Skiing in Winter Park, Colorado
Meghann Maurer, December 24, 2011
Located 67 miles northwest of Denver, Winter Park Resort is the perfect spot for day trips or spending your holiday vacation. While the resort’s five different regions offer terrain for all levels, what truly sets it apart from other Colorado ski resorts are its steep, relentless mogul runs and unmatched tree-skiing. Don’t let the typical family-friendly image fool you into thinking you’ll spend most of your day waiting in long lift lines and dodging gapers. With over 3,060 skiable acres and 1,212 acres of off-piste terrain, 53% of which is designated ‘Most Difficult’, these mountains will show you a good time, that is, if they don’t wear you out first.
Winter Park Mountain
The majority of the resort’s beginner and intermediate trails are found on the busier Winter Park side. If you like ripping fast wide turns down groomers, take advantage of the ever-present corduroy on runs like Cranmer, Cheshire Cat, and Upper and Lower Hughes. Bradley’s Bash and Over N’ Underwood are great trails to improve your bump skiing on less vertical lines before you head over to Mary Jane. Winter Park Mountain also offers an assortment of terrain parks. Rail Yard prides itself on a superpipe and with the $20 purchase of a special pass and required informational video session, you can prove your skills on the massive jumps in Dark Territory.
Mary Jane Mountain
Home and host to the the infamous ‘No Pain, No Jane’ slogan, the Jane offers arguably the best mogul skiing in North America. From the base areas, ride up ‘C-Chair’ (Challenger Lift), Super Gauge Express or Iron Horse to access long, steep runs like Cannonball, Needle’s Eye, Goldenspike or Outhouse (undoubtedly the fastest, but toughest way over from the top of Winter Park). When there is plenty of snow, be sure to check out ‘The Chutes’. You will not want to miss this combination of bumps, trees, and sometimes mandatory cliffs.
Take Rollins Ridge to the top of Derailer; access gates are located on skiers right. If you are craving trees, the Jane offers plenty of open glades from an intermediate level (Wildwood Glade) to difficult (Sluice Box). As you move lower on the mountain, tree-skiing will get tighter, steeper and increasingly technical. Though unmarked on the trail map, ‘Topher’s Trees’, (located skiers right from the top of Trestle) is typically an untouched paradise. If your quads are ready, don’t deny yourself the satisfaction of Mary Jane.
This collection of intermediate runs are perfect for a non-stop cruise or well-needed break after hitting the Jane bumps. Pass Olympia Express on the right and keep your speed up on the flat portion of Wagon Trail to make your way down to Pioneer Express Lift. Of all Vasquez’s trails, Buckaroo is often overlooked and so usually has better snow. Take Sundance or Pioneer Express Trail from the top and veer right onto the trail. Each of these runs empty into flat beginner trails, so remember to keep your speed up to avoid unnecessary poling and skating.
From the top of Mary Jane, make your way to Panoramic Express and up to the top of Parsenn Bowl. Up here, your options are endless and the views are spectacular. Once off the lift and facing downhill, Larkspur or Forget-Me-Not are great runs off the front of the bowl. Stay high to skiers right and explore the glades and thicker trees of Kinnikinnic or Forever Eva. Stay high to skiers left and make your way over to the top of Eagle Wind Lift and a steeper collection of tree-skiing. Due to the difficulty of these trails, you will have no problem finding that stash of untouched powder.
The Cirque doesn’t typically open until mid to late February, but when it does make a run for it. From the top of Parsenn Bowl, head straight off the lift and side-step up a small hill to pass through the access gate. Once through the gate, get as much speed as you can, it’s a long hike around to the South and West Headwalls. Generally, the hike around takes 20-30 minutes, but is well worth the effort. Once you make it through the traverse, take your pick of the Headwalls or continue further along the ridge to the Alphabet Chutes. Each run takes you down into the trees and empties into Upper Egress and eventually to Eagle Wind Lift. If you are lucky enough to visit on a powder day, click into your fatties and make the trek over. I promise there will be no shortage of smiles!
While Zephyr Mountain Lodge, Fraser Crossing/Founders Pointe, and Vintage Resort Hotel are easily the best slopeside lodging available, the towns of Winter Park and Fraser offer plenty of alternative lodging to fit your personal preference and budget.
Getting to Winter Park
From Denver, take I-70 West to exit 232 onto U.S. 40. Continue through the town of Empire and make your way over Berthoud Pass. Reaching an elevation of 11,307 ft (3,446 m) over multiple switchbacks, Berthoud Pass has the reputation for being a treacherous commute during inclement weather. Typically, if the drive is difficult, the skiing will be good. Once over Berthoud Pass, access to the Mary Jane car-park will appear on your left. The ‘C-Lot’ (Utah Junction Parking), so named by locals for its walking distance to the Challenger Lift and access to the array infamous bump runs, is a perfect spot for grilling burgers on your tailgate and watching the pack of ‘Jane-dogs’ that roam the lot every day. Continue straight on U.S. 40 to reach parking on the Winter Park side and the towns of Winter Park and Fraser.
Alternatively, Amtrak offers a scenic service through the Rocky Mountains to Winter Park on its California Zephyr line. The train runs daily from Chicago to San Francisco – more information at Amtrak.com.