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Insider's Guide to Skiing Winter Park, Colorado

The following guide was sponsored in partnership with our friends at Winter Park Resort


Consistently boasting one of the highest seasonal snow totals in Colorado and being the closest major ski resort to Denver, it's no wonder that Winter Park Resort was voted Colorado's Top Adventure Town and USA Today's #1 Ski Resort in North America in 2018, 2019, and nominated again in 2021.

I've spent the past 20 years exploring Winter Park and I am excited to share a few secrets to help with your next visit to this iconic ski destination.


RESORT OVERVIEW

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 134 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 347 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 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).


GETTING TO WINTER PARK

Winter Park is only 90 miles and just under a 2-hour drive from Denver International Airport. This gives you the opportunity to fly into DIA in the morning and be skiing in the afternoon.

Winter Park also couldn't be easier for a quick trip up from the Denver-Metro area and the Front Range. I grew up in the small Front Range town of Windsor, Colorado, and attended the University of Colorado Boulder. This provided me the opportunity to take dozens of day trips up-and-over Berthoud Pass and be back home by the early evening. 

Driving Directions: Winter Park

And last but not least, remember to always check for the latest update on the I-70 Daily Snow. This is a forecast that I update every morning from November through April to keep you up-to-date on the latest snow outlook and travel information.


WINTER PARK LIFT TICKETS

The resort offers flexible single-day tickets, a multi-resort option via the Ikon Pass, a mid-week pass for unlimited Monday through Friday skiing (non-holiday) for $499, and an unlimited Winter Park season pass starting at $699.

Lift Tickets: Winter Park

For the 2021-22 winter season, both Winter Park full season pass holders and Ikon Pass season pass holders can unlock First Tracks on select dates, friends and family tickets for as low as $59 through December 16, the "Ten Buck Huck", a grab and go $10 burrito and coffee before 10 AM, and much more.


WINTER PARK SNOW & WEATHER

There's one ingredient that makes Winter Park special compared to nearly every resort in the United States – elevation. All resorts in Colorado can pump their fists when it comes to elevation but Winter Park, and more specifically Mary Jane, is blessed with a base elevation of 9,500 feet.

As OpenSnow Founding Meteorologist Joel Gratz mentions in this article, "high elevation means colder temperatures. With colder temperatures, mountains can make snow early in the season to ensure terrain is open, and snow can stick around longer into the spring."

Another advantage of having a higher elevation is fluffy snow. In general, colder temperatures help the atmosphere to create fluffier, lighter snowfall. The average of all winter storms in Colorado drops snow at a ratio of 15 inches of snow to 1 inch of liquid (15:1). Winter Park reaps the benefits with an abundance of fluffy, powder snow.

When moving air hits a mountain and is forced to rise up and over the mountain, it is called orographic lift. Due to the topography of Colorado and where Winter Park is situated along the Continental Divide, we typically want air that is rising from the north-northwest as it funnels through the Intermountain West and into the Continental Divide. Every storm is different and has many essential ingredients but north-northwest wind direction is key when dialing in the forecast for each storm at Winter Park.


SKIING WINTER PARK

Now let's get into the good stuff, skiing and snowboarding!

Go ahead and jump on the Gondola directly out of the Base Area. From the top of the Gondola, cruise down Mary Jane and onto the Super Gauge Express. This allows for a quick warm-up run on fresh corduroy.

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. 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 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, go skiers left and make your 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!

Once you have your fill of powder in Eagle Wind, head over to The Cirque Territory for steep-and-deep turns. 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 aren’t half bad either.

From here, buckle in and lay down a beautiful line into the South Basin. 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, you don't have to worry about the normal risks of traveling and skiing in the Colorado backcountry.

From the rest point below the Headwall, finish your 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 later in the season.

Once you're ready for a break, head over to the Lunch Rock for a quick bite. I highly recommend a bowl of the Slow Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and Upslope's Mary Jane Ale on draft.

If you're looking for great outdoor dining, check out the Ember at Snoasis. This new wood-fired dining concept will be set up for the 2021-22 season on the outdoor patio overlooking some of Winter Park’s most beloved terrain. Choose from a menu of rotating global cuisine with a primary "cut of the day," such as lamb or wild game, and an ever-changing choice of two sides.

Following a hearty lunch, make your way over to the Frenchman Trees, located directly on the border between Mary Jane and the Winter Park Territory. This is one of my favorite powder shots from a recent visit.

From there, take your time and venture over to the Vasquez Ridge Territory. Lap the Pioneer Express and cool down your legs with runs on Stagecoach, Sundance, and Quickdraw. 

Corduroy, soft bumps, wide-open glades, and steep, backcountry-esque turns. Looking for more? Chances are Winter Park has it...

After a long day of skiing, sit back, relax, and take in the alpenglow with a cold (or warm) beverage at the Sunspot Mountain Lodge. The Sunspot hosts apres-ski festivities every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with food and drink specials, along with live music every Friday and Saturday. The Gondola is free after 4 pm so even if you didn’t slay the mountain all day, you can still ride up to enjoy a sunset.


WINTER PARK 2021-22 EVENTS

Events are back this year!

Join for Venture Out Fest on December 11th for a full day of free outdoor mountain adventure, free ski/ride demos, a free concert featuring Pandas and People, dog sledding, a meet and greet with the Winter Park avalanche dog team, and much more.

The popular Torchlight Parade will return this Christmas Eve. Plus free yoga in the Village every Friday afternoon and Parry’s Parade for the youngest skiers on Saturdays.

And get ready for four action-packed weekends at Winter Park Resort this spring!

Winter Park’s Spring Bash + Splash features four themed weekends filled with live music, special events, and great spring skiing and riding every weekend from April 2nd through the 24th.


WINTER PARK UPHILL POLICY

The rise of uphill (also known as skinning or touring) has brought a new aspect to the ways that we can explore and have fun on the mountain. It is great exercise and in-resort uphill travel offers a safe environment on groomed terrain.

For the 2021-22 winter season, uphill skiers will be required to pre-purchase and wear an uphill access armband. Armbands are available for $25 (good all season), with all proceeds benefiting Grand County Search & Rescue, Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment dog teams, and Friends of Berthoud Pass.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Winter Park has always had a special place in my heart thanks to the yearly ski trips during my childhood. Whether you're a powder-hound searching for steep glades and high-alpine turns, a family thinking about a destination ski vacation, or someone just getting into skiing or snowboarding, Winter Park is a great choice to make it all happen (and more).


Visit WinterParkResort.com and download the NEW Winter Park mobile app for ski/board stat tracking and leaderboards, lodging information, resort events, mobile food and beverage ordering, real-time snow conditions info, and much more.


OPENSNOW RESOURCES

Snow Forecast & Report: Winter Park

Daily Snow Forecast: Winter Park

Download: OpenSnow App

SAM COLLENTINE


This guide was sponsored in partnership with our friends at Winter Park Resort

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