The headlines for the better part of the 2017-18 season have been all about the below-average snowpack and lack of storms for the western United States. But when we look at areas in northern Colorado and Winter Park Resort specifically, consistent refreshes of snow, colder temperatures, and a recent surge of storms in late-January and early-February has left the snowpack approaching 100% compared to the 30-year average.
Winter Park has always had a special place in my heart thanks to my good childhood friend and his family inviting me along for their yearly ski trip to Winter Park during my elementary and middle school years. I still remember long days on the mountain followed by dinners at Hernando's Pizza Pub, as well as cold mid-winter days at the Fraser Tubing Hill.
My winter adventures led me to other mountains around Colorado and the West during my teens and early-20s but that all changed on Sunday, February 11th when I was offered the opportunity explore every nook-and-cranny that Winter Park has to offer.
Winter Park Resort is located along the Continental Divide in northern Colorado, about 90 minutes west of Denver and only a short distance from Rocky Mountain National Park.
The resort offers 3,081 acres of skiable terrain, accessed by 25 lifts and 166 trails. The mountain stretches from a base elevation of 9,000 feet to a summit elevation of 12,060 feet.
The mountain is broken down into Seven Territories.
Winter Park: 583 acres and 2,220 vertical feet.
Vasquez Ridge: 283 acres and 1,215 vertical feet.
Parsenn Bowl: 447 acres and 1,714 vertical feet.
Terrain Park: 18-foot superpipe and over 80 features.
Mary Jane: 1,031 acres and 1,766 vertical feet.
Eagle Wind: 309 acres and 1,600 vertical feet.
The Cirque: 399 acres and 2,260 vertical feet.
Our friends at Zrankings.com list Winter Park's True Annual Snowfall at 384 inches. 66% of the mountain is considered difficult terrain, 24% intermediate, and 10% easy terrain. 50% of the mountain features a north-facing aspect, 38% west-facing, 10% east-facing, and 2% south-facing.
The 2017-18 season kicked off on November 15th and is scheduled to end on April 22nd. The lift operating hours on the weekdays run from 9:00 am - 4:00 pm and 8:30 am - 4:00 pm on the weekends (weather and lift depending).
My day started like any other in the winter, with a fresh cup of coffee and updating my forecasts for Colorado and Wyoming. The previous 24 hours featured a quick but strong storm for Colorado, leaving Winter Park with 10 inches of cold, Rocky Mountain powder. The mountain had also received over 2 feet since the beginning of February so I knew we were going to be in for a great day.
My girlfriend and I were welcomed with bluebird skies but bone-chilling temperatures as we hopped on the Zephyr Express. The temps quickly rose as the sun made its way onto the mountain and were expected to top out in the teens by midday. From the top of Zephyr, we cruised down Mary Jane and onto the Super Gauge Express. I'm not always one to warm up with a cruiser when there is fresh snow but it was hard to pass up corduroy the morning after a storm.
Super Gauge drops you into an endless amount of terrain and choices to start your day in the Mary Jane Territory. Mary Jane is known for its bumps, trees, and challenging terrain and that's exactly what we jumped into. This area is primarily north to northeast-facing so it really holds snow well.
The next area that is easily accessible from Mary Jane is the Parsenn Bowl Territory via North America's highest six-passenger chairlift, the Panoramic Express. The summit features incredible views of Rocky Mountain National Park, the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and thousands of acres of public land.
After a run down Forget-Me-Not and back up the Panoramic Express, we went skiers left and made our way into the Eagle Wind Territory. This area features glades, glades, and more glades. It's also primarily north-facing so the snow quality is excellent, even days after a storm.
There aren't any real secrets to this area. Some of the higher aspects can be windblown but once you enter the trees, it's all you would ever want and more.
Depending on how far skiers left you make your run, you will have to ski and push along a runout to the Eagle Wind chair. This can be a pain for snowboarders and during sticky snow situations but hey, sometimes you have to work a little harder to find the goods!
We really enjoyed the Eagle Wind Territory, especially later in the morning when the sun finally peeked out.
Once we got our fill of powder in Eagle Wind, it was onto The Cirque Territory for our steep-and-deep turns of the day. This area used to only be accessed via hiking but the Cirque Sled Pass now gives you the opportunity to rest your legs in preparation for the heart-pumping run ahead.
The photo below provides a great perspective for the vast amount of open terrain in this area. The views along the Continental Divide and Fraser Valley weren't half bad either.
We were blessed with clear skies and also zero wind, which is normally unheard of when you're standing on any ridgeline in Colorado during the winter months.
Once we were able to pull our jaws up from the snow, I strapped into my Jones Ultracraft and
This area gives you the feeling of skiing out-of-bounds but thanks to the incredible work from Ski Patrol and the Snow Safety team, we didn't have to worry about the normal risks of traveling and skiing in the Colorado backcountry.
From the rest point below the Headwall, we finished our run through the South Basin and back to the Eagle Wind chair. This terrain is east-facing and does receive a lot of sun so ski it early after storms as we head later into the season.
We were well past due for a break so we made our way over to the Lunch Rock for a quick bite. I highly recommend a bowl of the Slow Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and any one of their Colorado Craft Beers on draft.
It was then well into the afternoon by the time we made our way back onto the slopes but we had two more areas to explore. The first was the Frenchman Trees, located directly on the border between Mary Jane and the Winter Park Territory.
Once we made our way back up the Super Gauge Express, we took our time and ventured over to the Vasquez Ridge Territory. We lapped the Pioneer Express and cooled our legs down with runs on Stagecoach, Sundance, and Quickdraw.
We finally checked the time and it was approaching 3:00 pm. Our legs were cooked so we made our way back into the Winter Park Territory for one last run up the Zephyr Express and down to the Base Area.
The day featured corduroy, soft bumps, wide-open glades, and steep, backcountry-
Visit WinterParkResort.com for all lodging, event, and other ski-related information.
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This trip report was sponsored in partnership with our friends at Winter Park Resort.
Full Disclosure: We were given early access to the directive skiing into the Cirque. It has since been opened for the season starting on Tuesday, February 13th.