Winter Park Grows Up

After years as a family-themed ski resort, Denver's mountain tries super-sizing.

"Fraser was a classless community," says Howlett. "The doctor lived next to the plumber and the dirt mover. The doctor knew those people would be his friends. One of the things that's happening now is that the doctor doesn't necessarily live next to the plumber anymore. When you have $500,000 trophy homes, the plumber doesn't live there."

Today Howlett says he knows most of the people who live in the county. His Bear Dance Tavern is a popular gathering place, just off Doc Susie Avenue. With a dance floor and live music, the tavern draws people who live and work in the area.

"One of the things I love about this place is that it doesn't take long to become a local here," says Howlett. "That doesn't happen many places."

Winter Park mayor Nick Teverbaugh hopes the town can keep its identity.
Brett Amole
Winter Park mayor Nick Teverbaugh hopes the town can keep its identity.
Winter Park mayor Nick Teverbaugh hopes the town can keep its identity.
Brett Amole
Winter Park mayor Nick Teverbaugh hopes the town can keep its identity.

Even though Fraser's economy has been tied to Winter Park's for years, the town has managed to keep its own identity. "The restaurants here don't close in the off season, because they're serving Fraserites," says Howlett. "People say, 'Oh, there's something going on in Winter Park, but I don't want to drive there,' even though it's only two miles."

Howlett thinks that Denver's hands-off attitude toward Winter Park probably helped sustain the small-town atmosphere longer than in other places. "You could say the City of Denver's lack of business stewardship allowed us to be a community longer than Steamboat or other mountain towns. Fraser has a history apart from Winter Park. Fraser wants to be Fraser, but if you study history, I think it will become a bedroom community."

After moving to Fraser, Howlett was so thrilled with his new hometown, he couldn't stop talking about it.

"It was like I was told a secret that I couldn't keep," he says with a sad smile.

For now, Winter Park is enjoying a record season. The resort has received more than eleven feet of snow since November. Skiers have come flocking, and in December, the area posted its highest number of visitors ever, with the total number of skiers up 2.4 percent over the same month last year. So far, the numbers for January have also been strong.

That means thousands of people are schussing down intermediate Cranmer and Allan Phipps runs, named in honor of Winter Park's founding fathers. While some throwbacks to the old days linger -- for example, the Looking Glass lift, built in 1966, is the oldest operating lift in the state -- Cranmer and Phipps would hardly recognize the place where they blazed trails through an isolated mountain on the north side of Berthoud Pass. Yet these men, who both had been involved in real estate, would probably see the growth and development of the area as inevitable. They might feel a tinge of nostalgia, though, for the remote, windswept ridges where they plied through virgin powder on their way to a simple wooden lodge.

"The prophecy is that for a ski area to be successful, you have to be in the real estate business," says Moore. "The traditional ski company was nothing but an elaborate elevator business, but those days are gone."

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