Colorado has more famous resorts, but Denver locals love Winter Park. Aaron Millar and his young family recently caught the Winter Park Express and found out why.
That ski moment every proud parent dreams about
She is wearing a bright purple ski suit, purple leopard skin helmet, purple trimmed goggles, and purple mittens. She is six-years old, so small and so wrapped up it looks like she’s been swallowed by a pile of clothes. But she’s smiling, her hands are in the air and she’s skiing, really skiing, for the very first time.
It’s one of my proudest moments. It took two years, and an almost unfathomable amount of faff, but we got there. The fact that she crashed 20 seconds later is irrelevant, my girl can ski.
Colorado is the stuff of winter legend
We moved to Colorado, my wife Gillian, daughter Elise, and her older brother Cameron, from the UK because Colorado is the stuff of winter legend: 300 inches of powder a year, and 30,000 acres of skiable terrain.
That’s important to us because family ski vacations are special. They’re not just fun, learning to ski or ride is an accomplishment, it boosts self-esteem and builds confidence. But, for young families especially, it’s not always easy.
The Winter Park Express is the ultimate ski valet for families
There will be tears, there will be tantrums, and that’s just me. I’ve bribed my children with more hot chocolates than I am proud to admit. I’ve spent endless hours in bathroom stalls trying to figure out how to get my daughter out of her one-piece ski suit without taking her boots off. I’ve lugged three sets of skis and poles, and a toddler, hundreds of gruelling metres just to get to the lift.
No traffic, no parking, no Sherpa-parents
That’s why when I heard the words ‘ski train’ my heart skipped a beat. The Winter Park Express takes skiers from central Denver more than 50 spectacular miles over the Rockies to the slopes of Winter Park Resort, climbing more than 4,000 feet in the process. It’s the ultimate ski valet, as the Winter Park stop is less than a hundred feet from the lifts and, crucially, from the ski school drop off too. No expensive rental car, no traffic, no parking, no shuttles to the slopes, and no Sherpa-parents sweating and exhausted before the day even begins.
Plus, there’s a light rail direct from the airport to Union Station, where the ski train departs, meaning it’s easy to bookend your ski break with a few nights in Denver either side.
Winter Park Colorado is a great choice for families
Winter Park is a great choice for families too. The instructors are renowned as some of the best in the state. There’s plenty of beginner terrain, and some of the best intermediate skiing for older kids and confident riders. Sure, Colorado has more famous resorts – Vail, Breckenridge, Aspen, Beaver Creek – but ask a Denver or Boulder local where they like to ski and chances are they’ll tell you Winter Park.
What could be better, I thought, than a faff-free weekend of family skiing? I booked my tickets, and a long weekend in the mountains, and jumped on board.
Relax, enjoy the view, let someone else drive
The ride itself is worth the price of admission. The top floor lounge of the double decker Amtrak ‘Superliner Sightseer’ has floor to ceiling windows. We watched the Flatirons of Boulder, famous pyramid like peaks of the Front Range, glow soft pink in the rising sun. We climbed through snow dusted foothills, rising steadily, drifts getting deeper and weighing heavily on groves of pines. We passed through the historic Moffat Tunnel, built in 1928 – at 6.2 miles, the longest tunnel in the Western Hemisphere at the time – and then finally arrived, two hours later, refreshed, snacked, and ready to go.
Winter Park ski schools are some of the best in Colorado
We stayed for two nights, with three full days of skiing. Two days with the kids, sandwiched between a day in ski school where Gillian and I had the mountains to ourselves. Outside the slopes, we went ice skating under the stars, tubing on giant inflatable rings big enough for one adult and one screaming kid, ate waffles dipped in chocolate, and sank into our hotel hot tub at the end of cold winter days.
On Sunday afternoon, tired but happy. Our valet ski train picked us up slope side at 4.30pm just as the last lift lines were closing. We ordered two hot chocolates and a couple of Colorado craft brews and I sank into my chair with a smug smile. I had just checked the traffic report, and it was bumper to bumper in the swirling snow and fading light. Sunday night traffic jams in the mountains are notorious and par for the course.
But not for me, not this time. Instead, Elise cuddled in, head on my lap, her little legs stretched out as far as they’d go. Time for a snooze. I’m not surprised. My girl learnt to ski this weekend, and I didn’t have to faff at all.
Planning your trip to Winter Park
How to get there
Amtrak Winter Park Express from Denver to Winter Park, 2 hours, 36 minutes
Where to stay
The Vintage Hotel, offers family rooms (2 adults, 2 children) from $159 per night