Growing up on Colorado’s Front Range, the two places I remember skiing most in my youth were Winter Park and Vail. So it was only natural that my two kids, now ages 21 and 22 and ripping down anything a ski slope can deliver, had their first lessons as four-year-olds at Winter Park Resort. Part of its appeal is that you don’t have to drive too far west of Denver on Interstate 70 before hitting the turnoff. It’s a 30-mile winding drive up beautiful Highway 40 to reach Winter Park, and you will feel pleasantly distanced from all you left behind. Although I’ve lived in Crested Butte, another Colorado ski town for 16 years now, I rarely let a chance to visit Winter Park and Grand County slip by during any season. However, during the heart of winter, we always make the trip to blaze the fresh tracks that put Winter Park on the tourism map.
ACRES & ACRES OF FUN
While there are more than 3,000 blissful acres for skiers and snowboarders to discover, those who prefer not to ski or simply need a day or two off to rest sore quads can find plenty of other action at Winter Park Resort. Take a scenic snowcat tour, ice skate, snowshoe, battle on the new ice bumper cars, or try out snow bikes (not to be confused with fat bikes). A truly memorable way to reconnect the troops at the end of a fun-filled day is the Vasquez Ridge S’Mores Snowcat Tour; where you can ooh and aah at the sunset and dig into gooey s’mores on the mountain top.
With all these activities and a nice selection of lodging, restaurants, and shops in the ski village, you’ll definitely want to come back for more. However, half the fun is exploring the area. Don’t miss downtown Winter Park for an eclectic mix of eateries, outfitters’ shops, services, and places to score both local beer and tasty cuisine like The Peak Bistro & Brewery.
During a winter excursion to Winter Park not long ago, one of my favorite evenings in town involved a flight of craft brews at Hideaway Park Brewery before a delicious dinner at Volario’s. Bob and Suzanne Fanch and their culinary team introduced the new dining concept a few years ago. They also own Trailhead Inn just down the road as well as Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa in nearby Tabernash.
Both properties are distinct and provide different price points for travelers. Like Winter Park Resort, Devil’s Thumb Ranch offers numerous amenities and high-end accommodations in two lodges and various sizes of cabins. Devil’s Thumb Ranch is perhaps best known for its 120 km of groomed Nordic skiing trails. It also offers various activities for its guests, including biathlon (skiing and shooting), skijoring (your own dog is required), snowshoeing, sleigh rides, horseback riding, and indoor activities such as: yoga, spa treatments, a game room, and a movie theatre.
A bit farther north is another expansive property near Granby that encompasses more than 5,000 acres. The YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch is impressive and houses three lodges, various cabins, and a plethora of activities for all ages. Similar to Devil’s Thumb, Snow Mountain Ranch has 120 km of scenic trails for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking; as well as a Nordic Center with a ski shop and equipment rentals. Trail passes are free to overnight guests.
There are groomed trails set aside for fat biking and pets, and a rental fleet of top-of-the-line fat bikes available in four adult sizes to ensure you get the right fit. Essentially, fat bikes are like regular bicycles, but with oversized tires designed to cruise along the snow and off-road terrain. Try a fat bike for an hour, half day, or full day with prices ranging from $20 to $60, helmet included.
For more snowy, outdoor Colorado-style fun, check out the on-site tubing hill and ice rink, or, explore the land by dogsled, sleigh ride, or horseback. New for this year is an Introduction to Backcountry Alpine Touring (A/T) Skiing class that focuses on how to use the proper alpine/touring equipment; as well as the basic principles of avalanche safety, terrain management, backcountry travel, and preparedness. They’ll also teach you how to use an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe.
Snow Mountain Ranch Chaplain and Head Musher Steve Peterson leads the property’s popular dog sledding program. This winter, rides take place on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and last 30 to 40 minutes (with the musher riding in the front sled attached to a second sled with one rider). You’re sure to get some time to thank the enthusiastic canine team after the ride.
There are plenty of indoor options as well, including a climbing wall, an archery range, a pool, and a craft shop, which offers to-go kits to get creative back in your room or cabin. The Kiva Center also offers roller skating and basketball; as well as games like foosball, ping pong, and air hockey.
Off-property guests can also take part in Nordic skiing, dog sledding, sleigh rides, and horseback riding by purchasing day passes.
No matter where you stay, there are plenty of ways to tap into wintery fun in the Winter Park area. There are all sorts of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat bike trails that do not require trail pass like the Fraser River Trail, a year-round paved trail that stretches from Fraser to Winter Park Resort. View a list of trail options and descriptions at playwinterpark.com; gear and fat bikes can be rented at a variety of local outfitters.
The Historic Fraser Tubing Hill and Colorado Adventure Park are must-sees for those who wish to float briskly down snowy slopes on tubes, or want to try skating on an NHL-sized covered rink: visit “The Ice Box” located at The Fraser Valley Sports Complex. In addition to tubing, Colorado Adventure Park has mini snowmobiles for kids to ride on a groomed track. For a completely free outdoor activity, head to Hideaway Park Sledding Hill downtown where sleds can be checked out using the honor system.
