The weirdest winter festivals in Colorado

Celebrating the wacky during the cold-weather months

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The first big snowfalls in my home state mark a season of celebration, not only with the onset of traditional November and December holidays, but with some truly unique and entertaining festivals that bring out the quirky in anyone who attends—locals and visitors alike. If you’re heading to Colorado this winter, consider getting your wacky on at one of these beloved longtime events.

Frozen Dead Guy Days: Nederland, March 11–13, 2016

The granddaddy of all nutty events is Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland, an hour northwest of Denver. The festival celebrates a Norwegian immigrant grandfather who passed away in 1989 and has, quite literally, been packed on ice in a cryogenic state in a shed above Nederland for more than two decades (read the full history here). With activities like a coffin race, icy-turkey bowling, salmon toss, frozen T-shirt challenge, icy-grandpa lookalike contest, and Rocky Mountain oyster-eating competition, the scene is both morbid and bizarre. Also on tap are karaoke, live music, and plenty of craft beer.

Ullr Fest: Breckenridge, January 13–16, 2016

Costumed participants at Frozen Dead Guy Days

In January, the ski town of Breckenridge pays homage to the Norse god Ullr, known for his stellar skiing abilities, in the hopes that he will bless the slopes with plenty of snow. Don your Viking hat to watch the big event, a lively parade of entertaining snow-themed floats, make its way down Main Street.

Anyone over the age of 21 can participate in a highly synchronized attempt to drink from the world’s longest ski shot. That’s 300-plus skis connected together in one long line, with shot glasses full of liquor attached and downed simultaneously (see photo from Breckenridge Tourism Office above). Then there are the “Ullympics” with a frying-pan toss and ski-boot relay. Ullr Fest is a much-anticipated Breckenridge celebration that has taken place annually for more than 50 years.

Snowdown: Durango, January 27–31, 2016

Porta-potty stuffing (to see how many people can fit in one stall), bed races (pushing participants in beds through a downtown obstacle course, Spam carving, feline fashion shows, and broomball on ice are only a handful of the more than 100 zany events typically held during Snowdown, a five-day festival that began in the 1970s to help residents beat the post-holiday January doldrums. Today, there are goofy contests, games of chance, and competitions of skill for all ages, from a preschool dance party to chilly beer plunges (dunking in a baby pool filled with beer in frigid outdoor temperatures).

Skijoring and Crystal Carnival: Leadville, March 4–6, 2016

Competitive skijoring involves being pulled on skis by a horse and rider down a snow-packed road. It sounds like a load of fun to fly through town on a pair of skis, but there’s skill involved, too: The skier must take some jumps and spear rings in this timed race. In fact, competitive teams come from all over the country to compete.

The Skijoring and Crystal Carnival has taken place in high-altitude Leadville (which sits at more than 10,000 feet) since 1949. The family-friendly event features a community pancake breakfast, paintball biathlon, free sledding on a local hill, live music, and dancing (typically at the Elks Lodge), and kids can even try skijoring behind a snowmobile.

Viewfinder Tip: Wear sunscreen on your face if you’re going to be at any outdoor winter event in Colorado. The sun is strong in this high-altitude state.

Slush cups: various ski resorts, spring

“Pond skimming” or “slush cups” are typically held on the final weekend of the ski season in April at several ski resorts in Colorado, including KeystoneAspen/Snowmass, Steamboat Springs, Vail, and Crested Butte. Sure, these events aren’t technically wacky “winter” festivals since they take place after the spring equinox, but they’re worth a mention because they typically bring out the most spirited spring-skiing enthusiasts—those who aren’t afraid to don a gorilla costume, full business suit, or speedo to ski down a small hill and then launch themselves across a small body of water and potentially splash headfirst into a chilly mess of slush. Spectators enjoy applauding successful pond skims, admiring crazy costumes, and raising a glass to another fun winter of outdoor activity in Colorado.

Where does your favorite winter festival take place?

Header image courtesy of Breckenridge Tourism Office.

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Hotel Deals for Westminster
Cottonwood Suites Westminster
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Nov 19 - Nov 19, 2017
per night from
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$ 72

Kara Williams

Longtime freelance travel writer Kara Williams concluded her tenure as an Expedia Viewfinder blogger at the end of 2015. Kara covers destinations for family vacations, wellness trips, romantic escapes, and girlfriend getaways not only for her own blog The Vacation Gals (which she co-owns with travel writers Beth Blair and Jennifer Miner), but also such publications as Luxury Las Vegas, Ski Canada, Ocean Home, Interval World, American Eagle Latitudes and Fodors.com. Outdoor adventures, national parks, luxury hotels, and spas are her other favorite beats. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), she makes her home in the Colorado Rockies with her husband and two children. Learn more about Kara and her work at www.karaswilliams.com.

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