“Very little is known about the early mountain Indians. It is believed they were a cultural outland branch of the Great Basin Indians of Utah. These early inhabitants of the valley were probably ancestors of the Utes and other Shoshonean groups in the West, which appeared about 600 to 800 years ago. As the earliest documented people in Colorado, the Ute culture extended across western Colorado, parts of Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. It is possible that the Ute occupation of Colorado dates back 10,000 years or more.” (Clawson 9)
The last 300 years
History records that, in the 1700s the first non-native Americans worked their way through this region, trapping and fishing. It is suggested that settlers used Copper as a summer base camp. The valley was a great respite before climbs over two significant mountain passes. In addition, the valley is the confluence of North and West Ten Mile Creeks, providing settlers fish, game and fresh water.
Wheeler, the first town at Copper Mountain
In the mid 1800s during the Colorado gold rush, a few miners ventured to Copper Mountain looking for gold. Unless the miners didn’t tell anyone, not much gold or silver was found. There was a mine shaft dug on the peak of Copper Mountain which yielded some low-grade copper but the operation was unprofitable due to its extreme elevation. On Copper Mountain some silver was found in mines such as Storm King Tunnel, Reconstruction, Reno, and the Dorsey Mine. Some small mines on Copper included Sunset Lode, Amanda Lode and the Good Samaritan Lode. Much more ore and some rich copper and silver veins were eventually found in the Kelleher Mine, May Raney Mine, and Lupton Boy Mine, all on Wheeler Mountain.
If you know where to look, a few of the mine entrances and miners’ cabins can still be seen today in secret locations throughout the resort.
In 1870s-80s Judge John S. Wheeler built the town of Wheeler at the base of Copper Mountain, between the present day Super B and A lifts. Judge Wheeler purchased the 320 acre property for $740.00. Wheeler was the first town known to have been built in the valley. Since the ore supply was minimal, the town of Wheeler’s main industry was logging and the production of lumber needed for the mines and cabins that were active through the Ten Mile Canyon. Wheeler had a hotel, general store, post office and hay ranch which supported a large sheep herd.
During this period the town had several names in addition to Wheeler; Wheeler’s Ranch, Wheeler Station, Wheeler Flats and Wheeler Junction. In 1880 the population grew to 225. Because the location was central to the mining activity of the region, Wheelers became a cross roads and favorite watering hole for the 10,000 miners that were prospecting up and down the Ten Mile Canyon in towns such as, Frisco, Masontown, Cunningham, Excelsior, Curtin, Uneva Lake, Officers, Solitude, Bensons, Graveline, Recen, Breene, Kokomo, Robinson, Buffers, Carverns, and Carbonateville.
Transportation through this region was difficult and Wheeler eventually housed a stage coach stop in 1879 and a railroad station in 1882. The rail line ran from Denver through Georgetown and the Ten Mile Mining District of Wheeler and then went on to Kokomo and Leadville.
1882 a fire burned down the general store, post office, milk house, storage shed, and Judge Wheeler’s private office. The billiard hall, blacksmith and wagon shop were saved along with Crawford’s Saloon which remained the hot spot. In 1900, Seth Crawford became Wheeler’s first official mayor. During that time Wheelers became a major shipping point for Summit County. It is reported that “three to four train loads of lumber and mining timbers were shipped daily from Wheeler.”
In 1883 the Rocky Mountain News wrote about the area: “The climate is the finest, clearest and purest in the world, the water comes fresh from melting snows…The pasturage…supports large numbers of livestock and herds of antelope, deer and elk… The hunting and fishing are simply unexcelled in the West.” Even then Copper was recognized for its natural beauty, unique alpine environment and natural resources that still exist today.
After the Gold Rush
By 1907 the town of Wheeler was deserted except for a few miners still trying to find the Mother Lode. In 1908 the Wheeler Guard Station was built by the U.S Forest Service. Stops at Solitude Station (Wheeler’s train stop) continued until 1937 when the last of the rail lines were abandoned and torn up. That same year, the last sawmill closed and the only activity left was sheep grazing.
Sheep herds averaged 900 to 1200 and some were as large as 2000. To protect their flocks, herding families regularly killed coyotes, one of the only natural predators to the regional beavers. Beaver populations, and thus beaver dams, exploded, transforming hay fields into flooded wetlands.
