COPPER MOUNTAIN — Two framed sports jerseys hang in the office of Copper Mountain president and general manager Dustin Lyman. One is a Chicago Bulls jersey autographed by Michael Jordan, whom Lyman considers “still the GOAT,” meaning basketball’s greatest of all time. The other is a Chicago Bears jersey representing memories Lyman made in a five-year career wearing No. 89 as a tight end for that iconic football franchise.
While his office memorabilia might seem to have little to do with managing a ski mountain, or the Dew Tour competitive freestyle ski and snowboard event that is coming to Copper next week, they actually reflect something about the way he sees the resort distinguishing itself from its competitors.
“The heart of this place, as I see it, is that Copper is the athlete’s mountain,” said Lyman, who grew up in Boulder and is in his second season running the resort. “It’s very obvious to people when they visit Copper, that is our focus: Athlete development. And we consider ‘athlete’ to be broad, from the most elite in the sport to those just getting started.”
The Dew Tour, one of the premier events in winter action sports, will bring world-class skiers and snowboarders there Feb. 6-9 for competition in modified superpipe, slopestyle and streetstyle, along with live music and other festivities. This will be Copper’s first time hosting the tour, which left Breckenridge last year after an 11-year run. Events will be streamed live on a variety of platforms.
“I can’t speak for Breckenridge, but we wanted it,” Lyman said. “We made that clear as we were talking to Mountain Dew, Pepsi, that we are well-positioned to run this type of event at the highest level. It’s another example of what we stand for. We host lots of events, small and big-time. Dew Tour is at the highest level when it comes to freestyle events.”
Silverthorne snowboarder Red Gerard, who took the Olympic gold medal in slopestyle at the 2018 Winter Olympics when he was only 17, said Copper Mountain has been more welcoming to certain types of snowboarders than Breckenridge.
“They don’t want snowboarding, slopestyle and action-sports snowboarding, I feel like,” Gerard said of Breckenridge. “I think that’s just going to be a really cool thing that Dew Tour is bringing to Copper Mountain. Dew Tour is always the first contest to bring the newest slopestyle course to us, and the most creative slopestyle course. I’m really excited to see that.”
This winter, Gerard collaborated with Copper to create Red’s Backyard, a hike-to terrain park at Copper’s Center Village that doesn’t require a lift ticket because the intent is to encourage kids to give freestyle riding a try. It was inspired by the famous backyard terrain park at his home in Silverthorne that became a YouTube phenomenon.
There’s a lot more to Copper’s athletic ethic. Since 2011, Copper has been one of the few places in the world where alpine ski racers can get preseason full-length downhill training in November through a partnership with the U.S. Ski Team, and this season, the resort set aside another slope for slalom and giant slalom. The U.S. Ski Team Speed Center annually hosts American racers and World Cup teams from other nations, as well as youth club teams from the east coast.
“We’re really, really proud of that,” Lyman said. “It’s not the biggest financial opportunity (for Copper), but it is the heart and soul of the sport.”
For more than a decade, the resort has been home to Woodward at Copper, an indoor facility where aspiring freestylers can learn tricks and elite athletes can develop new ones in safety, using trampolines and foam pits. When they’re ready, they can take what they learned to Woodward on-mountain terrain parks.
“It is highly coveted by the elite level of freestyle ski and snowboard,” Lyman said of the indoor facility, “but what’s really important to us with Woodward is that it’s all about progression. People who have ambitions of going into a half-pipe or going off slopestyle jumps — we have an entry-level for that. People can come and familiarize themselves with getting off the ground, getting comfortable with that at limited risk, and progressing to the highest level of that sport.”
While most ski areas have embraced the growing “uphilling” movement — allowing fitness-minded skiers to climb their mountains under their own power on ski mountaineering equipment and then ski back down at little or no cost — Copper this year is taking the trend a step further: They have started guided uphill tours on weekends for people who are interested in uphilling but don’t know how to get started.
Also new this year: A chairlift on Tucker Mountain, on the southern edge of Copper’s permit area, providing access to advanced terrain that previously was accessible only by hiking or snowcat.
“It fits a big-mountain, very challenging experience that is critical to our core Colorado audience,” Lyman said. “It is terrain unlike any other in the state, and I think it rounds out our athlete’s mountain experience. (Copper) is speed venue, downhill; it’s tech venue, slalom and GS; it’s park and pipe, in everything we do with Woodward Mountain Parks. But it’s also high elevation, big mountain, big drops, steep chutes and very challenging terrain. That (attracts) another type of athlete.”