COPPER MOUNTAIN, CO. -- Matt and Reggie were happy to ski with the family -- just not in the designated Family Skiing Zones.
``Can't go fast enough!'' they yelled, leaving me, as usual, trailing behind. However, for those families who don't have hotdoggers in their midst, these special slow-skiing, fenced-off areas on certain beginner and intermediate slopes are ideal. No snowboarders or skiers can race by, unnerving your 5-year-old just as he's getting his ski-legs -- or you either.
Whatever the kids' ages or skiing ability, Copper Mountain Resort is a good family bet. With 21 lifts and 2,433 skiable acres -- half for beginners and intermediates -- there's plenty for every kind of skier and snowboarder in the bunch. Coloradans certainly think so. A half million plus skied here last season, more than at any other ski resort in the state.
For one thing, it's got a great location, an easy 75-mile drive down Interstate 70 from Denver, the closest ski resort to the city and its airport. Close to other major ski areas, too, Copper Mountain is less than 25 miles from Vail, Vail-owned Keystone and Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin, making it easy to try several areas during a ski trip. (One child up to 14 can ski free at Arapahoe Basin with one skiing adult. Call 888-ARAPAHOE. Call Breckenridge or Keystone at 800-427-8216 and Vail at 800-278-2372.)
More important than locale for parents on a budget, Copper Mountain offers some of the most affordable family skiing in Colorado. This season:
-- Children 5 and under always ski free. Ski and stay before Dec. 19 and kids up to age 14 also ski free while parents pay $29.
-- Buy a multiday ticket for your kids (up to age 14) and they may ski for just $12 a day, less than half what some major resorts charge.
-- All of the beginners in the bunch, including mom and dad, can ski free on more than 53 acres in two large beginner areas most weekdays from Jan. 5-Feb. 13 and at the end of the season.
-- Grandma and Grandpa can ski free if they're 70 or for $28 in their 60s. They get a break on lodging, too.
-- A family of four could get a four-night/four-day ski and stay package in January for about $650.
Besides the deals, families will like the new Family Fun Park, complete with an ice skating rink, tubing hill and snow-shoeing. Watch for snowman-making contests! Snowboarders will head straight to the 50-plus acres of new boarding terrain. I know I'll steer clear of the three-way jump.
The improvements are the first in expansion plans announced after the resort was purchased last season by Intravest Resorts, the Canadian company that also owns Whistler/Blackcomb in British Columbia and Stratton in Vermont, among others.
Any family, I think, would like the ease of the place. It isn't too big for a parent to worry about a 10-year-old getting lost racing ahead to the base, or too small to keep an expert skier satisfied. The Kids Headquarters, ski and snowboard shop and lockers are in one place, close to the lift-ticket windows and day care center, making it easier to get everyone skiing faster in the morning.
Everything at the resort -- the condos, day care center, ski school, ice rink, restaurants and more than 25 shops -- is within a short walk or shuttle ride. That's why I felt comfortable letting the preteens in the group find their way back to where we were staying on their own.
All kids will love the Copper Mountain Racquet and Athletic Club, where they can swim and soak in the spa and you can work out or get a massage to work out those kinks. (There's no charge to use the center for those staying at the resort.)
New parents will like the Belly Button day care center. Babies or toddlers not yet ready to ski stay here happily all day (for $55) under the watchful eye of a certified staff. This is the only ski school I know of where preschoolers can help bake their own cookies for snack. There's plenty of snow play too, and an introduction to skiing for the 3 and 4-year-olds. Nervous parents can easily ski down to the center for a quick check on their kids.
There's no need to start the day racing from lift line to rental shop line to ski school line either. Parents bring their ski-schoolers straight to the Kids Headquarters, where their instructors will help them get fitted with equipment at the on-site kids' rental shop. I liked the special kids' cafeteria with child-sized tables and chairs. Sure these may be small things, but they can spell the difference between a happy family ski week and one fraught with aggravation.
(Lessons, lift, rentals and lunch cost $72 for an all-day program. Multiple-day packages are available. Ask about the Kid's Night Out program. It's offered periodically and is free as long as parents eat or shop within Copper Mountain Village.
Those parents who don't want to want look at a kitchen on a ski trip or entertain their kids apres ski can find their idea of nirvana here -- at Club Med Copper Mountain, where meals, lessons and evening activities are wrapped into the deal. This can be a pleasant alternative for a single parent concerned about being isolated in a condo with the kids. But it probably wouldn't work for those like me, who want only to collapse on the couch in long johns after a day on the mountain.
(Week-long adult packages start at $1,155 and $805 for kids, plus air fare. Ask about the special Teen Club activities. Call 800-CLUB-MED.)
(Look for Eileen Ogintz's books from HarperCollins West: ``A Kid's Guide to Vacation Fun in the Rocky Mountains'' and, for parents, ``Are We There Yet?'')
(Send your questions and comments about family travel to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053 or e-mail to email@example.com. While every letter cannot be answered, some of your stories may be used in upcoming columns.)
(c) 1997, Eileen Ogintz. Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate