Owned by Denver, Operated by Intrawest, Winter Park offers value with style, service
by Karen Rubin and Eric Leiberman
Winter Park Resort has really come into its own and can stand along with the world-class Rocky Mountain resorts.
And if ever there was a season to experience the glory of skiing the Rockies, this is it – the snow is sensational. Spring is particularly fantastic – with long days and strong sun. Winter Park averages the most snowfall of all the Colorado resorts, 30-feet of the white stuff. This year, has the best snow base ever and Easter coming late, Winter Park is open until April 24.
Winter Park is a very different sort of major mountain resort. It is owned by the city of Denver, and, with a 71-year history, is Colorado’s longest continually operated ski resort. But since 2000, Winter Park has been operated by Intrawest, a big-league resort company that also owns and operates Steamboat in Colorado. Intrawest has brought all the accoutrements of a top-notch resort operation to Winter Park’s spectacular peaks.
In fact, Winter Park has been transformed from when I last visited years and years ago. It now has a quaint village at its base, evocative of an Old West mountain town, with ski in/out condominium-style accommodations, cute shops and restaurants, and every manner of amenity.
Winter Park’s unusual pedigree makes for a distinctive character. A city-owned facility operated by a major resort company, means that there are groups of city kids that are brought up by Denver’s Parks & Recreations Departments, a world-class program for disabled skiers, and a connection with the city with Ruby Hill Rail Yard, the country’s first free urban terrain park, which was established by Winter Park in partnership with the city and corporate sponsors. The world-class facilities and amenities on and off the mountain, coupled with ease of access from Denver International Airport and its value for dollar are making Winter Park attractive to an international market – most notably from the United Kingdom – giving the slopes a cosmopolitan flare.
The quality and service elements can rival the biggest brand names in the business. Winter Park offers all the luxury amenities but without pretention, glitz or snobbery – even with this new upscale dimension. There may well be celebrities here, but you would never or even care.
Probably the best example of this new level of lavish service and luxury is the classy new Private Lesson Center which opened this season. Located right at the center of the Village, a few feet from the Zephyr Express chairlift (and across from the rental shop), this is so much more than a meeting place for private lessons or guide. The center provides new amenities including complimentary lockers for full-day private lessons guests, a full concierge service for local dining and entertainment options, delivery of guests’ prearranged rental equipment each morning, private lift line to Zephyr Express Chairlift, snowmobile shuttle to the award-winning Sorensen Park for beginner skiers and riders, and a customized boot fitting service onsite to give each guest the ultimate ski and ride experience. Guests can relax and share their day with friends and family in a comfortable VIP lounge setting. (Reservations are highly recommended; call 970.726.1554 or e-mail email@example.com to book a lesson).
Winter Park Rental shop was indicative of this level of service – a fully computerized operation, there were any number of people on hand to help buckle the boots and make sure everything fits. The equipment available was top-notch (the K-2 high-performance woman’s shaped skis really enhanced the experience, like driving a Mercedes). The shop is a short walk to the lift and offers such features as custom delivery service, late hours, free storage. Also, kids rent free when booked in advance with adult rental of performance or demo skis. (Also on the technology front – you can rent a helmet cam at the rental shop).
How’s this for service: you can arrange for custom rental delivery service- you reserve gear in advance and the boots and lift tickets are delivered to your door, and the skis wait for you at slopeside storage You can also register for ski and ride school lessons from your room.
World Class Mountains
Winter Park has big mountains and massive skiing – in fact, 3,078 skiable acres, rising from a base at 9,000 feet to the summit at 12,060 feet. Its 143 trails are accessed by 25 lifts, with the longest run 4.6 miles long.
Even so, Winter Park is exceptionally comfortable and easy-going for families, with everything easy to reach and close at hand.
The slopes offer long, scenic cruisers from the top that green (beginner) and blue (intermediates) can enjoy, the signage on the mountain is excellent, the lifts – mostly those marvelous detachables that make getting on/off so easy – are fantastic, there are emergency phones well situated on the mountain, and the trails funnel back to a base that is easy to navigate and easy-going.
