Colorado is the best ski destination in the country, with some of the largest resorts with the best snow in the highest altitude for the longest seasons. But whether you don’t like skiing or need a day or two off from the slopes, there is still a ton of outdoor adventure awaiting you in the Colorado wintertime.
Sure, there are the expected outdoor sports and activities to enjoy in Colorado besides skiing. Slap on a pair of snowshoes and hike deep into the wilderness, even in the snow (but beware of avalanches). Go ice skating, snowboarding, snowmobiling or cross-country skiing. You can even take out a wide-tire fat bike and pedal your way through the ice and snow. Build a snowman. Throw snowballs. Take photos. Bundle up and go sledding or tubing down a hill.
But Colorado gets creative with its outdoor adventures, too. Beyond the predictable, here are some creative and unique ways to enjoy Colorado’s winter—off skis—that you probably haven’t tried before.
Head to the Ouray Ice Park in southern Colorado for amazing adventures on ice. In the summer, this mountain town is home to some spectacular waterfalls. When they all freeze over, the sight-seeing doesn’t end. The ice park is a man-made ice-climbing spot located in the gorge. It features hundreds of icy climbs, from kid-friendly to beginner to oh-my-gosh jaw-dropping. For example, the Five Fingers area has an assortment of types of climbs. You can see it from the highway. You might never think to hop out and climb up!
Dogsledding is a growing trend in Colorado; it’s not just for the Arctic. Several different companies offer dogsledding tours, where you and a passenger can be pulled on a sled by a dozen or so trained dogs.
Enjoy dinner with a view in a serene, snowy atmosphere after the slopes close down. Many ski resorts boast on-mountain restaurants, some of which are only accessible by Snowcat. You can’t just drive there in your car. One option is in the Aspen Highlands, at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro. This Swiss and continental restaurant serves dinner (by reservation only) on the mountain. Meet at 5:30 p.m., sip a glass of Gluehwein and then hop on the open-air Snowcat. Huddle under the blankets as you voyage about 30 minutes deep into the mountain. After a lengthy dinner, the Snowcat will shuttle the diners back to the welcome center.
Don’t just sing about a “one-horse open sleigh.” Take one out in the mountains near Beaver Creek. The BearCat Stables is a hidden treasure near the luxurious Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, a gated golf community. BearCat is a historic cabin and stables that offers guided sleigh rides throughout the winter, pulled by giant Percherons. After the workhorses bring you on a scenic ride, you return to the cabin for a cozy, intimate dinner. BearCat Stables is a bit off the beaten path—we think it’s one of the state’s best-kept secrets.
Colorado is home to a handful of working historic trains and many run through the winter. As it gets close to the holidays, some of these trains get into the spirit with specially themed rides for families. For example, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway near Colorado Springs (in Manitou Springs) brings riders all the way up the 14,000-plus Pike Peak. Also on board: Santa, his elves and, of course, hot chocolate and cookies. Sing carols as you chug up the mountain. Another interesting winter train is on Georgetown’s Loop Railroad. Santa’s Lighted Forest Train provides a spectacular view of a holiday lights and music show.
See the World's Best Snow Carvings
Head to Breckenridge every winter to see the International Snow Sculpture Championships. The ski town transforms into an unbelievable winter wonderland, filled with 12-foot-tall blocks of snow carved into all kinds of crazy scenes and characters. This event is typically held late January. Walking through the displays can be quite magical.
Castles carved out of ice are one of the most enchanting things to witness in a cold climate. Colorado used to have a regular, seasonal ice castle in Silverthorne, but it has relocated to Dillon, near Breckenridge. These unreal ice structures are illuminated by colorful lights and spirited music. Wind through tunnels and go down slides in this Elsa-esque fairy tale.