Holidays on the Slopes
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‘Tis the season for Colorado’s ski towns to turn into snow globes filled with flurries of festivities. Here’s how to spend the holidays on the slopes in five mountain towns overflowing with merriment. Discover things to do, places to stay, unique experiences, off-slope fun, the best hot chocolate, and après ski activities.
There’s plenty of entertainment during the town’s annual 12 Days of Aspen celebration (Dec. 20-31). You can catch Santa riding around town on a horse-drawn red wagon Christmas Eve afternoon, or ring in the new year at the annual New Year’s Eve Torchlight Parade and Fireworks in Snowmass.
Completed in 1889, the AAA Four Diamond-designated Hotel Jerome is Aspen’s original luxury hotel. For an ultra-high-end stay, The Little Nell, is one of only four AAA Five Diamond-designated hotels in Colorado. Celebrities and A-listers are frequently seen at both properties. If you want a secluded sanctuary that won’t break the bank, Aspen Meadows Resort sits on 40 acres near town, and Aspen Mountain Lodge is a steal of a deal.
Bundle up and stargaze on a sleigh ride to dinner at Pine Creek Cookhouse in the picturesque Castle Creek Valley (lunch rides are also available). Or perhaps you’d rather work up your appetite, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing on Nordic trails from Ashcroft Ghost Town. Pine Creek’s smoked trout dip is a must!
Fashionistas will love perusing Aspen’s high-end shops. I recommend popping into Little Bird, a consignment shop with second-hand luxe brands at sweet prices. For outdoor gear, head to Ute Mountaineer. If you want to spend more time outdoors, go on a snowmobile tour from T-Lazy-7 Ranch to marvel at the Maroon Bells or take a two-hour guided tour with a naturalist from ACES (Aspen Center for Environmental Studies) on the top of Aspen Mountain.
Best Hot Chocolate
The Little Nell’s hot chocolate is the ultimate cocoa indulgence. Courtesy of the Aspen Chamber/C2 Photography
With more than 150 orders a day, The Little Nell’s hot chocolate made with Valrhona’s dark chocolate and cocoa powder wins in Aspen. Make it extra decadent adding your favorite coffee liqueur.
Aspen’s après scene is legendary, especially on the patio at the AAA Three Diamond-desingated Ajax Tavern, but you can also dine on fondue at Cloud Nine while enjoying a stunning view of the Bells from Aspen Highlands. Lynn Britt Cabin on Snowmass has special après events scheduled. In town, retreat to Hotel Jerome’s Living Room for a quieter après. At J-Bar, try an Aspen Crud—a legendary cocktail that dates back to Prohibition. For a family-friendly happy hour option, the newly renovated Limelight Lounge offers gourmet pizza and live music.
Have some après Ski fun at the Gold Pan Saloon, a local watering hole since 1879. Courtesy of GoBreck.com
This town really shines during the holidays. During the Lighting of Breckenridge weekend (Dec. 4) more than 250,000 LED holidays lights strung throughout town. Have a jolly good time at the Bernese Mountain Dog Holiday Parade, Race of the Santas, and pay homage to a Norwegian snow god during Ullr Fest—a 10-day festival (Dec. 8-17) celebrating all things winter and snow.
Beaver Run Resort is great for families and is budget friendly. In a wonderful location, Breckenridge Residence Inn is perfect for a mid-range price point. For high-end, stay at Grand Colorado on Peak 8, where you can retreat to their spa after a day on the slopes.
Dogsledding in Breckenridge with Good Times Adventures © Jennifer Broome
Mush a team of dogs on a scenic 6-mile tour through Swan River Valley dog sledding with Good Times Adventures. If you want to go faster, their “Ride the Divide” snowmobile tour goes up to 11,585 feet along the Continental Divide.
Zoom through the forest on the elevated Gold Runner Coaster as the base of Peak 8. Go 1,000 feet into a real gold mine at Country Boy Mine, where you can also do some extreme sledding or go on a monster truck sleigh ride.
