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A-Z Guide to Winter in Colorado

Astonish your senses. Play in the snow, then soak in a hot spring. Colorado ranks first among all states in skiable acres and is home to nearly 50 natural hot springs. If you like it hot, try Hortense Hot Springs located in the San Isabel National Forest. How hot is it? A steaming 181 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bunk with the cowboys. From rustic cabins to luxurious suites, Colorado's dude and guest ranches offer a true western style vacation with a choice of activities like horseback riding, fishing, hiking, hearty cookouts, gold panning and hay rides - and surrounded by breathtaking Colorado scenery.

Curl up in front of a roaring fire with a good book. With a selection of more than 600,000 titles, The Tattered Cover in Denver is a great place to pick up the latest best-seller or hard-to-find title. If sitting still isn't your style, climb the 80 to 100-foot-high, man-made icefalls at Ouray Ice Park in Uncompahgre Gorge. It's the world's first park dedicated to the sport of ice climbing and is free and open to the public.

Defy the odds and take a chance at winning a fortune at a Colorado casino. Gold fever spread in the spring of 1859 when 100,000 people headed west to find their fortunes. Today's visitors can try their luck in comfort and ease at one of the state's 55 casinos. The largest is Black Hawk's Isle of Capri Casino, a Caribbean-theme gaming house that features more than 1,000 slot machines and dozens of card tables.

Escape the pressures of deadlines and to-do lists. Stay in a rustic cabin deep in the Rocky Mountains where all you hear is falling snow and the only thing you have to do is throw another log on the fire.

Frolic in the snow. You know Colorado is the premier ski destination, but do you know it's a great place for nearly every other outdoor winter activity? There's inner tubing, snowshoeing, ice skating, snowboarding, ice fishing, horse-drawn sleigh rides and snowball fights.

Gear up for your adventure at one of Colorado's outfitters. From hunting to fishing to exploring the backcountry, an experienced outfitter will make sure your Colorado outdoor adventure gets you where you want to go to see what you want to see. You'll bring back great stories to share with friends back at home.

Hop a train. See the natural wonder of Colorado during the Fall and Winter by train. Going skiing? Take the Winter Park Ski Train and enjoy the postcard-perfect train experience through the dramatic peaks of the Colorado Rockies all the while you psych yourself up for a day on the slopes at Winter Park/Mary Jane Ski Resort. Want Solitude? The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad winds through the breath-taking San-Juan Mountains and the Royal Gorge Route Railway meanders through the spectacular scenery of the 1,000-foot deep Royal Gorge Canyon.

Inspire yourself. Katherine Lee Bates, a professor of English Literature at Wellesley College, came to Colorado for the summer of 1893. She took a trip to the top of Pikes Peak where she was inspired to write a poem called "America the Beautiful." It was set to music and became Bates' most enduring and inspirational work, considered by many to be our country's unofficial national anthem.

Jingle all the way during Colorado's holiday season. Mountain towns light up from November to January with festivals and events to celebrate the season. Each January, Aspen hosts Winterskol, a five-day celebration with fireworks, ski races, and a parade.

Kiss your stress goodbye. Relax at one of Colorado's world-class health resorts where pampering is elevated to an art form. The Spa at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs offers a full range of facials, mud baths, herbal wraps, and other treatments aimed at restoring body and soul. One treatment features 17 specially calibrated showerheads simulating a Rocky Mountain waterfall to wash your tension away. Telluride, Vail, Aspen, Crested Butte, and Steamboat also boast first-class spas.

Love the arts. Colorado offers a variety of historical and cultural forays. Denver is home to the nation's second largest arts complex, a four-square block center known as the PLEX. It houses the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Opera Colorado, Colorado Ballet and The Denver Center Theatre Company and offers eight theatres and seating for 9,200 people. Colorado's unique history is celebrated in museums throughout the state. The Koshare Indian Museum in La Junta features a spectacular collection of Native American art and crafts with a focus on the Pueblo and Plains Indians. The Fort Uncompahgre Living History Museum in Delta uses costumed interpreters to bring history to life.

Move to the beat of your own drum or dance the night away in LoDo, Denver's lower downtown. This epicenter of Denver's nightlife is a 25-square block of dance clubs, microbreweries and restaurants.

