9 Wild Ways to Love Winter in Colorado

The weather gods have blessed Colorado with enough fluffy snow and ice to make Queen Elsa swoon — and we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s easy to love the coldest season of the year when there are so many classic things to do, but there are also many alternative approaches to making the most of our frosty wonderland. 

By: Colorado.com Staff Writer
Updated: February 16, 2024

1. Heli-Skiing

Opt for a heli-skiing adventure and fly beyond old-school lift-accessed terrain for the outing of a lifetime. Encounter the purest untracked powder on the high-alpine basins, cirques and summits of southwest Colorado with the state’s two heli-skiing providers: Telluride Helitrax and Silverton Heliskiing.  

Tucked in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, Telluride Helitrax has access to more than 200 square miles of territory and hundreds of landing-zone options. Each day of your trip includes six runs totaling about 10,000 to 14,000 magnificent vertical feet. Silverton Heliskiing (at Silverton Mountain) is the only outfitter in the U.S. to offer both single drops (perfect for bucket-list devotees) and all-day tours. Adored by snowy daredevils for Colorado’s steepest heli-skiing, the ski area truly lives up to its “all-thrills, no-frills” reputation. The season typically runs December through March or April, depending on conditions.

2. Ski-Mountaineering School

Ski mountaineering combines uphill and downhill skiing with mountaineering and orienteering — sports that require navigational skills (not your map app, the old-fashioned paper-map-and-compass kind). Think you have what it takes? Sign up for a class, like Colorado Mountain School's Intro to Ski & Splitboard Mountaineering. You just might find yourself a hopeful for the life-list-worthy Grand Traverse in March, a 40-mile skimo race from Crested Butte to Aspen that starts at midnight, but beginners are also welcome. Learn about uphill skiing in Colorado

3. Snowcat Skiing

Cat skiing, which involves riding in a heated snowcat to unspoiled natural terrain, is one of the best ways for skiers and boarders to seize the finest freshies. A luxury snowcat will lead you to untracked glades, runs and open bowls on excursions with Aspen Mountain Powder Tours, and Eleven Experience near Crested Butte gives diehard downhillers the chance to sink their skis into the area’s lauded dry powder and feast on a smorgasbord of open alpine bowls, steep narrow chutes and tight tree skiing. 

Just a few of the many other companies that host cat-skiing trips include: Jones Pass Guides in Winter Park, Vail Powder Guides and Steamboat Powdercats.

4. Colorado Hut Trips

Hut trips exemplify the true essence of Colorado high-country winter, and more than 160 huts and yurts (permanent circular tents) are available throughout the state for multi-day cross-country skiing or snowshoeing adventures. The structures are typically equipped with multiple beds and many essentials, including wood stoves, firewood, kitchenware and, most importantly, outhouses or bathrooms. 

The Grand Huts Association plans to establish a hut system in Grand County, and opened its Broome Hut, offering incredible snowy panoramas from the summit of 11,350-foot Berthoud Pass. Situated along the Continental Divide near Lake City at over 12,000 feet, the Hinsdale Haute Route is the highest hut system in Colorado. The route’s Wilson Yurt is near a trailhead and a groomed multi-use trail off Hwy. 149 — making it ideal for beginner hut hoppers. 

Located between Aspen, Leadville and Vail, the popular 10th Mountain Division Hut System, named for the U.S. Army division of men who trained for combat in the area during WWII, includes nearly 40 huts linked by more than 350 miles of trails. Tip: Book early; huts are incredibly popular and space fills up fast.

5. Winter Races

Gritty Coloradans won't stop running — even for snow. And runners come from all over to participate in the state's winter races, spanning 5Ks to marathons and even cross-country skiing. Head to Alamosa for the Rio Frio 5K on Ice that'll take you along the frozen Rio Grande River. Salida's Run Through Time Trail Marathon showcases high-elevation paths boasting Arkansas Valley panoramas. Find more Colorado events

6. Ice Fishing

Today’s ice-fishing trips are a far cry from the excursions of yesteryear — you can banish the thought of shivering in a plastic chair in front of a hole on a desolate pond. Many companies host adventures that provide you with all the essentials for unforgettable winter angling — huts, heaters, kneepads, snowmobiles, rods and reels, drills and more.

Try your luck at catching yellow perch, kokanee salmon and lake trout on Blue Mesa Reservoir near Montrose and Gunnison with Ice Fish Colorado, which also takes fishers to lakes near Denver and Colorado Springs. Or hook up a local bait shop and head to one of the many other standout ice-fishing destinations, from Twin Lakes Reservoir near Leadville and Chambers Lake near Fort Collins to Trinidad Lake State Park in southeast Colorado. 

7. Ice Climbing

Ice climbers also thrive in our deep freeze. Every year, more than 10,000 climbers flock to Ouray Ice Park in the high-altitude town of Ouray, the state’s cold-climbing capital, to ascend the more than 200 routes. With 75 routes, Lake City Ice Park is another place to scale frozen blue tendrils. And near Golden, you can hook up with Front Range Climbing Company to send the wintry walls of Clear Creek Canyon. 

Want to learn the ropes? Apex Mountain School offers ice-climbing courses in Vail, Leadville and Lake City that will have you boldly scaling the stuck-on-pause waterfall of your dreams in no time. Learn more about ice climbing

8. Winter Horseback Riding

Colorado’s pimped-out winter backdrops are even more impressive from the back of a friendly steed. Get in touch with your inner cowgirl or cowboy (we know he or she is in there) at a variety of ranches throughout the state. Saddleback Ranch in Steamboat Springs offers trail rides through snow-dusted forests and over peaceful hills to lovely views of lumpy-topped Sleeping Giant and 10,570-foot Mount Werner. 

Sombrero Stables’ horseback rides near Estes Park lead to sights of the Rocky Mountains heightened by swirling snowflakes. We also love 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott (about 20 miles from Vail), where horseback treks include a trot through snow-packed hay and alfalfa fields, along Muddy Creek and up to a scenic mesa’s summit to see the Sawatch Range dressed in white. Get more info about horseback riding

9. Giant Snowmobile Tours

Embark on a tour of the Durango area’s prettiest cold-weather scenes and sip a steamy cup of cocoa with your posse in hut at 12,000 feet. Purgatory Resort’s Snowmobile Adventures. hosts snowmobile tours all winter long; drivers must be at least 16 years old.

The outfitter also boasts two- to four-hour guided forays in the San Juan Mountains with more than 75 miles of trails and 35,000 acres of terrain to choose from, including open meadows, old mine sites, stagecoach trails and high mountain passes. Helmets are provided, but you’ll have to bring your own courage. Explore more snowmobiling ideas

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