Best Hot Chocolate
La Francaise French Bakery serves your hot cocoa with a French twist. Choose between regular, royal, mint, or raspberry.
Gold Pan Saloon, a watering hole since 1879, has the longest continuous liquor license west of the Mississippi. Imbibe with award-winning spirits at Breckenridge Distillery, which has great eats, too. With its American pub grub, Boot Saloon in Grand Timber Lodge has no ruckus crowds, it’s roomy, and offers affordable prices, making it a hidden gem for families. The laid-back vibe is reminiscent of Colorado ski lodges in the 1970s, and there’s mountain-themed memorabilia from ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s hanging on the walls. Try two new places in town savoring Spanish delicacies at Mimo Fancy Tapas or diving into an elevated gourmet pizza at Tin Plate.
Elfing around at Purgatory Ski Resort. Courtesy of Purgatory Ski Resort/Ryan Nott
In the era of classic Westerns, Durango was nicknamed the “Hollywood of the Rockies.” During the holidays it feels like you’ve walked onto a set in a Hallmark Channel holiday movie. This storybook holiday town is just 30 minutes from Purgatory Resort, one of Colorado’s most affordable ski resorts, and home to the state’s largest snowcat skiing and snowboarding operation.
Stay in a historic boutique hotel in downtown Durango. The AAA Three Diamond-designated Rochester Hotel has been open since 1892. You’ll likely learn some movie trivia during your stay since each of the rooms is themed in Western and Old Hollywood motif. If you want to be close to the slopes, Purgatory Village has condo and townhome options. The Hampton Inn Durango, another AAA Three Diamond-designated lodging, is a great deal with easy access to historic downtown and the slopes.
Journey to the North Pole on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad’s The Polar Express train ride. Courtesy of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
On the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, it’s all aboard a vintage steam train for a ride to the North Pole. Ride the rails in a magical re-creation of the classic holiday story The Polar Express, where you’ll witness a light show at the North Pole. Be on the lookout for Santa, elves, and a few other characters on the train as the award-winning book comes to life.
Zip through twists, turns, and quick descents on Purgatory’s Inferno Mountain Coaster, or go on a guided snowshoeing or backcountry snowmobiling adventure at the resort, or take in panoramic views of the San Juans on a private snowcat scenic tour. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the picturesque snow-covered forest on a sleigh ride at Buck’s Livery. Soak your weary muscles in the thermal waters at Durango Hot Springs, the only natural hot springs in the world infused with tiny oxygen bubbles. Just 35 miles west of Durango, explore Mesa Verde National Park, which is less crowded in the winter, and snow on the Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, is magical.
Best Hot Chocolate
Let the artisan chocolatiers at Animas Chocolate and Coffee Company fix you a Smelter Hot Chocolate made with a random blend of milk and white chocolate. It’s so good, you’ll want to buy a bag of their mix to take home.
For deck lounging with mountain views, ski over to Dante’s to sip local craft beers. Just a half mile south of Purgatory, the historic Nugget Mountain Bar, aka The Nug, is a classic après hangout for beer and sliders. For pizza worth the wait and rowdy fun, head to Olde Schoolhouse Café and Saloon, but I don’t recommend bringing the kids to this one. Kick back in a tricked-out shipping container with alpenglow views at Ska Brewing’s World Headquarters. Downtown, 11th Street Station is an eclectic depot of food trucks with a full bar for craft cocktails, old gas station paraphernalia, a wall of hubcaps, and expansive outdoor seating with fire pits.
Downtown Telluride is decked out for the holidays. Courtesy of Visit Telluride
Nestled in a box canyon, Telluride is surrounded by the jagged peaks of the San Juan Mountains. This historic mountain town sparkles with holiday spirit with its annual tree lighting and Ullr’s Ceremonial Ski Burn, Holiday Prelude weekend, and especially during the Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade.
For luxury without the astronomical price, stay at the AAA Three Diamond-designated Hotel Telluride. This boutique chalet in historic downtown has oversized rooms, is uber pet friendly, and has a spa. For chic luxury in Mountain Village, stay at the AAA Four Diamond-designated Madeline Hotel and Residences. Their heated pool is a perfect place to watch a sunset. And for an economical option, the Telluride Mountainside Inn is walkable to downtown.
