Rocky Mountain Weekender: Winter Park

From afar, the slopes at Winter Park Resort are a captivating sight. No matter how many times you’ve laid eyes on the landscape in these parts, it’s not too hard to get lost looking at the comely ring of mountains rising above you. And it’s even easier to go on a little mental voyage from the top of the lifts. Sure enough, riding up the Olympia Express lift, the mountains hypnotize me into la-la land once again.

With two weeks to go before the ski season ends here, the snow has softened under the cloudless, sun-drenched sky and spring conditions. (Perhaps best of all is the resort’s April deal: free lift tickets with paid lodging until the resort shuts down April 18.) I hit a number of runs on the east side of the mountain, skiing until the lifts close. I’m saving the resort’s west side, Mary Jane, for day two.

After shuttling back to town and checking in at Beaver Village Condominiums, I’m feeling especially hungry. I do the math and figure I burned upwards of 1,000 calories cross-country skiing in the morning and perhaps another 500 downhill skiing in the afternoon. I make up for the latter at the bar at the bustling, upscale Tabernash Tavern: a basket of terrific fresh-baked bread, a bowl of spicy, savory tomato soup with couscous, and a Stumpjumper IPA from Grand Lake Brewing. Just six miles north of the town of Winter Park in dinky Tabernash, the two-year-old eatery in a 80-year-old building has emerged as the one of the valley’s culinary hotspots, with a casual vibe and a creative, perpetually changing menu – think pork souvlaki, asparagus strudel, and house-made ketchup. I’m advised to make weekend reservations a month in advance.

My soup bowl and pint glass dry, I head back south to a decidedly downscale favorite, the Winter Park Pub, for a cheeseburger and fries, washed down with a New Belgium Ranger IPA. The place is one of the state’s best ski-town bars, busy with locals and tourists and a fun and funky atmosphere. After some conversation with the bartender about last year’s epic season-ending snowstorm, I call it a draw between exertion and consumption and head for the door. Then I call it a night.

The next day I get up early to ski Mary Jane as hard as possible. After a warmup on some nice cruisers, I tackle Trestle, a seemingly endless black mogul run, and bomb some other steep blacks. I work on my skills (and my confidence) in the timber – Mary Jane’s forests are the ideal density for tree skiing. I ride the lifts until 3:15 p.m., just after the Panoramic Express chair shuts down. My legs are jelly, but my mind is alive.

On the drive back to Denver, I take a deep breath. That might just be my best day as a skier yet.

INFO BOX:
Beaver Village Condominiums (with spring specials from $120 a night): www.beavervillage.com
Winter Park Resort (winter season ends April 18; ski and ride free in April with paid lodging): www.skiwinterpark.com
Tabernash Tavern: 970-726-4430
Winter Park Pub: www.winterparkpub.com

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