I really don’t want to tell you this. But I learned something last year: Winter Park is more than the sum of its bumps.
I’ve been skiing at Winter Park since I moved to Colorado in the mid-1990s; seven years ago, I bought a condo nearby. You might even call me a local—and if you did, that would be a true badge of honor, because Winter Park is a locals’ mountain. The locals are fervent and they are many, drawing from the pool of four million people who live on the Front Range urban corridor, which spans from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins. The destination visitors go to Vail and Breckenridge and Aspen for ski valets and meticulously groomed corduroy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Winter Park people, however, don’t know corduroy.
What they do know is bumps—the bigger, the better. Visitors frequent the groomed slopes of the resort’s main peak; the locals ski almost exclusively at Mary Jane, Winter Park’s bastion of bumps on its southern peak. They like troughs that could swallow a water buffalo. They keep their fillings tight lest a deep furrow jolt them loose. Should a winch cat threaten to flatten their moguls, they
rise up in outrage.
They feel a powerful sense of ownership of the place, and for good reason. In 1940, the city and county of Denver opened Winter Park as the crown jewel of its mountain park system; in 2002, the city turned over operation of the mountain to ski-resort giant Intrawest, which committed $50 million to mountain improvements. To date, Intrawest has installed three new lifts at Winter Park. The Eagle Wind triple and the high-speed Panoramic six-pack replaced two poorly sited lifts on Mary Jane in 2006 and 2007, respectively, and last year, the open-air Village Cabriolet gondola began ferrying skiers from the outer parking lots to an improved pedestrian base area with heated streets, slopeside retail and restaurants, and nearly 200 new condo units. For the most part, the locals haven’t protested the changes—as long as nobody takes their bumps away, it doesn’t matter what happens to the base. But this is what I learned last winter: The new chairlifts have opened up fun, challenging terrain that many locals have yet to discover.
Some locals, anyhow—because at Winter Park, there are locals, and there are locals. Second-tier locals like me come up on Saturday morning, sit in traffic on I-70, stand in out-the-maze liftlines at the Summit Express and Challenger chairs, punish ourselves on the bumps for few hours, then go home and ice our knees.
On powder days it’s a slightly different routine. We sit in traffic on I-70, stand in out-the-maze lines at the Summit Express and Challenger chairs, then destroy ourselves on marginally softer bumps. And then go home and ice our knees.
Then there are locals like Chris Koch, a clean-cut 35-year-old who grew up in the race program at Winter Park and who’s now manager of the resort’s adult ski school. One midwinter day I enlist him to take me on a tour of the new terrain. We start out like any local would, on the Summit Express at Mary Jane. But instead of banging bumps, we scoot to the new high-speed Panoramic chair and to the top of Parsenn Bowl. From there, we head to Vasquez Cirque, a 20-minute skate-and-pole to a series of short chutes. This terrain opened in 1997, but it used to require a two-hour round trip. From the Eagle Wind lift, you can skate to the Cirque, ski it and return to the top of Parsenn Bowl in less than an hour. We drop into B-Chute, a steep, north-facing slope, then zigzag through the trees below. It’s been warm for a week, but the snow is still pleasantly edgeable in the chute. In the apron below, it’s powder. In the trees below that, it’s untracked.
In 15 years I have never found anything untracked more than a half-hour after ski patrol pulls the rope. To do so now is almost unsettling. We traverse over to the Eagle Wind lift and spend the rest of the morning skiing long, open glades—no troughs larger than I am, no shark-tooth bumps making mincemeat of my knees, and no liftlines.
Which is when I start thinking: Do I really have to write about this?
If there’s any consolation, it’s the fact that we locals don’t read very much, so the new terrain at Winter Park should remain a secret, at least for a bit. As long as that’s the case, you won’t see me on the big bumps. Which is fine because, while I’m in the business of divulging secrets, here’s one that you’ll never hear from any self-respecting Winter Park local: I’ve never much liked bumps anyway.
Lodging Fraser Crossing and Founders Pointe are the newest lodges, with studios to three-bedroom condos. $150–$380; skiwinterpark.com
Dining Try Lime, a new option in the village, featuring Mexican-inspired dishes. The Cheeky Monk, a lively Belgian beer cafe, offers fondue, burgers and a huge selection of European craft beers.
Après-Ski The margs at Doc’s Roadhouse soothe mogul-bruised egos.
Don’t Miss The tubing hill in Fraser, a couple of miles away, is lit for night sliding.
Must Ski Drunken Frenchman, a 2,200- vertical-foot meadow of sedan-sized moguls. It’s Mary Jane, back to her roots.
Getting There Winter Park is 90 miles from Denver International Airport.