As a kid growing up in the Midwest, my family's go-to ski destination was always Colorado. Winter Park Resort is one of the places where I learned to ski. I don't have many vivid ski memories from that time, but I do recall the treacherous drive through the mountains to get there and also the wonderful times we had as a family on the slopes.
Earlier this year, I reached out to Winter Park because I wanted to recreate those skiing memories for my kids and to see if I could rekindle a little spark in my own mind from the days when my parents took me there so many years ago. We've skied in Utah, Canada, and even skied in Japan, but is Winter Park Resort still one of the best Colorado ski resorts for families? Could it live up to the expectations I had built up from my childhood?
Read on to find out what we thought...
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To get here, we drove from Oklahoma, through western Kansas and eastern Colorado. News flash - it's still flat. We stopped for supper in Denver where there was a definite chill in the air. It always gets me exited because it means we're finally getting close.
We took the exit off of I-70 north to Winter Park and wound our way up to town. The roads were great - wider than they used to be. No longer was there fear of driving off the mountain as you tight-roped the edge with no guardrail, like I remember.
We turned into Winter Park where they have a fancy, well-lit sign which I didn't remember. We checked in to the Vintage Hotel which is one of several hotels in and around the resort. I definitely didn't remember that. I was starting to wonder if they had replaced all my ski memories with high-rise condos and plush ski lodges.
We checked into the hotel, got our keys, and headed to the room. The employee working that night was friendly, and we struck up a conversation about what runs were open, the recent snowstorm, etc. Next to the hotel restaurant, they had snacks and microwaveable 1-cup meals for purchase in a makeshift food mart.
This was more like I remember.
Rentals, Lift Tickets, and Skiing
Disclosure: Winter Park Resort graciously provided 2-day lift tickets and rentals for the four of us. All other expenses on this trip came out of our own pocket. As always, opinions and views are ours.
After a good night's sleep, we all arrived at the rental shop first thing, excited to hit the slopes. Being Thanksgiving (and only their second day open), there wasn't much of a line, and we were helped right away. Everyone had a smile, and it seemed like they were happy to finally have the season underway.
I have to say, I've never met a rental staff that was more friendly, helpful, and genuinely engaged with their customers than these folks. Maybe it was the turkey beckoning. Maybe it was the excitement of the season or that they weren't that busy. Whatever the reason, they really did a great job.
Lift tickets are issued at the shop as well, and are just plastic RFID cards with your information printed on them. Just pop them in a pocket on your sleeve or glove and you're good to go. They will automatically scan at the turnstiles at the lift.
These are definitely much better than the ridiculously sticky paper ones they used to put on your zipper way back when. Man, once those things were on, you had a souvenir for life (or just until you outgrew your ski coat). They never came off!
Oh, and here's a hot tip. If you rent on opening weekend, you get a set of skis that actually have an edge on them and aren't beat to death. I've never seen rental skis look so good! Bonus!
Time to Hit the Slopes!
I'll admit, we were a little worried about skiing this early in the season. We've never done that before, but figured it was worth the gamble just to get back to the mountains. We were planning on visiting Rocky Mountain National Park anyway.
Luckily, The Rockies got hit with a couple of storms just before we arrived, so that, combined with good snow-making operations made everything work out. There were only a few lifts and a few green runs open, but at our skill level, that's about all we would ski anyway, so it didn't bother us.
From my memory, Winter Park had 3 ski areas open when I was here last (a looong time ago) - Winter Park, Mary Jane, and Vasquez. We always stuck to Winter Park against my protests to go explore Mary Jane. My mom wasn't quite up for it. Now that I know better, it is slightly nerve-wracking to have your fearless child hurtle down a mountain on waxed fiberglass, so I can appreciate her concern. (I still want to go, but it was closed on this trip). One of these days MJ, we'll meet...
The Best Place to Ski in Colorado?
Today, Winter Park boasts 7 territories and over 3,000 acres of skiing. That's a lot of ski area. Over the last 75 years, Winter Park has emerged as a powerhouse that can compete with any resort anywhere.
