Spring Break is one of my favorite times of the year, offering versatile weather for trips to the beach, hiking or skiing in the mountains! This year we decided to return to Winter Park, Colorado to enjoy some of the more wintery things to do! Winter Park has some many activities offered at the resort, much more than just skiing! Sledding, ice skating, live music in the evenings and just a great environment for hanging out and taking in the sights! Located in Grand County, it’s surrounded by beautiful scenery and so much to see and do!
A 5-day trip like this really starts months before with the planning. Once we had determined our destination and we started looking at our options for where to stay. I’m a Diamond Member with Hilton, and I like to use my Hilton Points whenever possible, and while Hilton doesn’t have any hotels in Winter Park or surrounding areas, there are plenty in Denver. But it’s about an 80-minute drive up the mountain from Denver to Winter Park, not counting the long line of traffic coming from I-70 to get in the resort, and we definitely didn’t want to do that every day.
Amtrak does have a train, the Winter Park Express, that travels daily to and from Winter Park to Denver on the weekends, which was a consideration since I was a little afraid of driving up I-70 and U.S. 40, the route from Denver, in winter, but we were going to be there during the week. It’s a great alternative if you’re flying into Denver however, and just want to stay in Winter Park over the weekend or longer!
The Resort itself was already booked for Spring Break, mostly by Texans I’m convinced, when we made our destination decision. Plan ahead and book early or be prepared to call often if you’re wanting to stay at the resort.
We ended up booking an AirBNB in Fraser, 9 miles from the resort, but a free daily shuttle picks up right in front of the condo, and since there were 6 of us and our 2 dogs going, we saved money over the resort. We also had some planned activities outside of the resort, and the condo was very convenient to them. Click HERE to see the listing. Fraser and the town of Winter Park (not the resort) are both cute little towns with restaurants, plenty of activities and shops, too. Resort food can also get very expensive, and with our AirBNB I could cook many of our meals to save money, as well.
I have an all-wheel drive, 4-wheel drive suburban which we planned to drive to Colorado, but as I mentioned I was a little afraid of those curvy mountain roads! Also, there were 6 of us going, plus our two dogs, which made space kinda tight. My husband, John, wants a Sprinter Van so badly, so we checked out renting one as a test drive, but I once again waited too late and couldn’t find the one I wanted that offered the necessary seating and storage space so we went with towing a little 4×8 Uhaul trailer up the mountain! We rented one during the summer for our big Yellowstone Road Trip, and they are really great! Easy to pull, lightweight enough to be able to maneuver it if needed, and plenty of space for everything! It gave us much more room in the car, too!
We use those inexpensive Plano Foot Lockers from Academy to hold our skiing clothes in storage and while we’re traveling. They fit great in the uhaul, travel well and I can put stickers all over them, plus they have wheels on one side!
About a week before the trip, we pulled them out of storage and went through them to make sure no one had outgrown anything, or needed replacing and to just air out. I had already bought several things I knew we needed online. Here’s a list of some of my must-haves and favorites. If they are affiliate links (links which I receive a small commission at no additional price to you) I will denote them.
For John I bought from Amazon (affiliate link) these waterproof snow pants. He really loved them, although the bottom of the pants were a struggle, but manageable, around his ski boots.
I found at Sun and Ski Sports in Fort Worth a great pair of Columbia Bugaboo Omni-Heat Ski Pants on sale. They were much thinner than The North Face and I was worried but the staff at Sun and Ski assured me that they were warm and comfortable, and I could get away with just wearing my base layer underneath, and she was absolutely right on all accounts. I love them!
For my base layer, I really love Cuddleduds. They are incredible comfortable, and not so thick I feel like I can’t move around. I’ve found them at Kohl’s and at Sam’s Club, but they are widely available.
For me, a huge must have is our CRAMPONS! (Affiliate Link) Ice cleats that strap on the outside of your shoes, they were a lifesaver for me while walking around in the ice around our condo, while walking the dogs and especially when we were ice fishing! I bought everyone a pair, and we all forgot them except my oldest, who loaned me his, because he didn’t want to see his mom in the hospital and take time out of his skiing. These don’t go in our ski gear, though, because they are great during the ice storms we get in Texas once or twice a year.
