Colorado and winter sports go together like hot chocolate and whipped cream. Is there anyone in the state who hasn’t gazed at the newly dusted mountains and conjured images of their favorite ski slope? Even if you’re not one to pick a steep line through the trees at Copper Mountain or turn aerial pinwheels off a halfpipe at Breckenridge, you’ve probably cozied up to an outdoor heater at a café in Vail or Aspen to enjoy the idyllic après-ski (or, in some cases, the avant-ski) atmosphere of a snowy day in alpine heaven. Winter is for escaping into the mountains for a reminder of the majesty we enjoy living in Colorado.
But the truth is, it’s easy to get complacent with what we like to do. We have our favorite sports and destinations and we’re sticking to them. And because of that, it’s also easy to forget that Colorado in the winter is about so much more than standing in the cattle-call lines just off the parking lot at A-Basin. To give you a sense of the variety of winter activities available in our fine state, we turned to a half dozen elite athletes—everyone from champion snowshoers to world class climbers—to learn a little about their favorite winter sports destinations. Who knows? Next time you think about reaching for the snowboard for yet-another trip to Eldora, you might just consider renting an ice ax and heading for the frozen waterfalls of Vail.
This former Boulder High School student is a three-time national champion snowshoe racer who now competes in the NCAA as an Oregon State Beaver.
“My favorite place to snowshoe in Colorado is at Eldora Mountain Resort. I have done the Nighthawk Snowshoe Racing Series up there the past three years and I absolutely can’t get enough of it! All the races are in the dark, which, of course, adds an extra sense of adventure and makes the race that much more exciting, but all the races go back into the trees, taking you right out of reality for a bit as you get lost in the snow. Being able to race in the dark with only a headlamp to guide the way is one of the coolest experiences ever because not only is it very peaceful, you get to race under the stars and the moon, which creates a sense of eeriness that keeps you on your toes. The trails up at Eldora all vary and you can always find intense uphills, long and extremely fun downhills, the trails that take you out to frozen ponds or the long trek up to the cabin. It’s pretty obvious that you could never get bored snowshoeing up there!”
Finish your workout with a coffee and pastry at Buffalo Bill’s Coffee & Confections, located in the can’t-miss restored train cars in the center of town, or with a burger and beer at Ned classic The Pioneer Inn.
A member of the USSA snowboard team, Maddy Schaffrick finished in the top 10 of all five Grand Prix Olympic qualifying events in 2010 at the young age of 16. After an injury kept her out of the 2011 season, Schaffrick took second in the Sprint Grand Prix at Copper Mountain and fourth in the Dew Tour at Breckenridge, earning an invite to the X Games. She learned to ski at age 3 in her hometown of Steamboat Springs.
“I have a difficult time choosing my favorite ski mountain in Colorado. I have been fortunate enough to visit the majority of the areas around the state, but my loyalty to Steamboat Ski Resort has yet to fade. I think all the memories of following my dad through the trees on a powder day and drinking hot chocolate with my friends on the benches in the base area has created an eternal love for that mountain. I know every chairlift and run, every secret powder stash and every hidden feature. It may seem I am obligated to say Steamboat is my favorite ski area because it is my home mountain, but I am proudly and independently willing to represent Steamboat as my favorite resort in Colorado.”
The town of Steamboat Springs is one of Colorado’s true gems, far from the I-70 corridor so you won’t get your typical herd of winter tourists. Its storybook setting in the Yampa Valley is perfect for snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Soak your tired bones at the outdoor Strawberry Park Hot Springs about 10 miles north of town (strawberryhotsprings.com).
An Aussie native transplanted to Boulder, Rory Sutherland is a professional bicyclist who made his adopted hometown proud by winning Stage 6 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge this summer, which ended atop Flagstaff Mountain. He won the UCI American Tour riding for UnitedHealthcare and was recently signed by Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank for the 2013 season.
