When flakes frost the Front Range, the fun doesn’t stop in Colorado. Winter in what’s been dubbed “Snow’s Perfect State” offers delights that don’t require lift tickets or ski boots. You can celebrate the season with all sorts of adventures, including visits to ice castles, rides on roller coasters and eating an entire pot of molten cheese. Here are ten of our favorite cold-weather pastimes to get you started:
The 34 10th Mountain Division huts, a reminder of Colorado’s role in World War II, are a treasure in any season, but a blanket of snow brings out the best of these rustic retreats. Creature comforts vary, from huts equipped with electricity and wood-fired saunas to those that require that you bring your own water purifier and bundle up before hitting the outhouse. GrubHub will not deliver, so pack in tasty fare and more whiskey and wine than you think you’ll need. For first-timers and families, the three cabins that make up Shrine Mountain Inn are the easiest to access. Located 2.7 miles from the Vail Pass Trailhead on I-70, they can be reached by snowshoe or ski. For more information, call 970-925-5775 or go to huts.org.
Just a half-hour from downtown, Evergreen Lake boasts the largest Zamboni-groomed outdoor rink anywhere. Spread over 8.5 pine-fringed acres, the lake has been lauded by CNN and Sunset magazine as among the world’s best for skating. Kids can enjoy a brisk game of broomball, and hockey is also on tap. Beer isn’t, though; the lake is a public park, and no alcohol is allowed. So when you’ve had more than your share of triple axels (or just turns around the rink), take a short walk to Willow Creek Restaurant, which has a nice selection of craft cocktails and brews. For more on the rink, call 720-880-1391 or go to evergreenrecreation.com/224/ice-skating-and-hockey.
Actually, keep them down: There are rules against that on this coaster. If Elitch Gardens opened for snow, it would be...nothing like the Breathtaker located mid-mountain at Snowmass. This alpine coaster winds more than a mile through pretty, wooded terrain and reaches speeds of up to 28 mph. Hairpin turns and a few steep drops provide plenty of opportunity for squeals during the ride, which lasts about eight minutes. For more information, call 1-800-525-6200 or go to aspensnowmass.com/plan-your-stay/lost-forest/breathtaker-alpine-coaster/winter.
Sleigh the Season
Fans of Christmas movies, Currier & Ives, horses or just cuddling under blankets, rejoice: Horse-drawn sleighs are winter’s most romantic form of transportation. Be ferried in crisp air through postcard-perfect scenery while anticipating something tasty when your steeds’ bells stop jingling. The poshest ride is at Pine Creek Cookhouse in Aspen (no surprise there). After a twenty-minute trip, you’ll feast on forest-to-table cuisine featuring local game and stream-fresh fish, accented with one of the wine cellar’s exceptional offerings. For details, call 970-925-1044 or go to pinecreekcookhouse.com.
Stick a Fork in It
Say cheese at Der Fondue Chessel, an enormous, Bavarian-inspired hall at Outpost Lodge on North Peak in Keystone that you access via two gondola rides. Is it four courses of cheese, glorious cheese? Not quite. First comes a kale salad — something needs to be healthy — followed by the table’s choice of seven cheesy fondues accompanied by assorted dippers. Then you get to cook your protein selection in a variety of broths, finishing up the meal with sweet, sweet chocolate fondue. Vegan and celiac options are available. Whet your appetite by calling 970-496-3149 or go to keystoneresort.com/explore-the-resort/during-your-stay/dining/der-fondue-chessel.aspx.
No Train, No Gain
Anyone whose snow bro has made them leave Denver at O’Dark Thirty in hopes of “skipping traffic on 70,” take note: Once it starts running for its third season, the Winter Park Express will depart Union Station on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at an extremely civilized 7 a.m. and deposit you at the base of the resort a relaxing two hours later. The train is scenic, stress-free and BYOB-friendly...if not exactly cheap. The return train leaves Winter Park at 4:30 p.m., and you can split the difference on your round trip if you want to make a weekend of it. Runs start on January 4; for tickets, call 1-888-923-7275 or go to amtrak.com/winter-park-express.
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Flirt With a Yurt
Are your friends and family members skittish about even car camping? Let a yurt be their introduction to the great, chilly outdoors. The six yurts at Tennessee Pass are all heated by wood stoves and have beds with down comforters, as well as solar lighting, kitchenettes with potable water and glorious views. Cross-country ski or snowshoe one mile from the Nordic Center near Leadville with your bags, or have them delivered by snowmobile; before you settle under that comforter, enjoy a feast of lamb, pheasant, elk and more from the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse. For details, call 719-486-8114 or go to tennesseepass.com.
In Hot Water
Soaking in steamy waters that evaporate fat snowflakes before they hit your tongue is quintessential Colorado. Historic Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, at 415 East 6th Street in Glenwood Springs, has classic rooms, the world’s largest hot springs pool and a sparkling new, kid-friendly splash zone. After your soak, great restaurants like the Pullman, Juicy Lucy’s and the Colorado Ranch House await. For reservations, call 1-800-537-7946 or go to hotspringspool.com.
Ice, Ice, Baby
If the Abominable Snowman were an architect, he might have designed the frozen fantasy fortress set for its third season at 120 Buffalo Street in Dillon’s Town Park. The Ice Castle will be hand-constructed from hundreds of thousands of icicles, so opening date is weather-dependent. Pray for cold and purchase your tickets as quickly as you can; popular times sell out quickly. Kids of all ages will enjoy wandering through the castle’s collection of caves and zooming down the smooth-as-glass ice slide. Dress warmly, and snow boots are a must. If you’re bringing small Frozen fans, let it (the stroller) go and opt for a sled or saucer instead. Find out more (including the date when the attraction will open, now pegged at late December) at icecastles.com/colorado.
Take Time to Tube
While you can jump on an inner tube and plummet down almost any slippery incline, it’s more fun — and undeniably safer — to do it at the Historic Fraser Tubing Hill. (For one thing, a lift line will tow you back to the top.) Family-owned since 1971, the tubing hill caters to kids of all ages, as long as that age is above two. A small selection of snacks and beverages is available, and while alcohol is technically not permitted, picnics are…so stock your Subaru appropriately. The hill is located at 55 County Road 72 in Fraser; call 1-970-726-5954 or go to frasertubinghill.com.
This piece originally appeared in our Winter Guide, which was inserted in the November 14 issue of Westword. You can still pick up copies at the office.