Winter Park – Carl Frey
Spring break is around the corner, what to do? Since you’ve got the time and Colorado has the snow, we suggest hitting a few mountains to make the most of your vacation time. Here are two trip variations for the break. For the truly ambitious, you could easily hit all of these mountains and even a few more over the break.
Loveland Ski Area & Winter Park Resort
Loveland and Winter Park are an easily accessible combination that could work to visit on a weekend or a week. Both grassroots in nature, they serve up some of that down-to-earth, winter ski resort authenticity. From Denver, these resorts are both easy to get to. Since there isn’t any lodging at Loveland Ski Area, we suggest making this a day stop on your way up to Winter Park. Or you can even stop on your way up and back to break up the drive.
Loveland Ski Area: Right off of I-70 at first glance, Loveland looks rather unassuming. It is unassuming in the sense that there is nothing pretentious about this resort. But it serves up good coffee and slopes worth boasting about. What most people who drive by Loveland don’t realize is that the lifts and runs extend across both sides of I-70 along the Continental Divide.
For a unique adventure to start your spring break, and if your snow skills are up for it, take advantage of the free snowcat that runs above the chairlifts along the North side of The Ridge—an area that offers expert terrain that is only accessible by foot or snowcat. The “Ridge Cat” provides access to runs like North Star, Velvet Hammer, even Marmot when snow and conditions permit. In addition to having a lift ticket or pass, you’ll need a free Ridge Cat Pass. These are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Basin Ticket Office.
Of course, Chairs 2 and 9 will give you plenty of access to fun terrain, groomers and steeps. Yes, many a national ski team has been known to train here early season. And, for beginners, you get your own area and lodge to explore over at Chairs 7 and 3. A free shuttle runs between the two areas.
Winter Park Resort: At Winter Park Resort, the Vintage Hotel is a favorite of mine simply for convenience sake. There’s nothing fancy about it, but you can park for free and take the free open-air gondola for a quick ride from the hotel to the village. And if you have kids in tow, you’ll want to try the tubing hill—located right outside the hotel—in the apres hours. Regardless of where you stay, parking is relatively easy and for the most part free at Winter Park. And, there are easy and free shuttles to get you from parking lot or Winter Park town to chairlift
Of course, Winter Park also has Mary Jane. If you like the trees, steeps and moguls, you’ll want to head to the Jane. Take Panorama Express to explore all the runs that initiate along the resort’s boundary and then work your way back towards Winter Park. Otherwise, Winter Park has plenty of fun groomers and cruisers, and even parks, worth checking out. Cranmer will be an easy favorite. During the day you’ll find a good cup of coffee and food at the Coffee and Tea Market Café & Bar in the Balcony House at the base of the Gondola. When you’re done for the day, be sure to stop by Goody’s Mountain Creperie in the Village for an apres-ski crepe. You won’t regret it.
Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk & Aspen Mountain
So, the beauty of Aspen is that it offers up its own 4-mountains-in-1-place package with each mountain offering its own unique experience, so you won’t feel like you’re in the same town, same place each day. You have beginner, intermediate and expert options all for the taking. And from my experience, the second wonderful thing about the mountains at Aspen is that it can be a powder day and you’ll still be hard-pressed to find a line.
Although Aspen can be expensive, it doesn’t have to be. You can definitely find more affordable places to stay, especially if you opt to stay outside of town, in Snowmass, for instance. But even the Inn at Aspen next to Buttermilk or the Molly Brown in town offers good deals. No matter where you’re based, the town’s free buses will whisk you to whichever mountain you choose for the day.
I suggest starting at Snowmass, with its long, open runs, which roll right into the Village at Snowmass. If you stay at Snowmass, tryout Sake sushi restaurant in the lower village for dinner or Il Poggio in the upper village.
Follow up Snowmass with Aspen Mountain, located right in Aspen town. Here, you can imagine being any one of a number of famous downhillers who have raced on “American Downhill,” which starts on Ruthie’s Run and continues down Aztec and Spring Pitch. When you’re done, just park the skis and you’re already in town for Happy Hour. Or head to Su Casa, Mexican restaurant, for a quick bite to eat.
Next, don’t let Buttermilk fool you, there’s plenty to try here, especially if you’re open to trying something new. Home to the X-Games, if you like the pipes and the park, you’ll be happy here. But its gentle, rolling slopes are the perfect place to learn or try whatever version of winter sports you haven’t done yet—snowboarding, telemark skiing or alpine. The instructors on any one of the Aspen mountains are, as is to be expected, world-class.
Of course, I saved the best, or at least my favorite, for last. Aspen Highlands offers a bit of everything. Hike up to Highlands bowl or down any one of the steep long mogul runs that leads to Deep Temerity chair. Or enjoy long groomers on the front side, whatever puts a smile on your face, this mountain likely has it. And again, your legs will likely get tired before you ever find a line here.