I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Australians haven’t really heard of Winter Park. When it comes to Colorado in the USA, we know Aspen, Breckenridge, Telluride, Vail… but Winter Park just isn’t really on our radar. Hey, fellow Australian skiers and snowboarders: what are you doing with your snow-loving lives?
1: As of January, you can now take the train straight from Denver to Winter Park. I’m talking Union Station, right in the middle of the funky part of town in Denver, two hours of spectacular scenery and historic rail tunnels and some of the most altitudinous track you’ll find on the continent, then a drop-off in Winter Park less than 50 steps to the bottom of the lifts. Combine a couple of nights’ stay in the too-hip-for-words Crawford Hotel, actually incorporated into Union Station, with a weekend (or whole week) jaunt to Winter Park and back, and you have an amazing ski holiday without a rental car in sight.
2: This is no tiny backwater – Winter Park is Colorado’s fourth-largest ski area. What’s that all about? How do we Aussies not flock to this place? You can ski or board about 1,250 hectares of skiable terrain, including 490 hectares off-piste, and the lifts can get up to 40,000 snow bunnies up the hill every hour – however we visited on the busiest ski weekend of the year (Martin Luther King holiday) and could still ski straight onto the lift.
3: Snow tubing? Aw yeah. Lane 4 is the fastest (I’m just saying). Choose the tubes with the red marks on them as well – locals and regulars know they go way faster – and you’ll get the most fun for your buck. On the other end of the scale, choose a figure-eight double and head for lane 1 for a family-friendly doddle.
4: Speaking of family-friendly, there are these little wagons. Cute as anything. Chuck in your skis or, more popularly, your child, and you’re good to go. Leave them outside a restaurant and they’re fair game for anyone else to use, but there are plenty to go round and can be found at little wagon stations around the resort. Love.
5: If I can just chime in here… or you can too. These are all round the place too. After a couple of schnapps, let your inner child, or Mike Oldfield, shine.
6: ‘Mary Jane’ are pretty popular words in Colorado these days, since the state is one of five to have legalised the recreational use of marijuana, but at wholesome, action-focused Winter Park, the name is much more recognised as the historic peak at the centre of the ski area’s snowy fun. 59% of Mary Jane is black-diamond skiing and boarding, making the most of Winter Park’s consistent snowfall with its bumps and powdery tree skiing – thrilling visitors since 1975 (reputedly, the original 1800s Mary Jane thrilled a few visitors of her own; its rumoured her earnings bought this land for her in the first place).
7: Winter Park understands that actually sliding around on the hill is only a fraction of what makes up a ski/boarding holiday. You also need comfort food and plenty of it. Goodies Mountain Creperie knows where it’s at – they have all-day waffles, peppermint schnapps in their hot chocolate and this happy little fellow (above): the Alpine Rösti. Eggs, onions, cheese, ham, and bacon on hash browns. Who cares that you’d need to ski three weeks to work this off? Don’t bother me with trifling details.