Picture Colorado in the winter, and you probably think of pillows of powdery snow and skiing, of course. But if you live in the Centennial state or are visiting Colorado, and you don’t ski, don’t worry.
There are plenty of fun activities to try aside from skiing.
You can see Western art in an iconic Colorado hotel, enjoy high tea at another landmark hotel, visit a castle, or take a chair lift or gondola to the top of a ski area for an elegant meal or hot chocolate.
Here are ideas for things to do in Colorado if you don’t ski.
Visit the iconic Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and see Western art
The Broadmoor opened in 1918, and there are many fun facts about this majestic hotel’s history. Back in the 1960s, guests could waterski on the lake, and the resort boasted a small downhill ski area that stayed open on Cheyenne Mountain until 1991. Legendary ice skater Peggy Fleming trained at the Broadmoor Skating Club, and won the gold medal at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, Switzerland.
Today, oil, railroad and entertainment magnate, Phil Anschutz, owns the Broadmoor. He started visiting the resort at age 5 and always dreamed of buying it. If you visit the Broadmoor these days, you can see some originals and reproductions of Western art from Anschutz’ collection. The hotel features more than 300 works by artists including Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Remington, Charlie Russell and Maxfield Parrish. Anschutz once told writers at Forbes that most of the works at the Broadmoor are high-quality reproductions of originals he displays at his Denver museum. But Anschutz cheekily noted that some might be originals. “We don’t tell people which are which,” he told Forbes.
Or course, you can stay at the hotel, or you can enjoy fish and chips or a sing-along at the Golden Bee.
(Also check out Fun, free things to do in Colorado.)
Learn about a pioneering ranch woman and enjoy tea at a castle
Colorado sports several castles that are worth a visit.
At one of them — Cherokee Ranch & Castle in Sedalia near Castle Rock — you can learn about a pioneering ranch woman and enjoy tea.
Cherokee Castle combines the regal beauty of a 15th-century-style Scottish castle with vistas of rugged Colorado ranch land. Thanks to a conservation easement, both the castle and the surrounding ranch land will be protected in perpetuity.
In 1954, legendary rancher Mildred Montague Genevieve “Tweet” Kimball purchased the castle and property. She renamed the castle and ranch to honor Cherokee Indians. Kimball had the idea of raising a hardy breed of cattle that she had first seen as a teen. They are known as Santa Gertrudis, and despite plenty of skepticism from male ranchers in Colorado, Kimball was the first to breed the cattle in Colorado successfully. Tweet died in 1999 and left the castle and land to a foundation.
The castle still houses a collection of world-class art, antiques, and rare books, while the adjacent Cherokee Ranch is home to native wildlife, flora, and fauna and serves as a learning laboratory for people of all ages while preserving the heritage of the West.
Enjoy music or indulge in a fancy tea at Denver’s fancy Brown Palace Hotel
Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel and Spa is an architectural gem that opened in 1892; soon after, gold and silver brought fortune hunters to Colorado.
Henry Cordes Brown, a carpenter-turned-real-estate entrepreneur from Ohio, came to Denver in 1860 after several adventures in California, Peru, Nebraska and St. Louis, Missouri. In Denver, Brown purchased several acres of land, including a triangular plot at the corners of Broadway, Tremont Place and 17th Street, where he grazed his cow.
Brown made a name for himself by donating land for the State Capitol building and $1,000 for the founding of the city’s first library. He made a fortune selling off the rest of his land on Capitol Hill and spared no expense for his “Palace Hotel.”
The atrium lobby, which rises eight floors from the ground, is especially elegant. It’s here that you can enjoy high tea. You can also do a tour of the hotel, enjoy festive music, indulge yourself at the spa, and, of course, enjoy a luxurious stay at “the Brown.”
Want to try snowshoeing in a national park? You can participate in a ranger-led snowshoe walk at Rocky Mountain National Park.
The ranger-guided walks take place on both the East (Estes Park) and West (Grand Lake) sides of the park from January and March.
Snowshoeing is like walking on long, rounded shoes. People can get the hang of it quickly. You just need to get used to lifting the top of your snowshoe up and out of the snow before taking your next step.
Ride a free gondola to get a hot cocoa, shop, explore or have lunch
Take a free gondola ride. At many ski areas, chair lifts and gondolas aren’t free during the winter. But if you’re in beautiful southwestern Colorado, dubbed the “Switzerland of the Rockies,” you can enjoy a free gondola ride from the older town of Telluride to the newer Telluride Mountain Village. You can enjoy a hot cocoa, shop or have lunch in either location. You can even bring your dog. Ask the gondola attendants to settle you and your pooch into one of the Telluride gondola’s dog-friendly gondola cars.