Nibble on carrot sticks or sink your teeth into a juicy buffalo steak. Colorado offers a profusion of choices from ethnic eateries and classic cuisine to fresh game like antelope and elk. Aspen and Vail are showcases of world-renowned chefs and restaurants, while Mesa Verde's Far View Lodge Metate Room serves traditional fare of the ancestral Puebloan people who first made it their home.

On top of the world , almost. With 52 peaks at more than 14,000 feet in elevation, you'll feel like you couldn't get much higher. But you can. Helicopter skiing takes you on an ultimate high-end adventure. Land on high-alpine terrain then follow a guide down untracked slopes on skis, telemark or snowboard.

Paraglide. You are the bird in flight as you run off the side of the mountain and float into the sky. You hang beneath a giant canopy with Colorado's awesome mountain scenery spread out at your feet. No experience is necessary if you avail yourself of the services of a tandem paragliding outfitter. You'll harness up to an experienced pilot who navigates your flight. Depending on wind currents, this adventure may last 20 minutes to an hour.

Quiver with excitement as your reel sings, your rod bounces and you pull a large rainbow trout through an eight-inch hole in the ice. In winter, many of Colorado's lakes turn into large ice cubes dotted with fishing huts.

Relax and enjoy the view. Drive one of Colorado's more than 20 scenic and historic byways for an unforgettable journey. If you'd like a closer look, try a backcountry snowcat tour. Snowcats offer breathtaking views of winter wilderness in terrain that challenges the best of cross country skiers.

Shop 'til you drop. Colorado supplies a seemingly endless variety of shopping from quaint boutiques and to factory outlet malls, Neiman Marcus to Native American trading posts, farmers' markets to upscale galleries, antique shops to bookstores. Many of the state's towns and cities have pedestrian-friendly and picturesque shopping areas.

Tee-off at one of the many golf courses open all winter, weather permitting. With sunshine for about 300 days a year in most parts of the state, golf is a favorite pastime in Colorado. Snow along the Front Range and in lower elevations usually melts quickly, allowing courses to remain open.

Underachieve. No one cares if you aren't as good on the ice as an Olympic medallist. If you've ever wondered what it's like to be an Olympic athlete, find out at the United States Olympic Complex in Colorado Springs where many of our nation's best athletes live and train. Free public tours take you through the Olympic Visitor Center.

Venture off the beaten track. The San Juan Hut-to-Hut system is on a 206-mile route from Telluride to Moab, Utah. The route, which passes through only one small town, is favored by cyclists in the summer and backcountry skiers in the winter. The six primitive huts sleep up to eight and are equipped with propane lanterns, stoves and stocked with shelf-stable foods.

Warm up with hot cocoa after a sleigh ride in the snow. Sleigh rides are among the most popular evening activities in Colorado mountain towns and resorts. A horse-drawn sleigh takes you to a rustic cabin or tent where western entertainment and hearty fare is served. In a variation on this theme, resorts such as Beaver Creek, Crested Butte and Steamboat conduct their feasts in exquisite mountaintop restaurants. Since natural horsepower isn't quite up to this task, they use powerful snowcats to pull large sleds instead.

X-istential. Colorado has plenty to feed the mind as well as the body. Aspen's intellectual pursuits include The Aspen Institute, the International Design Conference, the Aspen Center for Physics, and the Given Biomedical Institute. Among these organizations, every week offers an opportunity to probe the most pressing political, artistic, scientific and philosophical questions of the day.

You'll amaze yourself with your ability to ski, snowball fight, shop, snowboard, sleigh ride, spa-hop and still find the energy to dine out, enjoy the night life and relax in front of the fire on your Colorado vacation.

Zoom down the mountain on your own, or enjoy the thrill of a dog sled ride. Hard-working Malamute, Siberian or Eskimo dogs pull your sled over wooded trails and through wide-open views. Experience the timeless thrill of moving over snow -- sometimes at speeds of 20 miles per hour -- just as the native peoples of the Arctic have for centuries. Tours generally last a couple of hours and commercial operators typically provide clothing and boots and a musher to drive the sled.

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