“One of the benefits of Boulder in itself, while being at the altitude that it’s at … is that there could be snow here like there was a few days ago and you can still go out and ride your bike a few days later. Everything is plowed pretty well, and if you can’t go up in the mountains, you can go out on the flats, head out toward Carter Lake or I-25 or ride up to Fort Collins. [The climate] does make it much more manageable in the winter. The sun makes a pretty big difference and helps it a lot.” [Tips for winter riding]: “Wear enough clothes, that’s a pretty big one, but if it’s really cold, you could put aluminum foil or a plastic bag over your toes in your shoes for another barrier against the wind. I always get cold feet. … It sounds silly and it sounds stupid, but it saves you a lot of discomfort for something so simple.”
Boulder obviously has too many amenities to list, but one stands out for long-distance cyclists (even though Sutherland didn’t mention it)—it’s proliferation of microbreweries. Drinking a pint of beer after a hard workout is good for you, according to Spanish scientists. It’s better for hydration than plain water, helps replace lost calories through its carbonation and replenishes lost nutrients with its trace sugars and salts.
Boulder ice climber Sam Elias competes on some of the most difficult waterfall and mixed ice/rock climbs in the world, and he placed as high as second in the Ouray Ice Climbing Competition, won the inaugural Winter Teva Mountain Games Mixed Climbing Competition and competed in an Ice World Cup competition in Russia.
“My favorite area to ice climb is the Fang amphitheater in West Vail. It is where I learned ice and mixed climbing, and it is where I have developed almost all of my skills. The community of climbers, the setting and the concentration and variety of climbing make it a very special place for me. With Vail Village being so close, there are many places to grab coffee before and/or a beer after.”
“My regular stops include the Loaded Joe’s coffeehouse in the village and the Bearfish bar and grill in West Vail.” And don’t forget, if you want to work different muscles, you can always hit the slopes.
Cross country skiing
As head coach of CU’s Nordic ski team for the past 12 years (which were preceded by his being on two champion Buffs teams as a college student), there are few people more qualified to offer an opinion about great cross-country skiing destinations than Bruce Cranmer. Under his coaching, the Buffs won the NCAA championships in 2006 and 2011 and placed in the top three seven other times. To top it off, his grandfather, George Cranmer, established Winter Park Ski Resort.
“It’s hard to say this is my absolutely favorite place to ski, since I have many, but Devil’s Thumb Ranch (DTR) is one of my favorite places to ski. I learned how to ski at DTR so that gives it special meaning for me. It has a great variety of terrain from easy meadow skiing to some very hilly racecourses. Late afternoon skiing can be especially beautiful when the sun is starting to set and you get alpenglow on the peaks nearby, and then you can finish it off with a drink by the fire in their beautiful lodge.”
Just minutes from his grandfather’s legacy at Winter Park, near the town of Tabernash, Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort and Spa is an awesome getaway that combines alpine beauty with spa pampering, luxury accommodations and world class cuisine in a rustic setting that’s second to none.
Lynn Hill is one of the greatest rock climbers of all time, having consistently pushed the boundaries of difficult sport and traditional free climbing for more than two decades. Her greatest claim to fame is being the first person to free climb the 31-pitch, 2,900-foot The Nose route on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley in 1993, then to outdo herself by climbing it free in under a day, a feat that remained unrepeated for more than 10 years.
“The thing about Rincon is that it has to be a winter like we may be having this year, with not too much snow, because you have to hike about 45 minutes to get to the wall. So if it’s a big snow year, you don’t want to go to Rincon. But Rincon is great. It’s got good southern exposure and probably gets the most sun of any of the cliffs that I know of in Eldo. … The best line in my opinion is Climb of the Century, especially the first pitch. It’s really not so scary, and to the right of that, there’s good stuff for more moderate climbing. There’s a classic 5.10 to the right of that, Over the Hill, 5.10b, really classic dihedral climbing. Even though it could be a popular area when the weather is cooler, there are a lot of routes to do. There’s plenty of good stuff in all ranges (of difficulty).”
Eldorado Canyon is an amenity in itself, a steep-walled copper-hued canyon carved by South Boulder Creek that’s good for all kinds of recreation, from something as relaxing as picnicking to something as gripping as extreme rock climbing. Downtown Boulder is only a 10-minute drive to the north.