Insider's Guide To Winter Park
Bowls galore for cornice jumping. (Winter Park/Facebook)
Winter Park typically stays open longer than all but two Colorado resorts. This season, closing is set for April 22, rivaled only by Arapahoe Basin and Loveland.
Opened in 1939 with two rope tows and a J-bar, it’s long been “Denver’s ski area” with a town-hill feel. The city still owns the property. It sits at the headwaters of the Fraser River next to the Continental Divide, and it's known for cold temps and a basin that catches snow when others don’t.
Terrain. Despite crowds, locals will tell you there are plenty of private slashes and stashes around Winter Park. But often it takes a couple of lift rides to get where you want to go. The trail map spreads across more than 3,000 acres with a max vert of 2,200 feet. It has two base areas: Winter Park and Mary Jane. About half the slopes and trails face due north, while only 2 percent have southern exposure – one reason why the season goes so long. The resort recently divided terrain into “Seven Territories” that delineate different types of skiing and riding. The front side juxtaposes the novice and intermediate trails off the Winter Park base with the gnarly, mogul-mania double-diamonds of Mary Jane. There’s a top-rated superpipe, and a half-dozen terrain parks dot the front side – along with a fully dedicated learning area called Discovery. Work your way up to the 11,200-foot summit, and things get steeper. Take a challenging traverse to the trees in Eagle Wind area, or drop down the other side to Panorama six-pack, and ride into back bowls, Vasquez, Parsenn and The Cirque, which fires up a 48-person sled for $20 ride into the steep stuff. On weekends and holidays, lift lines can be daunting to get to upper mountain. Mary Jane has two lifts, including old-school Challenger double chair.
Play. Plenty to keep the family entertained here: Sled dog and sleigh rides, tubing park, fat bike rentals, ice skating, broom ball, snowmobiling and Nordic tours. The Winter Park village has a host of retail, and more shops are down U.S. 40 in Frasier. Child care emphasizes crafts and games.
Eat/Drink. Coffee, craft beer and cocktails can be found most anywhere. As for food on the mountain, the Sunspot Mountain Lodge at top of Zephyr Express serves lunch and dinner. Farther up the hill, Lunch Rock perches atop Mary Jane, and the Sundance Chili Hut has dogs and pizza in a cozy cabin at the top of the Pioneer Lift. Down below, a bevy of eating choices – from standard cafeteria to waffles to beer-and-braut – sprinkle around the base area. The valley is more known for hearty, outdoor food and tap beer than haute cuisine.
Stay. While the majority of skiers and ‘boarders on any given day come up from Denver, there’s no shortage of rooms at Winter Park. Condos, lodges and townhomes pack in close to the mountain, and Winter Park Lodging Company centralizes reservations at the resort. Franchise motels sprout up along U.S. 40 to the town and beyond.
Travel. The drive up I-70 to U.S. 40 over Berthoud Pass should take 1-1/2 hours, but I-70 traffic can be dense and slow. Visitors fly into Denver International Airport, rent a car or hop a shuttle. Ample parking can be found at both base areas. Or, take the only slopeside train in the U.S. The Winter Park Express picks up skiers and riders at 7 a.m. in Denver’s Union Station and makes the run to the base of the mountain in two hours. Return trip loads at 4:30 p.m. Fare is as low as $58 round trip.
Deals. Since the resort owns a bunch of lodging, the ski-and-stay deals abound. Winter Park is now part of the Ikon Pass system, which has 11 other resorts under one season pass, and 13 for up to seven days of free skiing and riding. Or, buy another Ikon option for fewer resorts and some restrictions. Kids always get a break on tickets and lodging.