Five Colorado escapes for lovers—or anyone in love with the great outdoors.
Does a Valentine's Day getaway always have to include the forced trappings of love? Champagne, two-person tubs, rose-petal turndowns.... While there's nothing wrong with the hearts-and-flowers routine, there's nothing overly inspiring about it either. Romance doesn't have to be so manufactured—Coloradans know what truly gets the heart pounding. We feed affection with healthy servings of outdoor playtime mixed with equal parts of relaxing downtime. It's a winning combo—recent research from the University of Denver's Center for Marital and Family Studies shows that taking time to specifically have fun together is not a relationship luxury; it's a necessity that results in happier couples with strong bonds. Which is why we've put together five weekend escapes where you can play, connect, and unwind in a surprisingly romantic—and very Colorado—way.
The Ski Town with a Twist
Playtime: The phrase "champagne powder" was coined in Steamboat Springs, but this citadel of snow is more than just a place to carve turns—it's a mountain town that hasn't lost its soul to the resort. It's also a jumping-off spot for backcountry and Nordic skiing, as well as one of the best adrenaline rushes you can have on snow: dogsledding.
The adventure starts out romantically enough—wrapped around each other, covered in heavy blankets, snuggled into a sled. But with the word mush!, and a chorus of yelps, the sled lurches forward, pulled by eight or more of the wiry, tough-as-nails Alaskan huskies who'll skim you over the rolling snowfields at Stagecoach State Park. Try Red Runner Dog Sled Tours, which offers half-day outings that include post-ride refreshments in a warming hut. Tours start at $260 per sled.
Downtime: Start your day with the cinnamon-roll French toast at Winona's (970-879-2483); end it by wandering along Lincoln Avenue, poking into a few shops, and grabbing a pint at Mahogany Ridge grill (970-879-3773). For dinner, Café Diva's tiny dining rooms and small tables make for an intimate environment. But it's the local clientele and ample comfort cuisine—like crab and tomato bisque or lamb shank—that make this a savvy choice for romantics looking to avoid stuffy resort fare.
Stay the Night: The Highmark Steamboat isn't your average ski-lodge hotel. With 23 condo suites, this Bavarian-style tower, opened just last year, nestles into the base of the mountain and makes for a decadent escape. Jacuzzi bathtubs, flat-screen TVs, fireplaces, and sprawling king-size beds will leave you wondering what good you must've done in another life to deserve it all. Winter rates for a two-bedroom condo range from $299 to $599.
The Extremist's Dream
Playtime: Grumbling north of 12,000 feet in one of Chicago Ridge's snowcats, you'll be glad you both rented those extra-chubby skis. If you hadn't, the 2,400 acres of deep natural powder might have made the day at Leadville's Ski Cooper a little less epic. Instead, the two of you will easily float over the treed slopes and open bowls of this advanced terrain. There's a max of two guides and up to 12 guests in each cat. A full day of skiing ($325) includes a hearty hot lunch.
After a day of playing in the powder at Ski Cooper, a short snowshoe to the potbelly-stove-warmed Tennessee Pass Cookhouse sets up time to relive the day's best moments and banner crashes. Less than one mile from the Ski Cooper lodge, this giant yurt doles out highbrow cuisine (elk tenderloin, rack of lamb) in a completely casual setting (Gore-Tex and Capilene welcome).
Downtime: A stroll through Leadville's small historic downtown reveals its rich mining history and recalls an era when men armed with pickaxes marched to the nearby shafts morning, noon, and night. You too can take a tour of the mines by following the 12.5-mile Mineral Belt Trail, six miles of which meander through the Leadville Mining District. Downtown, much of the old architecture has been preserved, including mining structures, an opera house, 1880s-era hotels, and turn-of-the-century homes.
Stay the Night: Tucked just one-half block off Harrison Avenue, the Leadville Inn serves up inviting accommodations (we like the Copper and Attic rooms) and gourmet breakfasts. Innkeepers Dan Houtchens and Tracey Lauritzen welcome visitors into their circa-1895 purple Victorian, and offer a wealth of knowledge for perusing Leadville. A nighttime soak in the garden hot tub presents two enticing opportunities: Ski-weary muscles get a chance to relax, and you can take in a killer view of the unobscured heavens. Rates start at $90.
The Rite-of-Passage Weekend
Playtime: Any trip to Aspen is an opportunity for world-class skiing and dining, but an escape to the outlying Pine Creek Cookhouse combines the best of both. The gourmet-dining destination sits tucked into the base of the Elk Mountains, just 11 miles outside of Aspen. For dinner, you'll strap on a miner's headlamp and cross-country skis to make your way through 1.5 miles of subalpine-valley terrain to a log-cabin cookhouse in the heart of the Ashcroft Ski Touring area. Once there, you'll dine on porcini-dusted elk, Jack Daniel's-marinated caribou, rainbow trout, and more. If skiing or snowshoeing to dinner isn't your idea of a good time, a horse-drawn sleigh will deliver you to the cabin's doorstep.
