. We were advised to wear goggles and we dressed in warm ski gear, including neck gaitors, hat, mittens and snow boots, yet our fingers and toes were painfully cold by the time we’d finished our first lap.
Open year-round, the Rocky Mountain Coaster offers yet another opportunity to explore the mountain and make memories with family and friends during your stay at Copper. You may have so much fun, you’ll find yourself scheduling a return trip to ride the coaster when the mountain is dressed in summer’s green.