Reviewed by Eugene Buchanan
Nov 06, 2008
Just 25 miles north of the historic mining town of Durango, Colorado.
Unlike many resorts in the area, enjoy free parking and a shuttle to the base of the hill. Get there early for first tracks—the bus runs starting at 6:30 a.m.
The term “champagne powder” was coined in Steamboat Springs, and the town boasts more Winter Olympians (63) than anywhere else in the country. Coincidence? No, sirree. The two big hills (Mount Werner and Storm Peak) gather some of the fluffiest, most consistent snowfall in the state, like this year’s 105 inches in 11 days.
Mary Jane—named for a mining-era lady of the night—and its sister area, Winter Park, offer plenty of prospects for good skiing, including bumps and powder-filled bowls. Forming one of the closest major resorts to Denver, the two areas spread across five mountains and 3,078 acres. Add 3,060 feet of vertical, 30 feet of snowfall, and a direct train from Denver and it’s no wonder why the Front Range packs the place on Saturdays.
Quick Tip: Make friends with an employee. Resort workers can score up to four half-price lift tickets each day.
Start Here: Avoid crowds by parking slopeside at Mary Jane and riding the Super Gauge Express for a warmup on the mellow bumps and trees of Sleeper or Mary Jane Trail, a wide-open groomer.
Must Hit: Last year, 12,060-foot Panoramic Express opened. From the top, charge the steeps on Parry’s Peak and enjoy the view. To your right: the Zero Creek cirque. To your left: Rocky Mountain National Park. In front: the Continental Divide.
The Stash: Take Village Way off Panoramic to the Belle Fourche gate in Vasquez Cirque for tree skiing known only to those in the 80482 zip code. Then traverse skier’s left off the Eagle Wind chair until you like what you see.
Powder Day: From Winter Park, ride the Zephyr Express straight to the often deep Outhouse trees. Next, lap the Super Gauge chair for tight glades and small cliffs. Crowded? Head to the Challenger lift for more trees and more bumps. Later, hit the gladed, powder-filled back side of Parsenn Bowl.
Three Days Later: The upside to the pine-beetle epidemic: It has thinned out MJ’s coin-slot-tight trees. Try the pines between Golden Spike and Sterling Way and the chutes off the Challenger lift. Then hit the Eagle Wind chair, which hides powder stashes all year long.
Park and Pipe: Five progressive parks in Winter Park let you build your skills. Begin at the starter area, move on to the Dogpatch park, and eventually land in Dark Territory, a limited-access (you have to watch a video and pay $15 extra) rail-and-jump fest.
Backcountry Access: Two gates access the backcountry, a lower one from Vasquez Cirque and an upper one off Parry’s Peak. Both lead to U.S. Highway 40, so drop a car or hitch back. The lower gate accesses trees, while the upper takes you to the big lines of Zero, First, and Second Creek. Check avalanche conditions at avalanche.state.co.us.
Weather: It’s called Winter Park for a reason. The resort often sees single-digit temps, with winds careening off the Continental Divide. March can bring either more storms or a bad sunburn.
Après: Hit the Club Car deck at MJ’s base for a pitcher of Mary Jane Ale. At the park, listen for the Derailer Bar’s train whistle, signaling 3 p.m. happy hour.
Fuel: Down a breakfast burrito at Carver’s or a raspberry-cheese croissant from the Coffee and Tea Market at WP’s Balcony House. For lunch, have a salmon BLT at Sunspot. Finish the day with steak Mazatlán at the Untamed Steakhouse or shrimp tacos at Mirasol.
Up All Night: The Winter Park Pub serves great food and drink specials, including dollar tacos on Tuesdays. Afterward, hit Smokin’ Moe’s for live blues before a nightcap at the nearby Sushi Bar.
Digs: Stay at the ski-in, ski-out Zephyr Mountain Lodge at Winter Park ($168 to $497; zmlwp.com), or rack with your brahs at the Rocky Mountain Inn, a youth hostel and B&B with a communal kitchen, bunkbeds, and internet. (Dorm beds from $19; private rooms from $53; therockymountain
Elevation: 12,060 feet Vertical Drop: 3,060 feet Snowfall: 355 inches Acres: 3,078 Info: winterparkresort.comeuge