As Coloradans, we don’t simply endure or tolerate winter. We embrace it.
Sure, we could all just hunker down and hibernate through the snow and ice. Instead, we gather with friends around bonfires. We ski. We marvel at ice sculptures. We play games. We watch live music. We climb icy waterfalls.
In Colorado, we welcome winter like an old friend. And perhaps nowhere is that sentiment more true than at the many diverse festivals dotting the state from December to April. So, as you make your plans for winter fun, add one or two or more (!) of these beloved annual gatherings to your list.
Dec. 7-9, Breckenridge, gobreck.com/event/ullr-fest
Some mythical gods can be kinda scary, but not Ullr. Ullr, the Norse god of snow, benevolently dumps powder on Breckenridge’s mountains, thus ensuring that skiers and snowboarders have plenty of fluffy stuff to play in all winter. That’s why this Summit County ski town organizes an entire festival around Ullr, to pay homage and give thanks for the (hopefully) snowy months ahead. Enjoy a parade down Main Street, the crowning of the Ullr king and queen, a bonfire, live entertainment and more.
Dec. 8-10, Boulder, chautauqua.com/winterfest-2023
Nestled at the base of the Flatirons, the Colorado Chautauqua is gorgeous at any time of year. But in winter, when its historic buildings and wide lawn are dusted with snow, it’s downright stunning. Winterfest offers a chance to spend time together as a family, with events like dreamy horse-drawn carriage rides, a trip to Santa’s cottage, guided hikes, a tree lighting, crafts and more.
Jan. 11-14, Aspen, aspenchamber.org/events/winterskol
Wintersköl is Aspen’s annual toast to winter, a chance to welcome the snowy season with open arms. This multi-day festival has been going strong since 1951 and includes lots of celebratory activities, such as a torchlight ski parade down Aspen Mountain, fireworks, snow sculptures, performances, film screenings and other community gatherings. So, head to Aspen, raise a glass and say “Sköl!” to winter.
Aspen Gay Ski Week
Jan. 15-22, Aspen, gayskiweek.com
If you want to participate in the longest-running annual gay ski week in the nation, get yourself to Aspen for this festival. It’s been running for 47 years and brings together LGBTQ+ skiers and snowboarders from around the world. The mood is joyful, with events including drag queen bingo brunches, dance parties and a costume contest. And, of course, there’s plenty of skiing and snowboarding for every level of rider, newbie to expert. The annual gathering raises money for AspenOUT, a nonprofit that supports the Roaring Fork Valley’s LGBTQ+ community.
Ouray Ice Festival
Jan 18-21, Ouray, ourayicepark.com/ouray-ice-festival
You don’t have to be a hardcore adventurer to enjoy the Ouray Ice Festival. Much of the fun comes from watching other people use ice axes and crampons to scale towering walls of ice. Beyond the competition, the multi-day festival in the “Switzerland of America” is a chance to celebrate this once-niche sport that’s rapidly growing in popularity. You can join a climbing clinic, check out the latest and greatest ice climbing gear, attend movie screenings and presentations, and hang out with fellow cold-weather aficionados.
X Games Aspen
Jan 26-28, Aspen, aspensnowmass.com/visit/events/x-games-aspen
Gravity? What gravity? The world-class athletes who compete in X Games Aspen at Buttermilk Ski Resort seem to defy the laws of physics. Top skiers and snowboarders compete in heart-pounding events like SuperPipe, Big Air, Knuckle Huck and slopestyle. Live music and engaging DJs help round out the fun. there’s no cost to enjoy the action on the mountain, and there are activities for kids, too.
International Snow Sculpture Championships
Carving week is Jan. 22-26, viewing week is Jan. 26-31, Breckenridge, gobreck.com/event/international-snow-sculpture-championships
Sculptors work with lots of different materials including clay, wood and stone. A brave few choose to specialize in a slightly chillier medium: snow. During the first part of this festival, you can watch teams of artists use hand tools to transform 25-ton blocks of snow (12 feet tall!) into truly impressive works of art. After up to 94 hours of carving, they must walk away from their masterpieces. At this point in the festivities, downtown Breck turns into an outdoor sculpture garden that’s lovely to wander through, day and night.
Rio Frio Ice Fest
Jan 26-28, Alamosa, rioraces.com/rio-frio-home
A little snow and ice never stopped anyone from having a good time, right? That’s certainly the mentality of the folks behind the Rio Frio Ice Fest in Alamosa. This festival is centered around a 5K that takes place on the frozen Rio Grande River. (Yes, people run on the river!) Make a weekend out of a trip to the San Luis Valley by enjoying other fun festivities like ice carving demonstrations, a disc golf tournament, a bonfire party and more.
