Getting There While it takes about two hours to drive from the Denver airport to Winter Park, you feel like you are on vacation as soon as you get into the car because the mountains are already in view and they are magnificent! This year we used Relay Rides for our rental car and it was SO much better than using a regular rental car company. You reserve the exact car that you want ahead of time, there are no lines, no last minute changes and the car is waiting for you in the regular long-term parking lot at the airport. Normally, I am not that picky about rental cars, but for a ski vacation in the mountains, I felt that extra room and four-wheel drive was important. Also, last year we waited for over two hours for our rental car and got stuck with a tiny "full size" car that our luggage barely fit into. If you are doing a quick jaunt over to Winter Park from Denver on the weekend, you can take the Winter Park Express (Amtrak).
If you need to eat in Denver, we love Snooze A.M. Eatery in Union Station - excellent breakfast food all day. The Alpine Restaurant and Bar in Georgetown is a nice stop on the way for delicious pizza and a cozy mountain feel, just a little ways before heading over the 11,307 ft. Berthound Pass to get into ski territory. Keep your eyes open for ski tracks coming down in all kinds of places you wouldn’t expect and of course stop and take some pictures!
Tip: the drive over the Berthoud Pass can be stressful for some, especially if it is snowing, I pretty much white-knuckle it the entire way while my husband has a grand old time enjoying the view.
Things to Do The great thing about staying at The Devils Thumb Ranch is there is plenty to do on site that doesn’t require a bunch of blood, sweat and tears to get going. We arrived early enough to enjoy about an hour of tubing down a little hill perfect for the kids and another hour of ice skating, neither of which required any work or preparation on our part. Plus, there are acres and acres to roam around in the snow in boots, show shoes or cross country skis as you see fit. (Please see my complete profile on the Devils Thumb Ranch here.)
My kids also love spending time at the barn on the DTR property. Between a beautiful walk over to the the barn, s'mores by the fire, new baby kittens and calves, a playful dog, a donkey, goats, horse drawn sleigh rides and many, many horses to be fed, we spent an easy half day here. If you stay at the DTR, don’t miss a visit to the barn if you have animal lovers in your family, or even if you don’t, because the sleigh ride is a great way to spend some relaxing time out in this breathtaking landscape. If you are staying near the town of Winter Park, Hideaway Park is right in town and they have sleds to use on the small hill there.
Tip: If it is a weekday, you should have no problem finding a spot on one of the sleigh rides. If it is a weekend, you are better off making a reservation ahead of time.
Tubing at the Coca-Cola tubing hill right next to the Vintage Hotel is also great fun and is light on effort. Our trip to Colorado wouldn’t be complete without spending an afternoon here, with hot chocolate to follow. We have also stayed the Vintage Hotel. It is a great choice if you are on a tighter budget and plan on spending most of your time on the slopes, since it is in the ski village. You can see my full review of the Vintage Hotel on Trekaroo.com.
Finally, time to ski! We are not seasoned skiers, so if you are, you probably don’t need any of my advice but my advice for novices with small children is to get to the ski rentals early but after the morning rush - or even better, get them fitted the afternoon before when the rental shop is empty - and be mentally prepared for it to take at least an hour to get outfitted and actually up on skis. Also, a weekday makes a HUGE difference in the crowds and wait time for everything. In my humble opinion, it is crucial to ski with small children on a weekday. Sometimes we put the kids in ski-school, sometimes we buy passes for the bunny slope (much cheaper that regular lift tickets) and spend a few hours working with the kids on stopping and turns, and sometimes we ski the slopes together as a family - depending on the day and the mood.
We have been dog sledding with Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park and it was a very unique, once in a lifetime experience for us. I won't soon forget the absolute stillness and quiet of the woods as we rode through them, and of course my daughter absolutely loved spending time with the dogs afterwards.
Where to Eat While we eat most of our meals on the DTR property when we stay there, we have also tried Azteca Mexican Restaurant and Tabernash Tavern and enjoyed both. As far as food in the village, we love breakfast at Goodys Creperie and lunch at The Back Bowl Soup Company.
Tip: If you are staying in a cabin at the DTR, it is definitely worth it to stock up on breakfast and perhaps even dinner at a local grocery story. If you are staying in the lodge, you can save money by getting breakfast at the coffee shop instead of the restaurant.