Ride a snowcat or hop on a chairlift or gondola to have lunch at a mountain-top restaurant
Most ski areas in Colorado offer snowcat tours or the opportunity to take a chairlift or gondola to the top of the mountain to enjoy lunch or sometimes an elegant dinner at a restaurant on top of a ski mountain. You don’t need to be a skier to enjoy one of these adventures.
What, you might ask, is a snowcat? It’s a sturdy, enclosed vehicle that typically has big windows for better views. It looks like a tank or a big piece of construction equipment. Instead of rolling on wheels, snowcats have tracks that roll like conveyor belts. They dig into snow and ice and can go anywhere on steep slopes. While skiers relax after hours, teams of maintenance crew members use snowcats to groom slopes so the snow is smooth and soft for skiers and riders to enjoy the next day.
Go for a horse-drawn sleigh ride
Climb into a beautiful horse-drawn sleigh and get cozy under blankets, then glide outdoors in a magical winter wonderland.
Even if you don’t ski, you can enjoy a sleigh ride in many of Colorado’s ski resort towns.
To dash through the snow on a sleigh, check out these options:
- Golden Horseshoe Sleigh Rides through the trails of the White River National Forest near Breckenridge
- Two Below Zero in Frisco
- 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott
- Astraddle a Saddle in Pagosa Springs
- Pine Creek Cookhouse in Ashcroft near Aspen
- Bears Ranch in Durango
- Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash
Soak in a soothing hot spring
From aptly named Steamboat Springs, Glenwood Springs and Pagosa Springs to Ouray and Buena Vista, Colorado is home to stunning natural hot springs where you can soak, relax and recharge.
Colorado’s hot springs have enticed people since Native Americans first used these natural areas. Fed by geothermic heat generated deep underground, natural hot springs warm sections of rivers and human-made pools throughout Colorado and the West. Learn more about hot springs in Colorado.
See ice sculptures in Colorado mountain towns
Art comes in many forms, and during the winter in Colorado, it comes in the shape of snow and ice sculptures.
You can check out the stunning work of ice artists at the snow sculpture championships in Breckenridge, which brings competitors from around the world. Or you can enjoy ice art and a bonfire in Berthoud. Where to see frozen art.
Visit a museum and learn about the famous World War II “ski troops” who trained in Colorado
Have you ever heard of the 10th Mountain Division soldiers who trained in Colorado and later fought the Germans in heroic battles in northern Italy? Some of these heroes tragically perished during World War II, but those who were able to return home created the ski industry in Colorado, founded critical environmental groups and launched Colorado’s famous network of ski huts.
A new National Monument now honors these tough, remarkable soldiers. If your family is skiing in Vail or Beaver Creek, and you are enjoying the towns instead, you can check out the Colorado Snowsports Museum & Hall of Fame in Vail, which has an extensive collection of 10th Mountain Division memorabilia along with a permanent exhibit dedicated to the heroes of the 10th.
And there’s a new large exhibit that honors the ski troops at History Colorado in Denver. Visit the museum and enjoy the exhibit: Winter Warriors: the 10th Mountain Division in World War II.
Try winter tubing
Undoubtedly, you’ve tried sledding. But have you heard of winter tubing? In this sport, you climb a hill or ride a short lift, settle yourself into an inflated inner tube and enjoy a relaxing (or wild) trip down a slope. There are tubing opportunities throughout Colorado. Grand County near Winter Park has several places to try tubing from the base of the ski area to the town’s famous tubing hill to the YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby.
Go ice skating outdoors
Try skating on a lake at Keystone near the ski resort (or check out other options to ice skate outdoors in Colorado.)
Many lakes can be rough for ice skating. But managers at Keystone use a Zamboni to keep the lake smooth, so you can expect a nice, smooth surface on this 5-acre pond. Plus, you get beautiful views of the mountains and ski slopes around you, and there are plenty of restaurants encircling the lake for après-skate fare.
Keystone Lake boasts separate hockey and recreational areas, and you can even rent hockey sticks and pucks to go with your skates. For updated skating information, call 970-496-4386.
Or, head to Beaver Creek’s lovely outdoor skating venue in the middle of a European-style village. It’s especially fun to skate when big, fat snowflakes are falling all around you.