It seems there are more on-mountain lodges and services here than anywhere – the prettiest, Sunspot at the top of Winter Park, is where you dine two miles high, and where you can enjoy scenic dinners on Friday and Saturday nights.
The terrain parks – there are six plus a superpipe – are somewhat separated from the main trails by trees, and you even need a special access pass and have to watch a mandatory video before you can enter Dark Territory Terrain Park. (You can watch the action from Snoasis, a mid-mountain eatery with an outdoor BBQ and bar).
The nicest part about skiing at Winter Park is that it offers such a variety of terrain, suitable for all abilities, spread out, over its mountains – and yet there is also natural separation of abilities simply because there are so many trails and so many places to go.
Still, beginners and blue trail skiers will find the most terrain on Winter Park Mountain and off the Pioneer Express.
Winter Park Mountain is “easier” than we expected – and has a comfortable feel, ideal for families. The blues are tame – especially with that famous champagne snow (sometimes like whipped butter), wide and forgiving, and not especially steep. A favorite route was taking the Olympia Express lift up to an amazing view of Mary Jane, and ski down the Mary Jane trail (a blue), then taking the Super Gauge Express to the top of Mary Jane, taking Edelweiss down to the Panoramic Express lift (a six-pack added in 2000 by Intrawest) up to the summit, at 12,060 ft., where you can take a marvelous blue trail, Parry’s Peek, back down.
There are even blue trails off the back bowls of Winter Park, but here is where the advanced and expert skiers will thrive.
Advanced and expert skiers gravitate to Mary Jane. Don’t let the name, Mary Jane, fool you. This is no caramel candy pushover. The motto on Mary Jane is “No Pain, No Jane.” At an altitude of 11,000 feet, this beautiful, bumpy mountain was voted #1 in North America for bump skiing by Skiing Magazine. It’s where the U.S. Freestyle Mogul Team trained well knows Mary Jane and her phenomenal bumps and has trained here for the 1998, 2002, and 2006 Olympics as well as pre-season for the past 14 years.
You’ll get exactly the bump experience you are looking for on the70 trails at Mary Jane. Mary Jane is made up of three mountains each offering a unique skiing and riding experience; Mary Jane, Parsenn Bowl, & Vasquez Cirque.
The motto on Mary Jane is “No Pain, No Jane.” At an altitude of 11,000 feet, this beautiful, bumpy mountain was voted #1 in North America for bump skiing.
At 12,060 feet. Parsenn Bowl makes you feel on top of the world – filled with vast empty spaces, beautiful gladed tree runs, amazing powder and the gorgeous opportunity for fresh tracks.
Vasquez Cirque is a backcountry adventure area for experts only, with a 1,500 foot vertical drop. Dropping in off a cornice at Vasquez Cirque is just the beginning: it offers over 687 acres of cornices, lips, and glades that make the Cirque an intense, intimidating experience for anybody.
You can find your own trail through the trees and glades – in fact, Winter Park has been ranked in the top 10 for tree skiing (unfortunately, a blight by the pine beetle is destroying 6 million acres of trees in the region).
On the mountain, there is a surprising array of pleasant lodges and facilities – just about everywhere you turn (and where there isn’t an actual lodge, such as at the Olympia Express lift, there are restrooms and a warming hut).
Here’s another interesting amenity: the large trail maps that are at the top of the lift have a QR code (quick response), which triggers an interactive map in your smart-phone for weather, lift status and such.
Fun for All Activities
People used to think that Winter Park was a sleepy, ho-hum place, but it has really come into its own with activities and apres venues, in a charming environment.
Winter Park has a definite family focus in terms of its activities, with a special free activity just about every day. There isn’t just free ice skating on a pond (skate rentals are available), but there also are free lessons offered 4-5 pm., Thursday to Sunday (through mid-March).
