byKristen Lummis, braveskimom.com
Last winter, after a two decade hiatus, my husband and I found ourselves skiing Winter Park and Mary Jane. We hadn't stayed away from these mountains on purpose. We just hadn't been in the neighborhood, and from where we live, Winter Park is a bit of a haul. But as we found out, the "haul" is worth it.
We had so much fun at Winter Park in 2011 that we resolved to return in 2012, this time with our boys. We regaled them with stories of super-deep moguls, fabulous tree skiing, and extreme terrain in the Vasquez Cirque. We made plans, even arranging for them to miss school. All of this took place in October, when early season snow was flying and abundant. We expected perfection.
Then came a dry December and reports of low snow -- not just at Winter Park, but everywhere in Colorado. Our expectations dropped. Maybe the moguls at Mary Jane wouldn't be so big. Maybe the tree skiing wouldn't be open. If we couldn't expect perfection, maybe we could at least get some new snow. We lucked out. It snowed.
Eight Inches Makes a Difference
So there we were at Winter Park last Thursday and Friday, January 12th and 13th. On Wednesday a storm rolled in, left abundant snow and blew out in a fury. By Thursday, the skies were clear and the temperature was cold. We knew that much of the advanced terrain, as well as all of the expert terrain, was closed. But we didn't care. We had a big mountain to explore and two boys to impress.
The Guided Tour
Because we don't ski Winter Park and Mary Jane much, we don't know our way around. So we skied with JT, a pro with the Ski and Ride School (more on his tips and family coaching coming soon). Starting at the base area, we rode the Zephyr Express and warmed up on Cranmer, a blue groomer that was in perfect condition. From there we took the Prospector Express up to Over 'N' Underwood, a blue-black with abundant fluffy crud and some small moguls. The conditions were the best we'd seen all season.
JT kept moving us around the mountain, until we found ourselves on the outlying Pioneer Express. He had taken us to parts of the mountain we probably would have ignored had the snow been deeper. Duly impressed with the size and scope of Winter Park (but still not necessarily knowing our way around -- this is one big mountain), it was time to visit Mary Jane.
Some people like moguls. Some people, don't. We love them and the Mary Jane moguls were a big reason why we wanted to ski here with our kids. We weren't disappointed. Our first run was down Golden Spike, which we accessed via Sterling Way. Sterling Way was a bit thin, but we're used to thin this year. Golden Spike was sublime. No rocks, soft moguls and very few people. It was worth the effort.
While the conditions were a bit more variable on the Mary Jane side (from deep, soft snow to hardpack at the base), we had a blast. The next day, while skiing on our own, we explored the glades that were open under the Super Gauge six-pack and checked out the blue moguls and groomers off of the Sunnyside Lift. Outhouse, a run which connects the top of Winter Park with Mary Jane, opened on Friday and it was so good, we made the effort to backtrack and ski it again.
From Low to High
Our expectations coming to Winter Park last week were high, because we know it's a great mountain. But they were also low because of the dry winter. Our experience proved our low expectations wrong and made our high expectations even higher.
Last season, Winter Park was the number one resort in Colorado in terms of skier days. Low snow or not, Winter Park and Mary Jane are number one for a reason. I've said it before: We can't wait to come back.
When You Go....
In the last week, Winter Park has received over 16 inches of new snow and now has a 40 inch base. More is on the way. If you've been waiting for snow, now is the time to go!
Mary Jane's Birthday Bash, January 20-22
This weekend is the 100th anniversary of the Grand Winter Sports Carnival. Celebrate at Winter Park with Mary Jane's Birthday Bash. Get free tips on skiing bumps. Compete in a snow sculpture contest. Enjoy live music and birthday cake (outside of the Club Car at the Mary Jane base at 2:15). On Saturday evening, the town of Winter Park hosts a parade of lights, fireworks and more. For more information on the Winter Carnival and Mary Jane's Birthday Bash, please visit playwinterpark.com.
Where to Stay
On our past two visits to Winter Park, we've stayed at both Fraser Crossing and Founders' Pointe. These multi-story condo buildings are directly across the street from the base village and, maybe, a three-minute walk from the Zephyr Express lift. The condos are only four years old and we found our two-bedroom unit very comfortable. The buildings are quiet and family friendly, with underground parking. Best of all? The steaming hot tub! For more information on Fraser Crossing and Founders' Pointe, as well as other Winter Park lodging, click here.