Winter Park has seen plenty of snow, sun and winter fun this ski season.
And while I’ve got details and some insider tips about skiing Colorado’s fourth largest resort, first we’re going to talk about the train.
In January, the Winter Park Express, running from Denver’s Union Station to within yards of the Winter Park chairlifts, began operating on weekends. It’s been a huge success.
Every Saturday and Sunday, from January through March, the Winter Park Express leaves Union Station in downtown Denver at 7:00 a.m. Five hundred and fifty travelers begin boarding around 6:15 a.m., settling in and relaxing, ready for the one-hour and 45 minute journey.
Along it’s route, the AMTRAK operated train passes through 20-some tunnels and winds through high mountain canyons and roadless backcountry wilderness. Six miles from Winter Park the train enters the historic Moffat Tunnel. When the train emerges on the other side, passengers are at Winter Park.
Because the train only runs between Denver and Winter Park, everyone leaves their street shoes and gear bags (along with snacks for the ride home) at their seats and heads out to ski. When they return at 4:00 p.m., everything is right where they left it. Once again, it’s time to relax and enjoy the ride home to Union Station for a 6:30 p.m. arrival.
While the route is beautiful and the convenience to the lifts cannot be beat, the biggest selling point for the train is the ease and speed of travel. Departure times are set, the time-table is firm and the train delivers everyone to and from the resort without worries about weather or traffic.
Train service to ski resorts is commonplace in other countries, but the Winter Park Express is unique within the U.S. It doesn’t just get you close to skiing, it puts you on skiing’s doorstep.
My son and a friend rode the train in early March and my son summed up the experience this way.
“I liked that once you get on the train you can ski and have nothing to worry about except skiing a full day.”
Coming from a university student who occasionally drives I 70, and has to strategically plan his ski days to avoid traffic, this is high praise.
Ready to climb aboard? The last train of the season is Sunday, March 26th.
So Much to Ski
We love Winter Park. We love Mary Jane. And while we haven’t skied Eagle Wind, Parsenn Bowl or the Cirque enough to really know them, what we’ve skied, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
Winter Park, Mary Jane, Eagle Wind, Parsenn Bowl and the Cirque are five of the resort’s seven distinct territories. The sixth and seventh territories are Vasquez Ridge and the ski area’s Terrain Parks.
As for an “insider’s” perspective, this is what I’ve recently learned.
*Want to get away from everyone? Ski Vasquez Ridge. Located below Eagle Wind, Vasquez Ridge offers groomed terrain from green to black, and because it’s the territory furthest from the base, fewer people come over here, keeping the excellent skiing a secret.
*Think Mary Jane is just for experts? Think again. Although Mary Jane has an outsized reputation for outsized moguls, Mary Jane has skiing of all levels, as well as it’s own base.
Yes, you can find plenty of leg-burning bumps for intermediate and advanced skiers, but from Mary Jane you can also ride the Panorama Express to the top of Parsenn Bowl with it’s big views and a wealth of unique intermediate skiing. And if you’re a beginner, or skiing with beginners, ride the Galloping Goose lift at the Mary Jane base.
*Looking to up your bump skills? Hang around the top of the Super Gauge Express on weekends and look for Ski + Ride School instructors. They’ll ski a bump run with you and offer tips. This free mini-clinic is offered on Saturday and Sunday beginning at 11:00 a.m. for intermediate skiers and above. It’s first-come, first-served all day long.
*Want more formal bump training? Sign up for Bob’s Bump Jamboree, a 2-day bump clinic led by Ski and Ride School Director Bob Barnes. Winter Park also offers women’s bumps clinics.
Part of a Larger Community
Owned by the City and County of Denver (and operated by Intrawest), Winter Park Resort has been one of Denver’s favorite ski destinations since 1939.
Each winter, Denver Parks and Recreation provides learn to ski and ride programs at Winter Park for children and teens who otherwise would not get to ski. Since 1997, over 30,000 Denver kids have participated in this program.
Winter Park’s reach extends down the mountains and into the city, as well, with the Ruby Hill Rail Yard, a free terrain park located in Denver.
Back on the mountain, this commitment to community extends to Winter Park’s National Sports Center for the Disabled, one of the largest and longest-running adaptive sports programs in the nation. NSCD is the proud home of Para-Olympians in many disciplines.
When You Go…
To get to Winter Park, I drove east from Steamboat along US Highway 40, an empty road in an empty land. If you can take this drive, it’s worth it, especially when you see the western sun illuminating the rugged walls of Byers Canyon near Hot Sulphur Springs.
Highway 40 will also take you to Snow Mountain Ranch and Devil’s Thumb Ranch, which offer winter activities including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fatbiking, ice skating and dog mushing. Free shuttles connect the two ranches to Winter Park and inexpensive day passes are available for most activities.
One of the reasons visitors love Winter Park is the low-key attitude. Winter Park has a small base village with lots of lodging, surprisingly diverse dining, but not a single shop selling high-end art or fine jewelry. Instead, the shops stock what skiers and riders (and mountain bikers come summer) need and are looking for.
The nearby towns of Winter Park and Fraser are equally chill, with additional lodging, grocery stores, banking and restaurants. While the area gets busy on the weekends, week days are seemingly reserved for locals and visitors from around the world.
The Winter Park Express is one of two trains that serve the resort. The other, AMTRAK’s California Zephyr, is a long distance passenger train with daily service to Fraser. This train service allows guests to arrive and depart by train any day of the ski season, not just on weekends.
Another big plus, especially for visitors flying into DIA, is the Denver light rail running from the airport to downtown. Take the A Line into Denver, spend a night acclimatizing to the altitude and catch the Winter Park Express the next morning. No need to rent a car or reserve a shuttle.
Travel by train to Winter Park and make your next Colorado ski holiday, even more of a holiday.
Winter Park, along with Steamboat, Eldora, Copper Mountain and Crested Butte, is on the MAX Pass. While these are the Colorado resorts on the pass, you’ll find 39 other resorts across North America on next year’s pass. Passes are on sale now and offer five free days at each of 44 resorts, with no blackouts.
More Winter Park
- Winter Park’s Season of the Seven, January 22, 2014.
- Ski Trip Report: More Than Expected at Winter Park, Colorado, January 18, 2012.
- Winter Park and Mary Jane: Colorado Family Skiing At Its Best, November 10, 2011.
- Skibiking at Winter Park Is More Than Just Biking On Skis, February 29, 2012.
- Learning to Love Gravity at Winter Park’s Trestle Bike Park, July 14, 2011.
- Dog Sledding, Skiing, Tubing and More at Colorado’s Snow Mountain Ranch, November 17, 2014.
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