On the day of departure, we were loaded up and ready to go about midnight and slept for a few hours before hitting the road at 3:30am Monday morning! We were all exhausted and should have gotten to bed earlier, but we spent all day Sunday packing and cleaning up from our big, annual crawfish boil on Saturday. Luckily, we now have 5 drivers in the car, and we all took turns driving and sleeping for the 13-hour trip from Mansfield to Fraser. I really wanted to arrive as close to check-in, 4pm, as possible, and I did not want to risk driving on the roads from Denver to Fraser after dark! What I’ve also learned about middle of the night departures is that there are far fewer distractions. Our family is infamous for late starts. My husband gets way too many work calls after the sun comes up, my youngest turns on the video games, and of course, showers, breakfast and the clean-up. If we’re all packed when we go to bed, middle of the night everyone just gets up and loads in the car. Easiest part of the trip.
Our travel was pretty uneventful. I know this route after years of making it, we always stop at the Sam’s Club in Amarillo on I-40 for gas, and again at the Sam’s Club in Castle Rock, South of Denver. I packed fruit and sandwiches so we wouldn’t need to stop as often, but we did have several bathroom breaks along the way, the downside of Sam’s Club gas. Those frequent breaks were also because I kept everyone drinking water in the car, to avoid getting altitude sickness, since Winter Park has an elevation of over 9,000 feet!
We arrived in Fraser at our condo a little late, about 5:30 Colorado time, because of all those dang bathroom stops, including a long one in Trinidad, Colorado at the Welcome Center to walk the dogs and stretch our legs while I spoke with them Welcome Center staff about rafting on the Purgatory River in the summer, one of only two of the rivers we haven’t rafted on in the state. At the condo, we had a long walk from the parking lot to our condo, because of the snow built up from the snowplows. The snow was also about 4′ deep, which the dogs just sank in, and only the roads, parking lots and sidewalks were clear. We watched as a pair of huskies were able to walk on top of the snow, but we all just sank in it!
A few days before we left, I had ordered groceries for pick up at the Safeway grocery store, which was just across the street almost from our condo. Pick up is so easy and usually a huge time saver when traveling. They were out of several of the items I ordered, but there was plenty to make do with for the entire trip. No one comes on these trips expecting gourmet meals from me, but rather quick, easy and satisfying. Precooked bacon is a favorite of mine for fast meals, it’s perfect for breakfast, BLTs, baked potatoes, soup and salads.
After getting settled in, I made bacon cheeseburgers for dinner, and then the kids settled in to play video games on the one tv in the condo. My husband loves to watch tv at night in bed. I had checked when I made the reservation and made a note to bring our small tv with us, but just overlooked it in the final days of packing. I did have my laptop because I still need to work on Thursday morning, and he had his tablet, so we made do.
Traveling with dogs has a few challenges, and even though our dogs travel a lot, and are really well behaved, you never know. It was a long drive in the car, and they really had little exercise the day before, and they were restless most of the night. It was cold outside, and we had been warned when I booked the condo about the possibility of wild animals, so I wasn’t about to take them out for a walk until daylight. Of course, I really had nothing to fear, but it is not an easy thing to tell yourself at 2am.
Another must-have I take on most trips, especially those to drier climates, is a travel humidifier. It’s a life saver to keep from waking up with dried out sinuses and a headache. Turns out the AirBNB owners know this, and actually had humidifiers in each bedroom for us.
We all slept pretty late the next morning, then I made quick breakfast tacos (using the precooked bacon), and my oldest and his friend got ready to go skiing. My son is a pretty good skier, but his friend had never skied before. We didn’t make rental reservations in advance, a big mistake because we paid a lot more than we should have, and he waited to rent at the resort. Back in Fraser, the prices were more than half of what he paid, especially if he had done it at least 48 hours in advance. We also waited to purchase lift tickets, which are also less expensive when purchased online, in advance.
Although the free shuttle runs every 30 minutes, we went ahead and dropped them off at the resort, which was just 9 miles away from our condo. Winter Park has a drop off area right near the parking garage and rentals, then we headed back to Fraser. My husband, myself and our younger son and daughter had 1:30 reservations for a 2-hour Trailblazer guided snowmobiling tour with Grand Adventures in Fraser! It’s something we’ve never done, and I knew my husband and kids would love it! Coming back from the dropping off the boys at the resort, we headed over to find the snowmobiles, so we would know where to go when the time came. They share their space with the Fraser Tubing Hill, which looked so much fun, but we never had a chance to go! We could see the tubing hill from our condo, so we knew it was close.
