When to Go
Locals here enjoy a wonderfully long ski season, the high elevation soon turns the peaks white once fall turns to winter. Generally, the slopes and lifts on the lower parts of the mountain are open for a full five months, sometimes even a little longer, from mid-November to late-April. As with all of Colorado, the best months for snow are January and February. It takes a big dump of powder before the expert-only terrain at the top of the mountain is ready to be shred, so if this is a big draw for you then time your visit during February. While weekdays can be surprisingly quiet, weekends can see droves of skiers and snowboarders from Denver descend on Winter Park ski resort, particularly during the peak season of December to February.
Winter Park: The Seven Territories
Winter Park Resort is split into seven territories, each with its own distinct personality and flavor. Your starting point will be at Winter Park and Mary Jane territories. From there you can head to Parsenn Bowl or The Cirque at the peak of the mountain or stick to Eagle Wind or Vasquez Ridge mid mountain. But if you’re into jumps and tricks, then stick to the terrain parks below the Winter Park Territory. Here’s a quick and dirty run down of the ski areas:
Winter Park Territory
This area is specifically designed for beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders. Here you’ll find plenty of terrain for working on turns and mastering your control. It is the only area along with a few runs on Mary Jane which is supported by snow making facilities.
It is also the most family-friendly of the territories being close to amenities but that also means that it’s prone to congestion. This is especially the case during January and the Presidents Weekend. To ditch the crowds, we suggest you go up the mountain - take the Super Gauge Express from Mary Jane, go down the intermediate run named Bluebell to catch Panoramic Express Chairlift which will take you above the teeming crowds. This vantage point will give you access to Parsenn Bowl, The Cirque and Eagle Wind territories - all distinguished by glades sparsely populated by trees and wide open powder bowls.
Mary Jane Territory
Get ready to carve, careen, hurtle, fly and maybe even cry. “No pain, no Jane” is the motto here and this area caters to mogul addicts who love the challenge of big bumps and tight turns on steep runs. This territory is designated for experienced skiers only, as the majority of the runs are black diamonds. Action junkies and speed freaks who love a good rush will find plenty of challenging terrain here. Just one run in this area is groomed, which means if you venture here you will be contending with lots of powder, bumps and trees.
It is also the home of our favorite run - From the top of the High Lonesome Express chair, go down the High Lonesome Trail and veer off into the trees on the right side of the trail. They are well-spaced for a challenge and seem to go on for days. The end of this stretch will place you briefly onto Hookup, and there you can veer left to get back to the High Lonesome Express chair for another round.
Eagle Wind Territory
If you’re a nature loving expert who dreams of carving through powder-abundant glades with nothing around but a tree or two to whip around and the mountain wind at your back, this is the territory for you. The chutes and glades offer an alpine challenge fit for seasoned skiers and world-class snowboarders alike. This area is not groomed, so trees, bumps and a steep pitch are all part of this black diamond experience.
Parsenn Bowl Territory
As you ascend the mountain on the Panoramic Express, you’ll be rendered breathless by awe-inspiring 360 degree vistas. America’s highest six-passenger chairlift places you atop a 12,000 ft peak that gives way to a massive expanse of intermediate-friendly terrain. If you’re eager to learn how to navigating trees, blast through powder and cruise down chutes -- this territory is your graduation destination at the very top of the mountain.
Medium-skill skiers who want the thrill of the view but not the test of the terrain can look without leaping by following the Village Way run back down the mountain.
Terrain Park Territories
There are number of different terrain parks congregating near the bottom half of the mountain below the Winter Park territory.
For beginners intrigued by the dynamics of riding rails and are ready to give it a shot, we recommend Bouncer and Ash Cat. Ash Cat in particular offers more variety over a medium sized area and is designed to help you advance your park riding skills.
For intermediates, try Gangway and Re-railer where you can push your rail riding and jumping skills to the next level with extended length of grinding surfaces and an abundance of tight inclines designed to launch you skyward. Here you can learn to calculate your approach to an obstacle or jump based on your speed and to time the execution with precision.
For advanced tricksters, the Rail Yard is a massive area dedicated to perfecting the art of advanced rail riding as well as the thrill of catching big air. If you think you have what it takes, then you should take on Dark Territory- an expert-only area for extreme skiers and riders who want to showcase what it takes to be at the top of a huge air game. You’ll need a special pass before you can tackle this one.
Vasquez Ridge Territory
Here you’ll find intermediate and advanced terrain sparsely populated by trees and covered in a soft layer of fine, loose powder. This is the place to hunt down freshies after a good dumping of the white stuff. There is only one lift to the top here, so it is less crowded which means a lot of untracked powder along the edges of the runs. That said, snowboarders have a love hate relationship with this area because you have to struggle through a flat cat track to get to this territory.
If you’re a daredevil downhiller who loves the challenge of rocky cliffs, steep headwalls and deep chutes - then steel yourself for an unforgettable ride. The area offers the type of terrain that is fiendishly sought-after by world-class skiers and snowboarders. Beware: this is the resort’s most extreme terrain of double black diamond runs and can only be accessed atop the Panoramic Express Chairlift via a short hike or by catching a ride on the Cirque Sled. A $20 pass will get you unlimited rides on the sled all season long. This area offers a back country experience with the convenience and safety of skiing within a patrolled area.
There are vast sections of trees throughout the territories, some are deliberately thinned for easy navigation while others can be ventured into as skill level permits. The Cirque headwalls present perhaps the most compelling terrain on all of the mountain.
True off-piste skiing outside the resort can be accessed at the top of Parsenn Bowl through an entrance known at 40 gates. If you choose to try this, it is highly recommended that you go with a local that knows the terrain status. This is an unpatrolled back country area that cuts through Berthoud pass and leads to Highway 40, where you can hitch a ride back to the resort of you’re lucky.
For a first timers, there are a number of magic carpets (Comet, Meteor and Spirit) at the base of the mountain to practice your snowplough turns and pizza slices. Once you build up that confidence, venture up to Discovery Park in the Winter Park Territory. It has slightly greater pitch and the Discovery lift which is dedicated to servicing beginners!
If you’re looking for a bit more variety in terrain, definitely try the High Lonesome Trail which runs off Mary Jane. It’s a green run but there are some well spaced trees to the side for you to try your hand at. There will also be a number of people skiing in the trees so you won’t get lost! For powder, we head to the blue runs, Sundance and Quickdraw which often harbors stashes of the good stuff after a good solid dumping of snow.
Advanced / Expert / Extreme
For the advanced skier or rider, you are spoilt for choice in the challenging terrain of Parsenn Bowl, Mary Jane, Eagle Wind and the Cirque Territories. The Cirque in particular offers an extreme back country experience.
On a Powder Day
Your best bet for getting first tracks on a powpow day is to head to the upper territories as soon as the lifts open. Winter Park Territory will be groomed almost immediately, but Parsenn Bowl, The Cirque and Eagle Wind await your skis and snowboards to shape its topography.