The Ins and Outs of Winter Park / Mary Jane
by Tommy Benning
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To establish credibility as to know what I am talking about, I have been skiing at Winter Park / Mary Jane since I was 4 years old, and have put close to probably 400 days at the resort. I know where all of the little "secret stashes" are, where the best places to eat are, and even where you can find the shortest lift lines. As far as establishing my credibility, you might as well classify me as a local.
Let's start with parking. Depending on what kind of a skier you are depends on where the best parking is. If you are an expert skier and make it up to Mary Jane before 9:00 A.M., then the best place to park as in Utah Junction. It is on the Mary Jane side and as you drive up the road to Mary Jane, it is the second parking lot on your left. It is what is known as the classic Jane spot. Many people bring their dogs and either tie them up or let them run loose around the parking lot. It is a very animal friendly spot, but beware if you're dog is not so friendly because there can be as many as twenty dogs running around a day. It is also a great parking lot if you are a brown bagger (bring a sack lunch). You will find many people kicking back in lawn chairs around a bar-b-que sipping beer or soda (beer is technically not aloud, but many people are able to get away with it) and laughing about their morning of skiing while there are burgers on the bar-b-que. It is a cheap way to have lunch and is the best approach to resort skiing for a hard-core advanced skier. Utah Junction is also a ski-in ski-out parking lot and is great for people who hate toting their gear around just to get to the base. For the beginner / intermediate skier the best place to park as in either the Lone Tree, Blue Spruce, or Bus Barn parking lots. All three lots are on the Winter Park side and are located on Winter Park Drive. As you come over Berthoud Pass, you will go through your first light (the main entrance to the resort) and continue on for a short distance to the second light. Make a left at the second light. Immediately on your left will be the Blue Spruce parking lot, and as you go around the bend in the road shortly there after, the Lone Tree lot will be on your right. These lots make it easy to get to the base. They are free lots, so it does not cost you a penny to park. You can then catch the shuttle bus that runs to these parking spots and it will take you to the base of Winter Park where you can purchase tickets and put on your ski gear.
As for cheap places to eat, it is very hard to find good cheap food at Winter Park. As it is owned by the North American ski company, Intrawest, most food courts charge at lest $7 or $8 for a hamburger (that is about the size of a mini disk). If you are willing to spend at least $20, then the food at the food courts isn't terrible, just really expensive. With a 10% discount for season pass holders at the Mary Jane food court, a sub sandwich, bag of M&M's, small Powerade, and small rice krispie treat cost me $13; A meal that would cost me less than $5 if I went to the super market. If you aren't in the mood to go broke trying to buy lunch, and you are at Mary Jane on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, then Pepperoni's in the basement of the Mary Jane lodge is the place to go. It is a great pizza parlor and serves pizza for a reasonable price. They also serve delicious meatball sandwiches that fill you up better than anything at the food court. The best thing to do however is to brown bag it and bring your lunch. As mentioned before you can bring a grill and bar-b-que in the upper parking lots at Mary Jane, or you can bring a sack lunch and eat in the Balcony House at the base of Winter Park. They have two microwaves in the balcony house in case you need you need to heat your food up. The other on mountain places to eat are Sunspot Lodge at the top of the Zephyr chair (top of Winter Park), or Snoasis located at the bottom of both Cranmer and the terrain park.
As far as ski trails, they also depend on your skill level. For the Beginning skier, Winter Park is the place to be. There is Discovery (Disco) Park that is geared towards beginning skiers as well as the newly added Sorensen Park (past the Gemini lift) that is covered in surface lifts for the true beginning skier. Disco Park is great for beginners and has the perfect slopes for people just learning how to ski or board. For the Intermediate skier, the Olympia Express lift is a great place to hang out. It caters to intermediate skiers and has steeper green runs than Disco Park and also has some more challenging blues. The runs are steeper and easier to ski or board for intermediate skiers / boarders. There is also Parsenn Bowl that is a long steep blue run off of the very top peak at Mary Jane. It is a great place to be when there is no wind and fresh snow. For the Advanced Skier, Mary Jane is the place to be. Mary Jane has been rated the number one bumps in North America for the past five years running. There is also Balch, Bradley's Bash, and Retta's Run all over on the Winter Park side near the Eskimo chair. For the Expert skier, there are the chutes at Mary Jane over by the challenger chair that are rarely open, or the Vasquez Cirque, which is on the other side of the peak at Parsenn Bowl. It is a long hike, but is well worth when you get into knee-deep powder. There are also runs such as Kinnikinnic, Calypso, Willett's Way, and Johnstone Junction, which are all semi steep gladed runs off of the top of Parsenn Bowl. There is something for everyone at Winter Park / Mary Jane.
Chairlifts are a whole different story. On the Winter Park side, if you get stuck waiting in line for a chair, the best place to go is over to Olympia Express. It has a limited number of runs, but the lines at Olympia are usually not too terrible. As far as fighting lines on both the Eskimo chair and the Prospector chair, all you can do is wait. Those two lifts back up like no other on weekends. The best place to be is at Mary Jane. The new six-person high-speed chair, The Super Gauge is a very good chair and moves quickly, when it is working properly. The slightest mistake can cause a long line at The Super Gauge. When lines get long at the Super Gauge, the best place to be is either at the Challenger chair, which rarely has a line, or the Iron Horse chair if it is working. For the most part, lift lines at Winter Park are unavoidable. The best advice I have for people in lift lines is to just be patient. Good luck at getting on before the lift breaks. In most cases, the singles line is the way to go, however this is not always the case. On really busy days, it is almost just easier to just ski from the base of the mountain off of the Zephyr lift.
In the overall view of things, Winter Park is a great resort. It is full of friendly people, great snow, amazing runs, and of course, a true local atmosphere. It is easy to find a local to track down, and if they are willing, maybe you will discover the "underground" culture of where to ski, where the stashes are, and where the best deals on lunch and a beer are. Keep it real, see you at Winter Park / Mary Jane.
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