Colorado winter may be synonymous with skiing, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy the state’s coldest months without strapping in and zooming downhill.
Whether you’re looking to warm your bones or embrace the seasonal chill, here are eight activities to enjoy winter if you don’t ski.
Just because you don’t ski doesn’t mean you can’t have fun in a mountain town or even at the slopes. The lodges at or near resorts are often cozy and offer good drinks and entertainment.
The 6th Alley Bar & Grill inside the base lodge at Arapahoe Basin, for example, is famous for its revelry. People line up early on opening day to get a space in the mug club and there’s often live music. And Copper Mountain just debuted a new mid-mountain lodge called Aeire, which features a food hall vibe with five different food stands, TVs, coffee and more. Guests only need a foot traffic ticket ($25) to take the gondola up and indulge in the offerings.
Over on the Western Slope, Telluride’s Mountain Lodge permits people to dine and drink at the onsite restaurant even if they’re not a guest of the hotel. And those who do are also permitted to use the lodge’s hot tubs free of charge.
Try Nordic skiing
If downhill skiing is rock ‘n roll, cross-country skiing is its acoustic cousin. That’s according to our resident outdoors expert, who touts serenity, aerobic exercise and affordability among the numerous benefits of Nordic skiing.
An added bonus: the equipment and price to access trails are significantly cheaper than downhill skiing. Many cross-country areas are free to ski and gear rentals average about $25 per day – pocket change compared to the $200-plus daily lift tickets at some ski resorts. Consider booking a lesson to get started, find a local Nordic center or join a Nordic association at one of their events. Some even host full-moon night skiing events.
Soak in hot springs
Few things better combat winter bitter temperatures than a soak in steaming hot springs. Colorado is home to dozens of hot springs that offer everything from day-rate drop-ins to resorts with the option to stay overnight. Time your trip right and you could have the pools at Desert Reef hot springs in Florence all to yourself. And don’t skip a group ski trip just because you don’t plan to hit the slopes. There are numerous hot springs nearby ski resorts where your pals can join you once they’re done shredding.
Explore that ice, ice baby
Bundle up and embrace the chill of winter by visiting ice installations that only come around this time of year. First on your bucket list should be the Ice Castles, returning to Colorado for the first time since December 2020. The attraction, which features life-size structures made of ice that patrons can walk through and that are lit up at night, has a new home in Cripple Creek. It opens on Dec. 19, or possibly sooner if the weather permits.
If you’d rather climb up ice, consider a trip to the Ouray Ice Park, a world-renowned destination for ice climbing on the Western Slope. From Jan. 18 to 21, the park hosts a festival where newbies can try out the sport during a clinic and watch the sport’s best compete. Closer to the Front Range, Breckenridge hosts the International Snow Sculpture Championships, in which artists carve 12-foot-tall blocks of snow into stunning pieces of art. Carving happens the week of Jan. 22 to 26, and public viewing takes place Jan. 26 to 31.
Check out the bevy of other winter festivals happening around the state here.
Watch the X Games in Aspen
You don’t need to be a skier or snowboard to appreciate the craft, and there’s possibly no more exciting place to see the pros in action than at the X Games in Aspen, happening Jan. 26-28. Competitions in knuckle huck, big air, slopestyle and more take place at Buttermilk Ski Resort alongside a free-to-attend X Fest with vendors and concessions, located at the mountain’s base. Fans can also purchase tickets to watch the games from a corral or from the slopes. Tickets range $30 to $70 depending on the day and event you want to attend, or $225 for a three-day pass.
If you’d rather cozy up at home, the X Games will be broadcast for free on XGames.com, YouTube, and Twitch, as well as on ESPN and ABC.
Go hiking and snowshoeing
Hiking is a year-round activity in Colorado, as long as you have the right gear, namely warm and water-repellant layers. Depending on the elevation you venture to, you’ll also want to bring microspikes and snowshoes to avoid slipping and post-holing along the trail.
Brainard Lake Recreation Area in Ward, Golden Gate Canyon State Park in Golden and Staunton State Park in Pine are just a few of the ideal destinations for winter trekking. Or you could hightail it to the desert near Grand Junction where you might not even snow. Dealer’s choice.
Take a snowmobile tour
If you’re looking for a thrill akin to downhill skiing, consider hopping on a snowmobile. The activity is experiencing a boom thanks to the pandemic and numerous rental companies across Colorado, from Silverthorne to the Grand Mesa, are ready to satisfy the demand. Some areas of the state have groomed snowmobiling trails, but if you plan to go into the backcountry, consider booking a tour. According to one vehicle recovery company, unprepared or unskilled snowmobilers make up the bulk of its wintertime rescue missions.
The Dutch word “hygge,” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is “the quality of being warm and comfortable that gives a feeling of happiness.” And what better time to embrace that ethos than when the weather is freezing? Do as the Scandinavians do and buy candles, cozy up next to a fireplace, eat Danish sweets or book a staycation to reach maximum hygge.
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