Grand Adventures sends you a list of what you need to wear, and bring, including waterproof ski pants, jacket, goggles, gloves and snow boots. However, they do have rentals available for snowsuits and boots, and gloves and goggles for purchase. The Smith goggles were considerably less than I had paid at Academy. I did purchase a balaclava face mask, which was thin but really did the trick! The helmet is included in the price of your ticket.
At 1:10 we checked in, got our helmet and headed down to the safety briefing, and we were about 20 minutes early (shocking but true) but in doing the releases, etc, we were a little rushed. There were 8 snowmobiles in total on our tour, and 6 of the 8 were tandem.
I had reserved two tandem snowmobiles, one for my husband and myself and one for our daughter (21) and son (15). He has not yet gotten his learner’s permit, but if he had, he would have been allowed to drive a single snowmobile. He was very upset at himself for not getting that done!
The tour takes you through Arapaho National Forest, and while you’re still up in the mountains, it’s mostly flat with one small exception. While driving the snowmobile, you must stay on the packed snow or it will just get stuck in the snow, or worse, you could hit something and do damage to your snowmobile. Our guide was great, funny and knowledgeable, and it was easy to tell he loved exploring the mountain and backcountry, especially with his dog, who we met, and he said often ran with him on tours but wasn’t on ours. His dog was so happy to run around and chase snowballs, and I kept thinking of our pups back in the condo, and how much they would have enjoyed being out here playing, too!
I loved the snowmobile tour so much more than I expected I would! It was amazing! We stopped several times at first to make sure everyone was comfortable, and get some good pictures, then headed up a wide trail to what felt like the top of a mountain with amazing views! He said it was common to see moose or other animals, but just to give them plenty of room if we did. I wanted to see a moose so bad!
At one of the stops, my son and daughter were throwing snowballs and my son ran off into the very soft snow, losing his boots and getting very wet, but he never complained about being uncomfortable. In fact, with the sun shining on us, we all got a little warm and our faces got a little red, either from the sun or wind. I commented to our guide about being thirsty and having brought no water. He said it was fine to just eat some of the fresh snow off the ground! That was a pretty neat experience!
We picked up speed on the wide trails, going anywhere from 40-50 mph, but on the narrower trails through the forest we were going much slower, about 15 mph., but this was my favorite! I loved being in the trees, and we spotted many moose tracks, although no moose. I felt like heaven, riding along under the snow-flocked trees, until I was pelted by a snowball from my kids behind me! They are so naughty! My son was able to lean down and scoop up the snow as my daughter drove, then surprisingly doing a great job of hitting me! He’s never been good at throwing….
When the track opened up again, we were really going fast, up to 55 mph at least! Those who wanted to go slower stayed to the back of the group, so they weren’t pressured to go faster than they wanted to go. While we never saw a moose, it was just a fantastic experience, something I’d definitely love to do again! A professional photographer had taken our pictures if we choose to purchase them. Our guide also checked each of our snowmobiles for damage which we would have been responsible for if any had been found. I did choose the $25/snowmobile option for insurance, but not sure if I would again. I definitely would if my 15-year-old had been able to drive. We all wore our thick skiing gloves, which were definitely over kill. Last thought, I loved that I could tip our guide with Venmo. I always think it’s a little awkward to hand them money, but really appreciated all he did, especially the few times he had to pull us out of the snow!
In all, we spent almost 3-hours at Grand Adventures, and when we finished, it was time to head back to Winter Park to pick up the boys, who had a great time! I baked chicken breast, with cheese raviolis in alfredo sauce and one of those salads in a bag for dinner, then I skipped dinner and was asleep before they finished eating. Which was needed because we had an early morning the next day!
Wednesday John, and our daughter and I woke up about 6 a.m., packed an ice chest and dressed in our warmest clothes, walked the dogs and then headed out to Granby, North of Fraser to meet our guide, Adam with Fish Winter Park and go ice fishing!
I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to this trip! After meeting up with Adam, we followed him in our car to Williams Fork Reservoir, west of Granby and about 20 miles outside of Kremmling, where we parked at a public parking area with a restroom and completely covered in ice! However, our car did fine in all-wheel drive, and there were many other cars there, as well.
