Disclaimer: I did not spend three days in Winter Park. I spent a day and three quarters awake, or almost two days, or something like that. I wedged my visit in amongst other travel obligations so I didn’t quite have time to see all there was to see, but what I did see, I liked very very much.
First of all, I have to thank Diane Ehlert from Winter Park for her stellar PR coordinating skills. I only decided to see about covering the park after seeing my friend Teresa’s Instagrams from a press trip there she was participating in for her online magazine MTB4Her. Furthermore, I only made the inquiries a matter of days before my day-and-three-quarter side trip, and Diane still pulled together a LOT of activities. More activities than I physically could do! But that’s OK, it just means that I have to go back. And be back I will, because my stopover in Winter Park marked the best time I’ve had riding bikes in about a year.
Though I only had just a hair under two days to spend there, I think three days is a great amount of time to spend on one’s first trip to Winter Park. If you are traveling through Colorado and can spare the time, it is well worth the trip to swing through and get to know the area, and plan a bigger excursion later. So, here’s the enterprising Geargals Guide to Three Summer Days In Winter Park:First, enjoy the easy 2 hour drive from Denver. If you are a motorcycle rider, that is an excellent choice of vehicle for the journey, as the road from I-70 into Winter Park is SWEET, with tons of hairpins and great tarmac. Don’t worry about schlepping your unmotorized bike to WP, because there are plenty of rental options, and I’ll get to that in a bit. You can probably make the drive in under 2 hours, but it took me about that long in rush hour traffic that coincided with a ripping rain and thunderstorm. That’s sort of par for the course in Denver I guess, so 2 hours is probably fair.
Let’s assume you’re arriving in the morning. You can start your day with a stop at Winter Perk, a coffee shop on WP’s main drag. The proprietor of the shop met my ride-by with a milkshake sample, so maybe I’m biased and just mentioning them because they happened to give me something free even though they didn’t know I was writing this, but I think it’s a nice, friendly place to get your caffeine buzz on. Friendly – and delicious! Caffienate yourself and then get thee to Trestle Bike Park. At Trestle, you will find a pleasing variety of bike rental and lift ticket options, but I recommend the fancy-pants Demo package, which gets you a high end bike, a lift ticket, armor, and helmet. Not goggles, though, inexplicably, so bring your own or bring five extra dollars. Or sweet talk someone into lending you some, which is what I did. The Demo package is worth it at only ten extra bucks to upgrade to a sweet bike. I rode a few of the bikes but I didn’t feel that my life was complete until I got my mitts on a new Scott Gambler 720.
Now, I occasionally ride a Gambler at home when I can sweet talk my hubs into lending me his bike, which he does not like to do, because he likes to ride it. So I admit I was chafing to try the new iteration of the Gambler and I WAS NOT DISAPPOINTED. I was having a pretty good time before I got on this bike, but once I took one run on it, I was immediately addicted and I’m not kidding. Those of you who read regularly will remember that I’m still recovering from spinal surgery, so I was taking it nice and easy in the park, as this was my first time riding DH post-surgery. I wasn’t even convinced it was remotely a good idea, but the Gambler combined with the SWEET trails at Trestle soon had me riding like a rocket (I know this, because I passed people, and usually I don’t do that riding DH because I am conservative in DH riding. A ROCKET, I tell you) and grinning like a fool. The cush suspension combined with the flowy trails was easy on my beleaguered vertebrae and I had no residual pain afterwards. The Gambler is AWESOME. Just go try it. Don’t get put off by the stupidly bro-centric manufacturer description of it as a “no compromises DH weapon.” It’s not a weapon. It’s a cushy, comfortable, stable and supportive downhill BICYCLE. It’s a BICYCLE. Not a weapon. Just…come on, bike marketers. Stop it.
Anyhoo….while you are on your sweet Demo bike, enjoy the excellent Trestle trails. They are mostly machine-built and flowy with big, sweeping berms and fun features. The rental shop crew can give you the lowdown on the trails appropriate for your skill level. Take the “Pre-Ride, Re-Ride, Free-Ride” mantra to heart. If you are new to DH, try the green trails. Warning: on the green trails, you will have to pedal. The green trails are rideable on an XC bike and are pretty tame on a DH bike, but perfect for learning your rental gear. It’s also nice that the trails are super long so even if you’re riding the greens, you’re getting your effort’s worth because you’ll get to be out for a while. Even if you’re a newbie, you’ll be able to handle a Blue trail if you stick to the advice above. Just take your time and get to know the place, and then you can let it rip! The trails are all very fun, rideable, and adjustable to skill level. I liked the Long Trail which is worthy of a half dozen laps to fit in all of the variations. Before moving to Black trails, take the time to learn which ones have mandatory air and gaps, before you get a scary surprise.
