Winter Park Co
The long history of the Winter Park Ski Resort started back in the season of 1939-40 when the city of Denver opened the ski area to provide a “winter park” for the residents of Denver. The term “winter park” conjures up thoughts of a little kids snow park or a playground, which couldn’t be further from reality when it comes to the Winter Park Ski Resort. Whilst it may have humble beginnings, Winter Park CO has morphed into a very large ski resort with first class facilities. It’s no longer just a ski area for Denver day trippers, but also a major destination resort.
The Mary Jane Mountain is a famous part of the history of Winter Park CO. As legend goes, Mary Jane acquired a piece of land on the mountain through payment for special favors provided to the railway workers and miners. And the terrain on this part of the mountain is just as lewd and feisty as Mary Jane, with moguls that are world famous. If you’re a masochist and want to get swallowed whole, then the Mary Jane bumps are for you!
Winter Park Ski and Snowboard Terrain
The Winter Park ski resort has two main interconnected mountains that have separate base areas; Winter Park and Mary Jane. Winter Park
is characterized with terrain for beginners, intermediates, and park shredders. The Mary Jane
terrain is more difficult and is pigeon holed as lots of single black diamond mogul runs. Mary Jane also has trees where you might find a little powder stash and solace from the bumps. Parsenn Bowl
provides alpine terrain for strong intermediates, and Vasquez Ridge
also has lots of blue runs. Vasque Cirque
is peppered with cliff bands, providing short pitches of alpine “extreme terrain” in the form of chutes and other treats.
Winter Park is a reasonably big resort with 3,081 acres (1,246 hectares) of skiable terrain, making it the fourth largest resort in Colorado. The vertical drop is 3,061 feet (933 metres), whilst the maximum continuous vertical drop is 2,610 feet (796 metres). Winter Park Resort has 25 lifts, although only 9 of these are fast chair lifts. Particularly on weekends, Winter Park can be become very crowded and lift lines tend to develop.
The terrain split is 8% beginner, 36% intermediate, 53% advanced, and 3% expert (extreme). And unlike some Colorado ski resorts, the statistics are reasonably reflective of whom the terrain is most suited to. Winter Park is OK for beginners, and it caters really well to intermediate and advanced riders, whilst hard-core experts are likely to find Winter Park rather tame because there’s only a smidgeon of gnarly terrain. It is mainly the 5 foot VW moguls on top of the terrain that makes Winter Park gnarly!
Winter Park Snow
Winter Park touts itself as receiving more snow than any “major Colorado resort”. They definitely get plenty of snow with an average of 29 feet (8.8 metres) per season, but the validity of this claim depends on how you define “major”! Vail
gets more snow (I would’ve though Vail was pretty “major”!), Steamboat ski resort
gets the same amount (yep they’re pretty major too!), and there are at least five “minor” Colorado ski resorts that get the same or more snow. Like a few nearby ski resorts, Winter Park tries hard to please powderhounds by seeding the clouds with silver iodide generators in an attempt to increase the precipitation out of each storm!
Putting accolades for snow quantity statistics aside, more importantly Winter Park also does well in the quality stakes with delightful dry Colorado powder.
Where is the Winter Park Resort?
Winter Park Colorado is located in Grand County just off US Highway 40, only 66 miles northwest of Denver, making it the closest “major” resort to Denver! The drive takes just under 1.5 hours depending on the road conditions on the I70 and Berthoud Pass, whilst the 90 mile drive from Denver International Airport takes about 1:40 hours. If you don’t have your own wheels, there are shuttle transport services from the airport.
Winter Park Lodging
The Winter Park village at the base of the ski resort is rapidly evolving and whilst it is still modest in size, it includes shops, restaurants and sedate bars. Accommodations are largely condos, and the village is particularly well suited to families who appreciate the convenience of the proximity to the slopes, and don’t mind that the village goes to bed early. Some village lodgings are ski-in ski-out, whilst others require a walk to the slopes or transport via the open air cabriolet lift.
A few miles from Winter Park Ski Resort is the town of Winter Park where it’s easy to find accommodation at very affordable prices. In addition to economics, staying in town has the advantage of easy access to a bigger range of restaurants, bars and shops, although “downtown” Winter Park is still rather sleepy.
The other option for inexpensive Winter Park lodging is the little town of Fraser which is another 3 miles north on highway 40.
The ski slopes and the three accommodation areas are linked by a regular free bus service.
Other Pros and Cons of a Winter Park Ski Vacation
Strengths of the Winter Park ski resort include the very good snow, the tree skiing, and the big wide long groomers. And for some reason, the moguls at Mary Jane have pretty much reached cult status, so if you love moguls, then definitely head to Winter Park to see what all the fuss is about.
However for many powderhounds, big moguls equates to highly trafficked runs, so if you’re looking for abundant freshies that last for days, or you hate what moguls do to your knees (the resort motto of “No Pain no Jane” is very apt!), then keep driving past the Winter Park turn off. Or if you’ve come to Colorado to party or hit the terrain park, there are probably better ski resorts to visit.
Window lift ticket rates at Winter Park are very expensive (which is typical for the area), although it’s often possible to get deals and discounts. Fortunately food and accommodation is reasonably affordable, particularly if you stay in town. Another pro is that Winter Park is very family oriented.
Intrawest is ensuring that the ski resort facilities continue to develop, but thankfully the ski resort and the town are not over commercialized. Winter Park has retained a small town unpretentious culture as well as a strong sense of community, and this is what sets Winter Park apart from the “major” neighbouring ski resorts.