Looking for celebrities or glam in your ski vacation? Head to Aspen or Vail. But if you want terrific snow, challenging terrain, and the kind of low-key charm eschewed by the private-jet crowd, try Winter Park, Colo. Just 90 minutes from Denver International Airport and not far from Rocky Mountain National Park, this road-less-taken ski town has great dining and night life, a craft brewery, and from Feb. 24 to 26, the Wells Fargo Ski Cup, the signature fundraiser for the Winter Park-based National Sports Center for the Disabled. Chances are, you’ll get more slope time and spend less than you would at the state’s better-known resorts.
The main playground is Winter Park Resort, three interconnected mountain peaks with seven distinct terrain areas. Lift tickets (restricted adult four-day passes from $179) get you access to all areas. Mary Jane, part of the resort since 1975, is known for mogul and tree skiing, hidden huts, and more difficult runs. About 20 miles away, Granby Ranch offers a more intimate and affordable skiing and boarding option (adult multiday passes cost $65 per day). The Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa features more than 60 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing amid some of the state’s most spectacular scenery. Single-day adult passes are $20. If tubing is more your speed, try the Historic Fraser Tubing Hill or the adjacent Colorado Adventure Park in nearby Fraser.
Anyone can find a favorite food in Winter Park, from haute cuisine to fusion tacos. Volario’s, in the Vasquez Creek Inn, is among the most reliable fine-dining choices downtown.
The memorable house Manhattan is $7 during happy hour, and the menu of Northern Italian and Spanish-influenced fare includes local favorite Pasta Antica ($15), with smoked bacon, poached egg, potato, parsley, and garlic. Entrees range from $24 to $42. Caffé Giocondo, in the same inn, offers Italian-style espressos, lunches, and desserts. A 10-minute drive takes you to Tabernash Tavern in Tabernash, where you also can visit one of Colorado’s most impressive, and legal, commercial marijuana operations. The tavern’s food and wine list are top-tier. Other downtown Winter Park recommendations: The Smokehouse BBQ for pulled pork and tasty sides and Fraser Valley Hot Dog with suds from Hideaway Park Brewery for après-ski recovery.
The 15 well-appointed rooms at Vasquez Creek Inn ($109 and up) reflect the refinement of its corporate owner, Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa. If you don’t mind a short commute to the slopes, consider two glorious lodging options minutes away. Devil’s Thumb ($200 and up) combines the best of ranching Colorado with luxe must-haves. The seven-room Wild Horse Inn offers the same rustic splendor with a cozy bed-and-breakfast vibe ($165 and up).