One of most popular activities is the Mini Rail Jam, offered Fridays, 4-5:30 p.m, where little jibbers can show off their tricks (recommended for 6-12 year olds), at the Bouncer Terrain Park located across from Doc’s Roadhouse right by the Zephyr lift, hosted by an MC who makes the kids feel like champions.
Another novelty that seems to be Intrawest’s creation is a twist on “Kids Nite Out” – where the $30 charge is waived when parents spend that much on dining and/or shopping in the village during the hours the kids are in the program (if you spend less, the amount is put against the $30 fee). Held at the Private Lesson Center in the village on Thursday evenings from 5:30-8:30 pm, the kids (4-12 years old) have a fun evening that includes dinner and s’mores by the firepit, games, seasonal crafts and movies. (Reserve your child’s space by 3 pm on Thursday, call Winter Park Guest Services at 800.729.7907; enrollment is limited and is on a first-come, first-serve basis.)
There’s a free Cow Gal Singalong around the campfire, on Fridays at 4-5.
On Saturdays, 4-5 pm., kids can swing by the Village Gazebo to meet Willie, Winter Park’s mascot, before starting dinnertime activities. Kids are sure to love hanging out with Willie, slapping high-fives, and getting hugs while munching on cookies and sipping hot chocolate. This free family activity and snacks are on a first come, first serve basis.
But there is plenty to appeal to older and young adults, as well.
Other activities available include snow cycle excursions, scenic snowcat tours (a sightseeing tour of Winter Park mountain in a heated, enclosed 13-passenger snowcat), guided snowshoe tours; free guided mountain orientation tours (at 10 am and 1 pm); and NASTAR Racing.
The new village base has changed everything about Winter Park – turned it into a true resort and added dimension and personality. There’s plenty enough to do after the lifts close – the bars at the base stay open until 11.
Cheeky Monk, is a Belgian beer cafe (to me it has a Victorian-era Western-saloon ambiance) that is pure delight for lunch or dinner (it is popular for apres-ski and live music, and serves a Mary Jane beer, specially made for the mountain).
Also fun is Goody’s crepes and baked goods, like an old-fashioned soda fountain and ice cream parlor, serving scrumptious crepes, omelets and baked goods.
Lime Cantina is an American cantina offering Mexican food, margaritas and a fun atmosphere.
Doc’s Roadhouse is the place to go for pancakes for breakfast and traditional American fare for lunch and dinner, with a great apres scene in the upstairs Coors Lunge.
For that special dining experience, The Lodge at Sunspot, offers an authentic Colorado dining experience and stunning panoramic views of the Continental Divide from two miles high. A five-course, gourmet meal, offered Friday and Saturday evenings and select holidays, begins with a moonlit gondola ride and features such culinary selections as lobster bisque; elk tournedos, buffalo tenderloin, or pan-seared steelhead trout (Reservations are required and can be made beginning at 5:30pm, Call 970.726.1446).
You can also come up for fireside cocktails and appetizer at The Lodge at Sunspot, offered Friday and Saturday evenings and select holidays (Reservations are required, call 970.726.1446, $10 lift ticket).
The Lodge at Sunspot offers the perfect rocky mountain romantic setting, with a Date Night special that includes champagne and s’mores or chocolate covered strawberries, plus gondola ride for two (Friday and Saturday nights, $25; reservations required, call 970.726.1446).
The new base village has an Old West theme which also pays homage to the railroad which is still a unique feature at Winter Park. Daily freight trains come rumbling through Moffat Tunnel, which goes through the Continental Divide. Until recently, there would also be a daily passenger ski train from Denver, and there are hopes that the service will be restored.
New Ski-in/Ski-out Lodging
Winter Park really came into its own with the development of its village base, complete with ski-in/ski-out options and slopeside lodging. There is an enormous range of lodging – in all, Winter Park can house 12,000 people.
