Approximately an hour and a half from the city, Winter Park Resort is the closest major ski resort to Denver International Airport (DEN). And it’s a special one: Winter Park Resort began life nearly 80 years ago and claims the crown of Colorado’s longest continually operated ski resort.
Owned by the city of Denver (but operated by Alterra Mountain Company), Winter Park is one of the few municipality-owned ski resorts in North America. It is also the only ski resort in North America to which you can catch a train. The Winter Park Express operates every Friday-Sunday from January to March, taking passengers from Denver Union Station and dropping them off within steps of the closest chairlift. Combined with the train service from Denver International Airport, visitors to Winter Park can go from plane to slope without ever worrying about renting a car or arranging shuttle service. The service is operated by Amtrak and tickets start a $29 one-way (kids 13 and under are half price) making it as cost effective as it is enjoyable.
Once at the mountain, Winter Park itself is big, even by US standards, with 143 trails over 3,081 acres to suit all abilities, along with no fewer than six terrain parks. Independent UK guidebook Where to Ski and Snowboard rates Winter Park’s beginners’ facilities – including the 25-acre Discovery Park, a nursery area with longer green runs and an adventure trail through the trees – as ‘about the best we’ve seen’. Praise indeed from the book’s scrupulous editors. There’s also a learning zone called Sorensen Park at the base of the lifts.
Aside from the black diamonds, which are rarely touched by piste bashers, Winter Park’s trail-grooming is as immaculate as you’d expect in North America – so you won’t find any nasty icy patches as you make your way around. Due to its location along the Continental Divide, the resort has one of the best snowfall records in Colorado, with a yearly average of 330in or 830cm, around double what the likes of Chamonix or Val d’Isère receive in France. The snow is so light, dry and fluffy, it flatters everyone, and makes for fantastically easy skiing and snowboarding.
The terrain is extensive – with seven distinct territories – and Winter Park Resort offers guided tours for those keen to learn how to navigate their way around and find the best spots – and not only for skiing. It’s particularly good for intermediates, with miles of corduroy pistes to ski all day long. There are two on-mountain restaurants, Sunspot Lodge, located in the Winter Park Territory, and Lunch Rock, located atop the Mary Jane Territory, that are both ideal spots for skiers of all abilities to meet for lunch. Brilliantly, beginners’ lift passes are included in the price of lessons – and children’s classes have their own dedicated slopes.
Off the mountain, lodgings are available in the nearby towns of Winter Park and Fraser, but one of the most convenient options for families is the car-free Village at Winter Park, at the base of the slopes. The safe, quiet environment is ideal for children, and The Village is home to childcare facilities, which takes babies. If you choose to stay in any of the outlying villages and areas, most hotels and condos have their own shuttles to and from the slopes, and the town of Winter Park operates a free, convenient bus system that can take visitors to dining and shopping options beyond those at the resort.
Winter Park offers a wide range of activities aside from skiing or snowboarding, including tubing, snowshoeing, snowcat tours, snowmobiling and dog-sledding. A range of events are held in the village, many of which are designed speciﬁcally for families and are free, including campﬁre singalongs and ice-skating. After a full day of exploring, Winter Park also oﬀers a number of on-mountain après-ski options, where visitors can enjoy Colorado-sourced food and drink.
Sunspot Lodge, located on a 10,000ft (3,200m) perch atop Winter Park Territory, also oﬀers ﬁve-course gourmet dinners each weekend, featuring a spectacular ride in the resort’s new 10-person gondola with wide-ranging views of the Fraser Valley. For maximum value, try a “Winter Park Insider’s Package,” which includes up to 30% discounts on lodging, lift tickets, lessons, and rentals as well as free exclusive experiences like complimentary resort tours and first tracks access.
Resort height: 2,743m
Distance from Denver: 90 minutes by train or car (67 miles)
Deals: Winter Park Insider’s Package offers up to 30% off lodging, lifts, lessons, and rentals with complimentary exclusive experiences / Flex Four Lift Ticket-valid four of six days for $349 (includes blackout dates)
Lessons: Ski schools will take children as young as three.
Extended childcare: Full- and half-day childcare for kids aged two months to six years is available.