10 Extraordinary Things to do During Winter in Colorado
By Beth Buehler
With snow starting to grace the tops of mountains that are wrapped in colorful fall finery, it’s time to start shifting thoughts to all the extraordinary winter activities in Colorado that groups can take part in. Not to bypass the stunning fall season, but many meeting and event planners are starting to move their attention to building and finalizing winter programs before the down parkas and warm gloves even come out of storage.
Colorado excels at delivering top-notch winter activities that please both people who want something more mellow all the way to major adventure seekers. Knowing attendee preferences and their appetites for adventure and cold weather can be helpful when considering the options. Or offer a menu of activities to manage preferences and break down into smaller groups.
Also, talk to local experts from destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and destination management companies (DMCs) to find out what is available to fit your group’s budget and agenda. When paying for a lift ticket at a ski resort and renting equipment, for example, you’ll want a full day on the slopes (some even offer night skiing with lights) and a break for lunch, whereas a snowshoe tour could run only a few hours in the morning or afternoon and costs less.
Let’s look at 10 extraordinary things to do during winter in Colorado to get the ideas flowing. Perhaps sit by a cozy fire and make a mug of your favorite hot beverage and get in the spirit!
Downhill Skiing & Snowboarding – In Colorado, there are 28 world-class ski resorts that go far beyond just hitting the slopes and taking some turns. From some of the nation’s largest ski areas to smaller hidden gems, there is something for everyone and often great meeting and event space as well. Check out the additional activities like adventure parks, ice-skating, snowcat tours and more.
Snowmobiling – One of the other activities offered at Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs is snowmobiling. The Adventure Tour is 2.5 hours and covers 30 miles or book a custom private tour for your group. The Vail Valley has a variety of snowmobile outfitters, including Nova Guides, which offers two-hour, half-day and full-day excursions at its Camp Hale location with lunch options available.
Cross-Country Skiing – Typically, Nordic skiing is a bit easier to learn than downhill skiing as it doesn’t involve getting on and off chairlifts and gondolas. There are Nordic centers sprinkled around the state like in Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Frisco, Keystone and Vail and properties with major cross-country skiing programs like Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa and YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch. Line up lessons for those new to the sport.
Snowshoeing – One step easier is snowshoeing. If you can walk, generally you can snowshoe, especially with poles. Groomed trails are certainly easier for novices but getting out on fresh powder is especially fun in places like Estes Park. Many Nordic centers also rent snowshoes, and some have dedicated trails, which is the case at Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa and Snow Mountain Ranch as well. A variety of outfitters offer fun outings, and naturalists from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) lead tours at Aspen Mountain, Snowmass and Ashcroft.
Tubing – Tubing is a lot like sledding but smoother and generally on a carved-out route. Plus, there is typically some way to get up the hill instead of hoofing it up. Grand County likely has the most tubing in the state with Winter Park Resort, Snow Mountain Ranch, and two tubing hills in Fraser. Summit County also has its fair share, including those at Copper Mountain and Keystone. Or head to Snowmass in the Roaring Fork Valley and Purgatory near Durango for these sort of winter activities in Colorado.
Ice-Skating – There is something magical about gliding around an ice-skating rink as snowflakes flutter down. Add that to a location at a ski area base and it’s a combination that attendees are sure to embrace, even if they choose to stay on the sidelines drinking cocoa or a hot toddy. While meeting in Beaver Creek, Keystone, Snowmass Village, Telluride, Vail and Winter Park, check out the options for ice-skating in tandem with après ski or after dinner. It’s also a nice activity for those who don’t want to ski or snowboard during the day.
Horseback Riding – While some think of horseback riding only during warm weather, it can be a fun winter activity as well. Not all horseback riding outfitters provide winter options, but I clearly remember getting out on snow-covered trails with my family at C Lazy U Ranch near Granby. It ranks as one of my all-time favorite horseback rides. Additional options in Grand County include Snow Mountain Ranch and Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa. Various ranches in Steamboat Springs also offer the opportunity to break trail through the powder.
Sleigh-Ride Dinners – Since we’re on the topic of horses, let’s move on to sleigh-ride dinners. Some are pulled by beautiful equine teams while others traverse up ski slopes courtesy of a snowcat. I’ll focus on the former, but sleigh rides pulled by snowcats also are fun under a canopy of stars. At Pine Creek Cookhouse in Ashcroft near Aspen and Snowmass Village, large Percheron draft horses pull classic wooden sleighs for the 20-minute ride to lunch or dinner. The sleighs hold 15-18 guests. Meeting in Summit County? Consider a mule-driven sleigh ride with 2 Below Zero to a cozy lantern-lit and heated tent for a three-course meal and musical entertainment. At 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott near Vail, enjoy a warm drink and a bowl of chili before wrapping up in blankets for a sleigh ride and returning for a ranch dinner, entertainment, and an outdoor campfire that is perfect for mingling and s’mores.
Dogsledding –For most, dogsledding is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While it’s difficult to make this activity work with large groups, it’s perfect for incentive trips or gatherings where attendees choose between several winter activities in Colorado. My one and only dogsledding experience happened in Crested Butte, where Cosmic Cruisers Sled Dog Tours offers short tours or longer outings that include lunch. Krabloonik Dog Sledding in Snowmass has 45- to 60-minute daytime tours and twilight rides that can be followed up with lunch or dinner at Krabloonik. Snow Mountain Ranch also offers dogsledding along with various outfitters in or near places like Breckenridge, Durango, Leadville, Steamboat Springs and Vail. Some dogsledding businesses will even teach participants how to drive the sleds.
Après Ski – Time to shift gears to an activity that is simply easygoing. Colorado ski towns and locals have perfected the art of après ski after a day outdoors or indoors. Take what could be a rather normal cocktail reception and make it truly special by gathering on sun-drenched patios with fire pits and views of the slopes. Ask the local destination marketing organization, sales team members at the host hotel, or your destination management company for ideas of where to go. Many ski area hotels will have just the right place available on-site.
There are so many extraordinary winter activities in Colorado for groups that this list could go on and include ice climbing, fat biking, skijoring, holiday activities, winter wellness treatments at spas and more. But you get the idea … while in Colorado, embrace at least a few of the winter options to give attendees a truly authentic experience.
Top Photo: Cross-country skiing bliss, courtesy of Breckenridge Tourism Office.
Colorado native Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 18 years, helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine, and was on the team that introduced Southwest Meetings + Events this summer. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.