Traveling for Wellness: Winter in Grand County, Colorado

Written by Teresa Bergen

Visitors to Colorado might wonder if the locals were born on skis or mountain bikes. It doesn’t seem like such a stretch of the imagination— Boulder and Denver regularly top lists of America’s fittest cities.

Visitors, too, can participate in this fit lifestyle by visiting one of Colorado’s numerous sleek and chic ski resorts. But Grand County, just two hours northwest of Denver, maintains a quaint feel with cute shops, mom-and-pop restaurants and cozy cabins. It’s an idyllic place to enjoy a healthy snowcation.

Snowshoeing

If you like quiet walks in the woods, snowshoeing provides plenty of exercise and is more affordable than skiing. Go on your own, or join a free ranger-guided snowshoe tour in Rocky Mountain National Park. Visitors traipse by frozen lakes and snowy peaks, while rangers point out aspens used by bears as scratching posts. Snowshoes and poles are available for rent at Never Summer Mountain Products in nearby Grand Lake.

Skiing

Thrill seekers fly down the slopes at Winter Park Resort, where beginner trails are akin to intermediate trails elsewhere. The resort features a terrain park where skiers and snowboarders explore jumps, rails and an 18-foot super pipe. More sedate skiers will find plenty of opportunities to practice their Nordic, aka cross-country, skiing in Grand County. The gorgeous Devil’s Thumb Ranch, a deceptively rustic-looking resort, offers lessons for all levels, including first-timers. Patient instructors and perfectly groomed tracks cut down on the intimidation factor.

Dogsledding

Visitors can also experience a sport usually associated only with Alaska. At the Snow Mountain Ranch YMCA of the Rockies, sled dogs are raring to go, barking and pawing the ground in the early winter mornings. As YMCA musher Tim Anderson said during an orientation to dogsledding, “they live to run.” After orientation, participants experience a thrilling ride on the back of a dog sled. Standing behind the musher takes more balance than many expect, with a very real chance of wiping out as the dogs make tight turns. “You never want to underestimate the dogs and their power,” says Anderson.

Wildlife Watching

Winter is an ideal time to drive the back roads and wander trails looking for wildlife. Moose, elk, bighorn sheep and mule deer make their home in Grand County. Rocky Mountain National Park provides prime viewing areas. Look for mule deer and elk in meadows at dawn and dusk. Moose tend to congregate on the west side of the park, along the Colorado River. Even common blue jays look striking against the snow. Note: Wear warm hiking boots and stick to packed-down trails unless you have snowshoes.

If You Go

United Airlines flies nonstop from Richmond to Denver, or take a connecting flight from Norfolk. In Denver, rent a car and drive to Grand County or catch the Home James shuttle. The shuttle goes directly to the familyfriendly, activity-filled YMCA of the Rockies, and the more upscale spa and fine dining of Devil’s Thumb Ranch. If you prefer to stay in town, Grand Lake has shops, restaurants, cute cabins and lodges.

About the author

Teresa Bergen

Teresa Bergen is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer and web content developer who specializes in health, fitness and travel. Her articles appear on/in MSN.com, Spirituality & Health, India Currents, Whole Life Times Magazine, Pique, Yogi Times, the South China Morning Post, travelandleisure.com and many other print and online publications. She’s the author of Vegetarian Asia Travel Guide and Meditations for Gym Yogis and writes a blog called Veg Travel and Fitness. She’s also the vegetarian/vegan editor of Real Food Traveler. In addition to writing, Teresa is a yoga teacher and ACE-certified personal trainer and health coach.