There are two unique areas of Winter Park Resort: Winter Park and Mary Jane. Winter Park is the more traditional section with easy access to multiple trails, terrain parks, main base, and the Ski and Ride School. Mary Jane has more bumps and lift access to the summit at 12,060 feet.
Winter Park is part of the Ikon Pass collective and offers single and multi-day tickets online and at the resort. Families can pre-book their ski gear rentals and sign all waivers online too, making the transition from train to chairlift (which is only about 50 paces away) hassle-free.
KidTripster Tip: Use the red wagons! Red wagons are positioned all along the base to help carry ski gear and tired kids between ski school and your accommodations. If you’ve ever tried throwing a pair of adult skis, kid skis, and an exhausted toddler over your shoulders, you’ll appreciate these wagons.
Fraser Crossing was the perfect fit for our family of four with a lounge area, full kitchen, and two bedrooms, one complete with bunk beds. The condo’s space allowed us to stretch out and chill after a long day on the slopes. Our digs overlooked the Winter Park Express train where it entered Moffat Tunnel. My kids loved listening for the train whistle so they could watch the locomotive pull away.
One unexpected amenity was a full-sized kitchen table. No one wants to drag tired kids to a sit-down dinner at a restaurant after a day of skiing, so we regularly opted to order takeout and enjoy meals at the condo.
That also left more time for the hot tub! The oversized hot tub at Fraser Crossing was one of my kids’ favorite parts of the trip, second only to the train. Whether we were the only ones taking a dip or sharing it with ten other guests, it never felt crowded. If your kids are really brave, challenge them to hop out and do a snow angel! Rates start at $169/night; no cleaning fee.
KidTripster Tip: Ask for late checkout (noon) as normal checkout is 10 a.m. Those extra couple of hours gave us an opportunity to enjoy a half-day on the Coca-Cola Tube Park before hopping back on the train.
Photo courtesy: Carl Frey/Winter Park Resort
What to do on the slopes?
Ski (or snowboard) with your family. Ski with your spouse. Ski with your kids individually. Ski in a lesson. Whatever you do, get to the mountain base a little before 8:30 a.m. when lifts start running. Once you take the gondola up, you can explore the majority of the mountain from other lifts.
If your kids are new to skiing or snowboarding or they’re interested in improving their skills, book ‘em a lesson. Kids (ages 3 and up) learn slopeside basics, chairlift etiquette, and more. Lunch and snacks along with discounted lift tickets and rentals are included. Kids level up as they master the skills; depending on how ambitious your kids are, they may plow through multiple levels during a long weekend. Cost: starts at $179 per day.
It’s easy to wonder how a ski instructor will wrangle 8 or so mini ski racers up and down the lifts, but they do. As an extra safety precaution, all Ski & Ride Schoolstudents wear a GPS tracker attached to the outside of their snow pants. Ski instructors can track them in real time in case of emergency, and curious parents can access the whole day’s data including a map at the end of the session. Know that a day in lessons isn’t all hard work; there’s definitely a fair amount of hot cocoa involved, especially for the little ones.
If your little skiers are 3 or 4 years old, and especially if they’re first-timers, the instructors at Winter Park have the perfect approach to learning: skiing is fun. Pint-sized students get introduced to their gear and basics inside before they take to the tiny slopes. Most kids want nothing more than to follow the blue and yellow-clad teachers for a try at skiing and a probable snowball fight. Others, like my kiddo, are perfectly content doing all of the inside activities and then staying behind for an extra serving of hot cocoa and a nap. No matter your student’s interest, a day at Winter Park Ski and Ride School promises to be fun.
KidTripster Tip: If your child is too young to start lessons or just doesn’t have an interest, there is on-site child care for kids (ages 6 months to 6 years). From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the littlest vacationers can play games, do crafts, and get outside if the weather isn’t too bad. Cost: starts at $134/day.
And don’t think lessons are just for the kids. Parents and teens can benefit from a skills course, whether they’re new to the sport or a lifelong learner who just wants to get better. You can choose either group or private adult lessons. Coming from this snowboarder who’s only real goal is to stay upright, a day lesson at Winter Park cleaned up a bunch of my bad habits and had me tackling tougher terrain in no time. Cost: start at $134/day.
Photo courtesy: Carl Frey/Winter Park Resort
What to do off the slopes?
Need a break from the slopes? Well, there’s so much going on at Winter Park that you frankly could come here for a winter getaway and never strap on your skis!
Coca-Cola Tube Park
Head to the Coca-Cola Tube Park. Take the Cabriolet lift, which is like a mini stand-up gondola, for a 2-minute ride to the base of the tubing hill. Kids at least 36-inches tall can ride solo or tandem with a grownup. The silly giggles down the tubing track are guaranteed. Then ride the magic carpet back to the top and repeat. The number of participants at the tubing hill is capped per hour, meaning you can get in lots of rides in a short period of time. Tubing is the perfect way to break up multiple days of skiing. Cost: $26-$29/hour; no child discount. Make reservations online in advance to guarantee a spot.