Our condominium unit at the Iron Horse Resort, though not part of the new village base area, still afforded ski in/out access and convenience to Winter Park’s trail. Our unit was more of a lavish home than an apartment with stone fireplace, large huge living room with two comfy leather couches (it even had a Murphy bed),a kitchen with granite counters and every amenity (even a refrigerator specifically for wine), a massive master bedroom with king bed, bunk beds with double bed and single on top, Jacuzzi bath, big screen TV, laundry facilities. Then, if you needed, it had a second efficiency room with king bed that could be connected. Ultra spacious and so comfortable. The resort also has a charming Bistro (conveniently open 3:30-10 pm. daily except Tuesdays, and serving Brunch on weekends, 970-726-2332), a fitness center and indoor/outdoor pool. The resort also provides free shuttle service to the base as well as into town (Alpine Resort Properties, 800-551-9943, www.alpineresortproperties.com).
The town, about a mile up the road, has also come up a lot, with lots of shopping and dining choices, such as Coopers Creek Square, and Randi’s, which offers an imaginative menu superbly executed in a casual Irish Pub-style atmosphere.
Winter Park is such an unusual place – a major resort, and yet still closely tied to the city of Denver with a long tradition of working with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. You can see it in the school groups that come, and also in the extraordinary disabled skiers program that it offers (Winter Park hosts the annual Wells Fargo Ski Cup at Winter Park, (www.skifornscd.com) one of the biggest fundraisers of the year for the National Sports Center for the Disabled) (nscd.org)
Winter Park is one of the closest major mountain resorts to reach from Denver International Airport – just about two hours’ drive (passing such interesting places as Idaho springs, Georgetown, Empire, and crossing the Berthoud Pass across the Continental Divide). There is a convenient shuttle service from the airport with Home James.
The deals in spring are amazing. Winter Park Resort and the Winter Park-Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce team up to offer a ski-free deal in April where you get two free lift tickets for Winter Park Resort with every two-night lodging stay (Book your stay between April 4 and closing day, April 24, 2011; lodging is as little as $44/per person per night, book at www.playwinterpark.com.
Or see Winter Park Reservations deals at Winter Park Reservations deals.
Four Season Resort
Winter Park is very much a four-season resort, world-renowned as a mountain biking destination.
Come summer, Winter Park Resort turns into a popular high-altitude destination with fun-filled activities, including Colorado’s longest Alpine Slide (3,000-foot), 18-hole mini golf, scenic chairlift rides on the Zephyr Express up to 10,700 feet elevation for spectacular views of the Continental Divide and the Fraser Valley, and mountaintop dining at the Lodge at Sunspot, and more than 33 miles of chairlift-accessible mountain bike terrain, outdoor climbing wall, Human Maze (a frequently re-configured labyrinth where you race against the clock to find four check points).
Winter Park offers some of the most spectacular riding in the western U.S., with access to over over 600 miles of trails throughout the Winter Park and Fraser areas, and terrain for everyone from novice to expert downhiller.
A 20 hole disc golf course, accessed by the Arrow chairlift, works its way across ski trails with beautiful views of the Continental Divide (no charge to play golf, only to ride the lift and rent discs).
Both kids and adults will enjoy the Leaps & Bounds Bungee, which features four individual trampolines linked by one center tower. Flips and twists are easy to perform on these trampolines with the help of the bungee cord.
Have you ever floated in space? The GyroXtreme is similar to the equipment designed by NASA for astronaut training, and used by many air forces to train their fighter pilots. More importantly, it offers plenty of fun for kids of all ages, and should not be missed.
Try your hand panning for gems in the new wooden panning troughs of Mary Jane Mine Company Gem Panning.
Children can jump until they run out of energy in the Jumpy Snowcat named Anastasia, which is good news for both child and mom or dad!
Winter Park Central Reservations provides a full service travel agency and represents a wide variety of properties; it can also provide vacation planning for groups, summer groups, family reunions and destination weddings.
Book online, or call 800.979.0332;
see package deals and specials at www.winterparkresort.com/deals/index.htm.
Tuesday, 15 March, 2011
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