Top 12 Restaurant of the Month – Bistro 28

In line with my objective to have a meal out at least once a month, I thought it a good idea to act as restaurant critic at the same time and give a review of my dining experience. This week, I went to Bistro 28, which is the restaurant out at Pole Creek Golf Course, to partake in their “Burger Night”.

Accompanied by by wife and daughter, we arrived a little after 5PM, thereby qualifying for the “Kids 10 and under eat free” offer. My daughter had her usual Mac ‘N Cheese, and my wife and I ordered the homemade burger, fries and beer or wine special for $7.95 each. Hell of a deal! The food was great, the clubhouse is brand new, and considering that (of course) the golf course is closed in winter, the restaurant was buzzing! Locals have quickly discovered that Bistro 28 is a great restauarant to go to and escape the downtown Winter Park crowds. Inevitably, because our meal was such a good deal, we drank a couple more glasses of wine just to run the bill up, and because it’s so nice to go our for a treat.

They recommend making a reservation, and I can believe that because tables for a total of 36 settings were reserved when we walked in!

So there you have it. Go to www.polecreekgolf.com for directions and more information.

23rd Annual Governor’s Cup

On Saturday, January 30th 2010, the annual Governor’s Cup returns to Devils Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, Colorado. This nordic event is one of the longest running cross-country ski races in Colorado and offers a variety of distances for both Skate and Classic disciplines, as well as prize money, post-race celebrations and live entertainment.

Talking of prize money, a total purse of $5,000 with First Place in the premier category of 30km Skate awarding $1,000 for both men and women, guarantees a top-class field.

Even though the state has been bereft of snow since the season began, the Resort has done a great job with the trails, so add in the spectacular scenery, and it should once again be a great occasion. I am a convert to cross country skiing, having downhilled for some 25 years, and just love the peace and serenity out at Devils Thumb – a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Winter Park Resort mountains. Furthermore, alongside snowshoeing, it’s one of the best workouts going.

As a reminder, Devils Thumb is ranked #7 best Nordic Center in North America, and has undergone a 7-year transformation of the cross country ski center into a year-round, eco-frindly rach resort and spa. The openings of the base area 52-room main lodge, Ranch Creek Spa facility and casual dining restaurant, Heck’s Tavern, culminated the resort’s mult-year capital improvement program. 

Nothing like putting the calroies back on in “The Hex” after losing them on the trails at Devil’s Thumb! To give you some history, the hexagonal room that houses Heck’s Tavern is a replication of a room in one of our country’s national monuments, The Timberline Lodge located at the base of Mt. Hood, Oregon. The stone used to build the (6-sided) fireplace is from a nearby rock slide – and is the same stone used for the fireplace in the original 1937 Ranch homestead, which is now Ranch House Restaurant.

Recreation Center Opens Today!

 

Today, December 18th 2009, marks the official opening of the new Recreation Center in the Winter Park & Fraser Valley. Thanks to land and infrastructure donations of $4.2 million, the center is called the Grand Park Community Recreation Center, and is located on the west side of the US Highway 40 just after leaving the town of Winter Park.

The center has been a very long time coming, and if truth be told, was built amidst a little bit of controversy regarding funding, voter approval and other miscellaneous disputes. However, this is my blog post, so casting all that aside – as someone very much in favor of it – I am thrilled that we now have this fantastic facility in our community.

I went down there this morning to look around for the first time, take some pictures, and see how everything was going. There was a real air of excitement in the aquatics area, with families and kids enjoying everything on offer. So what is on offer?

  • The aquatics area has a 20ft loop slide – the sort of thing you might get in an all-inclusive resort – as well as spray and play feature, lazy river, zero-depth entry pool and 4-lane lap pool and diving boards.
  • Whirlpool, sauna and steam room
  • Climbing wall
  • Multi-sport gymnasium
  • Gymnastics center including foam & tramp pit
  • Running/walking track
  • Cardio, circuit training & free weight area
  • Aerobic/dance studio room
  • Drop-in childcare

Non-resident daily fees are $7 for children 3-12, $8 for youth 13-17 and $10 for adults, with 6-month and annual memberships available.

In my opinion, any activity or amenity to enhance the profile of our towns and hopefully encourage more visitors and longer stays is OK by me. Virtually anything that requires increased residential taxes to fund it will stir up emotions and a core of people who don’t want to pay. However, they were out-voted – twice! Furthermore, we are a resort community, competing with the likes of Breckenridge, Steamboat and Vail, and this new facility definitely enhances our reputation.

