A haven for all outdoorsy types in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses a dramatic sweep of those famous mountains, along with rich, verdant forests, glistening alpine lakes and the celebrated “highway to the sky” known as the Trail Ridge Road, which gives drivers jaw-dropping views of the tundra. Come the winter months, the park becomes even more of a looker, clad in the icing of the season.
Swaddle yourself in lots of layers, slip on the sunglasses and get stuck into the white landscape, as there’s lots to explore. This is a superb region for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and – if you’re here with kids or just want to feel like a big kid yourself – you can go sledding in Hidden Valley, the only place in the park where you can go whooshing down the slopes with abandon.
Just to the south of Rocky Mountain National Park is the great, glittering city of Denver. The urban attractions here are plentiful, whether you want to duck into a museum or head for a ritzy cocktail bar. And there are outdoors activities aplenty, from the Downtown Denver Rink at Skyline Park, where you can show off your skating skills, to the City Park which looks enchanting in the snow.
But how about skiing? Well, the good news is there’s a resort less than an hour’s drive from the city’s heart. This is Echo Mountain, a place that proves small can be beautiful. It may not be as famous as other Colorado resorts, but it’s ideal for an afternoon’s skiing when you’re in Denver – or you can come in the evening for some atmospheric night skiing. It also offers lessons, if you’re feeling a little uncertain on your feet.
You’ll go from small to spectacular on the third day of your itinerary, when you take the drive westwards from Echo Mountain to Vail Ski Resort. This is one of the country’s most beloved skiing havens, for more reasons than you can shake a snowboard at. There’s epic expanses of terrain for all skill levels – Northwoods is particularly good for beginners – while Game Creek Bowl is one of the 7 famous back bowls which you can explore to your heart’s content.
Then there’s the après scene. Vail Village, inspired by the great European ski resorts, has a picture-postcard Alpine look, complete with cobbled streets and up-scale restaurants. In fact, the dining options alone make Vail a superlative winter sports experience, though the luxury hotels with bars boasting panoramic mountain views are quite the draw as well. Where better to sip a cool cocktail while thinking back on your day’s adventures on the slopes?
Just southwest of Vail is another celebrated snowy wonderland: Aspen. This area is home to a number of iconic ski areas under the name Aspen Snowmass, including Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass itself. They all have their special merits – Snowmass, for example, is a big destination for families, and is particularly known for its picturesque, gladed trails which would have you reaching for the camera if you weren’t busy enjoying the powder.
Buttermilk is one for true winter sports fanatics, as it’s the proud homeland of the Winter X games, and is known for its exhilarating terrain parks which will test your skills to the limit. Or, if you fancy skiing among the locals like a true Aspen aficionado, then hit the slopes of Aspen Highlands, which is home to the legendary Highland Bowl – a destination which draws powder-hounds from all over the world.
Around 4 hours west of Aspen, you’ll come to something very, very different: Arches National Park, a stone’s throw from Moab, Utah. The clue’s in the name, because this unique landscape is adorned with some of the most majestic and uncanny rock arches and land formations on the planet. Think natural bridges and rugged monoliths that look like they’re gossiping among themselves.
There are over 2,000 arches scattered through this unforgettable area, with the most famous being Delicate Arch, which is one of the symbols of Utah. Most people come here during the warmer months, but in winter it has a serene and surreal charm of its own. The lack of crowds makes it peaceful, and you can go hiking among the flabbergasting formations speckled with snow. It makes a well-deserved break from the skiing, but don’t get too relaxed, because there’s another big resort to come.
Under a 3-hour drive southeast of Arches National Park is Telluride, a community set within a box canyon, surrounded by forests and peaks, and scattered with relics from the old mining days. There’s a lot of history here – it’s where famous outlaw Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank – but the main draw is, of course, Telluride Ski Resort. With more than half its terrain suited to beginners and intermediates, it’s an ideal destination for the whole family. Meadows is a particularly good trail for newbies.
The aptly-named See Forever is another trail worth exploring, for its sweeping views of the region. On top of that, there are terrain parks where you can really let loose, while there are plenty of places to kick back with drinks and food after you’ve used up all your energy on the snow. It’s a fitting end to your winter adventure itinerary.
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