Good news for Winter Park powderhounds who can’t stand sitting in traffic on Interstate 70 (or, if you’re like me, who also get queasy while driving the switchbacks over Berthoud Pass): The ski train is back.
After taking last winter off because of the coronavirus pandemic, the beloved Winter Park Express, offered through a partnership between Amtrak and Winter Park Resort, will be running in 2022.
Skiing and snowboarding are, of course, the big draws in Winter Park. But, as Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari pointed out, there also are plenty of other reasons to plan a train-centric winter vacation here.
“Whether you’re skiing or not, you’re certainly welcome to use the Winter Park Express — it’s not limited to skiers,” he said.
Winter Park, Fraser and Granby are home to dozens of other winter activities, ranging from serene snowshoe outings to adrenaline-pumping snowmobile excursions facilitated by a handful of outfitters and guiding companies.
Plus, they’re prime destinations for sampling craft beers and spirits at spots like Idlewild Spirits Distillery, Hideaway Park Brewery, Fraser River Beer Co. and more. The region also has a robust free bus system that can take you pretty much anywhere you want to go.
Whether you live in Denver and just want a stress-free weekend getaway or you’re flying into the Centennial State and don’t want to mess with renting a car, here’s how to plan a car-free trip to Winter Park.
How to take the train
The popular ski train between Denver and Winter Park ran from 1940 to 2009, then stopped because of business and operating issues. In 2017, Amtrak and Winter Park Resort joined forces to relaunch the route, now called the Winter Park Express.
This year, the train runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Jan. 14 through April 3. Tickets are sold as one-way fares, meaning you can mix and match your trip to suit your needs. You can take the train to Winter Park, ski all day, then return to Denver that same afternoon, for example, or you might spend a long weekend or an entire week in Grand County before returning to Denver.
The train leaves Denver’s Union Station at 7 a.m. and arrives at the ski resort at 9 a.m. In the afternoon, it departs from the resort at 4:30 p.m. and arrives in Denver at 6:40 p.m.
“You can get on the train in the morning, have your coffee, sit back and relax,” said Jen Miller, a spokeswoman for Winter Park Resort. “It drops you off right at the base of the ski slopes. You can practically put your skis on and be ready to go.”
Though the ski train only runs on the weekends, you have added flexibility thanks to Amtrak’s California Zephyr route, which offers daily service between Denver and Fraser. There’s a free shuttle from the Fraser Amtrak stop to the ski resort, too.
Travelers who are visiting Colorado by way of Denver International Airport can take RTD’s A Line train to Union Station, then catch an Amtrak train from there.
Fares for the Winter Park Express start at $29, which includes two carry-on items and two personal items. Importantly, skis and snowboards are considered carry-on baggage, so there’s no extra charge for bringing your gear, which gets safely stowed below the train.
There are snacks and drinks (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic) available in the train’s cafe, plus a dedicated sightseeing lounge with panoramic views. Masks are currently required on the train regardless of vaccination status.
How to get around
Once you arrive in Winter Park, it’s incredibly easy to get around without a car, thanks to the region’s free bus system, The Lift. You can even take the free bus to neighboring towns like Fraser and Granby, all without having to worry about parking or assigning one of your friends to be the designated driver.
From the ski resort, you can hop aboard nearly a dozen different buses that stop throughout the three towns. Download the free Lift Rider app to your phone to see real-time bus locations, estimated arrival times and an interactive map of stops and routes. (The Lift is experiencing labor shortages, like nearly every other industry, so some routes and services may be disrupted.)
What’s new in Winter Park and Fraser
Though staying at Winter Park Resort is the easiest option if you’re taking the ski train (Zephyr Mountain Lodge, Fraser Crossing/Founders Pointe and the Vintage Hotel are all within walking distance of the platform), you may want a more centrally located place to rest your head after a day on the slopes.
Enter Gravity Haus, which opened its downtown Winter Park outpost in August after renovating the site of the Sundowner Motel. (Gravity Haus also has hotels in Breck and Vail.)
The boutique motel was designed with families or groups of friends in mind and has 38 rooms with varying setups, including combinations of bunk beds, trundle beds and king and queen beds. It’s also home to a coworking space and the Unravel Cafe, which serves up coffee, breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks.
Other new eateries include Devil’s Craft, which offers slow-cooked barbecue and live music, and Bake Haus 232, which makes homemade baked goods, sandwiches, salads and wraps. They’re both located in the Cooper Creek Square outdoor dining and shopping center.
The ski resort also is welcoming a handful of new (and newly reopened) restaurants. Ember at Snoasis, which is on track to open mid-season, is an outdoor eatery serving up woodfired foods, while Bradley’s, which first opened this summer, specializes in gourmet chicken tenders. The popular Front Range spot Stoney’s Bar and Grill has also opened a location at the resort.
Coffee and Tea Market, a beloved cafe in the resort’s base area that first opened in 1980, is back — with new owners Laura and Skylr Olson — after closing during the pandemic.
On the slopes, the ski area is now offering sunset-guided skiing and riding experiences — so you can have the slopes to yourself for two hours after the lifts close. The resort also has a new astronomy tour complete with telescopes and hot chocolate.
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