In addition, we are a family-oriented, residential community with very little to occupy our youth, kids and toddlers, especially during the winter months. This is a great place to go, work out and have some fun – with the family or without – so check it out and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Top 5 Free Things to Do In Winter Park This Season

Stay Winter Park – Winter Park, CO Vacation Rentals

People visit Winter Park every winter for a variety of reasons.  World-class skiing, amazing scenery, phenomenal lodging, and a little taste of the mountain life are just a few of people’s favorite things about spending winter in the area.  Once the snow starts falling, Grand County becomes a winter wonderland, complete with skiing, sledding, sleigh rides, and hot cocoa by the fire.  Unfortunately, many people find out when planning for a trip to this scenic mountain town that planning a vacation here can be a very expensive undertaking.  Never fear, the staff at Staywinterpark is here to help!  We polled our staff, family, and friends for their favorite free (yup, we said free!) things to do in the Winter Park area, and everyone knows that the locals know best!  After some very scientific deliberation, here are some great tips on free things to do in the area:

  • Cross Country Skiing – Pack up your gear and head to the high country!  With miles upon miles of some of North America’s best Nordic trails, you’re sure to find the perfect trail for your skill and ability level.  If you want to experience the serene side of skiing the high country, you’ll love cross country skiing in Colorado!
  • Snowshoeing – A sport that has been loved by the locals for generations has rapidly been growing in popularity the last few years.  Much like cross country skiing, snowshoeing offers an amazing mountain experience without the hassle of crowds and expensive equipment.  Pack a lunch, grab your camera, and spend a day enjoying Colorado on snowshoe!
  • Sledding – They don’t call it Winter Park for nothing!  The area has countless hills, parks, and snow drifts for children of all ages to enjoy.  Grab your saucer or toboggan and find the perfect hill –don’t forget your camera!
  • Free Shuttle – There is a free shuttle cruising around Winter Park for the convenience of locals and visitors alike.  Be sure to take advantage and save your pennies for a great meal or some shopping at one of the local boutiques.  Free transportation makes everything else more affordable!
  • Local Winter Park Events – There is always something free to enjoy in Winter Park, if you know where to look!  Between the ski resort and events going on around town, there is no shortage of fun, free activities and festivals!  Enjoy live music, holiday celebrations, parades, festivals, and much more throughout the season!

Opening Day is coming and the Ski Area is sowing its seeds!

With opening day just 5 days away (November 18th), all eyes are on the heavens – or rather the forecasts – to determine what sort of opening day it will be. While it’s snowing as I write, and with snowfall set to continue through the weekend, the longer-range forecast calls for sunny skies through the following weekend: 10 days ahead is as far as it goes.

Consequently, don’t expect multiple trails and excellent conditions from day 1, even though things can turn very quickly if a bunch of storms come in one after the other over a period of a few days.

Something that the ski area is hoping will help precipitate (coincidental use of the word – my apologies) greater snowfall, is active “cloud seeding”, whereby the resort in partnership with Denver Water, will be seeding moisture-laden clouds with  silver iodide particles released into the sky to increase snowfall.  Vail Resorts has done this for some years, and this is not the first time Winter Park has participated, having conducted seeding during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. The one benefit of cloud seeding over snowmaking is the creation of additional snow throughout the area, rather than on specific trails.

It’s all planned to occur in the first 3 months of the season at a cost of $110K, shared between Denver Water and Winter Park Resort, and apparently produces a 10-15% precipitation increase. How one measures this, I wouldn’t know, but anything to prompt greater snowfall during the season is good for me.

May our harvest be truly bountiful!

15 Ways to Save Money on your Ski Vacation: Part II: At the Resort

OK – a couple of days ago I said “next week” I’ll be giving your 10 ways to save money while you’re here in the valley, but why wait? Besides, I’ve put out a challenge to some of my colleagues to add their ideas also, so this may turn out to be a monster list! So, without further ado:

 

1.      Parking: It’s amazing how many people – guests, travel agents, basically anyone that doesn’t live here – tell me that I should promote how much free parking there is here in Winter Park. Basically, the only paid parking anywhere is right there at the base. However, outlying parking areas, the south entrance to Winter Park Drive and all the way to the “gates”, parking by the Vintage (and a free cabriolet ride to the Village), and all designated parking areas along the shuttle routes and at all lodging establishments – are FREE. Most other major ski areas, so I’m told, have paid parking everywhere, not just at the base. So, an “unheralded” way to save money, but these costs can add up if you have money to burn and are exceptionally lazy.

