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The Non-Skier’s Guide to Winter Activities in Colorado

by Emily Krempholtz

Winter is in full swing, and that means thousands of people, from Colorado and far beyond, are flocking to mountain towns like Vail, Aspen, and Breckenridge to take advantage of the world-class ski resorts there. But for those of us who don’t ski or snowboard, it can be easy to feel left out when everyone you know is hitting the slopes every weekend, especially if you still want to spend time in the mountains. Luckily, whether you’re tagging along to the ski towns or just looking for an alternative way to spend your time this winter, there are a plethora of things to do in Colorado for those who don’t ski or snowboard

 

For the Adrenaline Junkie...

Just because you’re not hurtling down a mountain on a pair of skis doesn’t mean you can’t get the excitement of a heart-pumping winter activity in the Rockies this winter. In Ouray, you can try your hand at ice climbing at the Ouray Ice Park, but if that feels like a little much for you, it also makes an awesome spectator sport at the annual Ouray Ice Festival, which is attended by athletes and climbers from all over the world who attempt the thrilling and dangerous climb up the steep walls of the gorge.

A more high-speed way to enjoy the mountains in winter is via snowmobile. There are several companies in different regions throughout Colorado that offer snowmobile rentals for those who know what they’re doing and want to explore on their own, but there are also plenty of companies that offer guided tours, like Grand Adventures in Winter Park, or Elk Mountain Adventures in Leadville. For more information about permits and where to find snowmobiles, check out our Ultimate Winter Guide to Snowmobiling in Colorado.

snowmobiling

For Those Looking to Relax…

On the flip side of all the action, sometimes it’s nice to get in a bit of relaxation during your day off. Enjoying the peace and quiet while ice fishing for trout and other fish on Dillon Lake, Grand Lake, or one of the other many abundant ice fishing destinations in Colorado can be a relaxing and rewarding day to enjoy some peace and quiet. If you’re looking for something a bit more social, or something to warm you up, you might enjoy a soak in one of the natural hot springs that can be found all over the state. Some, like Iron Mountain Hot Springs, have small mineral pools for soaking as well as larger options for families, and many others, like Yampah Spa in Glenwood, offer options like vapor caves and body treatments for a full relaxation experience.

 

For Nature Lovers…

Maybe we’re a little biased, but we think Colorado has some of the prettiest nature in the country, no matter what time of year, and in winter, with its pristine blankets of untouched snow against stunning aquamarine blue skies, and the still, clear quiet of nature, there is plenty for nature lovers to do in Colorado. It’s always worth a reminder that Colorado is home to four National Parks, and in the winter, when they are less crowded, they become quite different from how they look in summer. The dramatic snowy peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park, the blanket of white over the Great Sand Dunes, and the still, dark quiet of Black Canyon of the Gunnison are all gorgeous in the winter, and that’s not even a fraction of what Colorado has to offer. With dozens of state parks, thousands of acres of Wilderness Areas and National Forest land, and a staggering number of hiking trails, winter is a great time to get out in the mountains on foot, whether that means taking advantage of a warmer day in the Front Range for a winter hike, or striking out in deep snow on snowshoes or on a cross-country or Nordic skiing excursion.

 cross country skiing

For Families…

Skiing with the whole family can get expensive and hectic, even if skiing is something you’re into, but either way, there are a ton of ways to keep the whole family busy and occupied during the cold months of winter. There is certainly no shortage of slopes and hills in our mountainous state, so that means there are so many places to go sledding and tubing, you’ll never have to go to the same one twice if you don’t want to. You can rent equipment from local sports retailers, or bring your own. Another great option for families is ice skating—there are skating rinks in Colorado that range from the small, urban rink on 16th Street Mall in Denver to the 40-acre frozen Evergreen Lake. No matter what you and your family decide to do, make sure to warm up afterward with a steaming cup of hot cocoa from a local cafe or restaurant.

 

For Couples…

Oh, you thought that was a cold front coming in? No, no, my friend, that was love, and it’s in the air—from “cuffing season” to Valentine’s Day, winter can be pretty dang romantic, and Colorado offers lots of opportunities to embrace it. For couples who don’t ski or snowboard, but still want to spend a romantic weekend away from home, there are cabins available for rent all throughout the mountains, like the riverfront cabins at Evergreens on Fall River in Estes Park, where private cabins have their own outdoor hot tub in full view of the Rockies, or the beautiful Lodge at River’s Edge, a historic log cabin in Basalt, CO where you can expect to find crackling fires and plenty of places to snuggle up with a hot drink. Other places to get nice and cozy together under a warm blanket include on a sleigh ride through the Ten Mile Range with the majestic Percheron horses of Breckenridge Stables, or, if horses don’t appeal to you, on a snowcat tour.

 

For Third Wheels…

 If you’re tagging along with your friends while they hit the slopes, you’ll find more than enough to occupy you in the ski towns of Colorado. Besides the expansive repertoire of restaurants, boutiques, bars, and fun cultural experiences like the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame in Vail, or the Mining Heritage Museum in Silverton, ski towns are also notorious for their huge calendar of events throughout the season. From the Viking-themed Ullr Fest in Breckenridge to the X Games in Aspen, there’s always something going on, and at the end of the day, when your friends are exhausted and cranky from those crowded slopes and long lift lines, you might even make them wish they’d passed on skiing or snowboarding that day and spent it with you.

dog sledding 

There’s More to Colorado Than the Ski Resorts…

...And to be honest, those die-hard skiers and snowboarders in your life might just be missing out on a whole world of activities by spending every weekend in bumper to bumper traffic on I-70 and waiting in line for those lifts. From dog sledding to fat tire biking to relaxing in a hot tub, there’s something for everyone in Colorado during the winter. So this season, beat those crowds and head out into the mountains for your own, one of a kind adventure, whatever that means for you.