Just 67 miles from Denver, Winter Park Resort is incredibly popular among Colorado’s Front Range skiers. After all, it’s the largest ski resort — 3,000 of skiable terrain — closest to the Mile High City, and it’s not difficult to access: from Denver, it’s basically a straight shot west on I-70, then northwest on Hwy 40. My family and I visited Winter Park a couple weeks ago, and it was my first trip back to the area in the wintertime in 17 years! I was pleased to introduce my tweens to a new ski resort, and I came away with a few tips for skiing Winter Park Resort with kids:
Get the lay of the land before you go: Check out a trail map before you even set foot onto Winter Park Resort. The place is huge, and I think it helps to have a game plan, especially if you’re visiting with children or your family has varying abilities or wants. For example, my son is super keen on terrain parks, while my daughter likes to ski through the trees. I gravitate toward groomers, while my husband just wants to go fast. Indeed, we did manage to appease everyone on our ski day at Winter Park!
The ski terrain is actually comprised of a few well-marked areas: Winter Park mountain, Mary Jane mountain, Vasquez Ridge, Vasquez Cirque and Parsenn Bowl. We skied primarily the blues and greens of Winter Park and below Vasquez Ridge, enjoying the tiny Starter Park (with very beginner terrain features), the bigger Ash Cat terrain park and the intermediate blue runs around Pioneer Express. Here’s a nice chart (scroll down) showing the percentage of beginner, intermediate, advanced, most difficult an expert only terrain in the different regions of the ski area.
Assess the parking scene, too: I think the parking opportunities at Winter Park are quite good; at least that’s what we found when we visited on an early February weekend. There are more than 4,700 free parking spaces at the Winter Park and Mary Jane base areas to accommodate all the day skiers coming up from Denver. Check out the parking map on your mobile phone, or if you’re like me, print one out to have on hand before you even leave your house.
Even though we stayed in the town of Winter Park just a few miles away, and could have taken “The Lift” free shuttle from town to the ski area, we opted to drive because we knew we were tubing after our ski day (more on that in a future post!) and wanted our snow boots on hand (rather than schlepping them on the bus and storing them in a locker somewhere). We parked in the convenient Vintage Lot and took the darling Village Cabriolet tram from the lot to the base village. Seriously, this stand-up lift is super cute.
Visit mid-week or on a non-holiday weekend: While we were at Winter Park Resort on Saturday, February 9, non-holiday weekend, we found it surprisingly busy. We thought it may have been especially crowded because of the stellar weather forecast– sunny morning, followed by fresh afternoon snow. (Indeed, we had the best of both worlds on our ski day!) While waiting in line at a chairlift, we asked a ski instructor about the lengthy wait for a chair, and he said that the ski area was unusually busy; normally, he said he said he saw such crowds during Christmas week, President’s Day Weekend and spring break.
With that in mind, I’d recommend visiting Winter Park at off-peak times: mid-week visits or early or late in the season. This way, you’ll get the most of your time on the hill — that is, skiing down the mountain, not waiting in chair-lift lines.
Use those free wagons: As we stepped off the Village Cabriolet lift, and walked a few steps down into the edge of the Village at Winter Park Resort, we were immediately greeted by a kind ambassador who was not only handing out Mardi Gras beads (it was the Saturday before Fat Tuesday), but also pointing out the nearby red wagons for carting gear through the Village to the mountain lifts. Had we known how far the trek was along the pedestrian plazas to the ticket window, we might have taken him up on the offer to borrow one! (Really, it’s not that far, but when lugging gear, even a short distance can seem lengthy.) I saw lots of families put not only their gear, but their kids in the sweet red wagons.
Take note of the great ski-lift signage: I totally appreciate that there is a sign at the bottom of each lift stating the time it takes to get to the top. Especially for visitors like us, who weren’t familiar with the mountain at all, this was so helpful in gauging whether or not we had time to do a couple more runs before lunch, or if growling tummies would take over first!
Eat at Doc’s Roadhouse — before noon: We opted not to eat lunch on the mountain, but rather down in the Village. We arrived at Doc’s Roadhouse, conveniently located on the edge of the Village, across from the little Bouncer terrain park, at 11:45 am, and finished up by 12:45 pm, when there was a line to get in and seated. (I always try to hit on- or off-mountain lunch spots before noon, which is when most skier seem to take a break for a mid-day meal.)
The two-story bar and restaurant is casual; wearing your ski boots in is no big deal (just be careful on the slick concrete and walking up the stairs). I very much enjoyed my Portobello on Brioche sandwich, while my daughter reported that the homemade mac n cheese (off the varied kids menu) was quite good.
Check out what’s happening for après ski in the Village: Special and regular events for families abound at Winter Park Resort. Check out this events calendar to see what’s on the docket when you’re at the ski area; some regular events include s’mores by the fire, meet-and-greet with Willie the mascot or mini rail jams.
While we were visiting, the Village was celebrating Mardi Gras with a big barbecue on the plaza, street entertainment (including very tall stilt walkers), face painting and mask making for kids and live music. It was a festive scene that added to our great day at Winter Park Resort.
I am one of three Colorado bloggers exploring the sights of Grand County, Colorado, this year, courtesy of the Grand County Colorado Tourism Board. Follow our adventures on Twitter with the hashtag #VisitGrandCounty. Plus, stay tuned at The Vacation Gals for more scoop on visiting Winter Park with kids, including some favorite family-friendly activities and restaurants in the area!