Numerous people owned the Copper valley between 1921 and 1968, Olie Lind (1921),Summit County Government (1937), John Custer and the Beelers and Frank Stafford (1941). Stafford sold his share to the Custers in 1947.
The Beelers and Custers used the property to vacation and enjoy the native surroundings, living in cabins they rebuilt from Wheelers until they sold most of the property to Eugene Sanders in 1967. They kept 10 acres of the property and their grandson Michael Brennan lived in the cabin and worked for Copper Mountain helping to build the ski area until 1973. He was the last one to live in the Beeler/Custer cabin. Shortly after Michael’s death, the Brennans donated the cabin to the Copper Mountain Historical Society.
Copper Mountain Resort – The Beginning
In 1954 Paul Hauk, District Forest Service Ranger, recommended the valley for ski area development. In 1962 he was contacted by Bob Gebhardt who represented an independent group about possible development, but nothing came of their interest. Other developers looked at Copper to build a ski area, but it was not until 1968 that a group finally emerged with enough foresight, experience and finances to develop Copper Mountain.
1n 1968, Chuck Froelicher and a group that included Chuck Lewis and 16 investors, formed Copper Mountain Associates which purchased the 280 acres at the base of Copper Mountain from Eugene Sanders. As the story goes, Sanders agreed to the sale of the property to turn Copper Mountain into a ski resort on the condition that Chuck Lewis would be in charge of developing the resort. In January of 1969, Chuck Froelicher, submitted a special use permit application to the Forest Service to study and develop plans to build a ski resort and base area village. In August of that year the Forest Service approved the application and a study permit was issued covering 2500 acres on Copper Mountain. Planning the resort as well as finding the capital needed for development took over two and a half years. The main funding came from L.C Fulenwider and Paul Bailey who became the majority owners of the resort. Construction began in 1971. The resort opened for skiing in 1972 with 26 miles of trails, 5 lifts including B, C, E, F and G and two buildings, The Center and Solitude. Copper Junction was the first condominium building that was completed at Copper Mountain. It was open for lodging and retail for the 1973 winter season.
Chuck Lewis was the driving force behind the vision and development of the resort. He faced many challenges in the first years and set a standard of creating entrepreneurial solutions to solve seemingly insurmountable problems. This character is ingrained into the culture at Copper and still persists today. A few example of this spirit were the Thick and Thin Lumber Company and the Pretty Lumpy Concrete Company. Throughout the valley’s history, Copper’s remote location has led to the high cost of building materials as well as the difficulty and wastefulness in disposing of trail-cutting debris. In response, Lewis formed the Thick and Thin Lumber Company, milling the trees from trail cutting into the lumber that was used to construct the resort. He also founded the Pretty Lumpy Concrete Company, purchasing 5 concrete trucks and becoming Copper’s main supplier until 1974. Chuck Lewis continued as president of the resort until 1982.
Copper Mountain Resort History Timeline
1971 – Copper Receives USFS Permit, Trail and Lift Construction begin. Zoning approved by the Board of County Commissioners.
1972 – Copper Mountain opens for skiing with Lifts; F, G, B, E, and C, and two buildings, The Center and Solitude. Copper’s offices are located on the third floor of the Center. Copper Junction, Summit House, Ten Mile Haus, Timber Creek are also constructed
1973 – Installed I and B-1 lifts. Buildings constructed: Anaconda, Copper Valley, Peregrine, Snowflake, Snowbridge Square, Summit House East, Wheeler House, Village Point
1975- Installed Mitey Mite beginners lift
1976 – Installed H Lift. Buildings Constructed: Togwotee, Copper Mountain Inn
1977 – Installed J lift, double chair
1979 – Open half of the east (Alpine) parking lot, Transportation Center building and A, C-1 chair lift. The Lodge at Copper, Foxpine Inn, Bridge End are constructed. Club Med was under construction at this same time. 1980- Apex Oil purchases Copper Mountain Resort. The new owners are Sam Goldstein and Tony Novelly. Village shuttle road paved from east lots to West Lake. Mt Plaza and Club Med construction completed. Mountain Plaza is constructed.
1981 – Union Creek base lodge and K and L Lifts. T surface lift also installed. West Lake Lodge, Beeler Place Townhomes are constructed.
1982 – West lake Lodge completed and Village Shuttle road paved from east lots to Beeler Place. Easy terrain of Union Bowl opens with R- lift. Buildings constructed: Spruce Lodge, Village Square.
