Winters in Colorado are pretty great — there’s abundant sunshine, a dizzying number of outdoor sports and activities to choose from, plenty of bars, breweries, distilleries and wineries to visit on chilly evenings. The list goes on and on.
But if you find yourself needing a little extra “oomph” in your life this winter, make plans to head to one of these beloved Colorado festivals. From impressive snow and ice carvings to quirky competitions, they offer a little something for everyone (and promise to make the winter months fun even if you don’t ski or snowboard!).
Note: As with everything these days, check ahead of your visit for updates. The pandemic may yet again interrupt our winter fun.
Dec. 8-17, Breckenridge, gobreck.com/event/ullr-fest
Since 1963, Breckenridge has hosted an epic, 10-day festival honoring Ullr, the Norwegian god of snow. Ullr, who was rumored to be an accomplished skier, was so fast that he created the stars in the night sky as he flew by on his skis. The festival features a big parade down Main Street, a bonfire, an ice skating party, games, gatherings and other fun.
Jan. 13-16, Aspen, aspenchamber.org/events/winterskol
Aspen held its first Wintersköl celebration in 1951 — more than 70 years ago! — and this beloved “toast to winter” festival has been going strong ever since. Spread across four days, the festival includes the naming of Wintersköl royalty, a soup-making competition, live music, snow sculptures, a scavenger hunt and other family-friendly fun.
International Snow Sculpture Championships
Carving week is Jan. 24-28, viewing week is Jan. 28-30, Breckenridge, gobreck.com/event/international-snow-sculpture-championships
This beloved annual event features 16 of the world’s best snow-carving teams, who descend upon Summit County to transform 20-ton blocks of snow into larger-than-life masterpieces. Even more impressive? The snow artists can only use tools powered by their own muscles, as power tools are strictly forbidden. After five days of carving, they officially unveil their works of art and turn downtown Breck into a very chilly art gallery that’s free and open to all.
Jan 21-23, Aspen, aspensnowmass.com/visit/events/x-games-aspen
Nearly 100 of the world’s raddest athletes will descend upon Aspen-Snowmass again this winter to compete in the X Games, a collection of extreme snow sports events. It’s free to attend and Buttermilk remains open to the public if you’re inspired to ski or snowboard. Everyone age 12 and older will be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to get into spectator viewing and festival areas. There are no ticketed concerts this year, but there will be DJs at XFest and the base area.
Rio Frio Ice Fest
Jan 28-30, Alamosa, riofrioice.com
The focus of Alamosa’s annual winter festival is unique: a 5K foot race completed entirely on the frozen Rio Grande River. There’s also a fat bike race, a polar plunge, a bonfire, ice sculpting and lots of other chilly festivities.
Ouray Ice Festival
Jan 20-23, Ouray, ourayicepark.com/ouray-ice-festival
Watch as some of the world’s most impressive climbers scale icy, frozen waterfalls and artificial structures in Ouray during this three-day competition and festival. There are several competitions, including mixed climbing and speed climbing, plus vendors, food and drinks and gatherings.
Jan 21-23, Pagosa Springs, pagosachamber.com/winterfest
This Pagosa Springs celebration of all things winter includes hot air balloon ascensions, parade, sled races, fat bike race, skijoring, BB gun biathlon, cross-country ski clinic and a popular “Penguin Plunge” that involves jumping into the chilly San Juan River.
Jan. 26-30, Durango, snowdown.org
Snowdown has been a Durango staple for more than 40 years. After taking a year off because of COVID-19, the event’s organizers plan to put a spell on locals and visitors alike. Expect a light parade, fun contests and competitions, costumes and live performances from the Snowdown Follies, a beloved group that puts on comedy/variety shows each year. This year’s theme is “Magical and Mystical.”
Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival
Feb. 9-13, Steamboat Springs, sswsc.org/events/winter-carnival
Organized by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, this mountain town’s annual carnival has been a bright spot during winter for more than 100 years. Expect high-flying ski jumpers, races, skijoring (skiers pulled behind a galloping horse) and a seriously impressive “Lighted Man” who swoops down the slopes wearing a pyrotechnic suit that shoots off fireworks.
High Plains Snow Goose Festival
Feb 3-6, Southeastern Colorado, highplainssnowgoose.com
Each year, thousands of bright-white snow geese descend upon southeastern Colorado as they migrate south for winter. There are so many, in fact, that the region’s lakes and fields turn white — not from snow, but from the geese. This winter festival celebrates and honors the annual migration with speakers, tours, demonstrations and other events.
Cripple Creek Ice Festival
Feb. 5-13, Cripple Creek, visitcripplecreek.com
Using power tools, hand tools or some combination of both, teams whittle away at 180-pound blocks of ice to create works of art. This year, competitors will be able to choose their own theme and festivalgoers will be able to vote on the display they love the most. There’s usually an ice slide and an ice maze. There are also vendors, music and a beer garden at this winter festival.
Frozen Dead Guy Days
March 18-20, Nederland, frozendeadguydays.org
While the rest of the world was grappling with the pandemic, Bredo Morstoel — aka Grandpa — was blissfully unaware, resting peacefully on a bed of dry ice in a shed. Nederland’s iconic Frozen Dead Guy Days winter festival is back and paying homage to Morstoel once again after a two-year hiatus. Expect dozens of live bands, heated tents with food and drink vendors, coffin racing, frozen T-shirt contests and other outrageous events.
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