LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, U.S.A., 1996 JAN 12 – (TRAVELWATCH/FEATURE) – With all sorts of discount skiing packages and neat places to go, Colorado offers travelers some real gems. And now United Airlines offers a $128 round-trip fare (21-day advance purchase) from Los Angeles to Denver, making Colorado skiing and snowboarding more affordable than ever to Californians.
Those who like it all wrapped up in one package can combine fares in those low ranges with ski packages that include air fare and offer savings of 40% or more (United Vacations 800-328-6877).
A good choice for a family skiing trip is the Winter Park Resort 67 miles from downtown Denver on the snowy side of the Continental Divide. It’s the closest major ski resort to Denver and one of North America’s largest ski complexes. Winter Park has great snow, extensive well managed ski terrain, affordable lodging and lift tickets, and manages to maintain a friendly family atmosphere despite its size.
Some of the ground transportation used to get you there from Denver is far from run of the mill. An outfit called "Home, James" offers a fourteen passenger van service from the airport for about $32 each way per person (800-451-4844). Amtrac offers train service from Denver to a station near Winter Park for $35 each way per person (800-USA-RAIL) .
If you're a connoisseur of railroading and traveling in comfort, however, you may want to pass by Amtrac in favor of the historical Ski Train, which departs Saturday and Sunday from Denver Union Station for a spectacular ride across the snow-covered Continental Divide, through Berthoud Pass. It is a breathtaking journey.
The Ski Train is very popular with weekend skiers who want a one-day turn-around trip without worrying about the traffic on I-70 and driving the difficult, often icy mountainous roads. Powered by two locomotives, the train’s 14 cars can carry about 750 skiers comfortably. The scenic trip takes two hours to climb about 4,000 feet above Denver’s already mile-high altitude. The round trip fare is $30 or $50 for a semi-private club car where complimentary refreshments are served.
According to spokesperson Jim Bane, the Ski Train seldom runs late, and when it does it's less than 30 minutes off schedule. Unlike Amtrac, which stops about 6 miles away from the slopes, the Ski Train drops off skiers about 500 feet from the ticket windows, lifts, ski rental shop, and the entrance to Winter Park’s ski camp.
There is much more to Colorado skiing then the celebrity photo spreads you often seen in People Magazine and the tabloids. True, the rich and famous like Princess Diana and assorted U.S. Presidents frequent Vail and its expansive bowls. But more value-minded locals and their families, including both recreational and serious skiers, prefer ski resorts like Winter Park. It's of comparable size, not counting Vail’s three bowls, and has about the same amount of active skiing area. Winter Park averages 350 inches of snow per year, higher than any other major Colorado resort including Vail (335 inches), Steamboat (300), and Copper Mountain (275).
It’s also less heavily commercialized than most large resorts, and offers more discounts and vacation packages. A three-night Mountain Inn package with breakfast and dinner daily, airfare, and lift tickets costs only about $500. One day lift tickets are $42 for adults, $18 for children 6 to 13 and seniors 62-69, and free for children 5 and under and seniors 70 and over. Discount lift tickets are available on the Ski Train and at Front Range area supermarkets for about $32 for adults.
Winter Park's trail layout is very diverse. Its three mountains (Winter Park, Mary Jane, and Vasquez Ridge) are interconnected by trails and multiple lifts, and are all accessible to "all mountain" lift ticket holders. The longest Winter Park straight run is about 2 miles. Combine that with Mary Jane's 4.5 miles of runs and Vasquez Ridge's 1.4 mile run, you have a total downhill trail of 5.1 miles. The resort has developed 121 different trails on 1,413 developed acres out of the total 7,651 acres which the U.S. Forest service has granted permits to develop.
With 20 lifts including 6 high speed express quads, 9 double and 5 triple chair lifts, Winter Park can tote 33,700 skiers per hour up its hills. For children and those practicing wedge turns, there’s Discovery Park which now includes a 20 acre learn-to-ski zone with warming huts and more restrooms.
Snowboarders can glide the rails at the various new snowboard stations. This season they can choose between two terrain Parks with great snowboarding trails. Skiers and snowboarders revel at riding to their own rhythms in the bumps of Mary Jane, which features challenging runs for skiers and doubles as a favorite rendezvous point for snowboarders.
Mary Jane does have trails for beginners, but it is best known for its long steep trails and moguls. The legendary bump runs and steep tree skiing have shaded Mary Jane's reputation with some notoriety among the cognoscenti. Those who like long steep trails but prefer to avoid moguls may have bypassed Mary Jane, but that's changing. Starting this season, some of the mountain's trails will be groomed regularly to cut down on the moguls. They'll provide a great opportunity for non-mogulers and medium skilled skiers to master the terrain of the infamous Mary Jane.
The entrance to Mary Jane comes first when you drive in from Denver on I-70 West to Highway 40 North. Some prefer to get started there so they don’t waste time getting to the slopes.
Almost unique to Winter Park are trails for beginners and intermediate skiers starting from just about the top of the mountain, complementing those for advanced skiers. Beginners can ride the same lift as the intermediate and advanced skiers if they like, and there will be trails for their skill level all the way back down the mountain. There are several lifts strictly for expert runs, but all those are clearly marked. Beginners needn’t worry about wondering onto an expert run by mistake.
As the powder wisps over the treeless sun-swept expanse of Parsenn Bowl, skiers can look down upon the myriad trails etched out below. When schussing through quiet and uncrowded glades on the south side of high alpine Parsenn Bowl, skiers and snowboarders will find three new trails on Swede’s Ridge. Using these trails they can slip away to less traveled terrain that was previously off-limits because of heavy tree cover. The new trails promise good snow conditions all season long because they are situated on a north-facing slope. As your skies pass over the snow it sounds different than the slopes of the California Sierras or the resorts in the East because the snow is dryer and there is less icing, and lots of powder. There’s a lot of varied terrain at Winter Park, and you can spend many days trying it all out.
One popular place to stay at Winter Park is the Iron Horse Inn, at the base of Winter Park about 750 feet from the lifts. Other lodging is a few miles away, in town. With free shuttles to get around on, you can get to any of these inns about as fast as you can walk to your room at the Iron Horse Inn.
Winter Park offers a diverse food menu ranging from cafeteria style food courts to elegant sit-down restaurants. The Lodge At Sunspot, at the top of Winter Park, is a popular cafe for adults. Skiers interested in more casual fare can order pizza from Mama Mias’ while still on the slopes and have it waiting for them when they come off the slopes. A number of shops offer clothing, accessories, and assorted gifts. The service and offerings at the ski shop are also quite good. You can rent a variety of high performance skis, either to try them out as candidates for purchase or just because bringing your own skis along can sometimes be a hassle.
Winter Park’s skiing season started early this season for the first time in its 56 year history. Parsenn Bowl, which usually opens late December, was open on Thanksgiving Day this year. There is no shortage of snow and power, and local experts say this year’s season should run to at least April 21.
Nonskiers can enjoy base activities like heated-cabin snowcat tours, plus exhilarating snowshoe tours. Foot passengers can ride in comfort and enjoy the view on the Zephyr Express lift to Sunspot.
The Winter Park resort in Colorado is a good choice for economical skiing and snowboarding with shorter liftlines, and a wide range of terrain that will appeal to all skill levels. For reservations, call 800-453-2525, or call for information at 970-726-5514.
On the World Wide Web, point the browser to http://www.skiwinterpark.com.
(Nick Anis, Travel Watch, 909-860-6914)