KidTripster Tip: The Coca-Cola Tube Park stays open until 8 p.m. during holiday weeks and Friday and Saturdays from early January through mid-February. Otherwise, plan on hitting the park between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Glide across the Winter Park ice skating rink right in the middle of the village. With 1-hour windows to skate, the modest rink is an ideal place for first-timers to learn or for quick laps after dinner. All the necessities are on-site with skate rentals and pushable dolphins with tails in the air to help unsteady skaters keep their balance on the ice. Cost: Youth (12 and under) $15/hour; Adults $17/hour; open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. during ski season.
Ski bikes have the frame of a bike with three skis in place of wheels. Start the day with a get-to-know-you lesson followed by a tour with a guide. The 3-hour tours leave daily at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Or if you have legs left after a day of skiing, take a night tour with a guide from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Cost: Day tour $54-$69/person depending on dates and if you need a ski pass; night tour $89. Reservations recommended at least 48 hours in advance through Winter Park Adventure Supply & Co. This activity is for ages 14 and up.
Scenic snowcat tours Tuck out of the elements on a 2-hour scenic snowcat tour that accommodates mountain explorers of all ages. Go beyond the trails and into the woods to learn about the history of Winter Park Resort and take in views of Fraser Valley and Continental Divide. Bonus: when the tour is over, you have access to the gondola. This means, whether you ski or not, you can ride up the mountain, explore, and enjoy an après snowcat lunch at the Sunspot Mountaintop Lodge. If you’d prefer dinner at Sunspot, take in the sunset followed by the stargazing snowcat tour, available nightly on Thursdays through Saturdays. Cost: Lap child (2 and under) Free; Other $74-$99; advanced reservations are highly recommended.
Or see the stars on a moonlight snowshoeing tour. Tours are offered from late December through mid-March on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Cost: $89/person including snowshoes, guide and gondola access. Day tours also are available.
Winter Park Resort hosts various family-friendly events throughout the week: broomball (Tuesdays) campfire sing-alongs (Wednesdays), kids’ night out (Thursdays, free if parents spend $30 in the village), and mini rail jams (Fridays). Winter Park volunteer hosts also offer free 2-hour mountain orientation tours for immediate (or better) skiers, departing at 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. daily from mid-December through early April.
Other winter fun
If you’re visiting Winter Park Resort and you’ve arrived via the Amtrak Winter Park Express Train, Uber and Lyft offer rides around Winter Park and to surrounding towns. Consider fat biking at Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa or Snow Mountain Ranch-YMCA of the Rockies, sleigh rides at Snow Mountain or dog sledding at Winter Park with tours located about a 12-minute drive from the resort.
Go directly to the Waffle Cabin near the Ski and Ride School outdoor check-in! The Waffle Cabin’s face-sized, sugar waffles are the perfect pick-me-ups at the beginning, middle or end of the day. The food stand also serves up warm drinks like coffee, apple cider, and yes, more hot cocoa.
If you’re eating on the mountain, head to Sunspot Mountain Lodge on the Winter Park side or Lunch Rock on Mary Jane side. Both offer a variety of belly-warming dishes and spots to sit outside and enjoy the Colorado sunshine.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re staying at Fraser Crossing, you can bring in your own food to whip up in the condo’s full kitchen and stash leftovers in the fridge.
Photo courtesy: Carl Frey/Winter Park Resort
Normally, “getting there” is the part of the trip that families like to forget. But when you ride to the mountains on the Amtrak Winter Park Express train, it’s the highlight of the whole experience.
The train leaves Union Station in Denver. If you’re coming in from the airport, no need to rent a car. The RTD train from Denver International Airport will drop you off at Union Station. The Winter Park Express departs for the mountains at 7 a.m., sharp! Cost: $29-$59 one way.
KidTripster Tip: Get to Union Station at least a half-hour early. Here’s a solid game plan: drop off your gear on the train (skis and snowboards below in cargo, bags on the train). Then one grownup takes the kids to the restrooms inside Union Station; the train restrooms are much like airplane lavatories and awkward to maneuver. Another grownup should head to Pigtrain Coffee Company to get rations for the train trip. The savory empanadas are a perfect breakfast along with coffee and juice. Then hustle back to your seats.
The train ride takes about two hours to wind from Denver, up to the foothills, into the mountains, through the tunnels, and into the Winter Park station. The conductor chimes in periodically to give tidbits about the geography and history of the area. When you need to stretch your legs, wander to the bi-level Superliner Sightseer Lounge car which has floor-to-ceiling windows.
You’ll know that you’re close to Winter Park when you enter Moffat Tunnel, which takes nearly 10 minutes (in the dark) to navigate. Once the excitement of the sustained darkness wears off, take those few minutes to get into snow pants, jackets, mittens, and hats. Once you see the light on the other side, you’re pulling into Winter Park Resort.
On the way back, the train pulls out of Winter Park at 4:30 p.m. There are lots of tired skiers on the return trip, but try to keep your eyes open for wildlife. We saw elk on both journeys!
KidTripster Tip: No one can sit in the lounge car as the train cruises through Moffat Tunnel, so snag seats in another car, drop your gear, wait until you reach the other side of the tunnel, and then make a beeline to the lounge. You’ll find snacks and beverages there, too.
Writer Lindsey McKissick lives outside Denver with her husband, two young daughters, and her eager-to-hike pup. Her favorite adventure locations include rivers for paddleboarding, anywhere with a forest full of Ponderosa pines , and a warm beach.
This writer received a complimentary stay and lessons for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own