Downtime: Aspen needs little introduction; however, if you've never spent a wintery evening wandering along the twinkle-light-lined streets of this iconic mountain town, it's time to rethink your après-ski plans. A late-night stop at the venerable Popcorn Wagon (970-925-2718) is a rite of passage for Coloradans (get a gyro or a sweet crêpe). So too is grabbing a nightcap at the J-Bar in the Hotel Jerome . Or search the stacks at Explore Booksellers. Housed in a sprawling old Victorian on Main Street, the landmark bookstore has old creaky floors, an aroma of freshly brewed coffee (there's a coffeeshop on the main level), and a pervasive stay-all-day-if-you-like vibe that makes you want to spend the afternoon. And with a full bistro located upstairs, you can munch on tasty vegetarian fare or sip from a glass of organic wine while you read.
Stay the Night: Hole up in one of the Limelight Lodge's casitas (reserve the deluxe variety if you can), where couples can take advantage of a spacious living area with fireplace, a secluded location, and easy access to the on-site hot tubs and heated pool. Don't forget to bring snacks (each casita has a kitchen) and a bottle of wine—and plastic cups—for a hot tub-side beverage.
The After-Dark Destination
Playtime: The usual skiing and shopping delights Durango's visitors by day, but a more magical experience awaits when the sun sets. Durango Mountain Resort's moonlight or starlight snowshoe tours allow you to explore Purgatory Mountain after dark alongside one of the resort's knowledgeable guides. For a mellow evening, take the last chair of the day up the mountain and watch the alpenglow light up the Needles mountain range. Then travel around Purgatory's slopes, enjoy a wine-and-cheese party at the Powderhouse Cafe, and make your way back down the mountain toward dinner.
Downtime: Durango is one of the last authentically Western towns in Colorado. Sure, it's become an exclusive slope-seekers' enclave in recent decades, but Main Avenue looks much like it did 100 years ago. You can still wander in and out of the historic Strater Hotel and its Diamond Belle Saloon, although a contemporary side of Durango lies behind the historic facades. For women's clothing try From the Heart boutique, or check out the exhibits at Open Shutter Gallery—both of which are located on Main.
Once the sun goes down over the Rockies, grab a crisp glass of white at Jean Pierre Bakery & Wine Bar, order a steak at the Palace Restaurant, and slip into a slow dance at the Lost Dog lounge (970-259-0430). Or dine at the romantic Chez Grand-mère, chef Michel Poumay's intimate French eatery.
Stay the Night: The Strater Hotel charms history buffs, but for privacy and modern flair, try the Nobody's Inn. Located just off Main Avenue in a fully restored 120-year-old building, the inn has no on-site staff; you feel like you're staying in a friend's professionally decorated apartment rather than a hotel. All four of the inn's rooms (we like the Homebody for its back-of-the-building privacy) come with a kitchenette, plush linens, and a gift certificate for the Irish Embassy Pub across the street. Winter rates start at $99.
Side Trip: Just seven miles away, you'll find the pools of Trimble Spa and Natural Hot Springs. Bring a thermos of hot cocoa, ease into the 100-degree water, and decompress.
The Takin'-It-Easy Escape
Playtime: You've mastered the Game Creek Bowl, you've downed frightfully large beers at the Red Lion, and you've noshed on expensive eats at Restaurant Kelly Liken. So pass, for a moment, on the village scene and take a trip up Vail's Eagle Bahn Gondola to the top of the mountain, and then head to Adventure Ridge in search of one of the most underrated, overlooked on-mountain thrills: snow tubing. OK, it's not exactly hard-core recreation, but it qualifies as crazy good fun, and you can slide your way down the original locals' hill in the valley. One hour of tubing costs $25.
Downtime: Once you're done playing, leave the village and head down the road to Avon for the couples' aromatherapy massage ($280) and his-and-her pedicures ($65 each) at the Westin's Spa Anjali, a 23,000-square-foot, four elements-inspired refuge located in the Westin Riverfront Resort. If you venture into nearby Edwards, the tiny Juniper Restaurant satisfies with great wine, contemporary American comfort food, and an intimate yet bustling atmosphere. Grab a corner table and order the roasted butternut squash soup, the glazed duck breast, and the hot, sticky toffee pudding cake with Myers's Rum sauce.
Stay the Night: Sometimes you just want to be wowed—by service, decor, amenities, cuisine, location, everything. If that's the case, Avon's brand-new Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa is your retreat. The studio suites that feel like your own apartment (only much fancier) offer a sleek, minimalist sanctuary complete with kitchen and stocked mini-fridge. You'll be able to dip your toes in three hot tubs and a heated pool on the outside pool deck, which overlooks the Eagle River. For foodie couples, Thomas Salamunovich (think Larkspur in Vail) mans the burners at Avondale, the on-site eatery, turning out a locally inspired, seasonal menu.