The world looks to Colorado as a quintessential winter getaway. With our stellar ski resorts and fabulous mountain scenery, it’s easy to be dazzled by the charm of snow season. And while big-time, famous-name adventures may shine brightly, you might also consider some off-beat and unexpected winter destinations and activities this time around.
Here are nine cool ideas, in Boulder and beyond, that’ll add a little frosty fun to your Colorado winter bucket list.
Glide into Cross-Country Skiing
You’ve gone downhill, you’ve tried uphill, but how about skiing cross-country? The Nordic Center at the YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby can send you swishing on your way, with 82.5 kilometers (51 miles) of forest and meadow terrain groomed for both classic and skate-skiing styles.
Private and small group lessons are available, along with gear rentals, including skis and even child carriers. Got a pooch who loves to gallop through the snow? Leashed dogs are welcome on specially designated trails. And be sure to bookmark the Snow Mountain Ranch website for special events and races. New for this year: guided ski and snowshoe tours by moonlight. ymcarockies.org/nordic-center
Explore the Tropics
Any winter blues will melt away the minute you enter the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory. Wander through a magical landscape bursting with vibrant color, including hundreds of fragrant and flowering plants from subtropical and tropical zones around the world.
There’s a rich diversity of life growing in the humid warmth of this glass-enclosed environment, from coffee plants to palms, ferns, bromeliads and beyond. The Orchid Showcase opens in January, Tropical Trails tours are available throughout the winter and Love Potions from the Vine tours focus on plants known for their aphrodisiac qualities. botanicgardens.org/york-street
Skate Like a Champion
Don’t be surprised if you glimpse an aspiring Olympic athlete swirling around the Broadmoor’s World Arena Ice Hall in Colorado Springs. The complex is a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site, boasting both Olympic- and National Hockey League-sized rinks.
But it’s not only the home of medalists—beginners are welcome here, too. The facility hosts a lively schedule of learn-to-skate classes, private lessons, public skating hours and pick-up hockey sessions, so everyone can dream of greatness. broadmoorworldarena.com/icehall
Learn to Knit
Boulder’s Lula Faye Fiber is a cozy, crafty shop just off Pearl Street that’s a friendly place for newbies and avid needleworkers alike. You can purchase supplies (including a gorgeous range of Colorado wool and hand-dyed yarns), and then sign up for a class to help you get the hang of knitting, crocheting, embroidery, weaving and more.
The shop’s hosts cultivate a community of makers with monthly Craft Lounge gatherings where you can chat while you create something warm and wooly. lulafayefiber.com
Enjoy Some Western Fun on a Guest Ranch
A little snow doesn’t stop the year-round cowboy fun at C Lazy U Ranch. Here, guests can partake in winter activities including indoor and outdoor horseback riding (a herd of 200-plus horses roam on-site), cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, tubing, sledding, trapshooting, skating or hockey on the pond and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
The ranch even collaborates with nearby ski resorts, Winter Park and Granby Ranch, to offer special downhill ski packages. clazyu.com
Read More: How to Get Fit for Ski Season
Embark on a Quest for the Ultimate Hot Cocoa
Take a slurp of the Hot Sipping Chocolate at Piece, Love & Chocolate on Boulder’s Pearl Street. It’s thick, it’s European-inspired and it just might change your life. With flavors including Maya Spice, Salted Caramel, Raspberry, Blood Orange, Honey Lavender, and Original 85% Dark, it’s truly meant for small-sip savoring.
Need options? PL&C has you covered, with variations including an intense, three-ounce Hot Chocolate Shot, espresso-blended Molten Jolt, White Chocolate Chai and a not-so-simple cup of Hot Cocoa topped by a house-made marshmallow or a dollop of vanilla bean whipped cream. pieceloveandchocolate.com
Check out Ice Climbing
Make your way to Ouray, the self-proclaimed ice climbing capital of the world, and check out the intrepid adventurers scaling the towering, frozen walls of Uncompahgre Gorge at the Ouray Ice Park. It’s exciting to watch, with over 200 different climbing routes and, since it’s a public park, entrance is free.
Want to give ice climbing a try yourself? Check the Ouray Ice Park’s website for an extensive list of rules and links to local guide services and shops that offer gear rentals and lessons. For a real treat, visit during the three-day Ouray Ice Festival, which challenges top competitors each January. ourayicepark.com
Snowshoe to Backcountry Yurt
For a tasty backcountry adventure, strap on some snowshoes (or grab a pair of cross-country skis) and hit the trail for a mile-long journey to Crested Butte Nordic’s Magic Meadows Yurt. Chef Tim Egelhoff prepares Colorado-inspired, five-course Saturday evening meals for hungry guests who trek through the snow to the welcoming warmth of the spacious yurt. Work up a thirst? The cocktail list showcases rum from local Montanya Distillers.
Dinner reservations fill up quickly, but the Yurt’s casual Sunday Backcountry Bistro brunch doesn’t require reservations, and you can pick up a breakfast burrito or a pastry and a coffee to warm a shivery day. cbnordic.org/things-to-do/magic-meadows-yurt
Try Night Skiing
Savor the sunset, and then ski down after dark at Keystone Resort. Guests can buy special tickets for night skiing and riding from the River Run base area on winter weekends and holidays, beginning at Thanksgiving and continuing through March 30.
The nighttime fun starts at 4:00 p.m., when Keystone opens lit terrain for all ability levels, from family-friendly Schoolmarm’s 3.5-mile beginner slope to the steep, black-diamond thrills of the Upper Frenchman trail. Lifts close at 7:00 p.m., so the last run of the night leads straight to dinner. keystoneresort.com