Winter Rambler … and so it (ski season) begins
December 8, 2016
It is here people. It is finally here. The ski season is upon us and so begins a new column for the Sky-Hi News we are calling, "The Winter Rambler".
This column will highlight our favorite spots at our local mountain resorts, and some of the regional US Forest Service trails we enjoy touring in winter. Please use this column as a reference guide as you discover what Grand County has to offer. Please take photos of your adventures and post them on social media with the hashtag #ExploreGrand.
I have been waiting for these past couple of weeks for nearly seven months now, counting down the days to when I can get back on my snowboard. While I realize not everyone who lives in Grand County makes their home here because of snow sports I often scratch my head when trying to understand those Grand County residents who say they are not fond of snow. Winter can last anywhere from five to nine months in this region of the high country and that can be mentally taxing for those without some form of a physical outlet.
As I tell my friends and family from the eastern plains of Colorado where I grew up (far from the snow covered peaks of the Rockies), "I didn't move my family half way across the state, and 30 miles from a place called Winter Park, for the summers (though in all fairness our mountain summers are a time of wondrous beauty)."
Winter Park Resort opened for the season this year on Wednesday Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving. It has been a bit of a late start for the ski season in the Colorado Rockies with resorts throughout the State pushing back initially scheduled opening dates. Fortunately though winter now seems to have settled in for the duration and dumps of three to four-inches are once again becoming an almost daily occurrence.
So far this year only the base area of Winter Park Resort is open with the Arrow Lift and the Gemini Express taking riders up the mountain. The Endeavour and Discovery Lifts have also been operating, providing access to some of the beginner green terrain like Village Way, Porcupine and Bill Wilson's Way.
While it is mostly green terrain that has opened so far, as of Thursday morning Dec. 8, there are a couple of more advance runs open for folks more experienced on the mountain.
The intermediate blue run Larry Sale is immediately looker's right of the Arrow Lift and has been open for several days now. Larry Sale features a twisting turning ride through a mild gully-like run from the top of the Arrow Lift to the resort base area. If you charge down Larry Sale, and don't fall along the way, you can make it from the top to the bottom in a couple of minutes without breaking a sweat.
Larry Sale is lined with stands of lodgepole pines on both sides and is not a wide run, narrowing in places as the terrain meanders downhill. Larry Sale requires skiers and snowboarders to work their turning skills in quick succession as they descend over a series of slight drops with the trail leveling off briefly in spots before suddenly dropping away again.
The Arrow Lift runs right beside Larry Sale and as such you will sometimes be treated to the showboats and hotdogs of the mountain putting on a little performance on their way down. Larry Sale is a fun little ride and is a great place to do a quick race lap with friends on a powder day, but try and catch it early in the morning when the crowds are lighter and the tracks are fewer.
The other non-beginner run open so far at Winter Park Resort is the famed Lower Hughes, immediately looker's left of the Arrow Lift. Lower Hughes is a broad, wide-open intermediate/advanced blue-black run that charges headlong from the top of the Arrow Lift to the base.
Lower Hughes is steep and fast and provides a real opportunity to work up some speed but be cautious. The size of Lower Hughes means even if there are numerous other riders on the hill you should be able find a clear path and get up to speed but as always when your on the mountain, safety first.
The lower portion of Lower Hughes often serves as the finish line for ski racers heading down the mountain from their starting point higher up the mountain on Hughes beneath the Zephyr Express. If you happen to catch any of the ski race competitions at Winter Park Resort this year you will be treated to quite a display.
Right before Lower Hughes reaches the base area it flattens out briefly and then descends again to where the finish line waits. As ski racers cross the slight plateau they often jump and then glide, through the air just above the surface of the snow, across the finish line.