by Kristen Lummis
If you ask most visitors to Colorado what brings them to the state in winter, the answer is pretty obvious. With good reason, they come for the skiing and snowboarding at many of North America’s most beloved ski resorts.
But if you come only for the skiing and riding, you’re missing out on a range of other winter delights.
While we don’t want to cut into your ski days, here are some ideas to tempt you to stay in the mountains a little longer, whether you’re here for a weekend, a week, or forever. No skis required!
Warm, Warm Waters
While Colorado’s mountain hot springs are popular with year-round visitors, we think they are best after a full day of skiing and riding. Whether you’re primed to relax and restore your muscles or splash with the kids, don’t miss this singular ski town experience.
Pagosa Springs is Wolf Creek Ski Area’s hometown, an historic mining community turned recreation mecca. Choose from three natural hot springs facilities, offering everything from soaking and massage to overnight accommodation.
If you’re traveling with kids, it doesn’t get much better than Old Town Hot Springs in downtown Steamboat Springs. Just minutes from the resort, soak in the pools, race down the 250-foot water slides or try climbing (and falling from) the in-pool climbing wall. It’s a perfect family après destination.
For more subdued soaking, visit naturally beautiful Strawberry Hot Springs, seven miles above Steamboat. Drive yourself (the road can be challenging) or book an excursion with Sweet Pea or Hot Springs Adventures.
Home of the “world’s largest hot springs pool,” the Colorado River springs in Glenwood have been drawing visitors for 125 years. This winter skiers and snowboarders at nearby Sunlight Mountain Resort have another warm water option, the Iron Springs complex of hot water pools and a small guest lodge.
In addition to being Ski Town USA, Steamboat Springs is cowboy country, home of sanctioned summer rodeo and cattle dog competitions. In winter, experience this heritage with a guided horseback ride through snowy aspen forests and open valleys. Tap into even more history by planning your visit during the town’s annual Winter Carnival. Held each year in early February, it’s the oldest winter festival west of the Mississippi.
Closer to Denver, take some time to explore historic Georgetown, near Loveland Ski Area. A National Historic Landmark District, Georgetown was a 19th Century silver mining boomtown. Visit the town’s numerous boutiques and cafes, or try ice fishing and ice racing on frozen Georgetown Lake.
During winter, the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway offers excursions along the Animas River, past Purgatory Ski Resort to Cascade Canyon. A five-hour round trip through the San Juan National Forest, there is time to get off the train and enjoy a fireside lunch or a walk along the snowy riverbank.
Slipping and Sliding
Tubing, sledding and ice skating are popular at many resorts including Copper Mountain, Wolf Creek, Ski Granby Ranch and Powderhorn Mountain Resort.
In addition to offering a four-lane tubing hill with banked curves, jumps and a long run-out, Copper Mountain is the home of Woodward Copper, an indoor action sports training facility offering instruction and practice space for freestyle skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding and BMX.
After Dark Delights
Dark skies and abundant stars make nighttime special in the mountains. On full moons in January, February and March, Crested Butte offers Full Moon at Ten Peaks, a self-guided skin or snowshoe tour to the Umbrella Bar at Ten Peaks. Enjoy fondue and other winter fare at this on-mountain party. Advance tickets are required.
At Snowmass, families enjoy Ullr Nights, a weekly celebration of winter and the Norse god of snow. Every Friday during peak season, take the Elk Camp Gondola to the Elk Camp Lodge for dinner, skating, tubing, a bonfire, live music and snowbiking.
Behind the Wheel
If you’re ready to up your winter driving skills, the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs offers full day classes guaranteed to make you more comfortable when driving on snow and ice. Begin in a classroom and then head out to an on-snow track west of town. Enjoy slipping, swerving, braking and turning on a controlled course, all while learning skills that will make you a better driver.
Crested Butte Mountain Resort also offers driving lessons, but on a larger scale. Sign up for the Snowcat Driving Experience and learn the basics of snowcat safety, grooming, pushing snow and driving a Prinoth 350 Snowcat on a closed mountain course. “It’s a totally different experience and a ton of fun, too,” shares Chris Corliss of Crested Butte Mountain Resort.