Festivals add a special sparkle to Colorado’s already dazzling winters. With jubilant live music, soul-warming food and drinks, colorful parades and only-in-winter activities like snow carving and ice climbing, these events have become beloved cold-weather traditions in the Centennial State. Here are some of Colorado’s best winter festivals to attend this season.
Dec. 2-4, Telluride
If you’re looking for something exciting and different this winter, look no further. This weekend in idyllic Telluride celebrates fire arts and performance. There are free shows, live music, firey art cars and hands-on workshops in aerial acrobatics, partner hooping/juggling and the basics of propane and steel fire art. It’s altogether unlike your usual weekend fest, for sure.
Dec. 8-11, Breckenridge
If you’ve never formally acquainted yourself with Ullr, the Norse god of snow and skiing, this is your chance. Breck’s annual 10-day shindig, hosted by the residents and businesses of this charming mountain town since 1963, is a celebration of all the things that make winter in Colorado so great: fresh powder, ice skating, curling, bonfires, parades, Viking-inspired costumes and, yes, even shot skis.
Jan. 12-15, Aspen
Back in 1951, when skiing was still in its infancy in Aspen, a group of locals got together to usher in the winter season and, thus, Wintersköl was born. Over the last 70-plus years, this once-small gathering has grown to become one of the Roaring Fork Valley’s most cherished traditions. Though the schedule is still being finalized, past festivals have included snow sculptures, fireworks, a torchlight ski parade on Aspen Mountain, contests, races, historical experiences and so much more.
Jan. 15-22, Aspen
As the longest-running and largest gay ski week in the country, Aspen Gay Ski Week has been promoting inclusivity — and, perhaps just as importantly, fun — in the sport of skiing for more than 40 years. There are over-the-top parties, ski meet-ups, dinners, games of drag bingo, comedy shows and tons of other lively events that are open to all.
Jan 19-22, Ouray
Pull out your puffy coat and make your way to the “Switzerland of America” for this small mountain community’s annual ice climbing festival. For four days every January, ice climbers from around the world descend upon Ouray to test their mettle on the icy waterfalls and manmade climbing structures of the Ouray Ice Park. There are also film screenings, happy hours, gear expos and other chances to mix and mingle with fellow outdoorspeople. Oh, and much-needed soaks in the town’s inviting hot springs.
Carving week is Jan. 23-27, viewing week is Jan. 27-Feb.1, Breckenridge
Watch in amazement as teams from around the world carve 25-ton blocks of snow standing 12 feet tall into detailed sculptures — all with just elbow grease and hand tools. No power tools are allowed at this whimsical competition! Carvers spend up to 94 hours perfecting their frosty masterpieces, which turn downtown Breck into a temporary outdoor art gallery that’s perfect for strolling through with a steaming cup of cocoa in your hands.
Jan. 27-29, Aspen
Gape as some of the best skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers from around the world complete gravity-defying tricks at Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain during this year’s X Games. The rad snowsports competition, that you may have previously watched on TV, includes more than a dozen events on the slopes and terrain parks.
Jan. 27-29, Alamosa
Work up a sweat while running the Rio Frio 5-kilometer foot race on the frozen Rio Grande River, then enjoy other icy festivities as part of this annual celebration of winter. Past festival activities have included a bonfire, polar plunge and ice sculpting.
Jan. 27-29, Golden
Long nights and cold temperatures got you down? Pay a visit to Golden for UllrGrass, a joyous three-day affair named for the Norse god of winter. In addition to an impressive line-up of live music, it also includes a beer festival, costume parade, games, food trucks, an Ullr egg hunt and other performances designed to bring the community together.
Feb. 1-5, Durango
First held in 1979 to break up the monotony of winter on the Western Slope, Snowdown has grown to become a highly anticipated festival in Durango. Now celebrating its 44th year, Snowdown includes more than 100 activities and events, from a parade of lights to whimsical competitions like a beard-growing contest. Don your best 16th-century garb, too, because this year’s theme is “A Shakespearian Revelry, A Week With the Bard.”
Feb. 8-12, Steamboat Springs
Come for the powder at Steamboat Ski Resort, stay for the winter carnival, which includes snow sculpting, s’mores, ski jumping, dance parties and more. Hosted by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club since 1913, the festival is celebrating a big anniversary — 110 years! — this year, so expect extra-special twists to the festivities.
Feb. 2-5, Southeastern Colorado
Even if you don’t consider yourself a “birder,” it’s hard not to be impressed when you see thousands of snow geese flying in unison in the skies over southeastern Colorado. The good people of Lamar and surrounding communities on the Eastern Plains love to celebrate the annual migration of these majestic birds — and you can, too, when you attend this four-day festival. Enjoy lectures, excursions, demonstrations and other forms of camaraderie in honor of the birds.
Feb. 21-25, Aspen
We could all use a few laughs after the last two-and-a-half years. The Aspen Laugh Festival, held at the beautiful historic Wheeler Opera House downtown, is the perfect temporary antidote to all the doom and gloom. The schedule is still being finalized, but the popular gathering brings together well-known and emerging comedians for performances and other activities.
March 3-5, Leadville
Marvel as a skier pulled by a horse navigates downtown Leadville’s Harrison Avenue (and flies over jumps!) at this Wild West event in the mountains. The same weekend also features the Crystal Carnival, a chilly festival that includes parties, live music, dancing and unique races, like the Nordic paintball biathlon.
April 5-8, Vail
Deliciousness abounds at Taste of Vail, which has been delighting the taste buds of festivalgoers in the Vail Valley for more than 30 years. There are fascinating seminars, intimate talks with winemakers, daily tastings and other food- and drink-focused activities, with plenty of time for skiing Vail’s legendary back bowls in between. In fact, you can ski right over to the festival’s Mountain Top Tasting event, which is held above town at 10,350 feet.
Keep your eyes open for these other annual festivals still in planning for this winter season: Cripple Creek Ice Festival, usually held in February (visitcripplecreek.com), Manitou Springs Carnivale Weekend, usually held in February (manitousprings.org/carnivale-weekend) and Frozen Dead Guy Day in Nederland, usually held in March (frozendeadguydays.org).