I HAVE A HORRIBLE SECRET. I live in Colorado, but I don’t ski. Or snowboard. I do enjoy skiing, but the thought of spending seven hours on I-70, crawling toward the Eisenhower Tunnel makes me want to jab a ski pole into my inner ear. And yet, winter is probably my favorite season to get outside. The light is gorgeous, the crowds are thin, and the mountains take on a new level of magic when wearing white. Thankfully, in Colorado, there’s more than enough to keep the fires in us non-skiers stoked all winter, all without setting boot near the resort.

Note: Photos by the author except where noted. Additional credits to fellow winter adventurer and photographer, Marisa Jarae (Website; Instagram), and from Visit Gunnison-Crested Butte.


Ice skate on a frozen alpine lake.

Photo: The map of Rocky Mountain National Park lists a place called Lake of Glass. Enough said. Marisa Jarae


Capture some sunrise magic.

Photo: I’m no scientist, but something must happen to the atmosphere when the temperature drops below zero, because you simply won’t find these soft purples and pastel blues in summer sunrises.


Prefer to sleep in? Winter sunsets are OK too.

Photo: We were driving to Vail for Thanksgiving when the sky above Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert exploded near Leadville. Proof that stopping the car and taking it all in is the reason road trips were invented.


Snowshoe through a magical forest.

Photo: Proof that winter light makes everything better. It even makes five hours of breaking trail through thigh-deep powder seem like an enjoyable stroll through a Candyland forest of pillowy pleasure.


Find a thin sheet of plastic and relive your childhood.

Photo: During a stay at the Trujillo Meadows Yurt, we found this orange sled under the deck and spent the entire day building a run that rivaled an Olympic luge track. We rode until sundown, making countless trips up the hill. Back at the yurt, our gloves steamed by the fire while we sipped hot cocoa and played Yahtzee. I’m convinced that sled was a time machine with dials set to January 1989, Upstate New York.


Climb a mountain and hang out with the locals.

Photo: We were on the summit ridge of North Star Mountain, at around 13,000-feet, when my climbing partner spotted a mysterious white shape standing on the distant summit. I thought I remembered from a NatGeo special that Yeti are usually hibernating this time of year so we ruled that out pretty quickly. Eventually, this solo climber met us on the ridgeline, paused to size us up then moved on after an approving nod. Want to get above treeline in the winter? All you need is windproof layers, face protection and a pair of Kahtoola Microspikes.


Get a fat bike and tear up the icy trails.

Photo: Colorado cyclists don’t sit around all winter waiting for trails to melt. Crested Butte just hosted the first ever Fat Bike World Championships and they’re out to prove their trails are even hotter when packed with snow. Big Al’s Bicycle Heaven in Crested Butte rents fat bikes if you’re looking to try before you buy that $6,000 Borealis Crestone, custom made in Colorado Springs. Courtesy of Visit Gunnison-Crested Butte Trent Bona


Climb up a frozen blue ribbon of ice.

Photo: There’s something fleeting and forbidden about climbing ice that terrifies some and mesmerizes others. This climber is clearly putting up an argument for the latter. Want to give ice climbing a go, but don’t have the skills, gear or confidence? Apex Ex Colorado leads full or half day ice climbing trips throughout the winter at ice climbing hot spots from Boulder Canyon to the Vail Valley. Marisa Jarae


Gather some friends around a campfire.

Photo: Recipe for winter weekend perfection: Dig a large pit in deep snow. Add fire and friends. Warm friends over fire until stars burst overhead. Whiskey from Distillery 291 in Colorado Springs is optional, but highly encouraged.


Stay in a backcountry yurt.

Photo: We arrived in a whiteout and couldn’t see the Rambouillet Yurt until the GPS read one hundred feet away. Thankfully the lock opened and the previous guest didn’t feel like packing out the six-pack of Dale’s Pale Ale we found inside. Within minutes, smoke was curling from the chimney and we were warm and safe. The next morning dawned with two feet of powder on the deck, bluebird skies and avalanches rumbling down the ridgeline across the meadow. Find your own circular castle of backcountry awesomeness at Southwest Nordic Center, Never Summer Nordic or the Hinsdale Haute Route.


Don’t feel like staying overnight? Just drop by for dinner.

Photo: Want a taste of yurt life while keeping it classy? Crested Butte Nordic offers swanky backcountry dining at the Magic Meadows Yurt. Cross-country ski or snowshoe a gentle trail to the yurt where you’ll soon be warmed by a wood-stove and cocktails made with local Montanya Rum. Live music provides ambiance and a four-course, chef-prepared meal soon follows. Courtesy of CB Nordic Xavier Fane


Take a road trip far away from those busy ski resorts.

Photo: While your resort-bound friends are cursing the Texas-plated Suburban that just cut them off in thick traffic outside Georgetown, you’re enjoying empty roads and pristine, stress-free mountain vistas at Cameron Pass.


Snow climb like an ice-axe-wielding, crampon-wearing boss.

Photo: Want to crank up your score on the badass-o-meter? Simply strap on crampons and pull out your ice axe. Those two accessories seem to elevate even the most casual outing into what could be an Everest expedition. Test out this theory next time you shovel your driveway. Those looks your neighbors are giving you? Trust me, that’s pure admiration. Want to sharpen your axe and crampon skills before getting into the couloir? Check out the extensive offering of courses and classes from the Colorado Mountain Club, taught by a dedicated cast of expert adventure volunteers. Marisa Jarae


Bundle up and go winter camping.

Photo: Only in Colorado would 75 adventurous fools show up to a winter camping weekend outing organized by Instagram superstar @moonmountainman. Apparently single digit temperatures and insane winds are not deterrents to the desire to meet new adventure partners and plaster your social feeds with jealousy-inducing images like the one above.


Don’t have your own $5500 Mountain Hardwear Space Station? Build a snow cave instead.

Photo: Remember those winter days you spent in your backyard building snow forts? Time to take it up a notch for the ultimate winter camping experience. As a blizzard raged outside and drove wind chills well below zero, we were sheltered comfortably, warmed by a single UCO Candle Lantern, soon to be stripping layers.


Find your own cozy slice of paradise.

Photo: Colorado State Forest State Park near Walden rents basic cabins for thawing your limbs after a day of playing in the hills. Your rental includes bunk beds, a wood stove and starlit views of the Never Summer Range. No electricity or cell service, but who needs that when you have Cards Against Humanity and a thermos of Moscow mules? Marisa Jarae