Trestle was such a fun change from my home bike park, which is extremely steep and technical, and very rocky. I loved the flowy trails and more forgiving topography of Trestle, and the more-skilled riders than I seemed to be really enjoying the more challenging trails that allowed for huge air and technical constructed features. I enjoyed the laid-back vibe and the polite nature of the other riders. It wasn’t a total bro-fest. It was really friendly and a genuine good time. The place is worth a few days in itself. Leaving was really hard, especially because Trestle is open from 9am to 7pm so you really get your money’s worth out of a lift ticket.
But leave you have to, because there are other things to do. It’s time to go upscale for dinner at Volario’s, a new Italian eatery with a charming creekside back patio. Diane and I ate at Volario’s whilst working out my itinerary, and it was fabulous. A thunderstorm chased us inside, but the cozy, warm dining room was more than satisfactory. I loved how much space there was around the tables, so you never feel crowded by other diners. We found that three appetizers was plenty of food, though I was sad to not be able to sample every single thing on that delectable menu. The meatballs were my favorite of the dishes I sampled. Dessert was not to be missed, though I couldn’t quite finish my giant chocolate gelato concoction (tragic. I never leave ice cream if I can help it). Stuffed, I tottered “home” to my condo in neighboring Fraser, and crashed in blissful quiet.
I had some doubts about that last, given that my graciously lent condo was in a rather dense area of the residential part of town, but it was quiet as a mouse. I didn’t check out too many other lodging options but I doubt you’d go wrong anywhere in the area if you enjoy a good night’s sleep.
Get outta bed in the morning and go pick up your rental XC bike at Beavers Sports Shop. Pick up a free trail map while you are at it. If you are already from altitude, go nuts on whatever trail you want. If you are from sea level, maybe pick a blue trail at first. No need to transport bikes in vehicles; you can ride to trails from anywhere in town. I am unabashedly from sea level so I rode the blue trails the entire time, except when I took a wrong turn (altitude, I tell you, it does things to the map-reading skills) and rode logging trails for a while. All of the trails I rode were a blast, even the logging roads, and I don’t usually like those. There are tons of trails and you could easily spend all three of your days riding XC. Me, I wussed, and I refer to what I said before about spine surgery. I really liked the bike I rented from Beavers, and appreciated the care the tech went to to fit the bike to me and make sure all was to my liking.
I’m thankful for the bike and info from Beaver Sports shop owner Keith, former XC pro racer, and I’m also thankful to him to showing me Pepe Osaka’s – the must-do post-ride food-fest in Winter Park. And I do mean MUST-DO. A Japanese-inspired fish taco and tequila bar and grill, Pepe Osaka’s could probably feed me every day for the rest of my life without boring me. I had a carnitas taco, a mahi mahi al pastor taco, and a poke ceviche taco and I can’t pick a favorite. The margaritas were fabbo and the tacos out of this world. My Mexican-martial-artist husband is dying of jealousy for this part of the trip alone. Pepe Osakas. Do it.
The next day, gird your aching quads and head north to Granby Ranch, the other lift-served DH park in the area. Granby is a whole different vibe from Trestle, in that Granby is more “natural” feeling. The trails are more earthy and rocky and the whole place generally feels quieter and more remote. That was a really nice change; it doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of a “resort” feeling. I had a lot of fun following one of the guides around on the easier trails. I suspected that the harder trails were going to be just a little too risky for me, but my guide assured me there was a bunch of fun stuff for advanced riders. From the way he totally ditched me on the blue trails, I can guess he knows what he’s talking about. If you like technical over flowy, this place is your choice.
Granby, like Trestle, is surrounded by XC trails and the countryside is just beautiful around there. A day of lift-served XC backcountry looks like an excellent addition to this three-day itinerary, and the DH park is small enough that you could conceivably ride it in the AM and then ride XC in the afternoon. I really dug the laid-back and quiet vibe. I would have liked to have looked around more, but, yeah, three days and all that. Granby is a bit of a drive from the main drag of Winter Park but it’s a solid side trip, as are some of the other attractions north of Winter Park proper. Apparently there’s an upscale dude ranch, which would be a nice break from all the biking, I do admit. I also hear that the dude ranch, which I sadly did not have time to visit, is a great place to get married and I believe it. I mean, just look at that place!
My general impression of the area is definitely favorable. There’s enough restaurant options to keep you busy, and you could probably spend a year there before getting remotely bored of any of the biking trails. Apparently there are about 600 miles of trails in the area. I rode, like, ten, so there is a lot for me to explore and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back. I like how, if you stay in WP proper, you don’t even need a vehicle as everything is rideable and mostly walkable. Winter Park is working hard at being the “Mountain Biking Capital of the USA” and, though that is clearly a marketing moniker, it could definitely apply. I’m sure that with a name like “Winter Park”, gaining a reputation for summer recreational opportunities is a bit of a battle, but it’s an awesome place so I hope with this report I’ve done my small part in getting people there.
Is it a coincidence that the things I think you really should do there are all the things I happened to do? Well, maybe, but maybe that’s also because a) I doubt you could go wrong no matter what you choose to do there, and b) there is so much good stuff you’re sure to find something amazing.