New Copper Mountain general manager, ex-NFL player Dustin Lyman, confident in leading resort’s future

Antonio Olivero
Summit Daily News

Snowboarding wasn’t a mainstream in the ’80s, but that didn’t stop a young Dustin Lyman and his Boulder buddies from messing around on their snurfer boards on the sledding hills of Scott Carpenter Park.

Back then, the future National Football League player Lyman would meet up with friends before they’d conjure whatever kind of snowboarding set-up they could muster. In those early years, that sometimes meant strapping their Sorel snow boots to wooden planks with rudimentary plastic bindings or by nailing down belt straps.

The city of Boulder had its limits, though. That led Lyman first to nearby El Dora Ski Resort and then others. One of those was Copper Mountain Resort, where Lyman remembers pushing his young snowboarding limits on the Coppertone run.

The snow wasn’t the only place where Lyman was pushing himself athletically. Growing up in the shadow of the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field, Lyman was inspired as a kid by the Buffaloes’ championship football teams.

“I just really, really enjoyed competing,” Lyman said. “It only ended up being football later in life. When I was younger, it was really anything.”

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That “anything” included both snowboarding and skiing. About three decades later, Lyman still skis and snowboards.

And now he’s back at Copper — as the resort’s new president and general manager.

Now 42 years old, Lyman didn’t find himself on a snurfer board or testing his snowboarding skills on the Coppertone run this Friday morning.

Rather, his work day began by skinning up Copper’s Main Vein run on alpine touring skis.

NFL days

How is it that a hulking NFL player ends up back here, overseeing a Rocky Mountain ski resort? It’s not uncommon for retired NFL players to open up a real estate business or a restaurant chain. But leading a ski resort in one of the most competitive of destination ski counties in the United States is not exactly what you’d expect from a former Atlantic Coast Conference all-star linebacker or Chicago Bears tight end like Lyman.

“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do when I stopped playing football,” Lyman said. “I just knew that I wanted a break from the game and I wanted to start something that was a career that was completely different.”

Lyman took that break from the game after his 5-year, 55-game NFL career concluded after the 2004 season. It was a career that began with his selection by the Bears in the third round of the 2000 NFL Draft, the same draft the New England Patriots selected Tom Brady. Brady and Lyman, a Wake Forest University alum, were teammates for the East-West Shrine Bowl three months earlier, where Lyman played inside linebacker.

The Bears soon moved the 6-foot-5, 259-pound athlete to tight end, where he’d make 37 receptions over his career. It was with the Bears where Lyman learned from leaders on the team.

“I had to take my determination and focus and level of effort up a notch to a level I didn’t even know was possible,” Lyman said. “Going through that process of preparation really enabled me to do things after my football career was over that I’m not sure I would have been able to do.”

Finding his way back home

After football, Lyman first found himself splitting his time in Chicago between working in financial services during the day and taking master’s-level courses in business strategy at the University of Chicago at night. It’s there Lyman said he was exposed to highly motivated people in a discipline outside of football. They inspired Lyman to find his way back to Colorado to combine his career with his lifelong passions of skiing and snowboarding.

Lyman eventually landed a job in corporate finance with Vail Resorts in Broomfield. For four years, Lyman met more motivated people he viewed as role models in ski resort management.

With his eyes on leading a resort, Lyman left Vail to work in finance and then as the chief executive officer of Famous Brands International, the company that owns Mrs. Fields Cookies and TCBY Yogurt. With the company, Lyman led a 5-year repositioning of the company for expanded e-commerce and retail business. Riding the strength of what he did at Mrs. Field’s, Lyman re-entered the industry where his true passion lies: ski resorts.

In charge at Copper

When Lyman speaks about Copper, he uses the terms “authenticity” and “craft.” When skiers, snowboarders or other guests come to Copper Mountain, Lyman wants the resort to provide a kind of warm, yet adventurous experience. When he assesses the resort’s strengths, he views Copper as a place that has always had a reputation as a great skier’s mountain.

“We are willing to take as much time as needed to maintain and grow that authenticity,” Lyman said. “And Powdr [Corporation] is not determined to maximize the bottom line as quickly as possible — because there are levers we could pull to do that that would erode what makes the culture here at Copper so special.”

Copper is set to increase its snowmaking capacity by 50 percent in time for next ski season. The resort also has received U.S. Forest Service approval to build a 4-person chairlift to access remote skiing on Tucker Mountain. The resort is also targeting summertime growth with a slew of new mountain biking and hiking trails.

Lyman, though, doesn’t want to stop there. He wants a summertime experience at Copper where there is lively activity and shows in the resort’s base area to complement many more on-mountain offerings.

That’s the future. When assessing the recent past, though, Lyman’s first couple of months at Copper got off to a rough start when the resort’s new American Eagle and Flyer lifts were delayed several times from opening.

Lyman said he understands why the public and the resort’s guests were frustrated by the delays, though he added that “there was really no constituency more frustrated about that timing delay than the staff at Copper Mountain.”

Lyman said the resort put much effort into projects contingent on complicated pieces of equipment that required more than what the staff at Copper Mountain could provide. That ultimately led to the unforseen delays.

“Now we have learned from that,” Lyman said, “and, when we look toward our future projects, how we stage the start, middle and end of those projects and the communication on when we expect to be complete with those projects are all things that we can improve.”

With the new state-of-the-art lifts now open, Lyman doesn’t feel he needs to concoct a sales pitch to recruit customers to Copper. Rather, he views it in a way almost like an elite college football coach at an elite campus. He feels if you give Copper a chance and you come see what the new lifts have to offer, you’ll like it enough to come back time and time again.

Who knows, maybe you’ll even run into him in time for the Super Bowl to watch Tom Brady at his favorite bar to watch NFL games: TenMile Tavern.

“I feel confident,” Lyman said, “that what we have to offer is an incredible value for people that are interested in this type of vacation.”

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