Denver is a magical place to visit in wintertime, especially during the holidays. The city is the cultural capital of the Rocky Mountain region while the mountains offer world-class skiing and snowboarding.
Whether you’re planning a short trip or longer sojourn, spending some time in Denver is a great way to acclimatize and gear up for the high country. You can also tack on days after your mountain trip to kick back and enjoy Denver’s big-city amenities.
For a truly mind-blowing and immersive experience, you can also make Denver your winter basecamp and mix the city’s cultural attractions with day trips to the mountains for the best of both worlds. Imagine staying at a boutique hotel (check hotel deals), going skiing one day, snowmobiling the next, dining at a Michelin-recognized restaurant, getting inspired by a blockbuster museum exhibition, and hearing live music at a famous venue. See below for some mountain transportation options where you don’t even need a car.
October is shoulder season in Denver where the fall colors are on full display, the air is crisp and the temperatures are warm, mostly in the 70s. In the mountains, it's a different story. Winter weather takes over and some ski resorts like Arapahoe Basin and Loveland Ski Area start opening toward the end of the month. Nine out of the 10 highest resorts in the country are in Colorado and the ski season can extend at these aforementioned resorts until May or June. The other resorts typically close in April.
As the snowpack builds in the mountains, down in the valley you can experience a variety of weather into December, which makes things fun and interesting. No two days are truly alike. Locals know to dress in layers. January and February are the coldest months.
People even play golf year-round throughout the Denver metro area where the balls fly a lot farther in the thin air. You’ll feel like a pro! No matter the month, you can count on lots of sunshine. The occasional snowstorms are typically short-lived and the snow melts away fast. You might find yourself back on a restaurant patio in no time.
Shoulder season begins again in late May and early April where you might be wearing shorts as Denver turns greener while experiencing some phenomenal spring skiing in the mountains. You can also snag some last-minute hotel deals. Look for '80s parties (break out your old skinny skis) as the resorts close out the season.
At 5,280 feet, Denver is exactly a mile high. Proper hydration is one of the most important things you can do before venturing to higher elevations.
If you’re traveling via the airlines, humidity in the cabins can be less than 20 percent. It’s best to drink plenty of water in the days leading up to your trip and keep it flowing once you arrive so that you don’t fall behind. Besides depleting your energy, dehydration can contribute to altitude sickness.
Also, go easy on the alcohol. Until you are fully acclimatized, your body can't process alcohol as well and it can exasperate dehydration. See more high-altitude tips. If you want to be exactly one mile high, check out these mile-high markers.
For some of the most breathtaking views of The Mile High City and the surrounding Rocky Mountains, head to the Peaks Lounge at the Hyatt Regency Denver. And to learn about the fascinating history of mountaineering, don't miss the American Mountaineering Museum in Golden, the only museum of its kind in the country.
Denver is the perfect place to gear up. You’ll feel the outdoor vibe immediately, especially with the Rocky Mountain backdrop. The are several ski and snowboard manufacturers in the metro area like Meier Skis with cores made from Colorado trees. They also have a rustic bar they call a Craft Skiery and offer factory tours (reservations required). Meier Skis will tune any brand of skis or snowboard.
Icelantic Skis in Golden offers a wide variety of locally made skis as well as sportswear. This Climate Neutral company is also known for their support of the arts. Never Summer in Denver has been making snowboards for more than 30 years. They also offer factory tours with reservations.
There’s no shortage of sportswear in the city. REI’s flagship store overlooking Confluence Park, where Cherry Creek and the South Platte River meet, is worth a visit just to take in the views and experience the incredibly wide selection of products inside the store. A good place to find deals on new and lightly used gear is at Wilderness Exchange Unlimited right down Platte Street. Throughout the city you’ll also discover retail locations for the big brands like Topo Designs in downtown; Patagonia, Burton (Denver flagship store) and Arc’teryx in the River North Art District; and The North Face at Cherry Creek Shopping Center where Arc’teryx has another location.
While the ski resorts offer convenient ways to rent ski gear, you might find better deals, get more personalized service and have wider choices in Denver. Christy Sports has eight locations in the greater metro area. If you’ve ever had foot or shin problems, they pride themselves on being excellent boot fitters. Larson’s Ski & Sport in Wheat Ridge offers daily and even seasonal rentals. Evo near downtown Denver on Lincoln Street lets you rent or demo the latest high-performance gear, or you can choose more standard options. Even if you have your own skis, you might want to try some fatter options in the pristine powder. Other Colorado ski companies like Liberty Skis in Avon near Vail offer try-before-you-buy demo days at the resorts.
Mountain Transportation & Tours
The winter traffic heading to the mountains on weekend mornings can get heavy, so leave as early as possible. Or drive up in the afternoon or during the week.
The Amtrak Winter Park Express ski train provides the most spectacular way to get to the high country by tying together the area’s rich skiing and railroad history. It runs from Denver Union Station to Winter Park Resort on weekends, Friday through Sunday, from January to March. (Make sure you purchase tickets well ahead of time. It’s popular!) For a luxurious experience, you can stay at the Crawford Hotel right at Union Station before you depart for the mountains or you can book other nearby downtown hotels. Union Station also has a direct connection to Denver International Airport via a short ride on the airport train known as the A Line.
Another way to let someone else do the driving is to sign up with Adventure Scenic Tours of Colorado. You can stay in Denver and they will whisk you to any of the major ski resorts, help you with rental gear and bring you back to the city the same day.
The Colorado Department of Transportation runs a bus service from Denver to the resorts called Snowstang (the summer version is called Bustang). It’s an economical and eco-friendly way to get to Arapahoe Basin, Copper Mountain Resort, Loveland Ski Area, Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge Resort. The service begins at Denver Union Station and runs every Saturday and Sunday from December until May.
Even More Winter Adventure
If you’ve got something left in the tank after experiencing world-class skiing and snowboarding, or you’re staying in Denver and want to experience a variety of winter sports, try these options.
Go on a cross-country skiing adventure with Aspire Tours. Also, check out Denver Adventures for full- and half-day snowshoe hikes in the Front Range. Looking for something a little longer? Let Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides lead you on full-day snowshoeing excursions to Indian Peaks or Rocky Mountain National Park or multi-day ski tours of Colorado's famed mountain huts.
If you feel the need for speed, check out High Country Snowmobile Tours in Silverthorne or Grand Adventures Snowmobiling & ATV with three locations: Winter Park, Fraser and Grand Lake. Or take an exhilarating heated "sleigh ride" via an all-terrain vehicle thanks to Great Outdoors Adventures. They'll let you play around on snow-covered trails.
Relax & Explore
Tap into the city’s famous craft beer scene via the Denver Beer Trail, a sampling of some of the best breweries broken down by neighborhood. (As a reminder, go easy if you’re not fully hydrated and acclimatized.) Better yet, combine sipping craft beer with a spa experience at Oakwell Beer Spa. You can soak in a bubbly beer bath infused with hops, barley and seasonal herbs, then take a seat in the taproom and sample Colorado’s finest beer, wine and cider.
Also, take a stroll in the city’s vast greenspaces, challenge your buddies to some indoor fun and games, have a mind-bending experience at Meow Wolf Denver's Convergence Station, and check out vivid street art all over town.