Every now and then, while dashing through Colorado on a ski trip, I manage to remove my downhill skis for a few hours and diversify my winter vacation portfolio.
You should, too.
In January and February, I hit Telluride and Breckenridge. Both destinations offer plenty of options for mixing things up. Here are a few of my favorites.
Rent a bike with big pillowy tires from Box Canyon Bicycles, 300 W. Colorado Ave., in Telluride ($55 full day, $40 half; boxcanyonbicycles.com), and make the 5-mile trip over to Telluride Brewing Company (telluridebrewingco.com), 156 Society Drive. The mostly flat trail takes you along a creek, then into some deceptively tricky single track through snow-filled fields. The brewery offers tours and serves a rotating cast of beers, including one that should appeal to Texans — the tequila barrel-aged Belgian Freaquila. The brewery’s beer is distributed throughout Colorado, but owners say they have no plans of expanding outside the state, so drink what you can and take only memories. Watch yourself, though, because the ride home may seem longer after you’ve had a sample. (You can also take a paved path rather than hitting the single track again.)
Skinning or snowshoeing to a backcountry cabin
The Summit Hut Association unveiled the newest addition to its collection of backcountry cabins, and it’s a 2,200-square-foot, solar-powered beauty named Sisters Hut. The name recognizes the bond that forms among women who spend time together in nature, but anybody — male or female — can book one of the cabin’s bunks or single beds for just $50 a night. Slide up on all-terrain skis with “skins” attached to the bottom for grip, or opt for snowshoes. We started at the Baldy Trailhead and spent about two hours covering the 2.5 miles to the hut. Bring your own food, or hire Colorado Adventure Guides to prepare your meals. Once there, you’ll have access to a kitchen, a system to melt snow for water (there’s no plumbing), a sauna and the indoor composting toilet. The cabin sleeps 14; bring your own sleeping bag and pillowcase. I could barely detach myself from my book and a spot in the sunlit, cushioned window seat. To book, go to summithuts.org. Mountain Outfitters (mtnoutfitters.com) in downtown Breckenridge rents boots and all-terrain skis; Colorado Adventure Guides, coloradoadventureguides.com, will provide cooking duties if you want them.
Ever climb a frozen waterfall? Neither had I until I joined San Juan Outdoor Adventures (tellurideadventures.com) in Telluride for a half-day adventure that involved wielding ice axes and crampons to scale an 80-foot blue-gray Popsicle crafted by Mother Nature. We climbed Lower Ames, just a 15-minute drive from downtown Telluride on national forest land. Another option? Ouray Ice Park (ourayicepark.com), about an hour from Telluride, where spigots drip water into a gorge, creating some 200 named climbing routes.
RELATED: Colorado ice climbing trip offers thrills and chills
Is speed your thing? Hop on a snowmobile with Telluride Outside (tellurideoutside.com), which offers half-day or full-day tours for beginners to experts. I steered one of the rumbling machines up a groomed road, through thickets of pine, fir and aspen, stopping periodically to snap photos of Wilson Peak, the mountain that’s featured on the label of Coors beer cans. We stopped at a wide-open meadow, where guides gave us free rein to zoom through knee-deep powder in wide circles. The Polaris machines have heated hand grips, but dress warmly. Half-day trips start at $199 per person. (Telluride Outside also offers winter fly-fishing trips.)
Ski towns always have a distillery, and I always drop in to check out the locally made spirit of choice. Telluride Distilling Company (telluridedistilling.com) makes vodka and whiskey, but it’s the Chairlift Warmer Peppermint Schnapps that sets them apart. It’s not too sweet — and best tasted with four of your best pals from shot glasses attached to a single snow ski. Tip carefully! The tasting room is located at 567 Mountain Village Blvd., Suite 106B. In Breckenridge, head to Breckenridge Distillery (breckenridgedistillery.com), which turns out a popular blend of bourbon (among a host of other whiskeys, gins, rums and vodkas). Free tours are available at the distillery, 1925 Airport Road, but there’s also a tasting room in town at 137 S. Main St.