Snowplay in Durango, Colorado
Enjoy sunshine and skiing in Colorado's San Juans
Why go in winter: This outdoors-loving town throws a great winter party―and there are plenty of snowy adventures in the nearby San Juans.
Beat the midwinter blues: Join the annual Snowdown Winter Celebration, with softball games on skis, a parade, and a scavenger hunt (Jan 27–31; snowdown.org).
Elevation: 6,512 feet
Annual days of sunshine: More than 300
Meet the locals: College students, ranchers, environmentalists, and urban transplants lured by the mountains and the Animas River.
Dress code: Cowboy boots or ski garb
History lesson: The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Company founded Durango in 1880 as a mining town to process gold and silver hauls.
Before you hit the slopes: Stop by Bread bakery for maple-oat scones (970/247-5100).
Best-seller list: Louis L’Amour wrote many of his novels in room 222 of the Strater Hotel (from $109, including breakfast; strater.com).
Wild West happy hour: Stop by Strater’s Diamond Belle Saloon (970/247-4431).
More: What to do in Durango
Locals know that Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort (a half-hour from town) has some of the best weather of any ski area in the country―with sun breaking out after snow-dumping storms.
This season the resort adds 125 acres of expert tree-skiing terrain to its existing 85 runs. Lift tickets from $65; durangomountainresort.com
A snowy throwback ride
Hop aboard a 129-year-old steam-powered train, and check out the snowy San Juan National Forest at 18 mph.
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad used to haul precious metals from Colorado’s mines, but now it’s just for fun (and occasional film cameos: It appeared in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, among others).
The 52-mile loop to Cascade Canyon shows off frozen waterfalls, snow-draped evergreens, and the white-capped San Juans, and includes a stop for a campfire lunch. $49; durangotrain.com
Drink local The Durango Brewing Company crafted its first ale in 1886, and the Amber Ale is still a local favorite. For fun under $5? Four-ounce beer samples are $1, and a pint is $4.
If you work up an appetite, the tasting room serves burgers made with locally raised organic beef. $; 3000 Main Ave.; 970/247-3396.
Stargaze while you soak
The warmest place to spot stars in Durango’s often cloudless skies is from the two natural hot-spring mineral pools at Trimble Spa & Natural Hot Springs, 7 miles north of town.
While soaking in the 100° water, keep an eye out for owls perching in the poolside pines. $13, $8.50 ages 5–12 and 65 and above; 6475 County Rd. 203; trimblehotsprings.com
More: Winter essentials in Durango
Make it a weekend
You can easily spend a couple of days exploring Durango.
The 15-room Rochester Hotel (from $119, including breakfast; rochesterhotel.com), built in 1892, has the best hotel breakfast in town (with a menu that changes daily), tea and cookies every afternoon, and cruiser bikes for guests―useful on snow-free winter days.
Take a hike
Rent snowshoes at Pine Needle Mountaineering (half-day $10, full day $15; 835 Main Ave.; 970/ 247-8728), then drive 30 minutes north to Coal Bank Pass, where a moderate trail through the woods leads you to 360° views from the meadows of Engineer Mountain.
Stop for hot chocolate
Jean-Pierre Le Cafe Chic, at the corner of Main and College, pours the best hot chocolate in Durango, with windows looking out onto the bustle of downtown.
After turning out more than 5 million baguettes and croissants, the baker has the recipes perfected. $; 601 Main Ave.; 970/385-0122.
Let the dogs do the work
Check out the snowy mountainscape from a new vantage point: the helm of a dogsled.
The guides at Durango Dog Ranch will help you handle the reins of Alaskan and Siberian huskies as they race through white evergreen forests. $300 for half-day trip for two, including guide and instruction; durangodogranch.com
Take a cooking class
Lauren Slaff gives farm-to-table entertaining classes in her professionally equipped home kitchen. Slaff helps students whip up inventive but easy dishes using fresh local ingredients. She also teaches artful presentation and cooking techniques. BYO wine to pair with the fruit of your labors. Classes from $50; reservations required; verypersonalchef.com.