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A couple years ago my son and I did Steamboat Powder Cats during the holidays and had such an amazing day that I decided to do it again this year. Since Cooper is less than an hour from or place in Keystone and quite a bit cheaper I thought it would be worth a try. I had heard good things about the operation.

We arrived a little after 8am and found the group getting ready in the lodge. I'd never been to Cooper and it's a real throwback mountain. Very laid back. The cat held 12 skiers. We've had a terrible start to the snow season here and I was really wondering if the trip would even run as the snow cover is quite thin. The first trip of the year ran four days earlier and I was told they were finding some good stuff. It was overcast and in the single digits to start the day with forecast of light snow later on.

Unlike Steamboat the trip from the base to the top is quite quick and were were on the hill skiing before 9:30. Chicago Ridge is a wide basin area with several drainages. You start at above 12k feet and have a first pitch above treeline. Most runs then drop into the trees which were in the most part nicely spaced. It's a little steeper than Steamboat which is a good thing, but we didn't ski anything I'd call really steep. Most runs were moderate length. Looking around I could see some great terrain but it didn't take long to figure out that the lack of snow was going to be a real issue. Above treeline snow depth ranged from 3-18". You could see grass in many areas. Since it hadn't snowed much in a while the snow was very wind affected. There was a 3" wind packed layer that was mostly but not always breakable. Underneath when you broke through was softer but with zero base you pretty much hit whatever was there which meant a lot of rock. My son took a 4" core shot on the first run and little did we know it was just one of many.

Dropping into the trees the snow lost the wind layer and turned into a deeper heavy powder that was creamy in spots and downright heavy in others. Although snow depths were in the 12-20" range there were more obstacles  in the trees and with zero base layer we continued to hit pretty much everything. Rocks, logs, stumps, down trees. I think I hit it all. I was skiing some older Gotamas and was having some issues with keeping the tips floating. You just couldn't ski fast enough in places to float, even though the heavy snow would let you get on top with some speed. Part of the problem was watching other folks crash from hitting unseen obstacles sort of tempered my desire to just let em run.  My son took a nasty fall after lunch crashing through a hidden rock garden and banging his elbow pretty bad. It ended his day early.

Mostly the guides did a good job of finding the best snow. We did take one run that required a long traverse out through the trees that had no more than 6" of cover. Brutal.  Lunch was provided in an on mountain yurt and consisted of salad, baked potato, and ribs with cheesecake for dessert. It was great.  I think we did six runs before lunch and three after. Finished at 3:30 and beer and chips were served in the lodge after.

I have to give mixed reviews to the trip. I really did not enjoy the skiing much at all. The snow was as difficult as I've ever skied that didn't involve ice. My Gots survived with just a few scratches, but my son was on some old Axioms that I believe must have a softer ptex material. His bases went from almost perfect to completely trashed. Two decent core shots and totally scratched everywhere. No big deal as they were a cheap Craigs List find but I've got a lot of work with the ptex gun to get them skiing again.

I'd go again, but it would have to be a last minute thing when I was sure conditions were good. That terrain is worth another shot.