Just because the temps drop and the snow follows doesn’t mean it’s time to hide away and hermit. There’s tons to do in the winter in Boulder. Pull on your mittens. Here are eight ways to enjoy the perfect Boulder-style winter.
1. Go Skiing
You can go skiing close to Boulder, at the Eldora Mountain Resort. It’s just 21 miles west of Boulder, and only three miles from the Boulder County mountain town of Nederland. Eldora’s one of the few ski areas on the east side of the Continental Divide, and you don’t have to drive up congested Interstate 70 to get there.
Eldora is relaxed and a local fave. While we love all Colorado ski resorts, Eldo (as it’s called) is one of the most approachable, especially for visitors and newbies. It’s welcoming and unpretentious, generally with smaller crowds, less traffic, and cheaper lift tickets. Check the website (www.eldora.com) for different rates and deals.
Don’t get too excited though; these slopes still fill up even on weekdays because it’s so easy for locals to hop up there on a day off.
Eldo is family-friendly, with a great kids’ ski program.
Ski Eldora: The Stats
- Open: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. November-April
- 11 lifts
- 68 acres
- 300 inches average snowfall
- 9,200 feet base elevation
- 10,800 feet summit elevation
- 3 miles longest run
Local tip: You can save time and money by renting your gear at an outfitters shop in Boulder and then bringing it with you to Eldora.
Tips for newbies: Eldora’s snow is great for beginners. The bunny slope has wide spaces and a gentle tow-rope for learning. Eldora also offers beginner lessons (check out the Discover Group Lessons). If you’ve never skied before, we recommend at least two group lessons and a private before going at it alone.
For kids: Eldora’s youth skiing, snowboarding and cross-country programs are awesome and cover all levels of ability. Enroll your kids in a full day lesson, rather than a half day, to make better progress. As much as you want to watch your kids learn, ski experts agree they’ll do better without you watching and meddling. Pop by mid-day to check on their progress, but leave the teaching to the pros.
Where to eat: Head to The Lookout on top of the Corona lift for snacks, chili, soup and sandwiches. Unwind with a beer (but don’t drink too much and ski). The views here are jaw-dropping and stretch far across the Front Range.
Or refuel at Timbers Lodge in the base area. This casual restaurant is a breakfast hotspot, with yummy breakfast burritos, an espresso bar, and locally roasted coffee. If you’re lucky (weather permitting), you may find BBQ grills cooking up elk sausages outside of Timbers Lodge.
Upstairs in the lodge is Timbers Tap Room and Coffee House, a hoppin’ place for Bloody Marys, microbrews, and bar fare.
Another casual dining option includes Indian Peaks Lodge, for soup, sandwiches and a cup of comforting hot chocolate, mmm.
Other inside tips:
- Beware of ice on top of the mountain, as there is little protection and storms pound the mountains with heavy winds, freezing much of the top snow. Just get through this and you’ll drop into the trees where the nice snow is at.
- On especially windy days, Eldora may close some lifts. In that case, get a Nordic pass and go cross-country skiing into the trees and out of the weather. Still, be careful exploring areas outside of the ski boundary, as they’re not patrolled or maintained. Backcountry skiing can be dangerous. Before venturing out, check avalanche conditions.
- Keep your eyes open for slow zones and family ski areas and respect them. If you zoom through a slow zone, you can lose your pass.
2. Go Hiking
Many of Boulder’s 151 miles of trails stay open year-round.
Our favorite winter hikes are all easily accessible in winter and typically stay open during all kinds of weather. That means they get plenty of sunshine to help melt the snow and dry out the mud and they don’t tend to be too icy, windy or too steep to enjoy, even during a cold spell. They all boast fantastic views for travelers and should be appropriate for hikers of all levels.
A few trails to consider:
- Boy Scout Trail/Mays Point: This short, family-friendly loop circles Flagstaff Mountain.
- Mesa Trail/Woods Quarry: Start at the Chautauqua Ranger Cottage and head up Bluebell Road (about three-tenths of a mile), the most direct route to the Mesa Trail. Bluebell itself isn’t as exciting as a backcountry trail, but it tends to have less ice than windier trails and will get you up the mountain quickly.
- NCAR Nature Trail/Connector Trail: The National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, is more than a science research facility. It’s also the trailhead for one of the city’s best, lesser-known winter hikes.
- Lions Lair: Because Lions Lair doesn’t allow bikes or dogs, it’s significantly less crowded than the Sanitas trail, and because it’s newer and designed to weather floods and erosion, the trails are in much better shape.
Winter Hiking Tips in Boulder
As the saying goes, there is no bad weather. Only bad equipment.