All this, and they've retained the small resort charm. You can see flashes of it when the boot-fitter takes the time to make sure your kids are comfortable, and when the ski guide wearing the all-yellow snow suit spots you and your family from across the way and asks you if you need any assistance.
And those red wagons. Genius! I'll talk about those in a minute...
Due to lack of snow, we didn't get to explore all the terrain Winter Park has to offer, but that didn't damper our spirits.
The lift lines were a little long because there were only a few open, but it was fine. A day on the slopes with the family is better than, well, just about anything else. It was beautiful, blue bird skiing for two days, and it was fantastic.
For what they had open, the snow was great and we had so much fun. Families will no doubt love exploring all the terrain Winter Park has to offer. That smile says it all - Winter Park Resort is still one of the best ski resorts for kids.
Winter Park Village
When I was here as a kid, there was no village really. Now, it's an awesome hub for après ski, good food, and sharing the day's adventures with friends and family. Winter Park has built a really nice village (modeled a bit after Whistler, BC, as I understand). It's a great place to grab a bite, get a warm drink, or stroll around and do some shopping.
Goody's Mountain Creperie - 'Home of Deliciousness'
Just like the website states, they are the home of deliciousness! We spotted this place one evening and decided to give it a go for breakfast the next morning. After Paris, we have some professional crepe-eaters in our family, so the standard is high. We shared one with Nutella, a strawberry shortcake crepe, and a savory crepe with eggs and bacon. Merci! - they were good. I was sad we couldn't try their ice cream, but I have no doubt it is delicious also.
Lime - An American Cantina
This place was so good, we ate here twice! We're suckers for good Mexican food, and they deliver. From street tacos to churros, it was some of the best ski resort fare we've had. Olè!
Ha! See what they did there?!? Anyway, what would skiing be without a good slice for lunch? These guys are doin' work here with yummy, made-to-order pies that are really tasty. Eat in or take it to go - either way, it's worth a stop. The pizza comes out quick and they have some good local micro-brews if you're into that sort of thing. Good stuff!
We didn't get a chance to try everything in the village (or the mountain), but it all sounded delicious. From piping hot soups and chili, to more upscale food and wine, Winter Park has it all!
Thanksgiving Dinner at The Lodge at Sunspot
After our first day of getting reacquainted with skis, we got cleaned up and headed back out for dinner. One of the special experiences that we indulged in was a Thanksgiving dinner at The Lodge at Sunspot.
The Lodge is located at the top of Winter Park mountain, and at 10,700 feet, the views of Fraser and the surrounding area are spectacular! The Zephyr Express lift is fitted with gondola cars to make the ride a bit more enjoyable.
On Thanksgiving, the lodge plays host to a buffet-style Thanksgiving feast, and we all had the best time celebrating and being thankful for each other. Dinner was absolutely delicious. Prime rib, roast turkey, and ham along with all the trimmings were on the menu, and you could go back as much as you wanted.
Andrew got his first taste of prime rib and never looked back. I had to set the expectation that this would not be a regular thing (chuckle).
For dessert, there was a selection of cheesecake, pumpkin pie, flour-less chocolate torte, and chocolate cake. It was all fantastic!
The staff was wonderful and attentive, and the food was superb. Although this was not an inexpensive meal, the ambiance, uniqueness, and fun factor all made it worth it. I'd gladly pay extra money for that combination any day.
The Lodge at Sunspot is open daily for lunch, and on weekends and holidays for fine dining. If you can work it in, we highly recommend it!
Winter Park Holiday Market and Christmas Tree Lighting
On Saturday in conjunction with the tree lighting ceremony, we were able to attend the first annual holiday market. This is a fun market where local vendors set up booths in the village and sell their goods.
Folks had a whole host of wares ranging from local Colorado gifts, holiday items, hot cocoa, clothing, artwork, and even holiday-flavored macarons! Now we're talkin'!
It was a lot of fun with lots of treats to taste and fun crafts on display. We came away with a few gifts of our own and struck up some fun conversations with the locals. We even made some new friends.
