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Winter Park Impressions 5 April 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Uncategorized.
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More than a week ago, I posted photos from Winter Park on Facebook, and it’s obvious they never made it to the blog. Typically I try to do the opposite in the hopes that when you stop by for photos, you’ll browse the writing as well. Perhaps this is optimistic–but the stats say otherwise, you browsers, you. So quit looking at Facebook and drop by here instead.

To most folks in the Front Range, Winter Park sits alongside Keystone, Copper and Breck as a mountain worth a weekend visit. Vail and Beaver Creek are just too far (and too pricey), and no one stays the night to ski Loveland, A-Basin, or Ski Cooper–despite Leadville’s desperate marketing, which essentially pleads, “We were important… once. Try us again?” So for the Friday/Saturday night stay crowd, those four ski resorts round out the options, and although I haven’t skied Copper yet, I’d guess that it, too, will supersede Keystone in my growing rankings of resorts. Nearly everything has so far.

Winter Park falls somewhere in the middle: excellent terrain if snow has fallen recently. Otherwise, not much of a mountain. Of course, the same holds true for Keystone, which would benefit from additional snowfall, too–another 100″ a year might make its trees more palatable–but where Winter Park needs powder, it gets it, clocking in as one of the state’s snowiest resorts. I’ll hike thirty minutes for knee-deep steeps, and I’ll begrudge a new, slow triple chair to ski dappled glades. Winter Park makes that possible.

Divided into two or maybe three mountains, Mary Jane, Winter Park, and Vasquez Cirque, the resort more or less prevents beginners and intermediates from spending any time with experts, meaning few possibilities for the kids to ski blues while Mom and Dad ski the bumps. For anyone used to the dread of approaching one of Vail’s ten bajillion cat-tracks at mach speed, that division offers a relief.

But maybe you like ski with yours kids. Tough luck. And maybe you don’t like bumps. Again, tough luck. Winter Park’s 1975 Mary Jane expansion gave it a national reputation for moguls, so much so that finding anything else at first comes a pleasant surprise. “No pain, no Jane” go the bumper stickers around here. Of course, given the resort’s more than three thousand acres, Mary Jane isn’t the be all and end all of the Winter Park experience.

In fact, it’s rather a nice distraction from the more entertaining hike-to steeps off Vasquez Cirque (which isn’t at all a cirque, but hey). It’s impossible to avoid comparisons to Keystone, so I won’t try. The difference between the hike-to terrain at both resorts might best be summed as, “whether it’s worthwhile.” And Keystone’s typically isn’t. Hiking offers its own rewards, but the opportunity to ski a benign pitch on wind-effected crust isn’t one of them. Winter Park serves up the steep and deep on anything off the top of the Cirque. Granted, backcountry enthusiasts won’t much care for the caravan-style trek, but for everyone else, a doable hike to the steep stuff makes up for most of the money spent on the lift ticket.

The takeaway:

– Lots of snow and excellent hike-to terrain make Winter Park a good bet for the weekend crowd.

– Avoid Mary Jane unless you like bumps or trees.

– Boring groomers, so probably not much fun after five days without snow.

– Not the place to take your cousin who’s just learning to ski if you’re both looking for challenge and want to meet at the same lift each run.

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