In the quiet early morning hour, it’s almost like walking through a European village with the towering mountains as a backdrop and the chalet-style architecture of the shops and inns. Footsteps echo on the sidewalk as the coffee shop comes into view.
The fragrance of fresh pastries and bacon fill the air. In the Rocky Mountain air, breakfast is the fuel for all that lies ahead through the rest of the day.
Nestled high in the Rocky Mountains west of Denver, Winter Park, Colorado, is actually a Denver City Park, and it’s a get-away all year-round. Set aside the oxymoron of summer in Winter Park, and plan on hitting the slopes in very different ways.
This is a family destination, the Winter Park summer. While there is no snow, the slopes are open for hiking and mountain biking. The base of the mountains is alive with food, maze, trampolines, putting and puttering.
Satiated with a mountain breakfast, it’s off to the ski lift to carry us up the flowering slopes to the mountain top. It’s hard to confess, but never a downhill skier, this was my first experience riding on a ski lift. It’s a little nerve wracking getting on and jumping off.
We were interspersed with mountain bikes on the ski lift on the chairs in front and back of us, riders in helmeted and padded attire, and families heading for the same place we were, the Alpine Slide.
You’ve seen the luge in the Olympics. That’s the tiny sled a crazed Olympian lays back and plummets down a track at high speed. That’s the next stop when we get to the top of the ski lift. The terminus is fast approach, and I’m thinking about staying put. My companion says, “Get ready. Now move!”
With the help of the crew, we’re on the deck and walking down the ramp at a slight trot. It wasn’t too bad for a novice.
At the Alpine Slide, there are two lanes. One for the faint of heart and one for the paid up insurance plans. The slow lane is where I decided to make this first run. With an all-day pass, we’ll be up and down the mountain a lot.
The Alpine Slide is like riding an open pipe at a pretty fast clip, even in the slow lane. There is a single lever control for slow and stop, and go-baby-go! I’ve got a mom and child in front of me, and I catch up to them very quickly. They set the pace for a long parade on the slow side as the adrenaline junkies tear past in the fast lane.
The second ride down is in the fast lane and it’s manic. No selfies, no smartphone videos, it’s hang on to that control and roar on down the track.
A few more rides, and it’s lunch time in the chalet overlooking the towns of Winter Park and Fraser in Grand County.
Although I’m a pretty avid cyclist on the desert trails and mountains around Phoenix, the mountain bike trails from the top at Winter Park at classified just like ski slopes—all the way up to Black Diamond. It’s beyond my capability, and we take a pass. I slide my way back to the bottom and my partner hoofs it on one of the hiking trails.
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Our next adventure is to hit the maze. This timed challenge starts you with a punch and stamp card. You have to find each of the markers in the maze, punch your card and then get out of the maze faster than others. There are prizes and laughter bouncing and bounding through the twists and turns. I do find an overlook, and climb to get an idea of which way to go. My companion somehow has wandered almost back to the entrance, but I see her regaining the right direction. I’ve got three punches to go, but step aside as a passel of youngsters scurry by making far better time than I. It takes an embarrassing length of time to get out of the maze. But at least, we got out together.
We wander through the shops in the village area and look at some of the various activities. There’s something going on everywhere at Winter Park.
Since most think of Winter Park for skiing, summer is not as crowded on most weekends as would be expected. During out mid-July road trip, we found it easy to get reservations at restaurants and acceptable wait times when we dropped into places spontaneously.
Winter Park has a wide variety of options from fine dining to casual. We particularly liked Hernando’s Hideaway Pizza in Winter Park, where the walls are packed with dollar bills signed and mounted by restaurant guests. There wasn’t a blank spot on the wall, and the ceiling was growing its own collection as well.
Across the summer, Winter Park hosts a number of events, competitions and its renown jazz and music festivals. These activities do attract large crowds, so early booking of lodging is a must. With the breadth and depth of things to do for a Winter Park summer, getting the all-day pass is a recommendation. We definitely saw the value of being able to jump on or off any activity at any time.
The rooms at Winter Park are comfortable, and there’s a scenic view from nearly every window. I’d comment on the comfort of the bed, but after a day on the summer slopes, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. The rest was important to be ready for another day of fun in our Winter Park summer.