You can (and should) hike in Boulder year-round. But when the temps drop and the snow falls, you will need to take a few extra precautions to make sure you remain safe and enjoy yourself.
Stop by the Chautauqua Ranger Cottage to grab a free trail map and talk to rangers. Ask them for trail recommendations, based on your abilities and goals, as well as the weather and trail conditions. For example, some trails may be closed due to snow, ice, mud or general repair.
Check the Web
Visit the Open Space and Mountain Parks online map of trails to check for alerts and trail closures. Trails that are red are closed. Red and white dotted lines are temporarily closed for construction.
Wear hiking boots or shoes (waterproof, if possible). Don’t hike in your flip-flops, Birks or Keds. Dress in layers, with a wicking layer closest to your skin to absorb sweat. Even if it’s cold out, you are likely to sweat while hiking. Cotton and denim are awful in snow and sweat. Toss a fleece jacket or vest on top for extra warmth. Wicking socks layered with wool socks are effective at battling cold toes, a common problem with snowy activities. A hat, gloves and scarf are all small to pack but can make a big difference if a gust of chilly wind hits. Bring a day pack to hold extra water, snacks and clothing layers. Bring some hand and foot warmers, just in case.
Pick up a pair of Yaktrax or MicroSpikes, little spikes you can attach to your shoes to provide extra traction and grip during inclement conditions. Also consider renting or buying a pair of hiking poles to help you make it through icy patches. You can find outdoor gear at many shops in Boulder, such as REI, Christy Sports and Neptune Mountaineering. Twenty bucks for extra traction is much cheaper than a broken hip from a fall.
If you set out on a muddy trail, commit to it or turn around. Don’t veer off the trail to skirt the mud or snow. This widens the trails and doesn’t make Mother Earth happy. Be prepared if you want to take on the messy trails.
Even in the wintertime, you can get dehydrated. Proper hydration can also help combat altitude sickness.
Check Out a Group
There are many hiking groups in Boulder. Even if you don’t want to join one, it’s worth it to check a few out online and see what other hikers are talking about, recommending and avoiding. This is an easy way to get inside info from locals on winter hiking. The Boulder Hiker Chicks Facebook group is a great place to start.
3. Drink Beer
“Disrupt, drink and discover” is the mission behind the annual Winter Craft Beer Festival, which takes over the underground parking garage at the Twenty Ninth Street Mall every February or March. The celebration draws about 2,000 people and features about 52 breweries.
But unlike many Colorado beer fests, this one doesn’t just feature local brewers. It mixes out-of-state brands with local ones, big names with small hidden gems. The variety makes it unique. So does the time of year.
In addition, Boulder County has some of the world’s top breweries, and they’re always coming up with new ways to enjoy beer. Look forward to the temporary seasonal beers, designed to complement the temperature, mood and pace of the different times of year in Colorado.
4. Go on a Staycation
When you think of a winter getaway in Colorado, the most obvious idea is a ski-cation. After all, Colorado has been named the No. 1 skiing destination in North America and boasts 27 different ski resorts.
But snow also means ice skating, snowshoeing, cold-weather camping and sled dogs. In the winter, Colorado has cannabis-inspired spa treatments, luxurious lodging, decadent brunches to warm your bellies and enticing art exhibitions.
Here are a few staycation ideas:
- A special spa day: Head to the Hilton Denver Inverness for a cannabis-inspired massage or mani-pedi. The Ritz-Carlton, Denver offers a CBD oil add-on, too. Here, you can actually rent out the entire spa for the ultimate romantic date. The Couples Spa Escape includes a 50-minute, side-by-side massage, followed by decadent cake and champagne that you can take to the private hot tub, filled with rose petals.
- Warm up in the hot springs: Warm (to very hot) thermal waters naturally flow throughout western Colorado and bubble up, forming hot springs. Our favorite healthy Colorado road trip, especially in winter, is along the Historic Hot Springs Loop. This drive brings you to five different locations in the Colorado mountains: Chaffee County, Ouray County, Pagosa Springs, Glenwood Springs and Steamboat Springs. Each stop has multiple hot springs, as well as other attractions, so you can make your trip as long or as short as you’d like.
- Do Steamboat VIP style: Spend some time in Steamboat, even if you don’t ski. In town, Yampa Street was recently revamped, and the power lines were replaced with white party lights. It’s setting the mood for more, new restaurants to pop up on the river. A company called Moving Mountains is our favorite source for a Steamboat vacation. This family-run company rents out luxurious, independent properties (like a penthouse directly on the Yampa River and one block from downtown) that you could never otherwise get access to.
