An Expert Guide to Winter Park Resort in Colorado

Published on 05/09/2023 · 15 min readWinter Park Ski Resort is one of the most popular ski resorts in Colorado - and for good reason! Check out the guide below for everything you need to know!
Gaelen Mast, Snowboarding Expert
By Snowboarding Expert Gaelen Mast

Photo by Heath Alseike

Winter Park Resort: A Brief Highlight Reel

Winter Park is the sixth-largest ski resort in Colorado and is one of the most accessible! The resort has a bit of everything, and for this reason, it is quite appealing to all levels of skiers and riders.

My name is Gaelen. I’m a Snowboarding Expert at Curated.com and worked for Winter Park Resort last winter. I logged 83 days riding and spent over 140 days there in total from November to May. Today, I hope to share all the need-to-know information about this resort and some “top-secret” insider tips and tricks so you can really make the most of this mountain (because, trust me, it’s an awesome one)!

About the Mountain

As I mentioned above, Winter Park is quite large and a quintessential Colorado ski resort. It typically receives 320 inches of snow annually, which allows them to operate its ski season from mid-November to late April. It has 3,081 acres of skiable terrain encompassing 166 marked trails and some of the best-unmarked tree skiing in the state!

Getting There

It’s the closest major ski resort to Denver, about 67 miles away. This means you can make the trip from Denver in about 1-½ to 2 hours, making it feasible for travelers to fly into the city and also stay there if they can’t find closer lodging accommodations. However, I should note that even though taking a day trip to this mountain from Denver to the mountain is possible, it isn’t a walk in the park.

The drive to the mountain involves a “pass," a long windy road over a mountain with many sharp curves. In addition to this, it snows quite frequently (even if it’s not in the forecast), meaning the going can get treacherous, especially if you’re unfamiliar with driving on snowy roads. You’ll be okay. Just try to get behind the wheel of a vehicle with snow tires and bring your patience with you, as the going can get slow when the weather is bad.

If driving the pass doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you can catch the Amtrak (fittingly called the Winter Park Express) in Denver. It stops right at the resort's base; more about this here.

The Seven Territories: And All Their Secrets

Bluebird days like these were abundant! Photo by Gaelen Mast

Winter Park Resort has seven “territories” marked on its map, each with its distinct terrain style. You can read the summaries for each of these territories right on the resort’s website, so instead of regurgitating that information here, I’m going to give you my best insider information about all of these territories:

1. Winter Park Territory

The Winter Park territory is the most popular on the mountain, probably due to its easy access from the base and relatively beginner-friendly terrain. Most of this territory consists of wide open green circles and blue square groomer trails, but some black diamonds are sprinkled in there that have trees or mogul fields. This is a great territory to spend the day on if you’re more of a casual skier/snowboarder, not looking for anything too extreme.

Just be forewarned that this is where every tourist who skis twice a year will spend their time so it will be quite crowded on the weekend. While not known for tree skiing, I found this area has some hidden gems of tree runs, as it’s often overlooked on a powder day. The key is just getting into the woods and making your path!

2. Terrain Park Territory

The Terrain Park territory is a network of terrain parks that runs through the Winter Park territory. The mountain boasts that there are seven parks, and while technically they do,, there are only five main parks. The other two only had one to two features the whole season, and they were in awkward spots that were hard to get to. With that said, the parks they had were a blast! They have a small, medium, large, and extra-large park, so there’s a great progression flow from park to park. The whole park scene leans more towards rails and boxes than jumps, but there is a small/medium, medium/large, and large/extra-large jump line if airtime is your thing!

Relative to other terrain park scenes, the one at Winter Park is pretty chill. There were many times I could drop right away and didn’t have to wait in line to drop like I would at other mountains (like Woodward at Copper, for example; that place is a madhouse)!

The parks will get a bit busier on weekends, but traffic flows nicely mostly, as freestyle skiers and snowboarders have some of the best etiquettes on the mountain. The only exception is in “Ashcat,” a small terrain park. If possible, avoid this park at all costs on the weekend! While it’s a great place to progress (and admittedly, I spent plenty of time there), it’s very chaotic on busy days, filled with park riders, ski racers, tiny children, and ski bikes. During these times, it’s better just to avoid this park.

The park crew does a great job of maintaining everything; they’re out working on the features every morning and evening and often midday during the busy season. In addition, they frequently swap out features to keep things interesting, and I honestly can’t recall a single day riding when the parks were unrideable, thanks to them! As someone who spends a LOT of time riding in terrain parks, this mountain certainly doesn’t have the biggest or craziest parks out there, but it’s certainly enough for most riders/skiers (myself included)!

