Winter fun in the mountains is about more than just skiing and snowboarding.
People who take wintertime vacations are typically drawn to one of two categories of vacations; Vacations people take to escape winter, and vacations people take to enjoy winter. The former includes tropical resorts and beach towns in places where a 45 degree evening is considered grounds for remaining indoors. The later, of course, typically involves mountains, with skiing and snowboarding being the most common activities.
In North America, the winter fun season lasts generally from the later part of November through the end of March. Based on anecdotal evidence (the people I know and have talked to), the peak time to visit the mountains in winter occurs sometime around the middle part of February. By this particular part of the year, enough snow has generally fallen to produce some of the best snow conditions of the year. Also, temperatures have recovered a bit from their mid-January lows, and are a bit more pleasant.
With all of the visitors, not only from all over the country, but from all over the world, other events, and other activities are bound to follow. In the middle of winter every year, the Village of Breckenridge hosts the International Snow Sculpture Championships, which features snow art from artists from various places around the world (from local artists, to places as far away as Argentina). These sculptures can commonly be viewed the final week of January through the first week of February.
Events in the middle part of the winter also include family activities, Mardi Gras celebrations, and random parades through the village, such as this one at Keystone, which features Riperoo, the mascot for Vail Resorts, which owns eight of the top Western U.S. ski resorts in California, Colorado, and Utah.
And the events that take place in the ski villages throughout the peak part of the ski season are not just limited to family friendly activities. With the number of visitors that come to the area, high class villages like Aspen, Jackson, or Vail, are able to draw some fairly well known acts to preform during the evening.
Those with enough energy can ski all day long, and party all evening in many of these western villages (although there might be a limit to how drunk you can get in Utah). There is even a T-shirt commemorating this type of day.
While the ski resorts themselves are the main draw, and the main reason there are as many visitors to the mountains as there are at this time of year, wintertime activities are not limited to only the resorts and the villages that support them.
As I wrote about last year, there are plenty of outfitters in the mountains that offer dog sled tours.
Many of these outfitters also offer snowmobile rentals and tours, and many are quite close to ski resorts and resort villages.
Due to geographical features, it is not hard to find hot spring throughout the West. One of the most popular hot springs in the country, Strawberry Park, is located in Steamboat Springs, less than 10 minutes from the ski resort.
And, with frequent spells of warmer weather, it is quite possible to find a day, even during the peak part of ski season, where it is possible to just take a hike in the woods (that is, if you can handle hiking over a little bit of snow).
It is a story repeated in many different places throughout the country. In any place where you have large amounts of visitors, many other activities and events, often catering to all different kinds of people, pop up in response. This is why we see tons of miniature golf courses, boat tours, and even night clubs pop up in places like Orlando, “Down-East Maine”, and the Wisconsin Dells. In each case, a primary draw (like water parks, or ocean front) brings people to the region, and then the other amenities follow. However, in many of these places, the area has become quite congested with people. Those who have either sat in traffic, or spent a small fortune on strips such as International Drive in Orlando, or the Smoky Mountain Parkway in Pigeon Forge, will refer to places like these as “tourist traps”.
But are these places “tourist traps”? It is, after all, quite easy to spend a small fortune in Vail right after sitting in major traffic on I-70 to get there. However, despite the similarities between the “tourist traps” of the East and the mountain resorts of the West, there are still some major differences, with the primary one being the balance between natural and man-made attractions. Theme parks such as Disney World and Six Flags are completely the creation of humans. And, although we have lifts to carry us up the mountains, and a nice pool to cover the Hot Springs, the main attractions here are still the natural features that first brought us here. So, until a roller coaster pops up adjacent to Park City, mini-golf courses start to line South Lake Tahoe, and Dillon Reservoir becomes covered with bumper boats, the mountain west has not become a “tourist trap”, at least not in the same way as the “tourist” traps had developed in these other places.
With that being said, it is still important to remember that there is way more to wintertime in the Rockies than skiing and snowboarding. And, while there are some visitors who do little else but ski on their visits to the mountains at this time of year (spending most of their remaining time in their condo), there are others that take part in a lot of other activities and attractions in the area.