 

2.      Early Bird Dining: Many restaurants will reward you for eating early by either offering special early bird menus, or discounts if you are seated and order before 6PM. Fontenot’s, as an example, have a whole page on their website devoted to Early Bird Specials, with Appetizers, Main Courses and Drink Specials between 4 and 6PM. This is a “must eat at” restaurant anyway so, if you don’t mind eating early, then you can save a bunch of money. Ask for a (free) Grand County Dining Guide when you check in and either look them up online or give them a call and ask what their Early Bird specials are.

 

 

3.      Ski Rentals: Don’t pay the extra bag, oversize charges that airlines will ding you for by bringing your totally out-of-date skis with you. Rent from the ski rental companies while you’re here and have fun with the latest, top-of-the line equipment, all tuned up and ready to go. Epic Mountain Sports currently offers 20% off if you book online (go ahead and guarantee your equipment of choice before you get here), or ask our front desk for a coupon which will get you the same discount for a walk-in. Remember in my previous articles, kids 11 and under rent free!

 

 

4.      Grocery Shopping: Resorts, and Winter Park is no exception, are notorious for high prices for groceries, something that causes us locals much angst and – often – forces us to take a trip to Denver every so often to shop for the food essentials. However, as a vacationer, when you’re here, you neither have that ability nor desire: you want to shop at the nearest grocery store. With City Market 15 miles away, your nearest and only grocery option is Safeway. However, there are ways to save money.

 

First, get a Safeway Card if you don’t have one. If you don’t have one, and the attendant asks you if you’d like one, absolutely say yes! A temporary card will take less than 1 minute to process (don’t feel guilty about holding up other people in line – this is your money you’re saving, not theirs), and can save you a lot of money. Ahead of the checkout line, you need to have purchased as many “red-tag” items as possible in order for those discounts to kick-in. The meat department also has a clearance section which can sometimes save you up to 50% on the stuff you intended to buy anyway!

 

Apparently you can download brand producer coupons onto your Safeway Card ahead of time and they’ll also be applied at checkout. I’ll leave my colleague Rebecca to explain how all that works – see the comments section below.

 

5.      DiscoverColorado.com: This is the first of 4 “ways” all to do with Coupons. DiscoverColorado.com, one of our advertisers, has a “Printable Coupon Sheet” for every Resort they work with in Colorado – which is pretty much everyone. On the Home Page, you’ll see Printable Coupon Sheets, and beneath it “Destination: Select your Resort, and a “Daily Deals” page will come up. The first coupon on the list is “$20 OFF 2 or more Snowmobile Unguided Rentals with Grand Adventures. If you’ve done it before and feel confident enough about an unguided rental, this is $20.00 off a $95.00 2-hour tour, a saving of 21%!

  

There’s also One Free Hour of Tubing with Colorado Adventure Park, as long as you purchase three tubing tickets. In other words, 25% off for 4 people.

 

6.      SkiCoupons.com: More coupons on this site, including Activities and Tours, restaurants and more. Here, Epic Mountain Sports offer the 2nd Ski or Snowboard Package at ½-price. As this cannot be combined with the 20% off deal, do the math and see which one gives you the best discount!

 

7.      Local Telephone Directory! I put an exclamation mark here because there are deals to be had if you know where to look. In the restaurants section, Hernandos Pizza Pub (which is the best place for pizza anyway) have 5 different coupons, although you cannot combine with other offers. Again choose which one gives you the best deal and use it. Subway offers a 6” Sub for 99¢ with purchase of any 12” sub and medium drink. Could save $5.00 here at least.

 

 8.      Front Desk: We’re continually being bombarded with vendors giving us coupons to hand out, either individually or in booklet format. Ask our crew at the front desk what they have and they’ll give them to you! Being locals, they can also make personal recommendations as to the best places to eat (and when), where to rent, and fun things to do.

 

 9.      On-Mountain Restaurants: It pays to plan where you want to eat on mountain. You’ll pay a premium for a view (The Lodge at Sunspot), or save depending on where you are and what you want to eat. If I’m on the Winter Park side, I’ll head to Snoasis which is mid-mountain. They call it a “blast to the past”, which really means it’s had no real upgrades since it was built! But that’s fine. For me has the best on-mountain prices. If all you want is  your basic ham-and-cheese toasted sandwich, fries and a coke, I don’t know what this year’s prices are, but you used to be able to get all that for under $10.00. If you’re over at Mary Jane, go to either the Food & Drink Food Court, or Pepperoni’s Pizza and Sports Bar for……….pizza and sport! Pizza by the slice and a good atmosphere.

