Winter Park: Spring Sun & Winter Snow

Happily on the boards at a popular Colorado ski resort.

WinterPark-logoMy friends know that I had two years of excruciating and escalating back pain. During the early winter of 2011-12, I skied three times. Then after trying everything to avoid spine surgery, I gave in and had a minimally invasive and super-successful procedure in late January 2013. I skied one day last April.  While I couldn’t ski last winter, even as my back was healing, I was happy to take a walk or a mild hike with a little snow under my feet. All better now, and I’m back on the boards this wonderful winter of frequent storms and deep snow.

I started skiing tentatively and nervously — even though my injury came from an overly ambitious exercise program and not from skiing — with every day on the slopes better than the previous one. This week, I went to Winter Park, and finally with benign conditions, I finally feel natural on the lovely winter snow — no late spring corn yet.

Much as I like to hike, cross-country ski and snowshoe, nothing but nothing compares with the joy of moving down mountain slopes. The joy is immeasurably magnified in spring when the sun is warm, the snow is soft and earlier discomforts have faded from memory. A midweek ski getaway to Winter Park was heaven with white slopes, deep green trees, cornflower blue sky and a multi-colored tapestry of skiers and riders in winter sports apparel.  I’m happy.

Lots of trail choices
Lots of trail choices.

Winter Park’s terrain appears straightforward on a trail map, but a topo map shows what an immensely complex piece of mountain real estate it is. This year, the resort has tried to clarify to complexity by segmenting the terrain into seven separate but interlocking “territories” that it promotes as The Season of the Seven. Click here for a page on the website that features an interactive map and also a YouTube video that’s worth watching.

With Jim Vance at the top of Parsenn Bowl.
With Jim Vance at the top of Parsenn Bowl.

With 143 trails and 26 lifts laced over four distinct mountains, you just don’t want to return to the bottom when you get hungry. The resort’s best known on-mountain restaurant is the commodious and monumental Lodge at Sunspot at the top of the Zephyr Express chairlift offers self-service and table-service dining and fine outdoor terrace, and Lunch Rock at the 11,200-foot top of Mary Jane is a cool casual spot that specials in variations on the theme of tube steaks and incredible views of Parry Peak from the outdoor deck. But I have special affection for Snoasis, built in the early ’70s on the bottom of the Cranmer slope. The food is pretty standard, but the mid-century style is a fine throwback.

Popular Cranmer run reflected in soaring windows of the iconic Snoasis mountain lodge -- still one of the cleverest names in skidom.
Popular Cranmer run reflected in soaring windows of the iconic Snoasis mountain lodge — still one of the cleverest names in skidom.

When I’m skiing, I pay attention to where I’m going and try to stay alert to skiers and snowboarders around. But I always take time, especially on the top of the mountain, to look at the majestic scenery.

Oh, the views!
View across the valley to the Parry Peak’s enormous cirque.

There’s at least another month or more of the season left at most ski areas within easy striking distance of Boulder — significantly longer at Loveland and even longer at Arapahoe Basin. It’s still not too soon to plan for next ski season. I wrote a post about 2014-15 season pass deals available now. Click here for information on some of these values at Winter Park and elswhere, and get ready for next winter even as you enjoy the wind-down of this one. I am.