Slopeside lodging: How to make a good ski trip great

  • Article by: Bill Hammond
  • Star Tribune
  • November 4, 2000 - 10:00 PM

Like those folks who drive around endlessly outside their health clubs to find the closest parking space, skiers can be a contradictory bunch.

Most of them love the outdoors and the heart-racing, thigh-burning satisfaction of taming the slopes. Yet many grumble about having to walk more than a few dozen feet to plop onto a cushy chairlift. And as they grow older, they are likely to grouse even more if their comfort needs are not met.

That puts ski/snowboarding resorts in a pickle: How much development is too much? How much of the natural landscape can or should be sacrificed for customer amenities? How about making a profit?

Tough questions. But at the risk of oversimplification, hear my cry: Give me slopeside lodging. To me, it's the difference between a winter vacation and an ordeal.

I'll endure the gnarliest weather, ride the slowest chairlifts. I'll do without nightclubs, swimming pools, sleigh rides, boutiques, aromatherapy sessions and Wild West shows.

Just don't make me get bundled up in hot skiwear and force me to clump down sidewalks and stairways in plastic boots from the Ministry of Silly Walks as I flail away trying to corral my lethal skis and poles.

Don't make me stand around waiting for a bus to take me to the lifts, either -- that's like commuting, for crying out loud. I'll have none of it.

With slopeside accommodations, you can walk placidly from your lodge room to an indoor ski locker, grab your stuff, open a door and step out onto actual white, skiable snow -- with a chairlift contentedly humming nearby.

You and your gang can easily regroup at lunchtime, too, taking advantage of your mini-kitchen and avoiding the crowds and heart-stopping prices of many on-hill eateries. You also can use the downtime to change into cooler or warmer clothes, take a power nap or study the trail map to strategize your afternoon attack.

Sure, you'll pay more for slopeside lodging than you would at that budget motel down the road. But you won't need a car. You'll have more time on the slopes. You'll be near your belongings, should you need to pop in and grab a camera or some dry gloves. And at day's end, with the fireplace lit and that lovely snowbound view out the window ... ahhhh.

The freeway-railway scam

Always on the lookout for affordable, simple, coddling ways for us Northerners to ski the Rockies, I have found no sweeter slopeside arrangement than this one at Coloradoans' favorite ski resort -- Winter Park -- with an itinerary that looks like this:

  • Set aside five days in mid-January -- you'll get the best prices and have no worries about snow cover.

  • Call Winter Park central reservations (1-800-453-2525) and ask for the discounted Free 4 All Package. Stipulate four days' worth of lift tickets, a slopeside unit at the Zephyr Mountain Lodge and round-trip Amtrak tickets from Osceola, Iowa (just south of Des Moines), to Fraser/ Winter Park.

  • On Day One, drive to Osceola, about 300 miles from the Twin Cities. I've done it nonstop from St. Paul in a little more than 4½ hours. Shoot for an 8:30 p.m. arrival in Osceola, assuming the train is on time. (To check, call 1-800-USA-RAIL.) To reach the Osceola depot, exit Interstate Hwy. 35 at Hwy. 34, head east to Hwy. 69, turn left, head north less than a mile and look for the Amtrak station on the right.

    Park free in the depot's lot. Board train around 9:30 p.m. (assuming it's on time). Then sleep. (Coach seats recline to nearly flat; pillows and blankets are available.) When daylight arrives, walk to observation car or dining car. Gaze out window. Read, chat with fellow passengers. Buy snacks and potables at onboard mini-mart. Arrive in Denver around 9 a.m. After brief stop, enjoy incredibly gorgeous serpentine climb into the heart of the Continental Divide.

  • Arrive at Winter Park around 11:30 a.m. on Day 2 (assuming ...) and look for Zephyr Mountain Lodge courtesy van. Stash stuff in room, don ski togs.

    Hit slopes until lifts close at 4 p.m.

  • For the next three days, go skiing/ snowboarding and explore the funky conjoined towns of Fraser and Winter Park (free shuttles stop at lodge). Dining ranges from bare-bones to four-star cuisine.

  • At the end of Day Four, collapse onto eastbound train at about 5 p.m. (assuming ...).

  • Arrive back in Osceola around 9 a.m. on Day Five (assuming ...). Get in car; you have all day to lollygag home.

    Arrive at domicile, unlock door, go directly to favorite chair. Sit; sigh.

    Bill Hammond can be contacted at

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