 

10.  TripAdvisor.com Forum: Finally, go to the Winter Park Travel Forum, follow the posts  and ask a question if there’s something specific you have in mind and that you want to save money. I’ve found out things here from other contributors that I had no clue about. Sometimes you can get coupons and deals to things up here that you can only get down in Denver for example. People are always looking for the best lift ticket deals. If you buy 10 gallons of shell fuel, you can get 1 free lift ticket when you buy a lift ticket at the resort. Now, a day ticket purchased at the window is the highest rates you’ll pay anywhere, but if there are two of you, 2 tickets for the price of 1 may turn out to be the best deal out there. Call ahead and find out what the ticket window price is that day, and go from there.

 

So there’s my Top 10 Tips. Please feel free to add any I’ve missed and help everyone who’s coming here save a bunch on their vacation.

15 Ways to Save Money on your Ski Vacation: Part I: Vacation Planning

Never before has the concept of saving money when planning a vacation been more important to travelers than now as we approach the 2009-10 ski season. According to the latest results from the travelhorizonsÔ survey and the Ypartnership/Yankelovich, Inc National Travel MONITORÔ, 87% of respondents cite being able to check lowest fares and rates as the most important travel website feature.

 

So let’s take that a step further and look at ways in which this year’s crop of winter vacation planners can save money on their ski vacation. This will be a 2-part article with 5 tips in Part I focusing on the research phase of the planning process, and 10 tips in Part II next week will highlight “Tips from a Local” (i.e. me) which will be more about how to save money when you’re here, because you’re coming to Winter Park, right?

 

1.      Meta search the airlines: You may be asking “what the hell does that mean”? Well, you might not know exactly what it means, but you might be doing it already. Meta search is the next generation of search which effectively stacks up all the competition alongside each other, across all websites, and displays results to enable pure comparison shopping. The best example in the airline industry is Kayak.com. Plug in your “from and to” airports, dates of travel, and hit Search. As an example, I searched for flights from Chicago to Denver, for travel on January 9th 2010 returning January 16th (oh, if all stays were that long!). In just a few seconds, no less than 514 results came up starting at $209.00 round-trip on either United or Continental with all manner of permutations for departure and arrival times. Aside from sorting by price, you can sort by airline, duration, (a few dollars more might save an hour or more travel time if there are stopovers), takeoff or landing.

 

Don’t forget to check out low-cost carriers if they match your airports, and also look into checked bag fees because these can mount up.

 

2.      Check in Online: BIG TIP – and I’m still amazed at the lines of people that don’t do this – check-in online and print out your boarding passes before you travel. Checking your bags will then be a matter of a few minutes instead of endlessly waiting in line and shuffling your bags along. Depending on who you fly with, you can sometimes save money on the checked bag. I recently traveled to Washington DC with United and saved $5.00 each way by checking my bag online. No big deal you might say, but a family of 4 with 1 bag each, that’s a $40.00 saving which is maybe lunch on mountain.

 

3.      Look for Packages: This can mean one of two things: packages bundled by online travel companies (such as Expedia, Travelocity, Bookit, Orbitz, etc), which combine flight, lodging and car rental, or lodging and lift ticket packages offered by lodging properties such as ours. The online companies use their own commission and discount structure to build in these savings and some show you the savings you can make as against if you booked the component parts separately.

 

The lodging and lift ticket packages combine the lodging properties own prevailing specials, which often include free nights or percentage discounts, as well as the lift ticket rates offered to them by the Ski Area, which are substantially less than ticket window prices and better the further out they are booked. Plus you have the convenience of picking up your lift tickets at check-in because the lodging company will order and collect those for you ahead of your arrival.

 

4.      Early-Season (or late season) deals: Virtually every ski resort will offer their lowest prices from opening day until Christmas or pre-Christmas, and again when Spring Break is over. If your plans are flexible, it will pay to wait to gauge skiing conditions as well as take advantage of last-minute offers, because occupancy levels during these time periods are lower – hence the lower rates.

  

5.      Kids-free Deals: Almost anywhere you go, kids get to ski and rent equipment either free (if they’re under 5) or cheap (6-14). Skiing for kids 5 and under is free at the Winter Park Ski Area, and at Epic Mountain Sports in Winter Park, kids 11 and under rent free with each full paying adult!

Denver International Airport

I returned from a conference on Wednesday of this week (October 28th, 2009) – the day that Denver was making the headlines for a massive winter storm warning, one of the coldest days on record for October, treacherous driving conditions, etc, etc. The day before my return, and during the day of travel, I kept checking “flight delays” and my flight was scheduled to depart, and arrive, on time. 

Other than a little turbulence coming in to land, and not being able to see the runway until a couple hundred feet from touchdown, it was not much different from any other landing, and we were actually 10 minutes early which I found remarkable in itself. We were delayed, however, docking at our gate because the departing plane was being de-iced prior to its departure. 