For backcountry snowmobile bliss, go on a family-friendly half-day snowmobiling tour with Telluride Outside to see a historic mining district covered in snow, including Alta Ghost Town sitting at 11,800 feet, and stunning views of the Wilson Range.
Roasting s’mores after a horse-drawn sleigh ride to Aldasoro Ranch. Courtesy of Visit Telluride/Tony Demin
Jingle all the way with Telluride Sleighs and Wagons on a horse-drawn sleigh ride to dinner at the historic Aldasoro Ranch. Rent a fat bike and cruise across the picturesque valley floor, or strap on skinny skis and glide on freshly groomed tracks at Telluride’s six Nordic skiing areas.
Best Hot Chocolate
The hand-crafted hot chocolates at Bon Vivant on-mountain are très bien. Add peppermint schnapps for extra ooh-la-la. In town, sip a Snuggler made with award-winning Chairlift Warmer Peppermint Schnapps at Telluride Distilling Company.
Sip a glass of wine at Alpino Vino. At 11,966 feet, it’s the highest-elevation fine-dining restaurant in North America. In the Mountain Village base area, the AAA-approved Tomboy Tavern always has a lively crowd. For tasty tacos and award-winning beer, head to Telluride Brewing Company’s Brew Pub in Mountain Village. In historic downtown, swagger up to New Sheridan Bar, one of the oldest bars in Colorado, and pull up a stool between ski bums, ranchers, and A-list celebrities. For a low-key vibe in a historic house, Cornerhouse is a locals’ favorite. Brown Dog Pizza, a AAA-approved restaurant, offers a legendary Detroit-style pizza, and they have an extensive kids’ menu, too. For a sunset happy hour, ride the gondola to the AAA Three Diamond-designated Allred’s Restaurant.
Relaxing by the fire in Village at Winter Park. Courtesy of PlayWinterPark.com
Spend the holidays in the High Country at Winter Park, where you can get a permit and trek into the forest to cut down your own Christmas tree. Enjoy a moment of peace watching the annual Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade, or ring in the New Year watching the annual fireworks display.
For comfortable accommodations with easy access to Winter Park and Mary Jane, stay at the AAA-approved Winter Park Mountain Lodge. In the heart of downtown Winter Park, the AAA-approved Trailhead Inn is pet- and budget-friendly. For a luxurious stay with wide open spaces, stay at Devil’s Thumb Ranch. After a day on the slopes visit their spa or relax at Heck’s Tavern.
Sunrise hot air balloon ride in Winter Park. Courtesy of Grand Adventure Balloon Tours
Go up, up, and away on a sunrise hot air balloon ride with Grand Adventure Balloon Tours. With a bird’s eye view of Fraser Valley and the Continental Divide, you’ll be mesmerized by a winter wonderland below. Now that’s a Rocky Mountain high!
Go dashing through the snow on a sleigh ride at scenic Devil’s Thumb Ranch. Rent some skinny skis and cross-country or skate ski at Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby, where you can also snowshoe to an old homestead. Go tubing at locally owned Colorado Adventure Park, Grand County’s biggest tubing hill, and they have mini snowmobiles for kids. Back in Winter Park, the Coca-Cola Tube Park has four lanes for tubing fun.
Best Hot Chocolate
Winter Park has a growing scene of breweries, distilleries, and wineries. Big Trout Brewing has a variety of beers on tap and is great for people watching. Wine lovers can choose one of the 80 sommelier-selected wines at Adventures Decanted to pair with one of their charcuterie boards. Sip an Indecision whiskey at Fraser Valley Distilling as you devour their cast iron skillet cornbread. In the village, Lime is the spot for margaritas and classic Mexican eats. Pizza lovers can grab a slice at Pepperoni’s, at the base of Mary Jane, or at Deno’s Mountain Bistro and Hernando’s Pizza Pub in Winter Park—both AAA-approved.