The Sights, Sounds & Lights of a Colorado Mountain Town in Winter

There’s enchantment in the mountains, especially in the winter when flakes are falling and twinkling lights are all around

Colorado’s mountain towns have wintertime magic in spades.

Durango, Colorado 

Snowdown Balloon Rally By Heidi Kerr Schlaefer

Snowdown Balloon Ralley | Photo by Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer

A cowgirl would look right at home galloping down Main Avenue in front of Strater Hotel. One of the best ways to get in the spirit of the holidays this winter is by taking a sleigh ride downtown with D & K Wagon Rides

This town has the appearance of a Cowboy Christmas Hallmark movie, including charming Victorian buildings, old-fashioned lamp posts, and a ragtime piano player at the Diamond Belle Saloon

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Polar Express

The holidays are special in Durango. If traveling with family this winter, take an all-ages ride on a real train with Santa Claus. A trip on The Polar Express at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is one of the most magical events in Colorado and an activity the littles will never forget. For a lineup of holiday events in Durango, visit here.

One of those most iconic winter festivals in the Rocky Mountains is Snowdown, in its 44th year. Occurring January 27 to February 5, 2023, this year’s theme is “A Shakespearian Showdown,” but that doesn’t mean it will be stuffy. After all, Shakespeare was a bit of a rebel. 

Looked forward to by locals and tourists alike, Snowdown features everything from a bloody Mary contest, parties and sell-out follies to a parade and fireworks. Take it from someone who has been at Snowdown; it is a great time to be in Durango.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Shannon Lukens Steamboatwintercarnival 1

Steamboat Winter Carnival | Photo by Shannon Lukens

I’ve been to Steamboat Springs more times in the winter than in the summer. I’ve been to their festival, Winter Carnival, many times and once participated in the Cardboard Classic at Springalicious. Several times I’ve danced and sipped beer at apres ski concerts at the base of the mountain. This town is always lively, but it vibrates in the winter.  

Whether downtown or separated by about 11 minutes at the ski resort, the lights twinkle in the snow. And it’s often snowing. 

Santa Claus makes his yearly visit to Steamboat Springs’ at his downtown study at the Courthouse Lawn. He is there December 3, 10 and 17.  

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Old Town Hot Springs

Steamboat Springs offers a variety of winter activities, not just downhill skiing. Opportunities to snowshoe abound, and there is a Nordic center. Visitors can rent snow bikes, go tubing or even get high above it all in a hot air balloon. Or, if relaxation is on the agenda, Old Town Hot Springs or Strawberry Park Hot Springs await.

The 110th Winter Carnival is scheduled for February 8-12, 2023. It is the oldest continuing winter carnival west of the Mississippi. The entire town becomes a carnival of winter sports and other delights. There’s ski jöring through the middle of town, ski jumping at Howelsen Hill, a parade, fireworks, and so much more. To attend this legendary Colorado event is to realize why so many winter Olympians come from this town. 

Vail, Colorado

Vail Vail Resorts2

Vail, Colorado | Photo courtesy Vail Resorts

There is no debate as to whether Vail, Colorado, is one of the prettiest winter towns in the country. It most definitely is—with its nod to Swiss architecture, covered bridges and glittering lights leading from Lionhead to Vail Village, several ice skating rinks and a big mountain to ski, it is the quintessential winter ski village.

While skiing is always on the agenda, Vail is also an art town. Ice installations for Vail Winterfest begin January 2, and approximately 25,000 pounds of sculpted ice will be on display on the Gore Creek Promenade, adding to Vail’s winter beauty. At night, the ice is transformed by illumination.  

Heidi Kerr Schlaefer Taste Of Vail 2019

Taste of Vail | Photo courtesy Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer

One of Vail’s signature events, Taste of Vail, is in the early spring when skiers are still swishing down the slopes. Slated for April 5 through 8, this food and wine festival is educational and tasty. Seminars on wines from a specific region or glassware or cheese abound, as do Taste of Vail’s signature events like the Mountain Top Tasting, a top-of-mountain wine and food festival like no other. 


Categories: The Heidi Guide