A gem of Lake County | VailDaily.com

A gem of Lake County

Christine Ina Casillas
Fantastic back country skiing is closer than you think.

Picture it: More than 2,400 acres of unmarked, snowbound terrain.

The view: Above timberline, breathtaking. Climbing the top of the mountain behind Lake County’s Ski Cooper, at Chicago Ridge, people can see 23 of Colorado’s fourteeners.

That’s what Leadville resident Pat Chant has experienced for more than 18 years, and he keeps coming back for more.

Chant has guided the Chicago Ridge back country snowcat tours at Ski Cooper since it started 18 years ago. Now, as the director of the tour, Chant said it’s one of the oldest operating tours in the state.

The opening day for the tour usually begins around Dec. 15 depending on the weather. The opening day celebrations for Ski Cooper usually includes two local radio stations broadcasting live and giveaways and goodies for those who attend the event.

And with a record snowfall year ” exceeding the snow average record for the last 10 years ” the back country snowcat tour might be just what the powderhounds’ order.

“There’s a giant area behind Ski Cooper where we go,” Chant said. “It’s addicting to ski the back country. It’s hard to come back to a ski resort. Back country skiing is what dreams are made of … “

Formerly a ski patroller, Chant said skiers grew tired of the same packed powder runs, the same trees. They started searching for longer runs, more terrain, fresh, deep powder.

“When I started, back country wasn’t the ‘in’ thing, so there wasn’t a lot of competition,” Chant said. “Then people started to get bored with the ski mountain and started looking for newer terrain.”

Chant was 27 years old, when snowboarding was barely beginning. Now, at 50, Chant said Chicago Ridge back country tour at Ski Cooper is the oldest operating snowcat tour in the state.

Only five resorts play host to snowcat tours in Colorado. But Chicago Ridge is the friendliest when it comes to the pocketbooks.

The tour takes people deep into the back country of Ski Cooper, beyond the ski resort’s boundaries and into the land of the U.S. Forest Service. Skiers and snowboarders will find unmarked terrain, deep powder and the ability to veer in and out of wide-open tree runs.

Two tour guides haul up to 12 intermediate to advanced powderhounds into a heated snowcat with a coach to the top of the mountain, where they can ski or snowboard down as many runs as possible in a day. The snowcat leaves around 9 a.m., a large catered lunch is served on the mountain or in a tent, depending on the weather, and people return around 3 p.m.

This tour is not for the weak at heart. Although there are two guides handy, people who know how to ski and snowboard are the only ones allowed on the tour.

“It’s not extreme but it has good pitch to it,” Chant said. “People are striving to find the back country.”

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado CO

Support Local Journalism