Having lived in the valley for over 22 years now, I have had occasion to travel to and from Denver International Airport and Winter Park probably in excess of a couple of hundred times – either on business, vacation, or to pick up or drop off. Most of the time the drive is easy, straight-forward and stress-free. Then there are the drives when it can be a little more challenging.
I had one such occasion recently when my family landed at 12:45AM in sub-zero temperatures, wind howling, snow falling. But in the whole scheme of things, the often overlooked variable of a vacation – that of “getting here” – it really wasn’t that bad and could have been a lot worse – if you were going to another ski area that is. Which brings me to the point of this month’s letter – that the aspect of getting to Winter Park either from the airport or just driving from origination is a key selling point for the ski area rather than just “C is for Close”.
That Winter Park is “the closest” major Colorado ski resort to Denver overlooks the fact that for many (locals), it is one of the better driving experiences. I’ve written a number of times before how much of a fan I am of Denver International Airport. The experience of flying into, or out of DIA certainly helps my well-being, which is an essential ingredient for anyone flying on vacation or business. The drive up to Winter Park can be broken down into three stages and for me, in winter storm conditions, gets progressively better the closer to home.
That might seem contrary to popular belief, but here’s my logic. In winter storm conditions, from DIA to the I-70/C470 inter-section which marks the edge of Denver and the start of the foothills, expect icy roads, blowing snow, an absence of lane delineation, and too many cars, trucks and articulated vehicles going too fast for the conditions. Then comes mostly climbing, interspersed with occasional descents, where visibility sometimes gets a little worse (forcing you to slow down) but road conditions actually get better. More snow, less ice and way more evidence of snow removal trucks.
Finally, it’s almost a deep sigh of relief to come off I-70 at exit 232 and continue the remaining 26 miles of the journey over the solitary pass – Berthoud Pass – and down into Winter Park. Yes – I’ve had a few white-out conditions in the past for this stretch, but with a reduced speed I just feel “safer” and far better off had I been continuing on to Vail as an example. Wikitravel explains the drive from DIA to Vail as follows: “The ride from Denver takes you from 5,280′ to the Eisenhower pass/tunnel at over 11,000′. After a steep drop to Silverthorne at 8,750′ I-70 winds through Officer’s Gulch which is notorious for black ice conditions, high winds and white out conditions when the weather is severe. I-70 then climbs over Vail Pass at 10,650′ before the drop to the Vail Valley floor at 8,120′. If you are uncomfortable driving in the severe conditions that may occur on this drive……….”, go to Winter Park instead. My version of how this sentence should end. The snow plowing on Berthoud Pass is very good, but if I’m ahead of them, driving on freshly fallen dry snow beats the hell out of I-70. From DIA to Vail, it’s 130 miles of it. No thanks.