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Family Travel: On Top of the World in Leadville

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I was driving the rutted, icy streets of Gunnison a few weeks ago, bemoaning the endless winter, the ever-present cold and the seemingly endless gray skies. Normally, Gunnison is sunny and bright, although very cold. Not this winter. It felt as if I had been transported to the Midwest and I was over it. I wanted sun and warmth…and streets that didn’t require a 4 wheel truck to navigate.

So I packed up the kids and went to Leadville for a weekend.

I realize that Leadville is a curious choice given its altitude- 10,000 feet above sea level- and copious amounts of snow. Despite that, Leadville was full of sunshine and affordable activities for my family and yes, even that elusive warmth we had been seeking. Turns out we didn’t need to go to Mexico for a break from winter- we could find it all in Leadville.

Those of you who go on long car rides with children know the desperation that hits when you have exhausted all of your snacks and your kids have lost all of their patience. This was my experience as the kids and I pulled into Leadville on Saturday evening. My kids had resorted to constant whining and I had fallen back on the idle threats that seem to define parenting whenever whining is involved. I am pretty sure I said things like, “If you don’t stop whining, I will turn this car around and we will go home RIGHT NOW” (this was never going to happen) and “If you don’t stop hitting each other, I will cancel all fun activities for this weekend!” (this was also never going to happen). We pulled into High Mountain Pies in the nick of time where I over-ordered (apparently each of my children needs their own pizza and a gigantic root beer) and I attempted to mitigate any and all sibling rivalries while we waited for our pizzas. Fortunately, everyone who worked there was chill beyond belief, the pizzas were quick and delicious and even my notoriously picky children ate without complaint.

Let’s discuss hotels for a moment. A good, family-friendly hotel has the following characteristics: good beds for jumping, actual televisions with actual channels and Lucky Charms in the breakfast buffet. Silver King Inn and Suites checked off every box. Bonus points to the front desk clerk for buying Girl Scout cookies from daughter. Extra bonus points for having a waffle maker at breakfast so that same daughter could make her very own waffles and proceed to pour gallons of syrup all over them. Silver King is kind of amazing.

Day 1: Ski Day at Play

My kids love to ski. The only problem? The 8-year-old is a black diamond skier. The 4-year-old, not so much. As a single mom, it can be hard to meet both kids’ needs (and wants) on the ski hill. I planned our day at Ski Cooper in anticipation of this and I was generously rewarded with happy, satisfied and tired children. I signed the youngest up for a lesson and planned a morning snow cat tour to Chicago Ridge with the oldest. Everything was going swimmingly…until I made the mistake of taking the preschooler on a run before his lesson (on the longest magic carpet in Colorado!) and then forcing him to stop skiing so he could meet his instructor. Cue the world’s greatest tantrum. The boy did NOT want to stop skiing and he really did not want to stop riding what truly is a magical carpet. Here’s where Ski Cooper really shined: every single staff member worked to help me get my boy back on track. They corralled him when he ran away. They soothed him through his tears and they knew exactly what to do to calm him down. Not one person acted frustrated or put out. In fact, I think the only adult on the verge of losing it in that scenario was ME.

As soon as I escaped, Hazel and I hopped on the snowcat for a tour to Chicago Ridge and you guys. This is something you need to do in your lifetime. The views will take your breath away- and not just because you’re at 12,000ft. You can also ride the snowcat to ski (the most affordable snowcat skiing in the state) but on this day, we were in it for the experience. And what an experience it was. Just look at the pictures and tell me you don’t want to do that.

Upon picking the now-happy demon child preschooler up from lessons, I did what I do best as a parent: I let my children eat candy and chips for lunch. Because we were skiing and because we were on a mini-vacation and because yes, I totally gave in.

After scarfing all of the sugar and carbs she could handle, Hazel took off to race in the town race series taking place that weekend. There is something I need to explain here. Hazel had never skied at Ski Cooper before. Yet, I let her take off on her own, find the race course on her own and ski on her own. If this were any other large resort, this would never happen. But at Ski Cooper, it’s totally OK. It’s easy for kids to find their way around and the minimal lifts (2) allow kids independence and the freedom to explore (she killed it in her race by the way).

We ended our day skiing all together, happily roaming down every run we could find, while Tygh sang about trucks and Hazel practiced her backwards skiing and looked for jumps in the trees. Ski Cooper was a complete win.

If you have ever vacationed with children, you know that there will need to be drinks involved, even if those drinks are only coffee. I like my evening drinks to induce a little relaxing so we headed to Period Brewing where I quickly herded the kids upstairs to find couches! space! games! toys! Periodic Brewing gets us. My kids were entertained. I was relaxed. And the drinks weren’t bad either.

Day 2: Dog Sledding

For our second and last day in Leadville, we planned to do something the kids had been talking about for ages- dogsledding. First, I had to tear them away from the endless cartoons in the hotel room (we obviously don’t have real TV in my home) but once I accomplished that difficult task and fed them delicious pastries and hot chocolate at City on a Hill (this coffee snob gives them an A+ for strong, strong coffee), we made a beeline for Alpine Adventures, where my kids could barely contain their excitement. I knew this because they spilled about 6 cups of hot chocolate in the reception area while we waited.

After cleaning up 6 cups of hot chocolate, my kids got to experience their dream: cuddling with 8 adorable huskies. And oh yeah, driving a dog sled. If you’ve never gone dog sledding, I definitely recommend it. Watching the dogs run so hard and so fast (completely normal for their breed) is a wondrous sight. Watching your kids drive a dog sled with so much marvel is also a wondrous sight. Our guide reveled in telling the kids every single fact about huskies and their ability to run, to eat and yes, even to poop, something that delighted the preschooler to no end.

By the end of the afternoon, I had unwittingly adopted 50 huskies and they were all going home with us in our car.

As soon as I pulled on the highway towards home that afternoon, both kids had nodded off, likely dreaming of waffles, snowcat rides and dogs. I felt deeply satisfied. We didn’t escape to the beach- we escaped somewhere better. Somewhere that allowed us to be outside, in brilliant sunshines, doing things that made all of us happy. And that beats the beach any day.

Eryn Barker lives, works and plays in the Gunnison Valley. You can read her writing on her blog, Gunny Girl, or find her on Twitter,Instagram or Facebook.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Amber Johnson February 23, 2017

    This trip looks amazing!!! I’ve only passed through Leadville in the summer but after reading this, I’m adding it to my winter bucket list.

  • comment avatar Rory February 23, 2017

    So if you just love to ski/snowboard and dont need fancy lodge/resort accomodations then COOPER is the place to go!!! $52 Lift Tickets, 39 Runs, 3 Lifts, GREAT STAFF! No long waits in linefor lifts, and they have monthly specials. Cooper is a beautiful scenic 30 minute drive from leadville with the “fourteens” on magnificent display..take your camera!!! We will be returning here regularly now that we have discovered this gem!

  • comment avatar Sarah February 23, 2017

    Ski cooper is a great place for the beginner or intermediate skier or snowboarder. Lift lines are virtually nonexistent. Main runs are machine groomed. Ticket prices are ridiculously low. Our family of four can enjoy two days lift for around $250 TOTAL!! Food and drinks in the lodge are also a good value. R

  • comment avatar Sarah February 23, 2017

    We did the combo zip line and snowmobiling and the zip line by far the best experience ever our guides where fantastic I could recommend it highly enough! Brilliant once in a lifetime experience for me! Don’t miss this if you’re in Leadville… it runs all year round.

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