1983 – B lift Clubhouse opens with food, restrooms and skier services. S lifts opens expert skiing in Union Bowl. Village Square East and West and conference center opens. Spruce Lodge is completed.
1984 – E lost is reconstructed increasing capacity. Copper Mountain Athletic club opens
1985 – Spaulding Bowl opens with A-1 and Storm King lifts. Telemark Lodge is completed. Golf Course is redeveloped to a 7,000 yard par 70 championship course designed by Pete & Perry Dye.
1986 – American Flyer lift opens as Copper Mountain’s first high speed “detachable” quad. The Greens at Copper opens and phase 1 of The Woods at Copper Creek.
1987 – Phase II of The Woods at Copper Creek is completed.
1989 – American Eagle lift opens providing two high speed quads from the base area.
1994 – Copper Bowl opens adding approx. 250 acres of expert, high Alpine terrain to Copper’s offerings. Installed T-Rex lift.
1995 – Mountain Chief lift installed.
1996 – Installed Black Jack
1997 – Intrawest buys Copper Mountain. Installed Stinger.
1998 – Intrawest launches Phase I of the resort’s multi-year renaissance by breaking ground in the Village. Copper Mountain opens the Super Bee lift – Colorado’s first six-passenger, high speed lift. Copper also makes significant snowmaking improvements in addition to opening Excelerator lift, Copper Station and Copper Springs Lodge. Installed Glide Magic Carpet. Eldon Beck sketches the initial plan for the Village at Copper focusing on the pedestrian usage and flows.
1999 – Groundbreaking marked the beginning of a new era for Copper Mountain, solidifying the launch of Phase II of the resort’s multi-year $500 million renaissance. The Schoolhouse at Union Creek opens offering a “kids only” building for Ski School.
2000 – Installed Rug Rat and Easy Rider Magic Carpets.
2001 – Center Village is completed with the opening of: Copper One Lodge, The Mill Club, Tucker Mountain Lodge and Taylor’s Crossing including 250 lodging units and multiple shops, restaurants and bars.
2002 – The opening of Passage Point marks the end of the Village at Copper development. Installed Sling Shot Magic Carpet.
2003 – West Lake is reopened with new shops, restaurants and bars.
2004 – The Cirque opens offering Copper’s first quarter-share platinum rated property.
2006 – On October 26, 2006 Intrawest was officially acquired by Fortress Group LLC.
2008 – Copper Mountain receives unanimous approval from the Summit County Board if County Commissioners for the next stage of village and base area development, which stands to add 590 units of density to the resort while improving resort transportation and pedestrian flow, establishing ongoing funding for community programs, and construction of a multi-user recreation path throughout the resort base area.
As mentioned, parts of Copper’s past can be seen throughout the Resort and Mountain. Mining claims dot the mountain. Some of the wood from Chuck’s Saw mill is still in use today on decks and sign posts. A few of the original structures from the early and mid 1900’s are still standing: the Olie Lind / Beeler Cabin and Barn which are located near the Transportation Center and the old Wheeler Guard Station and Outhouse which can be found between the base of A lift and the Super B.
We can give thanks to our history and to all those individuals, from the Native Americans, the trappers, miners, herders, railroad and saw mill workers, to Judge Wheeler, and the Beelers. More recently we thank those who made Copper what it is today from day one, such as Michael Brennan, Chuck and Penny Lewis, and Chris Coleman, for putting their energy, passions, and heart and sole into turning this valley into something extraordinary. Without them, Copper would not be here for us all to enjoy.
What brought people here 300 years ago is still the reason that people come here today, to enjoy the unique natural resources of the Copper Valley and Copper Mountain. This too will be the reason that people will continue to come to Copper for the next 300 years.
References and Citations
Clawson, Janet Marie. Echoes of the Past: Copper Mountain, Colorado. Denver: Waddell Litho, 1986.
Coleman, Chris: One of the first Copper Mountain employees
Echoes Of The Past: Copper Mountain, Colorado By Janet Marie Clawson – Much of the information within “A brief history Copper Mountain” came from Janet Marie Clawson book. Much more of Coppers past with great detailed and flavor can be found in “Echoes Of The Past: Copper Mountain” – Peter Siegel.
Echoes of the past: Copper Mountain, Colorado by Janet Marie Clawson