Skip the hotel experience, and upgrade from the VRBO concept; Moving Mountains also offers a concierge service to help you plan your trip. Don’t feel like cooking? It will hire a private chef to make all your meals. Don’t know where to find the best coffee, sushi or hiking trails? This locally based company has firsthand experience living in Steamboat for decades and knows the ins and outs. The model is based off the popular “catered ski chalet” concept in Europe.
- Relax in Vail: Get a spa treatment at the Sonnenalp spa in Vail, a German-inspired space with a yoga studio, oxygen bar (to help counteract the high altitude, as well as reduce stress and increase energy), an indoor-outdoor pool, steam room, sauna, whirlpools, solarium and even a fireplace with couches for relaxation. The next morning, walk across the street to the Sebastian, which offers an amazing Sunday Funday Brunch.
- Fill up in Denver: Plan a quick foodie getaway in Denver. Visit Steuben’s, a modern spin on the classic diner. Try the Rachel sandwich (like a Reuben but lighter) with chicken fried pickles. For a fun, Mexican spin on brunch, try the new weekend brunch at La Sandia Cantina. We’re talking churro waffles with cajeta, vanilla ice cream and bacon crumbles and steak con huevos with morita salsa and charro bacon beans. This is a family-friendly brunch joint, too.
5. Go Ice Skating
While you can no longer go ice skating in downtown Boulder, head to nearby Louisville for Winterskate, an old-fashioned ice–skating rink. Go skating at the rink in the Steinbaugh Pavilion, 824 Front St., through February.
6. Go Sledding
It’s not winter in Colorado without hopping on a sled and flying down The Hill. Several of Boulder’s public parks also have great sledding hills when they’re covered in snow. Tantra Park and Scott Carpenter Park are among the most exciting.
7. Celebrate a Frozen Dead Guy
Frozen Dead Guy Days, March 8-10, is one of the most anticipated events in Nederland, in southwest Boulder County, each year. The festival is as unique as its name. If you’re into the macabre, particularly with a joyful twist, this event is for you.
But it’s not just about death and decay. It’s about frozen fun, merriment and a celebration of both those who came before us and the promise of new life after the thaw. Look forward to this quirky festival every March.
- A costumed Polar Plunge.
- Ice Carving Competition, after which you can vote on your favorite, but be quick. These sculptures won’t last long.
- Ice Turkey Bowling, which is exactly as bizarre as it sounds. Use a frozen turkey to test your bowling skills. Bring your own turkey if you have a secret to frozen bird bowling.
- See fix-a-frozen-flat, where you can compete to see who can change a flat tire after submerging their hand in a bucket of ice water; frozen T-shirt contests; and the “Newly Dead Game” to test how well you really know your partner.
Frozen Dead Guy Who?
So where did such an unusual festival get its start? It all began with Grandpa Bredo, the heart and soul of Frozen Dead Guy Days. He died in Norway in 1989 and was promptly packed in dry ice and shipped to California. He and his family strongly support cryonics, which is the practice of deep-freezing people who have just died, under the belief that in the future, science and technology will advance enough that they can be thawed and revived.
After an almost-four-year stint in California, Grandpa Bredo was moved to Colorado in 1993 to stay with his daughter, Aud, and grandson, Trygve, who were both strong proponents of cryonics.
Grandpa Bredo was stored in a shed near his daughter and grandson’s home. When Aud was evicted, she was afraid he was going to thaw. But Aud spoke with Nederland’s city council, and they decided he could stay.
And thus, the “Frozen Dead Guy” became a sensation. He has a dedicated “Ice Man” who keeps him at a steady -60-degree temperature and manages all tours, filmings and other visitors to Grandpa Bredo’s shed.
He has been frozen for more than 20 years, and 2019 marks the 18th year that Frozen Dead Guy Days has been honoring him.
8. Do “Snowga”
Boulder is multi-talented. But a couple things the city is really good at? Orchestrating epic snowstorms and striking yoga poses. Combine the two and you’ve got “snowga”— which is a trend that’s taking social media by (snow)storm.
Boulder gets nearly 90 inches of snow each year, with the most powder coming down in February and March, according to the National Climatic Data Center. And, when it comes to yoga, there are a number of studios throughout the city.
Defined, “snowga” is simply doing yoga in the snow. Do a #snowga search on Instagram, and you’ll find hundreds of frosty downward dog photos and some snow-kissed warrior poses. The trend seems like a natural progression, especially in Boulder. After all, Boulderites do yoga on paddleboards in the summer out at the Boulder Reservoir. And, there are yoga classes that take place in the city’s breweries, like a weeknight one at Sanitas Brewing Co., that combine the practice with craft beer.
The idea is you can do yoga anywhere and, if you’d like, turn it into a hybrid activity. Practicing yoga on snowshoes? Sure! Doing yoga stretches after gliding across the snow on cross-country skis? Why not?