UllrGrass Music & Beer Festival
Jan. 26-28, Golden, ullrgrass.com
You won’t mind the cold so much when you’re jamming out to live music and sipping craft beer with friends at this Golden festival. In addition to concerts in Parfet Park, there’s a costume contest, a troubadour contest (for the best singer-songwriter) and other fun activities. Be sure to dress in your Viking finest, as this gathering also pays homage to Ullr, the Norse god of snow.
Jan. 26-Feb. 4, Durango, snowdown.org
The theme of this year’s festival — which has been running since 1979 — is “Peace, Love and Snowdown,” so get yourself to Durango to soak up the good vibes. You can partake in dozens of festivities over the course of this 10-day community extravaganza, including a light parade down Main Avenue, a chili cookoff and bloody mary contest, a golf tournament and much more.
High Plains Snow Goose Festival
Feb 2-4, southeastern Colorado, highplainssnowgoose.com
No matter what’s going on in the world, you can count on nature to keep doing its thing. Like clockwork every winter, thousands of dazzling white snow geese descend upon southeastern Colorado during their migration. At this community festival you can see the birds — which are truly a sight to behold in such large numbers — and also listen to lectures, go on sunrise tours, shop the goods of local artisans and more.
Manitou Springs Carnivale Weekend
Feb. 3 and 10, Manitou Springs, manitousprings.org/carnivale-weekend
You don’t have to fly to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. Instead, head to Manitou Springs, which celebrates Carnivale over two weekends in February. First, on Feb. 3, there’s CarniBall, a masquerade ball with live music, Cajun-inspired food and the crowning of the Carnivale king and queen. Then, on Feb. 10, there’s the Mumbo Gumbo Jumbo Cook-Off and the Carnivale Parade.
Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival
Feb. 8-11, Steamboat Springs, sswsc.org/events/winter-carnival
This long-running festival is basically embedded in Steamboat’s DNA. It’s been going for more than a century– 111 years, to be exact. The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which hosts the carnival, goes all out to celebrate the Yampa Valley’s Western roots and its love of winter sports. Horses will pull skiers along Main Street, a man wearing a pyrotechnic suit will ski down Howelsen Hill and, most importantly, everyone will have a jolly time. Past events include ski jumping, ski ballet, snow biking, s’mores and live music.
Cripple Creek Ice Festival
Feb. 17-25, Cripple Creek, visitcripplecreek.com
You’ll feel inspired after attending the Cripple Creek Ice Festival, where some of the nation’s top ice-carving teams will show off their creative talents by making highly detailed sculptures out of nothing but ice. When they’re all done, you can cast your vote for the People’s Choice Award. The teams will be working on their masterpieces throughout the festival, but you can also watch them go head to head during several high-energy carving challenges.
Aspen Laugh Festival
Feb. 21-24, Aspen, wheeleroperahouse.com
When was the last time you laughed so hard your cheeks and abs hurt? If it’s been a while, get yourself to Aspen’s historic Wheeler Opera House for days of jokes, gags, funny stories and more. Fun fact: When the opera house opened in April 1889, its first show was a comedy.
Leadville Ski Joring & Crystal Carnival Weekend
March 1-3, Leadville, leadvilletwinlakes.com/things-to-do-detail/leadville-ski-joring-crystal-carnival-weekend
When you learn just how high Leadville sits above sea level — 10,158 feet — you’ll be even more impressed at the skiers who glide behind horses down Harrison Avenue. While a skilled horse rider navigates the course, a skier riding behind careens over jumps and tries to nab as many dangling hoops as possible. This is just one of the many adrenaline-pumping events that take place during this action-packed festival, which also includes a paintball biathlon, Nordic ski races, an after-dark fat tire bike ride and more.
March 1-3, Steamboat Springs, winterwondergrass.com/steamboat
Think music festivals are only for summer? Think again. Head to Steamboat Springs for a few days jam-packed with bluegrass, folk, rock, country, roots and more. Headliners include the Dead South, the Infamous Stringdusters, Paul Cauthen and Sierra Ferrell. They’ll be joined by dozens of other musical artists.
Frozen Dead Guy Days
March 15-17, Estes Park, frozendeadguydays.org
In case you missed it, Frozen Dead Guy Days moved from its longtime home in Nederland to Estes Park last year. Organizers are still finalizing the schedule, but festivities are set to include coffin races, a polar plunge, a dance, Sunday brunch and tons of live music. This quirky festival pays homage to a man named Grandpa Bredo, whose frozen corpse has been on dry ice since 1989.
Taste of Vail
April 3-6, Vail, tasteofvail.com
Spring skiing is one of life’s greatest pleasures. The sun is shining, the days are long and the après-ski scene is livelier than ever. Combine that with one of the best food festivals around and you’ve got yourself a winner of a getaway. You can ski to your heart’s content between events at Taste of Vail, which has been running for more than three decades. Sip rosés, munch on perfectly crafted bites, and hob-knob with fellow foodies.