It’s no secret that winter is not my favorite season. While most of my friends are busy racking up ski days and vertical feet like it’s going out of style, I’m counting down the days until summer returns and wondering if it’s socially acceptable to be a snowbird in my 30s. That said, I do like to shred every once in awhile and the social aspect of a snowy getaway to the mountains.
My perfect ski day would be one run, bloody, one run, lunch, one run, après (and don’t forget the hot tub night cap). But being such an expensive hobby, that’s not super feasible. Instead, I’ve come up with a few alternate pastimes to get you jazzed about winter in Denver. If you’re like me and looking for something to do other than heading to Summit every weekend or “Netflix and chill” this hibernation season, read on.
Holy Hot Springs
Colorado has 30 natural hot springs scattered throughout the state, meaning you could go to a different one every weekend and not be bored. Strawberry Park in Steamboat is one of my favorites for it’s clothing optional fun after dark, while Sunwater Spa in Colorado Springs has multiple naturally heated mineral soaking tubs. If you want to make a weekend out of it, some of the more exotic ones are further south –Pagosa and Dunton Springs, for example. Whether you go luxury resort style or rustic camping, a dip in the hot water will take the chill off in no time (especially if you throw in a massage). There’s even a tour to see multiple in one day.
Snowshoe and Fondue
I found this awesome tour on Groupon, which is regularly offered through Apex Ex. Snowshoeing is a great way to explore Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter without falling on your face. If you’ve never tried it, snowshoeing is an easy sport to pick up and essentially the winter version of hiking with some strange footwear (why must everything have a fancy name to make it sound more complicated?). Pretty much anywhere you can hike you can snowshoe so if you find you like the sport, it might be worth investing in the gear (which you can find rather reasonably for a few hundred dollars).
If you’re looking to make it a full day adventure, you’re not far from the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park (where the Shining was filmed). We made a stop at their well-stocked whiskey room (the largest in Colorado) to properly warm up and did the ghost tour.
Pro Tip: Copper Mountain actually offers free snowshoe tours if you want to get a feel for the sport before investing in equipment (or are looking to entertain yourself while your friends are on the slopes).
Did you know you could dog sled in Colorado (or anywhere outside of Alaska for that matter)? Neither did I, but there are a few options around the state with adorable huskies ready to run. I recommend Alpine Adventures, which is actually a rescue facility for sled dogs. You’ll hop in a sleigh and take turns mushing and riding along in a sled pulled by a snowmobile. When the ride’s over, you’re allowed to play with the pups, but good luck trying to leave without wanting to bring one home.
Sure you could go fat biking (a normal bike with fat tires) to power through powder, but ski biking (a bike outfitted with three ski blades) is the more fun way to glide through the snow. Snowmass was one of the first to offer lessons in the up-and-coming sport that feels like a combination of biking, skiing, hockey, and ice-skating. You technically have to be an intermediate skier as they throw you on a blue run pretty immediately, but it sure beats the thigh burns of sharp turns standing.
Play Princess in the Ice Castle
When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said a gymnast. My best friend said a princess. Clearly she had the right idea – dream big. Thankfully, we can all bring our fairytale dreams to life at the Ice Castle. Elsa-lookalikes wander the halls, while a slide and fountains spit water in glorious fashion. The experience takes just a few minutes to walk through – unless you want to take a million photos, of course.
Pro Tip: While weekdays are much less crowded, Fridays and Saturdays have a nightly fire show for added pizazz.
Ouray, Colorado is considered to be the ice climbing capital of the world and their ice park is the best place to give the sport a go. A human-made climbing wall within a spectacular natural gorge, ice farmers spray the canyon walls with 250 sprinklers creating more than 150 “climbs.” The park is free to the public, but gears and lessons come from outside operators.
With more than 3,000 miles of trails in the state, Colorado is a snowmobiling haven. Many companies offer rentals, but if you’d prefer a guided tour (I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t trust myself in the backcountry either), operators run two-hour to full day trips through the national forest and groomed powder in Winter Park, Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain, Vail, and Beaver Creek near the Continental Divide.
Ice Bumper Cars
Perhaps the quirkiest attraction on our list, ice bumper cars was a new winter sport invented in Colorado that’s exactly what it sound like — inflatable tubes on wheels you can ram into people. You can try it at the Howelsen Ice Arena in Steamboat Springs or at the Gaylord Rockies Resort in Aurora. And if that wasn’t enticing enough, they call them smiling machines for how much joy they bring as you’re spinning madly in glee.
Get in the holiday spirit with Zoo Lights, drive through the epic light display at Water World, or visit the Christkindl Market for some mulled wine and tasty treats. Check your local events calendar because Denver is brimming with festive happenings!
The ski resorts also have plenty options for non-skiers. There’s tubing just about everywhere, adrenaline pumping alpine slides, ice skating, scenic gondola rides, horse-drawn sleigh rides, Snowcat rides to secluded restaurants and cabins, and cross-country skiing if steep vertical isn’t your thing (Eldora has the best Nordic center in the state). Or there’s always the hot tub, the best part of a mountain getaway. No judgment.
What cool cold-weather activities have you come across in the Centennial State?
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