COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Keep the sweats tucked away. Don’t get caught lounging this winter while Colorado waits. And in case you didn’t know, there’s way more than ski slopes out there.
Give the kids the gift of experiences this season while you check off these off-the-slopes must-dos for the whole family in Colorado:
1. Ice Castles
Meredith Fox takes a photo of Lennon Miano, Hannah Bea Miano, Carrie Miano and Matt Miano as they check out the Ice Castle preview at Dillon Town Park on Dec. 26, 2017 in Dillon before its officially opened later that the week. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)
The wintry attraction is returning to Summit County, and with the creators in demand by towns across North America, the magic is never guaranteed to return. So take advantage now.
While lift lines build in Breckenridge and at Interstate 70 resorts beyond, visitors of Dillon find themselves in a dream-scape. Frozen cathedrals and spires soar around them, flashing all the colors of the rainbow. Little ones will enjoy the slides and tunnels while adult couples share a romantic moment. The plan is to open by late December. Guarantee entry by buying tickets in advance at icecastles.com.
2. The California Zephyr
All aboard the Polar Express! Actually, this is the California Zephyr, but surely, like those kids on their way to see Santa, you can enjoy a cup of cocoa as the train tours a winter wonderland.
The route runs between Chicago and San Francisco, but this portion between Denver and Glenwood Springs is what makes it among the country’s more scenic Amtrak trips, best enjoyed in the glass-paneled observatory.
You’ll start at Union Station, joining the tracks beside the Colorado River that braids through canyon walls dusted with snow. Be on the lookout for bighorn sheep on the five-hour journey to Glenwood Springs.
3. Snow tubing
The Frisco Adventure Park, taking tubing reservations now (970-668-2558), is a go-to spot, with lifts taking families to the top of 1,200-foot lanes. Bring your own sled and enjoy another hill for free. We recommend going during the town’s hot cider fest, Wassail Days, Nov. 30-Dec. 9.
No reservations required at the Fraser Tubing Hill, a nostalgic, family-owned spot near Winter Park. Or how about checking out Rocky Mountain National Park in the offseason? Hidden Valley is transformed into a tubing and sledding zone.
4. Apres dinner on a mountain
For the memories, it’s OK to live like a tourist.
The mountain resorts at Aspen and Crested Butte are ready to take you and yours by snowcat to fine dining above 10,000 feet. Cozy up in a blanket, taking in the alpenglow before the stars twinkle and the cuisine is served in a rustic atmosphere. If everyone in the family is 12 or older and confident in their ski abilities at night, another unforgettable option is Copper Mountain’s moonlight buffet.
Reservations might be tricky, but it’s worth calling Tennessee Pass Cookhouse and Sleep Yurts (719-486-8114). Start at the nordic center near Leadville, strap on snowshoes or cross-country skis, and trek through the woods to dinner. With full bellies, go from that yurt to the one with your warm beds.
5. Ice Caves
Of the many spectacles available to Coloradans every winter, this is too often missed. The town of Rifle is a typical flyby between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs, but in the winter, a natural marvel here stirs the soul. Along Rifle Mountain Park’s Kopers Trail, water cascades over limestone cliffs until freezing into bluish curtains. Behind these, water has turned solid, forming slick floors, columns and icicles — fantasy caves.
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6. State Forest State Park
This is one of Colorado’s largest state parks, and it is perhaps the most stunning. It also is among the least visited. Trails are groomed for miles, perfect for cross-country skiing and taking in the grandeur of the Medicine Bow and Never Summer mountains and Nokhu Crags. Amid the rugged peaks and alpine lakes, you’ll understand why State Forest has been called “the little Rocky Mountain National Park.”
Oh, and did we mention moose? The state’s largest herd roams here, and chances of a sighting are pretty good. Stop into the Moose Visitor Center for most recent reports.
7. Ouray Ice Fest
Colorado will celebrate its ultimate ice climbing celebration Jan. 24-27. And everyone is invited, not just ice climbers.
The uninitiated could spend hours watching men and women scale the great sheets and daggers frozen in the natural gorge-turned-Ouray Ice Park. Among the clinics and demos, an area is set aside for kids to try out the sport.
And there’s plenty more fun to be had in “the Switzerland of America:” soaking at Ouray Hot Springs, free ice skating and sledding, and outfitters are lined up to show you San Juan Mountain beauty on snowmobiles.