3. Mary Jane Territory

Obligatory sign in front of the Mary Jane sign! Photo by Gaelen Mast

Mary Jane is by far the most famous territory on this mountain, but I will say it: it’s overhyped. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a fun territory but not the end-all holy grail of terrain. This territory is known for two things: trees and bumps. I love tree riding, but as a snowboarder, I hate bumps (moguls), so perhaps I’m not experiencing everything “the Jane” has to offer. My criticism of the Mary Jane territory has less to do with the many moguls than the people. Since it’s so famous, everyone and their mom wants to ride it, meaning it is usually overcrowded, and the good snow gets trekked out quickly. As a result, you’ll usually find the longest lift lines on this territory, and the downhill traffic can get wild. Think: half the people straight-lining it down the trail, and the other half doing their best power pizza all the way down.

I think the best way to enjoy the Jane side is to look for tree lines! The trees on this side tend to be steeper and tighter, but there are endless lines to take, and the further into the woods you venture, the less trekked out they are. A trail runs the perimeter of this territory, so you’ll always pop out on that eventually, which should eliminate the fear of getting lost. Just be prepared to ride/ski at least a couple of moguls, as it’s too easy to pop out of the trees into a mogul field.

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4. Parsenn Bowl Territory

Part of the view from the top of the Parsenn Bowl. Photo by Gaelen Mast

The Parsenn Bowl is at the top of the mountain and is what it sounds like. It’s a wide-open “bowl” shaped area with no trees because of the elevation. This means that while there are “technically” different trails, you can really just ski anywhere and everywhere on it. Wide open alpine bowls like this are a different style of skiing/riding than on trails surrounded by trees on either side and something that people who come from mountains with lower elevations should check out (looking at you, Midwest ski resorts)!

The Bowl is best on sunny days, as the view from the top is spectacular! It will be a haul to get up there and requires a minimum of three separate lifts before reaching the top, so prepare for a 30-45 minute quest to get up there; however, it’s totally worth it! It tends to be much colder and windier at the top of the bowl, so consider throwing on an extra layer before making this commute.

One final thing to note is that while it is at the very top of the mountain, most of the runs aren’t really that difficult (they’re mostly blue squares), and there is even one green circle you can take from the tippy-top of the bowl down to the base. It’s called Village Way. It’s over four miles long (the longest trail in the U.S.) and is a real leg burner!

5. Vasquez Ridge Territory

Somewhere in the woods of the Vasquez Ridge territory! Photo by Gaelen Mast

I tend to think of Vasquez Ridge as the “forgotten” territory, but it’s one of my favorites! This might be because it’s somewhat hard to get to if you’re new to the mountain or because of its niche terrain, but if you like tree-riding and can find it, check it out!

Vasquez's territory is pretty small and mainly consists of blue and black trails on the steeper side, but the real magic happens in the trees! The trees in this territory are more spread out, making them a great place for newer tree riders or simply a relaxing riding experience for more experienced tree riders. The best part is that very few people go in these trees, so it’s quite easy to score new lines through fresh powder, even on busy days!

This is one of my favorite places to be when the rest of the mountain is crowded, as it’s typically much less busy and a great place to get more laps in while everyone else is stuck waiting in lifelines on other parts of the resort. My only critique of this territory is the long flat stretch at the end of the territory that leads back to the one lift. It’s unavoidable (trust me, I’ve tried), and no matter how much speed you take, you’ll likely find yourself inching along near the end. It’s not so bad with a fresh wax or one on a colder day. But if you’re uncomfortable with taking speed into this flat area or if the snow is warm and sticky, avoid this area at all costs unless you enjoy cross-country skiing/snowboarding your way to the lift.

6. Eaglewind Territory

Eaglewind territory is where I spent the least amount of time, as it was very hit-or-miss. It’s meant to be a total “backcountry” experience meaning there is zero grooming, zero snowmaking, and very limited trail markings on this side. It’s expert-only terrain and is mainly steep and tight tree runs. It’s an amazing territory for days when the mountain gets fresh snow, but it will get quickly trekked out, at which point you’re essentially skiing/riding moguls in the woods until the next big snowfall. If this is your jam, that’s great! However, as a snowboarder who dislikes bumps, I tried only ever to ride this territory on powder days.

My favorite trail on the whole mountain is located in this territory: Belle Forche. It’s actually accessed via the backside of the Parsenn Bowl via Village Way (look at a map, it’ll make sense) and a hidden gem full of untouched powder through the trees. Since it’s so high up on the mountain, it gets some of the most snowfall, and since it’s tucked away, you can score powder lines on it days after the rest of the mountain’s powder is skied off! The trees vary greatly, going from sparse to tight as you make your way down, and I don’t think I’ve ever taken the same line twice on this trail. It feels like the backcountry, making it a must-hit on a powdery day!

