Winterfest at Chautauqua


Boulder has its own little holiday village tucked up against the Flatirons.

If you’ve never visited the Colorado Chautauqua during the holidays, this is the year to add it to your (advent) calendar. For 2019, the Chautauqua is turning itself into a magical winter wonderland, and it’s kicking off the festivities with a new weekend celebration called Winterfest.

The fun starts around 2 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 13, and runs through the weekend. The festive lights and a new ice skating rink (the only one in Boulder city limits) will remain up through the end of January.

Ice skating comes to Boulder. Photo courtesy of Glice

Friday begins with ice skating, carriage rides and scavenger hunts. Then, at 4 p.m., local family-friendly storytelling musicians Jeff and Paige feature the first of two concerts. In between the two shows will be a magical moment. (Tip: Surprise your kids and don’t tell them what’s coming.) As they perform, suddenly Chautauqua will flip on its professionally arranged holiday lights that will illuminate the entire campus.

“We have these amazing evergreens, some of the tallest in Boulder, and a lot of those will be lit for the first time ever,” says Liza Purvis, spokesperson for Chautauqua.

Chautauqua trees in winter. Courtesy photo

That’s one of many firsts at Chautauqua this season.

The Colorado Chautauqua grounds span an array of historic cottages and other community buildings. Many of the buildings, including the Dining Hall, will also be glowing for the first time.

The Chautauqua Dining Hall in winter. Courtesy photo

After the “grand lighting” of the campus, Jeff and Paige will perform another concert. (These are ticketed events with limited space.)

After the show, head to “Santa’s Cottage,” one of the historic cabins (that you can usually rent to stay in) that has been transformed into Santa’s home away from home. Visit the Big Man, explore the cottage and take photos, all for free.

Stay and play until 7 p.m. on Friday, and then come back for more fun Saturday morning, when you can add to the agenda cottage tours. Six of the historic cottages will be specially decorated and open to the public, featuring different appetizers at each location to build a “progressive dinner.” The tours are self-guided, so you can explore and eat at your own pace and learn more about Chautauqua and its lodging.

A Chautauqua cottage in winter. Courtesy photo

Other Winterfest activities include a cell phone scavenger hunt, Polaroid photos and breakfast with Santa in the Dining Hall at 9 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday. That’s the event that inspired the Winterfest, in fact. Breakfast with Santa started last year and was so popular that it led to the other ideas. As Purvis says, the event “snowballed from there.”

This year’s breakfasts are already almost sold out.

“You will really enjoy the atmosphere up there this time of year,” says Purvis. “It’s magical to see it in the snow. It kind of feels a bit like Narnia.”

Trees at Chautauqua in the winter. Courtesy photo

Chautauqua is one of the only easy-to-access, walkable places in Boulder with such large, natural trees that will be filled with holiday lights, she says.

“It creates a special environment this time of year,” she says.

The lights all over campus during WinterFest and all season long were a gift to Chautauqua and Boulder from Colorado Christmas Lights, whose mission is to “spread the light.”

If you miss breakfast, you can still eat throughout the day in the Dining Hall, or grab something different at one of the food trucks invited.

At Winterfest, you can also shop the market in the Mission House. It features a handful of different vendors, plus Winterfest merch. You can pick up unique gifts or mementos, such as mugs, teddy bears, prints, note cards, jewelry and beeswax candles.

The event features free events with add-on ticketed events, with the intention of being welcoming to all people.

Even if you miss Winterfest, the fun continues throughout December and January. Ice skating runs through Feb. 2. It’s offered in partnership with the City of Boulder.

The Flatirons by Chautauqua in the winter. Photo by Nancy Sloane

The goal of Winterfest is to engage with the community and put the Chautauqua in the forefront of their minds when they’re thinking about planning a winter staycation, finding lodging for visitors or looking for a scenic place to eat, says Purvis. You can hear live bluegrass and folk bands and speakers (from explorers to authors) all winter in the Community House; with only 120 seats, the space feels intimate.

Community House at dusk in winter. Courtesy photo

“There’s a lot going on at Chautauqua year-round, whether they stay at a cottage or have tea at the Dining Hall or come to an event at the Community House,” she says. “We have stuff going on year-round and I’m not sure the whole community knows that or visits it.”

Also, look for winter specials that may include free ice skating passes. There’s also a Winterfest discount that includes lodging and free skating passes.

“We want to let people into this secret winter wonderland world of Chautauqua,” Purvis says. “We are putting it on their agenda by trying to create something new and special for the community to kick off the holiday season.”

Chautauqua in the winter. Courtesy photo

Local Tips

  • Check Chautauqua’s website for tips on parking and info on the partnership with Lyft to get you $3 off your ride.
  • Consider buying a weekend pass for great value that includes skating and carriage rides.
  • The ideal day: Arrive Friday for the tree-lighting, have dinner in the Dining Hall, stay the night in a cottage, wake up and have breakfast with Santa, go ice skating and end the day with a carriage ride.

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