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45.7 inches of snow fell on Denver in 1913. Photo by History Colorado

The 5 Best Moments in Colorado Winter History

Not all winters are created equally, as shown by this roundup of frosty Centennial State memories.

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As Coloradans, we all have great expectations for winter. This is the year I’m going to ski 100 days. This is the year I’m going to snowshoe a fourteener. This is the year I’m going to binge-watch The Office until the snow melts. But winter doesn’t just revolve around the snow report.

There are also unforgettable holidays, sports victories, and momentous excuses to cozy up with belly-warming whiskey—which is why these frosty years top the podium for the Centennial State’s greatest winters.

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The Winter We Learned to Ski, 1914

Before 1920, many Coloradans viewed skiing as a mode of transportation—until Norwegian immigrant Carl Howelsen arranged a ski jumping demonstration near Granby in 1911. Three years later, he organized Steamboat Springs’ first winter carnival, introducing about 2,000 Coloradans to our favorite sport and a lifetime of bad knees.

The Winter of Plenty, 1913

When 45.7 inches of snow—the most in Denver’s history—fell on the Mile High City from December 1 to 5, 1913, one Denver Post headline read: “Denver In Mantle Of Shimmering White Stops Activity And Everybody Jollifies!” Well, maybe not everybody. Trains were delayed and schools were closed for days—but the city’s youngest citizens surely didn’t complain.

The Winter of Light, 1914

On Christmas Eve 1914 (an eventful year, apparently; see “The Winter We Learned To Ski”), Denver electrician D.D. Sturgeon hung light bulbs dipped in red and green paint on a tree outside his ill six-year-old son’s window. The idea gave birth to outdoor holiday lights as we know them, and—eventually—the aisles of blow-up snowmen at your local Home Depot.

The Winter of Open Roads, 1979

Usually, no one has anything nice to say about I-70. When the Eisenhower–Johnson Memorial Tunnel was completed (the first tunnel opened in March 1973, and the second debuted on December 21, 1979), however, it meant Front Range skiers heading west could shave about an hour off their commutes to Vail, Beaver Creek, Copper Mountain, and Breckenridge. Of course, nowadays, the traffic snarls there make us mutter things that earn us our spots on the naughty list.

…And the Worst? The Winter of No Winter, 1976-’77

Thanks to an uncharacteristically long drought, only 19 of the state’s 32 ski areas were open by Christmas, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses for Vail, Aspen, and others. The next winter—no surprise—became the Winter Of Artificial Snow.

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The Winter We Won

Nothing tastes as sweet as victory when you’ve suffered four decades of defeat. The Broncos bungled four big-game appearances before snapping their streak on January 25 in Super Bowl XXXII, a career-defining win for then quarterback John Elway. But as the Duke told fans in downtown Denver during the celebratory parade: “This is as much for you as it is for us…. The 53 guys on this team, we earned it as well as you.”

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