My point is that ever since the airport was built, for me the airport is one of the best I’ve flown in and out of, and a true asset for Colorado, especially our destination travel business. Sure, there are some detractors out there, business travelers especially it seems who want to come out of the hotel following a conference in downtown Denver, cross the street and enter into the airport check-in area the other side. I look at DIA when it comes to helping our business (as well as my own travel), and in this light it’s an often overlooked benefit. 

The airport itself is wonderfully spacious, light and airy, and very easy to get around. I’ve experienced hardly any delays at baggage claim and never had to use outlying parking, with always a choice of open-air or covered parking at the terminal. Once you’re on the road, it’s interstate (I-70) all the way to exit 232, then 26 miles on US Highway 40 to Winter Park – up and over Berthoud Pass which has impeccable maintenance and plowing. Everyone I talk to that lives here in the valley say they “breathe a sigh of relief” when they get on Hwy 40. The first stop-light you encounter after leaving the airport, is the first left-hand turn for the Winter Park Ski Area at the Vintage Hotel, 2 miles from downtown. 

I went to TripAdvisor and amazingly saw only 4 reviews for the airport. However, if you go to Yelp.com, you can read 174 of them! Food quality is very important for many travelers, either before their flight or in transit. My tip – no matter which concourse I depart from (A, B or C) – I always go to Concourse A and eat at Jimmy’s restaurant. For me, this has the best food of all the choices at the airport – breakfast, lunch or dinner, plus some decent wines. They even suggest pairings! Once you’ve eaten, if you depart from B or C concourse, it’s a quick one or two-stop train ride, with escalators and conveyor belts to help speed you to your gate. 

All-in-all, Denver International Airport is a pleasure to fly to and from, and if just one aspect of your vacation can have a little less stress, and the whole aspect of flying can be incredibly stressful at times, then make Colorado your destination and fly into DIA.

Airline Fees – pay them or pay them!

I’ve read a few articles recently about the proliferation of additional fees that airlines say they’re “having” to charge merely to survive. An airline not in bankruptcy these days is almost news in itself, and we’re all aware of the steps pretty much all airlines have taken since the onset of the current recession to provide incremental revenue.

The most successful of these has been the checked baggage charge – ranging from $10.00 to $25.00 or more even for the first bag, to upwards of $50.00 for the second bag. Apparently, the top 10 US airlines collected $670 million in bag fees in the second quarter, a 276% jump from the prior year according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

I would suspect that for most people, these baggage fees don’t enter into the equation when shopping for flights. The core price, time of day and day of travel itself, are the determining factors, with a built-in acknowledgement that there will be a baggage fee. At least this might help people (like my family) cut back on the amount of clothing they take on vacation: pack for 2 days and use the laundry two or three times if need be!

The latest surcharges I read about were for popular holiday travel dates (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day), with a $10.00 surcharge being added by United and American, and quickly followed by Delta, Continental and US Air. That has now grown to cover airline tickets for travel over Spring Break travel weeks in March & April as well.

A counter-argument to all of this is that fliers will no longer be subsidizing products or services they don’t use. However, I’m sure this won’t be the end of ways in which airlines attempt to generate more revenue. “Would you like me to dispose of your sick-bag sir? Yes? That will be $10.00 please”

Weather Watching

It’s amazing how much the weather dominates our lives. Where we choose to live, how we dress for that day, what to pack if we’re going away, driving conditions, heating costs; the list is endless. Perhaps the only thing that encroaches more on our day-to-day is that wonderful invention called e-mail!

Here in Winter Park Colorado, like any other seasonal resort, the weather has a dramatic effect on the fortunes of our industry, although now more than ever, second in importance to the state of the economy. With 45 days until opening day, and recent temperatures -12°, snow falling and settling, there’s already a buzz about early skiing conditions.

I for one go to www.weather.com, look at the 10-day forecast as well as the radar Map In Motion to see what systems are coming our way imminently. When the ski area is open, we have a link on our weather page to http://www.snowforecast.com/WinterParkResort which provides far greater information on winter systems, expected snowfall, future patterns, etc. We also feature the Ski Area’s live cam which will tell you exactly what conditions are right now – blue skies and sunshine.

So, if you want to weather watch this season, bookmark our weather page https://staywinterpark.com/guide-to-winter-park/weather/ and also look out for up-to-date “tweets” if you’re into that sort of thing. We’re getting our own Twitter going as I type. Meantime, I wonder what the weather is doing in Mexico……………….