In addition to the market, there were carolers, and the kids could even sit down with Santa himself. It was fun and festive and really got everyone in the Christmas spirit.
It all culminated in a fun tree lighting ceremony where we all counted down and watched as Winter Park lit their beautiful tree in the village square.
Why Winter Park is Great for Families
Winter Park, Colorado in my mind has always been synonymous with family ski resorts, but with recent mega-mergers from Park City/Canyons and the vastness of the Vail family of resorts (and others), I was worried that Winter Park would be swallowed up or worse, commercialized beyond recognition.
What I found surprised me.
Winter Park, CO - Still One of the Top Ski Resorts for Families
From humble beginnings to what it is today, they've stayed true to their roots. They consistently get high ratings from the ski publications for kid-friendliness. Winter Park is a big resort, but instead of going big on glam and chateaus, they've invested big on what matters to families like ours - affordable skiing that's easily accessible, a comfortable village that has everything you need, friendly staff, and a few extra touches that let you know that families are welcome guests. They still have epic terrain spread across several peaks and bowls, but it's nice to know that they still cater to families who want a great ski vacation.
Now about those red wagons...
Radio-Flyers to the Rescue
All over the village, Winter Park Resort has red Radio-Flyer wagons outfitted with big, knobby tires. When I say all over, I mean everywhere. They are complimentary and there are parking spots for them in several convenient locations. One way trip? - no problem! Need to haul your skis, boots, and the occasional cranky skier? - load 'em up! Ate too much Pizza Pedal'R? - climb in and let the kids pull you!
These are such a brilliant idea! Ski parents know that they're going to be schlepping around everyone's equipment besides their own. If you're reading this and have not been skiing with kids, you're going to be schlepping around everyone's equipment besides your own. It's just too bulky and unwieldy for small kids to handle.
Throw it all in a wagon and off you go. Thank you, Winter Park!
Other Great Features for Families
Besides the wagons, Winter Park impressed me with it's charm. The shops are fun for kids and adults alike. Treeline Treats is full of sugary goodies that everyone will love, and the mercantile sells about anything you need including groceries.
We had a great time just strolling around in the evenings with the Christmas lights looking for fun souvenirs to take back home. It's all nice and compressed so even if it's cold, you don't have to go far to get warmed up. You can also huddle up around the outdoor fire pits throughout the village. You could even grab some smore's gear from the mercantile and make yourself a little snack. However you do it, enjoy some après time with the family.
For the more adventurous, head over to the tube park, or try out the ice skating rink. You can also enjoy sleigh rides, dog sledding, snow cat tours, and snow bike tours.
If you're wanting a little adult time, Winter Park has a great program called Thursday Kid's Night Out that runs from Dec. 15th to Mar. 30th. You can get some shopping done or have a quiet, kid-free dinner, and the kids get a night of fun and dinner at Pizza Pedal'R. Bring back a receipt from the one of the village shops or restaurants for more than $25 and it's free.
When was the last time you got something free at a ski resort? Check out the details here. This is just another reason why Winter Park is one of the best ski resorts for kids in Colorado.
Where to Stay in Winter Park
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As Winter Park becomes more developed, it means more lodging options for families, and that's a good thing. We like to try and stay as close as we can to the slopes for convenience, but that also comes at a cost. Lodging expenses (like anything else) will fluctuate with the season, but I was happy to find that hotel prices were really reasonable compared to other resorts we've been to.
We stayed at the Vintage Hotel which is at the base of Winter Park Mountain. We loved that the room was larger than average, had a fireplace, a small kitchen, and was close to the slopes. Other family-friendly features included complimentary ski storage, and a small food market for picking up some snacks or a light meal to prepare in the room.
This hotel is very pet friendly, so bring them along if you'd like. Just let them know you're coming. Guests of the hotel ride the Village Cabriolet lift over to Winter Park Village which is fun for the kids.