7. Cirque Territory

The Cirque headwall from the bottom! Photo by Gaelen Mast

The Cirque is the gnarliest terrain to hit at Winter Park. I’ll start by saying you should only attempt it if you’re an expert skier or snowboarder, but it's an absolute must if you’re confident in your abilities! It’s essentially a massive headwall that you descend into trees, eventually leading you to the Eaglewind territory. It's accessible via the Parsenn Bowl but only when conditions are good (usually from mid-January to mid-March).

Once you enter the Cirque area, you have to make your way to select drop-in points along the headwall; you can take a sled ride (pulled by a snowcat) there, but in my experience, the line for this is long, and it’s fast (and more rewarding) to hike to your drop-in spot (the hike is mostly flat). The nearest drop-in spot is about a 20-minute hike, but the further you hike, the more you can access!

My best advice for this territory is to be very selective about when you go. Only take it on when you’re feeling good; it is quite extreme, and you want to make the most of it. Also, only take it on when the conditions are good, i.e., after fresh snow. Just because it’s open doesn’t mean it’s good, and I found myself riding it when it was frozen, which was an unpleasant experience. However, if you can make it to the Cirque on a powder day, it will be one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life!

4 Must-Know Tips and Tricks

Taking off one of the smaller terrain park jumps on a sunny spring day! Photo by Gaelen Mast

Below are some of the most important miscellaneous tips and tricks to maximize your time at Winter Park Resort.

1. Dealing With Elevation

If you don’t live at elevation (most of us don’t), you must be prepared for altitude sickness. Now that name makes it sound more dire than it is, but it’s still not something to brush aside. For example, I’m a relatively healthy and active 21-year-old, but I got my butt kicked by Winter Park’s elevation the first 48 hours I was there. Basically, at elevation, your body has less oxygen at high elevations which can cause you to feel more fatigued from doing physical activities.

Drinking lots of water can help with this, but my biggest advice is not to ski/snowboard the first day you arrive, if possible. If you are going to go skiing/snowboarding the first day, stay hydrated and take frequent breaks because altitude sickness can sneak up on you, and the last thing you want is to pass out on the bathroom floor from exhaustion because you thought you were too tough for it.

2. When to Come

The best time of year to come is subjective, of course. My recommendations are based on snow conditions and crowd sizes.

  • Snow Conditions: In terms of snow conditions, it’s hard to go wrong! January-April is pretty darn snowy! Most terrain is going to be open from late January through mid-March. The optimal time of year is early March, as there is plenty of snowfall, all the terrain is open, and it’s not freezing out like it is most of January and February.
  • Crowds: In terms of crowds, this one is common sense. Do not come during any holidays or school breaks if possible. Christmas break and college/high school spring break weeks were the worst offenders, with well over 10,000 on the mountain every day. Weekends during any time of the year will also be busy but aren’t terrible. However, Mondays through Wednesdays are a ghost town!

3. Parking

Let’s talk about parking…Winter Park has paid and free parking. I only used free parking because I won’t pay to park at my place of employment. If you plan to use free parking, show up before 9 a.m. (8 a.m. on weekends or holidays) or after 1 p.m., or you won’t find free parking. The mountain has limited free parking and no designated employee parking, so both employees and guests share this parking, filling it up quickly. If you can’t find free parking, a free bus system runs from the town of Winter Park to the resort at all hours of the day, so you can always park in downtown Winter Park and catch a bus. It just requires a bit more planning ahead.

4. Bunny Hill Skiers/Riders

If you’re a new skier or rider (go you!) and will spend all day on the bunny hill, please do not buy a lift ticket! It’s a waste of money as you won’t access 99% of the terrain you’re paying for. Instead, head over to the Mary Jane side, where they have a free (yes, it’s free) lift called the “Galloping Goose” that services a small beginner-friendly bunny hill. While it may take some advanced planning to get over the Mary Jane side if you’re starting on the Winter Park side, it’s possible, and you can save a ton of money by doing this.

Conclusion: Have the Right Gear

Cheesin’ at the top of the Cirque! Photo by Gaelen Mast

To hit the slopes of Winter Park Resort, you will need ski or snowboard gear. While the resort offers rentals, I highly recommend having your own gear. Professional quality snowboard gear will be much better than any rental gear you’ll find at any ski resort (plus, you get to skip out on rental lines). While buying all your gear upfront is more expensive than rentals, it’ll be far cheaper in the long run, even if you only go a few times a year.

You don’t even have to decide which gear to get! That’s because here at Curated.com, you can chat via messaging with a Snowboarding Expert (like myself) or Skiing Expert for free, get recommendations for what you need, and purchase online so you’re ready to go to Winter Park or any other mountain! It’s free, fast, and the best way to get the gear you need to make the most of your shredding!

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