I’m going to tell you that nothing about ice fishing was anything I expected or imagined! I used my son’s ice-walking crampons to manuever across the parking lot and we loaded our ice chest onto Adam’s big sled that he pushed, with all his equipment on it, out across the lake! It was a much longer walk than I expected, and harder than I imagined in the ice and snow. Adam loaned me his trekking poles, which made it much easier. Once we reached the area he planned to fish, we saw old holes all around, which had frozen back up. Adam explained that we were standing on about 27 inches of ice! There were other groups fishing around us, too. Adam took out a battery-powered auger and drilled 4 holes in the ice. He then placed a sonar detector in one of the holes and gave us each short fishing poles with a lure on the end. We dropped the line in the hole, letting it fall all the way down to the bottom, where he suggested we make it look like a crawfish, slowly raising and lowering the lure. We started out in about 17 feet of water, but changed depths several times that morning, searching for the fish. It was cold and very cloudy, with a cold front approaching and the fish were not very aggressive, but we enjoyed watching the fish on the sonar chase our lures, and I did catch one little lake trout, which we returned to the lake. Despite not catching a ton, we had an absolute blast doing something we have never done before!
Exhausted, we returned to Fraser and had lunch at Elevation Pizza in town, before ditching our afternoon skiing plans and heading back to the condo for a nap! My two boys and their friend had taken the shuttle to Winter Park to go skiing, and we picked them up that evening. I made one of my boy’s favorite meals, named The Thing I Eat Four Times, and I’m not sure anymore how it earned its name, but it just something I made when they were very little with the few ingredients I had on hand; browned breakfast sausage and a can of ranch style beans, mixed together in a casserole dish and topped with shredded cheddar cheese, then bisquick and milk mixture poured over and baked for about 35 minutes. It’s simple and better than it sounds, and usually requested on birthdays. We had planned to go bowling or see a movie at The Foundry Cinema and Bowl in Fraser but were disappointed to find out that the lanes were sold out for the entire week, as were the movie tickets!! With it being Spring Break, we should have made plans well in advance! Instead, we built a fire in the fireplace and watched a movie in the condo.
Overnight it began snowing and the temperatures dropped down to 0 degrees, and we awoke on Thursday with a new layer of snow on everything! Despite the cold, we wanted to spend the day at Winter Park Resort. Danielle made biscuits and sausage for breakfast, we took the dogs for a long walk around the condo, and after I finished working, we bundled up and headed to the resort.
While the guys skied, Danielle and I watched then did some shopping and stayed warm. I had tweeked my knee on Tuesday while snowmobiling and it was still hurting. Winter Park has a Gondola that goes up to the Sunspot Lodge on top of the mountain, and ordinarily tickets are $45 if you don’t have a ski pass, but on select Thursday, Friday and Saturdays it’s free from 4-7 for Happy Hour at live music at the lodge. It’s a fun ride to the top, amazing views all around and a gorgeous lodge for watching the sunset! The guy’s last day of skiing, they turned in their skis before joining us, although they all left their shoes in the car which was parked in the parking garage, and it created a little chaos for them. Here’s a great tip, and on your last day, bring your shoes and leave them in a locker, which runs about $8-$10 a day, depending on size. You can also rent a ski locker for $20/day and leave up to 4 pair of skis, boots and helmets overnight instead of hauling them back in your car or on the shuttle, but overnight lockers have to be reserved in advance, and as I’ve already described, we didn’t do a lot of that! Click HERE to read more about lockers.
For our last night at the condo, we ordered pizza from Elevation Pizza again, brought it back to the condo, built a fire and the kids all played games while I did some packing and went to sleep early, again.
Our last morning, which happened to be St. Patrick’s Day, check out of the AirBNB was at 10am, which normally drives me crazy but we needed to get on the road early! Packing was crazy, and I cleaned the kitchen after using everything we had left to make breakfast, which mainly consisted of fruit and croissant rollups with the precooked bacon tucked inside. It wasn’t wonderful but it was breakfast. We loaded the Uhaul trailer and said goodbye for now to Fraser.
A last word about our dogs. They were so glad to be out of the snow, and back to using the restroom in grass! We love traveling with our pups, but this was a hard trip with them. They didn’t get to do much with us, even the dog parks were covered in snow. We had planned to take them to the resort, but decided it was just too cold! I know they enjoyed being with us, and us with them, more than they would have staying at home, and I don’t worry so much when they travel with us!
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