New options for skiers in the West

The Winter Park Express between Denver and Winter Park, Colo., runs weekends and holidays from Jan. 7 to March 26.
Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

For most Americans, Thanksgiving is synonymous with turkey. For skiers, it also generally marks the unofficial opening of ski season.

And this year, snow sport enthusiasts have new upscale options at two Western ski areas traditionally known more for their terrain and local flavor than the luxury hotels and experiences offered by larger resorts such as Vail and Aspen.

In Colorado, one of the best new luxuries is arguably the ability to get from Denver International Airport to the slopes without ever getting into a car or shuttle to travel the dreaded, traffic-jammed I-70 corridor that leads to the state's most popular ski areas.

With this year's launch of rail service from DIA to the city's refurbished downtown Union Station, and the return this season of the state's on-again, off-again ski train, skiers can get to Winter Park and its famed Mary Jane terrain in relaxing, luxe style.

The Winter Park Express, which was long a staple of skiing in Colorado but has had a sporadic run in recent years, returns Jan. 7, and continues every weekend and holiday Monday through March 26.

The train leaves from Union Station in downtown Denver, meaning flyers can either time their travel to and from DIA to coincide with the train schedule, or take advantage of specials such as the one offered by the Crawford Hotel, inside Union Station, which after a $54 million renovation was completed in 2014 is home to the hotel and a dozen restaurants and stores.

With prices starting at $299 per night for two people, the Crawford is offering Denver ski train packages that include luxury overnight accommodations for two, ski storage, breakfast to go and two apres ski cocktails and an appetizer at the Terminal Bar Apres Ski Lounge. Ski train tickets must be purchased separately.

In Taos, N.M., known for its challenging terrain but few traditional on-the-mountain luxury hotel offerings, the Blake opens early next year as part of the Taos Ski Valley's recent expansion and revitalization.

The alpine-style guesthouse adjacent to Lift 1 has 80 rooms and suites, completed with guest-service hausmeisters, which the hotel said are on call to attend to every detail.

The Blake, set to open Feb. 1, will also have a spa and fitness center, underground parking and a tapas-style restaurant and bar called 192 at the Blake.

The hotel's opening is part of a $300 million update and expansion that has been underway at the relatively small and off-the-beaten path Ski Valley since it was sold a few years ago by the founding Blake family to Louis Bacon, a New York billionaire, skier and conservationist.

In 2014, Taos opened its long-awaited Kachina Peak lift, which takes skiers to expert terrain previously accessible only by hiking to the top of the 12,481-foot summit, and it has recently enhanced its snowmaking capabilities, added grooming equipment to help tame more of its expert-only runs and has been working to thin trees throughout the ski area.

The Blake, meanwhile, is the cornerstone of its renovated base area, which includes new shops and dining options.

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