Winter Park Resort’s Vasquez Territory is a good place to dodge the crowds
December 28, 2016
Winter Park Resort is a big place. Maybe not as big as some of the other giants of western North America but at 3081-acres of skiable terrain it eclipses nearly every other ski resort in the State with only Vail, Snowmass and Keystone sporting bigger numbers.
It is an easy place to get gloriously lost for the day as you wander down corduroy groomers and dart between the trees. But despite the immense size of Winter Park its proximity to the Front Range means it can sometimes feel a bit crowded. The more advanced runs that lead to the Resort base area can become congested on weekends and if you talk with folks riding up the lifts in The Jane on a powder day you'll probably find more than a few people taking "sick days" or just plain playing hooky.
When crowds in the base area make me long for wide open runs and when the powder stashes in Mary Jane are getting tracked out I like to head over to the Vasquez Territory to enjoy some of the less populated terrain in one of the more remote sections of Winter Park.
The Vasquez Territory, so named for the eponymous Peak, Creek, Ridge and Wilderness area that all lie west of the larger ski resort, can be a bit challenging to get to. The Vasquez area is most easily accessed by taking the Wagon Train catwalk run from the bottom of the Looking Glass and Olympia Express Lifts down to the Vasquez base area.
My favorite way to get to Vasquez is to start at the top of Mary Jane and head through the trees between Whistle Stop and Hobo Alley. Keep cutting through the trees, working your way skiers left through the sparse pines towards the gentle wide open Village Way run. Continue on Village Way towards the base of the High Lonesome Express lift and don't miss the great opportunities to ride up the ridgelines and down through some untouched powder on the high side of Village Way.
As you reach the bottom of the High Lonesome Express lift stay skiers left and head down Lonesome Whistle; if you're feeling loose and limber take a stab at Dilly Dally Alley, a really fun little tight spur run through the trees that will force you to work your legs up and down as you ride over a series of non-mogul bumps. Dilly Dally Alley is skiers right halfway down Lonesome Whistle and merges back with Lonesome Whistle before the trail merges with White Rabbit.
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Stay on White Rabbit for a short jaunt. You will pass by the Looking Glass and Olympia Express lifts then continue along Wagon Train around a couple of bends where you will see the Pioneer Express lift cables above the trail. Vasquez can also be accessed from the Eagle Wind Territory, though we'll save that for another column.
The Pioneer Express lift, often affectionately referred to as the Pi-O Express or simply The Pi-O by locals, is the only lift providing direct access to the runs in Vasquez. The Pi-O Express takes you up and over the Pioneer Express Trail and provides a great vantage point to scope out your preferred line.
As you near the top of the Vasquez Territory you will be greeted by one of my favorite vistas at Winter Park Resort. The top of Vasquez overlooks the wild and wooly Eagle Wind Territory and the Cirque headwall far behind. Dense fog often fills the Eagle Wind valleys below and if you're lucky and catch it just right sometimes the sun's faint rays will filter through the clouds and create a glowing orb of light that hangs in the fog formations above Upper Egress.
The Sundance Chili Hut, located at the top of the Pi-O Express and the entire Vasquez Territory, is my favorite place to stop for lunch or a quick bite to eat while I'm out riding. The secluded outdoor patio area of the Chili Hut overlooks Eagle Wind and compared to some of the larger restaurant and picnic areas of Winter Park the place can be downright vacant.
Skiers will also find that Vasquez has comparatively few snowboarders taking turns, as the very bottom of the territory is a long catwalk that generally requires snowboarders to unstrap and slide kick for several hundred yards before they can reach the Pi-O Express again.
My favorite line in Vasquez takes me from top of the territory down the black diamond upper Pioneer Express Trail. The trail starts off with a modest sloping mogul run before cutting steeply downhill after passing the turnoffs for Gambler and Aces and Eights. The bumps in Vasquez are usually spaced further apart than those in The Jane making them a bit easier to manage on a snowboard or at higher speeds than you would be willing to tackle those in Mary Jane.
About halfway down the Pioneer Express Trail the run switches from a black diamond to an intermediate blue run. Use your lift ride up the Pi-O Express to pick out a line on the lower portion of the Pioneer Express Trail.
Once you are actually riding down the lower portion you will want to head skiers left down through the sparsely clustered pines to the Big Valley green run and its catwalk back to the Pi-O Express. As always use caution when heading through the trees in the territory and don't cut through any areas the Ski Patrol has roped off, they are closed for a reason.