While not a luxury hotel in terms of amenities, it's no slouch either, and we found it to be the perfect ski lodge for our family. In fact, Carrie commented that it was cleaner than some of the other more high-end hotels that we've stayed in. The Vintage Hotel was comfortable and clean, and I'd recommend it to anyone. It was a great mix of convenience, proximity to the slopes, and value.
We found the best price on this hotel with HotelsCombined.com and booked with Hotels.com.
Other Lodging at Winter Park Resort
Fraser Crossing and Founders Pointe
Located just 150 yards from the slopes, Fraser Crossing and Founders Point offer guests luxury accommodations to suit any size family. The hotel offers rooms ranging from studios to three-bedroom condos, along with amenities like heated underground parking, ski storage, and a hot tub.
Parry Peak Lofts
If a luxury town home in the heart of the village is more your style, then you'll want to check out the Parry Peak Lofts. Although not, ski in/ski out, these lofts will offer families lots of room to spread out with great access to the shops in the village and just a short walk to the slopes.
Zephyr Mountain Lodge
Zephyr Mountain Lodge is Winter Park's only ski-in/ski-out lodging. If proximity to the slopes is a priority for you, then this is where you'll want to stay. Located at the base of the Zephyr Express Chairlift, families are just steps from the slopes which will save you from hauling gear all over.
Rooms here are fully-equipped 1, 2, and 3 bedroom condos, so families will have plenty of room to spread out. Heated underground parking, four hot tubs, and complimentary ski storage are great reasons for you to stay here. Easy access to the the shops and restaurants in the village make it perfect for families wanting to experience Winter Park.
Exploring the Local Area
If you're looking for family activities outside of Winter Park, then take the short trip down the road to Fraser where you'll find plenty of things to do. We visited The Foundry which is a movie theater, bowling alley, pool hall, and brick-oven pizzeria all rolled into one. It just so happened that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was showing, so we got tickets, ordered some pizza, and enjoyed a night out.
Fraser has several different restaurants, bars, pubs, and cafes sprinkled throughout, so ask a local or fire up Yelp on your phone and try something new. Fraser really is one of the best ski towns in Colorado.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Less than an hours' drive away is Rocky Mountain National Park. We took day to visit, and it was amazing. Although Trail Ridge Road is closed during the winter months, there are still so many things to do in RNMP, making it well worth a visit. Be sure to check out our posts on Every Kid In A Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Getting to Winter Park, CO
The Best Way to Get to Winter Park - The Winter Park Express!
Although it's not yet open, we're super-excited about the Winter Park Express. Beginning on January 7th, passengers can take a 2 hour ride on the Amtrak Winter Park Express directly from Denver's Union Station to Winter Park resort.
Take the train and arrive directly at the resort on a new platform that they have constructed. The train will run on the weekends and on Monday holidays throughout the winter until March 26th. If you're flying in to DEN, just take the A-Line commuter train to Union Station downtown, and then catch the Winter Park express and hit the slopes. How awesome! Seriously, skip the I-70 traffic and do this!
We're hoping that this is a huge success for Amtrak and Winter Park. We've heard that this could be a year round service which would be fantastic!
Driving to Winter Park Colorado
If you're driving like we did, Winter Park is easy to get to. It's just a short drive from Denver on I-70 West and then north on US-40. Make sure you have some snow chains with you just in case the weather turns.
If you're coming from the east, it's flat.
Hours of flat earth.
Brace yourself and make sure your kids have something to occupy themselves with (chuckle).
Flying into Denver
Denver is easy to get to and serves as a hub for United and Southwest Airlines. It's a beautiful, modern airport, and the new commuter train options in Denver mean you don't have to rent a car or take a taxi any longer. Win!
There are also shuttle services from the airport, which is only 90 miles away from Winter Park.
We think that Winter Park is an excellent vacation destination for families, and it totally lived up to my high expectations. It's easy to get to, has lots of diverse terrain, great food, friendly staff, and a charm that we're sure your family will love. Definitely put Winter Park on your short list of ski destinations this winter.
Will your family be skiing this winter? Where are you headed? Let us know in the comments!