For one reason or another I haven’t skied in the last two years. Does this make me a bad Coloradoan? Probably, but sitting in traffic for 4 hours to pay over $200 for a lift ticket isn’t really my thing. There are other options, like getting a lift ticket at Powderhorn which is reasonably priced, but again, I-70 is a frequent test of one’s humanity and composure.
Over those years I’ve kept myself occupied, but for the most part I spend the winter months yearning for the warm days of summer. In an attempt to embrace the days below 60 and to stop looking forlornly at my bike unmoved in the bedroom, I’ve decided to spend more time this year trying out some alternative winter activities.
Here are some other fun ways I’ve learned to enjoy Colorado’s great outdoors in the winter, and now you can, too.
Obviously, Matt. Obviously you can hike in the winter – I get it. But that doesn’t mean I did it and I’m sure there are some of you out there who neglected it all the same. I’m rediscovering the joys of walking through nature with snow on the ground and I’d implore you to give it a try. All it took was a pair of Yak-Traks and some planning and now hiking is usually on the agenda every weekend.
If you live in Denver or the Front Range there are many options for winter hiking. Depending on the month the trails are also pretty dry so you can wear your normal hiking shoes and not have to worry about slipping and sliding.
It’s also fun to hike the same trails you frequent in the summer as a few inches of white stuff on the ground makes it feel like a whole new experience.
Here are some of Alex’s favorite winter hikes within two hours of Denver to get you started.
One might argue that snowshoeing is the same as hiking, just with some aluminum flippers, or Crescent Moon’s foam snowshoes, strapped to your feet. I would argue – not with defiance, mind you – that it is not. Snowshoeing adds a whole new element to what would be your average hike. Hiking is mostly accomplished on packed down trails in higher traffic areas.
Snowshoeing lets you venture beyond and explore areas where hikers usually turn back for fear of wet feet. When the trail you were on dead-ends into a snow-bank, put those flippers on and turn it into a multi-activity day.
It’s also a way to extend your hiking season not only in distance, but time. Early winter and late winter are prime time for hiking, but deep in the middle you’ll find yourself wondering why you couldn’t have just stopped by REI and ponied up the $18 for a pair of rental snowshoes. Important note – REI classifies snowshoes as Snow Gear and not Camping and Hiking Gear. So there, point proven.
Also, when going out on a snowshoe adventure, do you ask your companion ‘would you like to go for a hike?’ or do you inquire ‘would you like to go snowshoeing?’ I’d bet a Princess Yum-Yum it’s the latter.
Normal skis are at least a few inches wide. Cross country skis are a fraction of that. Throw in the fact that your heel is not locked in and they are the epitome of stability (not). But still damn fun.
Once you get the hang of it they’ll allow you to glide quietly through the woods or across groomed trails at nordic centers throughout Colorado. Recently I gave cross-country skiing a try at Devils Thumb Ranch and they have 120km (75 miles for you Imperial folk) of well maintained trails in their private Ranch Creek Valley location. This list of over 20 nordic centers from Colorado.com has plenty of options for other groomed routes.
If you’re looking for something a little more natural, you can head out into Rocky Mountain National Park or search out even more remote backcountry areas.
There’s a scene in the classic film Bambi where our protagonist deer tries to frolic on a frozen lake (Here’s a refresher). In his attempt, Bambi ends up slipping and sliding all over the place with the poor rabbit attempting to help him. While I didn’t have forest creatures to help me, a recent trip to Evergreen Lake for ice skating was not dissimilar from Bambi’s experience.
Inexperience aside, ice skating on a frozen lake is a fun way to spend a half an hour and can be done for not much money. For two, we spent $30 and that covered the day pass plus rentals for each of us. For more information on the current conditions and hours for skating at Evergreen Lake, keep an eye on their website where they update it daily during skating season.
Uncover Colorado has compiled a list of indoor and outdoor ice skating rinks in Colorado. Outdoor is the most fun, but if you’re itching to brush up on your ice skating skills during the summer, head indoors for some practice.
Sledding and Tubing
Go to any grocery store in any Colorado mountain town and you are bound to find tubes or sleds for sale. That’s how we recovered an afternoon in Breckenridge after deciding not to bother skiing. A tube was purchased for 20 or so dollars and lugged through the neighborhood to Carter Park. It’s a free hill and locals and visitors alike can be found uncontrollably sliding down it.
If you’re feeling rebellious and don’t want to go to a designated hill, find any ol’ spot around town. After ice skating at Evergreen Lake there’s a hill near the parking lot you can use. Or just before the entrance to Golden Gate Canyon State Park there’s a hill on the side of the road. Or, if you’re averse to driving anywhere and live in Denver you can even head to Jefferson Park where you’ll find a steeper hill relative to other parks in town.
The only things you really need in life are water, food, shelter, and MORE SPEED. To kick your winter activities up a notch take a snowmobile out for a spin and get your fix.
Recently we rented some sleds from Spirit Lake Lodge in Grand Lake, but there are many operations across the state. This activity is going to be a little more expensive than the other options, but is worth trying at least once. At Spirit Lake we paid $140 for an unguided 2-hour rental of their double passenger Ski-Doo. In Grand Lake they have snowmobile lanes on each side of the road so you can drive straight from their main street location to the trails on the snowmobile.
This last one won’t be as exciting as the others, but the long days of summer take a toll on your gear. Use the downtime during the winter to get everything tuned up and back in running order.
I like to use the time to throw my bike in the work stand and start to get rid of all the creaks and squeaks I’d been hearing. The fork needs servicing, suspension linkages lubricated, and the consumables replaced. Come spring time I’ll be ready to hit the trails without spending the first warm days of the season fixing things.
If your gear is looking a little worse for wear, do the same and take stock of what needs fixing or replacing. Go through your camping bins, stitch up your jackets, and replace those worn out hiking shoes that have no sole left on them.
Don’t Let Winter Go To Waste
Winter doesn’t have to be the time of year you wither away inside binging the latest Netflix shows or cursing at the cold outside. Use it as the perfect time to try something new and experience a side of Colorado that you haven’t seen before. Or, if you’re still not willing to go out on a winter adventure, at least get your gear in order so you don’t waste any of those precious summer days when they’re finally here.