• Original Reporting
  • On the Ground
  • Sources Cited
Original Reporting This article contains new, firsthand information uncovered by its reporter(s). This includes directly interviewing sources and research / analysis of primary source documents.
On the Ground Indicates that a Newsmaker/Newsmakers was/were physically present to report the article from some/all of the location(s) it concerns.
Sources Cited As a news piece, this article cites verifiable, third-party sources which have all been thoroughly fact-checked and deemed credible by the Newsroom in accordance with the Civil Constitution.

The Italian athletes bomb down the Copper Mountain race course in a blur, their skis slicing barely perceptible arcs in the firm snow. 

“Look at that. Can you believe we’ve had 400 guys on that in the last two days? It’s perfect,” says Patrick Riml, the alpine director of U.S. Ski and Snowboard, pointing at a glassy pitch between the gates.

This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.

In it, he covers the industry from the inside out, plus the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state.

For the past several weeks, Copper Mountain has been the world’s best ski racing training venue. For more than a decade, hundreds of ski racers of all ages have flocked to Copper’s north-facing slopes in October and November to jump start their race season. 

The heavyweights arrive in November, with Olympians racing down Copper’s 2-mile speed course, which drops 2,300 vertical feet, allowing speeds up to 80 mph. Shorter slopes offer technical training for slalom and giant slalom. When the U.S. athletes arrive, Copper’s venues become the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center and Alpine Technical Center. 

With its race venues, superpipe and Woodward training center — with indoor trampolines, foam pits and ramps at the Action Sports Barn — Copper Mountain has supported just dozens of the world’s top alpine and freestyle skiers and snowboarders. It’s all part of the mountain’s mission to be “the athlete’s mountain,” said Dustin Lyman, the president and general manager of Copper Mountain. 

“We would do better financially to open, but this is our commitment to the sport of ski racing,” said Lyman, a former tight end for the NFL’s Chicago Bears who grew up skiing in Colorado. 

Martin Cater, of Slovenia, takes off from the gate at the top of a 2,300 foot training run at the U.S. Ski Team’s Speed and Alpine Tech Center. The run is clocked once the alpine racer breaches the time sensitive gate. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
A French alpine skier warms up his legs during an early morning training session. International alpine ski athletes have rallied at Copper Mountain for early season World Cup race training since 2011. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Lyman’s snowmaking crews get busy in early October, laying out several slopes as soon as evening temperatures drop below freezing. While nearby Arapahoe Basin and Keystone race each other to open ribbons of machine-made snow for recreational skiers, Copper’s team works to build slopes for the pickiest skiers in the world. 

Since 2011, national teams, college skiers and clubs with knee-high rippers have gathered at Copper every November for pre-season training. When the snow isn’t good in Europe, the athletes from afar load lifts at Copper Mountain before any other resort in the country has opened.  

“We’ve got pretty much the entire Beijing alpine podium skiing here today,” Lyman said a few days ago as he side-slipped the race course between speeding, famous European athletes. 

An alpine racer flies between the gates at the U.S. Ski Team’s Speed and Alpine Tech Center at Copper Mountain last week. “In the sport of ski racing weather is constantly changing and affecting the training schedule,” says Sierra Ryder with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team. “The best snow for racing and training is typically a hard surface. That way there are not too many bumps in the course for the racers.” (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

The top skiers get out early, loading chairs as early as 5:30 a.m. so they can make the first runs on the firmest snow. This season, the snowmaking along with very cold nighttime temperatures and just enough precipitation has made the venue “absolutely incredible,” said Riml, who took the reins of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard this spring after serving as the alpine director for the Austrian Ski Federation. 

Italian alpine ski racer, Christof Innerhofer, tucks in during a downhill training run. Alpine racer reach speeds up to 80 mph. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

In two weeks the world’s top male skiers will gather to the west at Beaver Creek for the World Cup Birds of Prey downhill and Super G contests. The Copper Mountain and Beaver Creek courses are different, but they are north-facing at similar altitudes in a shared climate. 

“It’s always great to train on home soil and for some of the athletes they are close to home as well which is great,” said Sierra Ryder with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team. “It’s also nice to have the athletes in Copper so close to the Birds of Prey World Cup. While it is not the same venue, being in the same climate never hurts.”

An alpine ski racer sends it over a roller during downhill training at Copper Mountain last week. Surrounded by the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument and Eagles Nest Wilderness, the U.S. Ski Team’s Speed Center offers 2,300 vertical drop in 2 miles. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Jason Blevins

The Colorado Sun — Email: Twitter: @jasonblevins