One of the most beautiful ways to see the Fraser Valley is from the air. Grand Adventure Balloon Tours launches sightseeing tours early in the morning and concludes with a traditional champagne history celebration. Floating above the ground, and following the flow of the Fraser River, is especially exhilarating. At peak altitude, 100 miles of the Rocky Mountains National Park are visible for ample photo ops. You won’t soon forget the process of getting the balloon ready for flight and returning to the ground.
You can also soar high over Byers Peak Wilderness Area, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Continental Divide, and more, with Grandview Flightseeing. It takes off and lands at Granby-Grand County Airport. The tours range in length from 20 to 60 minutes. The company’s owner and pilot has also led sightseeing tours in Alaska and Utah, so you are in great hands.
As with any destination, be sure to check local sources for current information about Covid-19 regulations. “Winter Park and the Fraser Valley in general are really great spots to visit, with a lot of great outdoor options. We just ask guests to follow Covid restrictions so we can stay open. Tourists are the lifeblood of our community. It’s a balance,” says Amy Leet, marketing manager for Snow Mountain Ranch.
Before you go, sign up online for the Winter Park & Fraser Chamber’s Snow & Go Pass for all sorts of deals and discounts at playwinterpark.com/experience-passes. Get ready for experiences of a lifetime in this winter wonderland.
IF YOU HAVE EXTRA TIME
It’s a 35-minute drive from Denver to the town of Hot Sulphur Springs, located between Granby and Kremmling. Here you can indulge in pure soaking bliss on your own or with friends and family in more than 20 pools and baths of various temperature levels at the luxurious Hot Sulphur Springs Resort & Spa.
The world-famous Rocky Mountain National Park is 37 miles from Winter Park. One of the best ways to explore the park is by snowshoe or cross-country skiing. Break your own trails or follow the trails of those who have trekked before you. Also, stop by the Kawuneeche Visitor Center at the western entrance, located one mile north of the town of Grand Lake, to learn about ranger-led wildlife programs.
Grand Adventures has a variety of snowmobile tours catered to various ages and experience levels. The most popular excursion is the Continental Divide Tour which follows the historic Moffat railroad route to Corona Pass. The ride potentially tops out at roughly 12,000 feet. This tour is terrific for families who want to experience Colorado’s beautiful backcountry.
EAT & SLEEP
Originally constructed in the early 1900s as a stagecoach stop, the building housing Deno’s Mountain Bistro is now converted into a restaurant four decades later. Deno Kutrumbos bought the restaurant in 1976 and has transformed it into a historic icon serving up steaks, seafood, pizzas, pub fare and more. Built in the 1930s, Ranch House Restaurant at Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa specializes in new American mountain cuisine, including Wagyu beef from the ranch’s herd, elk, duck, trout, lamb, seafood, and vegetarian options prepared in unique and delicious ways.
At, Pepe Osaka’s Fish Taco Tequila Bar and Grill, gourmet Latin-Asian fusion fish tacos and infused tequilas are highlights. Also look for the surf and turf tacos, spicy steak teriyaki bowls, sushi burritos, and more.
Located at the ski area, Goodys is all about scratch cooking using only whole, natural ingredients that are additive-free to prepare breakfast, lunch, and après ski. Don’t miss the crepes!
Serving Fraser Valley since 1982, Carvers Daytime Eatery + Bar crafts delicious breakfast, brunch and lunch. A homemade cinnamon roll anyone?
Wake N’ Bacon specializes in baked goods, breakfast, and lunch. It focuses on local and seasonal ingredients. Anyone heard of candied eggs or pancake bacon dippers? The menu is a nice combination of unique and traditional dishes.
Durbar Nepalese & Indian Bistro features homemade, authentic selections from Nepal and India for lunch and dinner.
For great pizza, check out Hernando’s Pizza Pub in Winter Park, known for its great food with dollar-bill-decorated walls, or visit Elevation Pizza in Fraser which offers all sorts of signature “pies.”
Every ski town needs an eatery that makes delicious soups and sandwiches. Rudi’s Deli is the place to go in Winter Park.
Winter Park Mountain Lodge offers luxury hotel rooms complete with refrigerators and microwaves for easy access to early-morning eats and snacks. Mountain suites also have the added benefit of fireplaces and dry bars.
Wild Horse Inn in Fraser resembles a grand mountain lodge built at the turn of the 20th century. Choose from seven guest rooms and three cabins, all with sweeping views of the Continental Divide.
Winter Park Lodging Company is a locally owned and operated luxury vacation rental management company with a plethora of condos and homes to choose from.
Winter Park Resort has a variety of options for easy access to the ski slopes, including The Vintage Hotel, Zephyr Mountain Lodge, Fraser Crossing, Founders Pointe, and Parry Peak Lofts.
Woodspur Lodge is an ideal classic ski lodge. Rates include home-cooked breakfasts and dinners, as well as transportation to the slopes.