Our journey to the Colorado Freeride Festival started at 4am with a dark, rainy drive to Tampa where we parked at the beautiful Intercontinental hotel and took a shuttle to Tampa International Airport. Our circuitous route would have us fly to Houston and then on to Denver. It was the first time we've had to navigate through time zone changes so we kept losing track of how long each flight was actually taking. We joked that we spent the day going back in time.
At 1 pm we arrived at the Denver International Airport. This place is a huge work of art with room to grow. The airport is actually pretty far from the mountains or even the city center. The layout spreads terminals across the tarmac connected by a very fast underground train. The main entrance known as the Jeppesen terminal is an enormous split level room full of restaurants with a tent like ceiling that bathes everyone in light, even under stormy skies.
Due to a timing error, my bad, we had to hang out for 4 hours before the shuttle arrived. It did give us a little time to start the process of acclimating to the cooler weather and higher altitude. We were pretty tired and felt a little light headed but food, water and slow moving seemed to help.
This delay allowed us to try some of the local eateries. I fell in love with a Queso Burrito from the Cantina Grill while Terri swam in a Dark Caramel Turtle Mocha with a shot of espresso from Caribou Coffee. As much as I love Starbucks, they better watch out for this company.
We learned our way around the ground transportation area and were picked up by a Home James mini bus for the 2 hour drive into the mountains.
Our driver was a longtime resident of Winter Park who loved to talk. He explained that the airport was purposely built far from the city so that it could expand as needed. There were several sections still being built. The taxiways alone are several miles long.
He pointed out several landmarks along the way which included an old army base that had been turned into an animal sanctuary. From the road you could see a long uninterrupted fence and inside there were hundreds of mounds that were home to Prairie Dogs. We even saw a dozen of the little critters watching us cruise by.
After forty minutes we left the flatlands and stormed up beyond 6,000 feet. We got to see a small herd of Buffalo who were protected in their own preserve. Rolling hills gave way to the enormous rocky mountains. The driver pointed out avalanche paths where during the winter heavy snows had given way and crushed hundreds of trees often blocking the passes. He noted the presence of Pine Beatles which were killing one out of every five trees due to the moderate winters.
We passed tiny mining towns that are open to visitors where you can pan for gold or explore the caves. We passed ziplines, white water rafting, hiking trails, basically more activities than you could fit into a single trip. In one of those towns known as Empire was the original Hard Rock cafe (Opened 1934). Lastly we crossed the continental divide, a high point at over 11,000 feet that separates the east side of the mountains from the west.
Dropping down almost two thousand feet from the divide we arrived in Winter Park at 7:30 pm. The shuttle brought us to the front door of the Vintage hotel where we were greeted by the manager. He explained that a mountain bike team had bought out all of the remaining rooms in the hotel including ours. To compensate for this change he upgraded us to a room at Founders Pointe, right across the street from the village.
The shuttle helped us over to the main office and in no time at all we were enjoying a beautiful room on the third floor. We had a king size bed, flat screen TV, fireplace, kitchenette and a back door that opened out to the hot tub deck. Nothing to complain about here.
After putting away our bags we took a stroll through the village itself. Originally designed as a ski resort they have adapted the summer activities entirely around mountain biking. I counted three bike shops in first hundred feet of walking and that was before we reached the tent city known as Festivillage.
In the Festivillage was almost every major manufacturer of mountain bikes or parts along with half a dozen smaller ones. Included in the line up was BMC, Specialized, Trek, SRAM, Shimano, Jett, Clif Bars, Marzocchi, Suntour and Mavic. We also saw some well known riders like Ben Cruz, Jordi Lunn, Curtis Keene, Tyler McCaul and Kelly McGarry, whom we bumped into several times over the weekend. He probably thought we were stalking him.
Tuckered out by the 14 hour journey, we were too tired to hit a restaurant so we grabbed some food from the local mini-mart, returned to our room and promptly passed out. We were going to need our sleep, the next morning we had a whole lot of activities planned.
Throughout the weekend Terri and I were fascinated by the Mountain views, flowers and trails. Here is our photo gallery of Rocky Mountain nature. Enjoy.
Also, feel to continue following our journey in Part 3.
Colorado Freeride Festival (Part 3 of 5)