WINTER PARK RESORT — I used to earn my turns with sweat, but now I'm more likely to use gasoline to get to prime terrain. When I click out of
my skis, I put them in the snowcat, helicopter or sled — not over my shoulder.
I'm not sure if I've gotten spoiled or lazy. Either way, I blame the resorts that have made it increasingly easy to catch a ride to the good stuff in distant bowls and on remote ridges.
Winter Park's Vasquez Cirque is a prime example of the enabling of the powder-hungry skier. Until the 2013-14 season, the 400 acres of steeps on the west side of the resort were accessed only by entering a gate at the top of the Parsenn Bowl, skating along a flat stretch of about three-quarters of a mile and hiking up to a drop-in point.
I went on a tour of the Vasquez Cirque when it opened in 1997, and it was quite an effort not only get to it but also to get out of it. After the 2,060-foot vertical drop (that's oh-so-fun, but goes by oh-so-quickly), you were on a snowcat track all the way to the northern border of the resort and then exited by the Pioneer Express Lift. It took hours — and was totally worth it.
Because it is so remote, and because most skiers stick to the lower mountains, the Vasquez Cirque holds onto its cache of powder. The initial drop is one of the steepest you'll find in the state (think Patrol Chute at Copper or the Stone Creek Chutes at Beaver Creek). There is no beginner, intermediate or even advanced terrain; the cirque's trails are 75 percent most difficult and 25 percent expert only.
Best of all, in the cirque you're away from it all.
Now you get all that in about half an hour. Two seasons ago, Winter Park hooked up a 48-person sled to the back of a snowcat, and getting to the cirque got a whole lot easier. Skiers do the short skate to the "Sled Stop" then ride the sled for about 10 minutes before being dropped off atop the West Headwall. (You need to get a sled pass at the ticket window or online before you can ride; the pass is $20 for the season.) Even if The Sled is operating at full-capacity, 48 people spread out 400 acres every half hour or so is hardly a crowd.
The Cirque usually doesn't open until February. But thanks to a couple of nice storms, patrollers let skiers at it on Jan. 23 this season. There were less than a dozen people skiing the entire area when I dropped onto the west headwall two days later.
Those who frequent the cirque say that people tend to hike to the far chutes and leave the best snow behind on the headwall. Another tip is to avoid Eldorado on a big powder day. It doesn't have the pitch of the other runs, and you could find yourself pushing through deep snow to get out.
After the cirque's initial drop, skiers find themselves in a lovely glade with nice soft snow. You come out of the cirque onto the road that gets you to the Eagle Wind lift in about three minutes — without skating.
I'll admit I like having the access and exit from the cirque being so much easier than it was when I first skied there nearly 20 years ago. Come to think of it, maybe it's not about being spoiled or lazy. Just older — and wiser.
Chryss Cada is a freelance writer and journalism instructor at Colorado State University. Visit her at Chryss.com.