Colorado is spectacular any time of year. In summer, it’s all about the hiking, biking, rafting, climbing, and stopping to smell the wildflowers blossoming in impossibly green mountain meadows. Being outside in the great outdoors, feeling the freedom that comes with getting out in nature, is exactly what you need from a holiday. But, as snow bunnies and wintersports enthusiasts well know, when the temperature plummets in winter, there’s still plenty to enjoy outdoors in Colorado.
With soaring mountain ranges – 58 peaks reach over 14,000 feet (4267m) – Colorado is an adventurer’s dream destination. Coloradans and visitors ski, snowboard, snowshoe, fat bike, Nordic ski, and ride snowmobiles on beautifully manicured slopes, at some of the best ski resorts in the world. It’s all complemented by some après action, next to a roaring fire with a hot toddy or two. Best of all: many of these activities have adaptive options.
There’s plenty to see and do off the slopes and away from the mountains, too. Colorado has an abundance of museums, cultural activities, and attractions for one and all.
Denver: The City of Cool
Denver is the gateway to the Colorado mountains, and it’s the height of cool. Take in the vibrant street art, or head into any one of the many accessible museums and galleries.
Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station is a four-story immersive art exhibition with more than 70 portals, rooms, and installations, with art from 300 creatives (110 of them Coloradans). It took three years to create, and has a range of supportive services and accessibility options available. Meow Wolf partnered with Artful Access, a Denver-based organisation that brings direct experience, skills, and advocacy in the areas of arts and accessibility.
The Denver Center for Performing Arts, the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, the Buell Theatre, and Boettcher Concert Hall all offer ADA seating, wheelchairs, TDD telephones, and accessible restrooms. Assistive listening devices are also available upon request.
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Denver has a viewing experience for visitors who are colour blind. MCA is one of the first museums to offer this experience, revolutionising art appreciation for people who might otherwise only get to see art in monochrome. It’s made possible with several pairs of Technicolor-inspired glasses made by EnChroma.
Go Downhill in Colorado
Great strides have been made in opening up winter sports to people with disabilities, and Colorado is home to the largest adaptive sports program in the world.
The National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) has its headquarters in Winter Park, a world-class snow resort that’s just 90 minutes’ drive from Denver.
“We believe everyone is able, and everything is possible,” is the mantra of the NSCD. They offer ski programs for people of all ages with physical and cognitive disabilities. The NSCD adaptive ski school at Winter Park offers a variety of private and group lessons in adaptive alpine skiing, snowboarding, ski-biking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
Aspen Snowmass is perhaps the most renowned snow town in the USA, and it’s a playground all year round. There are myriad outdoor adventures to be had for one and all.
In winter, Challenge Aspen (in partnership with Aspen Skiing Company) provides people with disabilities private lesson packages at a discounted rate. The private full- and half-day lesson packages include a PSIA Adaptive Certified Instructor, all equipment, and a lift ticket.
Challenge Aspen also has trained adaptive assistance who can accompany experienced skiers and riders with disabilities who might need a buddy.
Telluride one of the most beautiful ski towns in the world – the perfect combination of scenery, terrain, history, and an array of things to do.
Telluride Adaptive Sports Program (TASP) ensures a wide range of these activities are available to those with disabilities. In addition to adaptive skiing and snowboarding, TASP can customise activities like Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, snowmobiling, and fat biking.
The affable volunteers – veritable snow angels – assist with sit-skiing, and buddies are available to guide independent skiers. Guides are also available for blind or low-vision and d/Deaf or hearing impaired skiers. Remember to book well ahead!
In Breckenridge, the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) is the ultimate hub for outdoor enthusiasts with disabilities. They open their doors to anyone who might otherwise find themselves excluded.
Their Adaptive Ski/Ride Program is available at both the Breckenridge and Keystone ski resorts, with half- and full-day lessons for individuals or groups. They also offer snowshoeing and ski-biking, and adaptive Nordic ski lessons (sit-down and stand-up) at the Breckenridge Nordic Center.
Breckenridge is part of the Vail Resorts family, with several others also known for their adaptive wintersports programs.
Crested Butte offers lessons on the mono-ski, bi-skis (which provide more stability), and alpine skis, even for absolute beginners. The instructors ensure each person maximises their independence and feels the sense of freedom that the slopes can provide. Adaptive snowboard instructors are also available to teach participants the body movements and techniques needed to ride freely down the slopes, or you could give ice climbing a try if you’re looking for an extra thrill. Crested Butte also offers multi-day ski camps for women (book well in advance), and a specialised camp for teenage burn survivors.
At Vail, the adaptive team provides first-class training to people of all abilities, adapting the equipment and instruction to the needs of each guest. Specially-trained professional instructors tailor each lesson to the needs of the skier for a safe and unforgettable experience. These programs are also offered at Beaver Creek.
Steamboat adds a touch of cowboy to its snowy delights, and for those with specific needs, there are programs that will get you out on the powdery slopes and making the most of it.
The mission of Steamboat Adaptive Recreation Sports (STARS) is to empower and enrich lives through adaptive recreational sports. They offer adaptive ski and snowboard lessons on the mountain for youth and adults with autism, cognitive and physical disabilities, and injured Veterans.
Access to the mountain is made easy at the STARS Ranch, a hub for the STARS program to help everyone discover the outdoors, build confidence and independence, and teach skills to overcome health challenges. STARS uses skiing, cycling, therapeutic horseback riding, kayaking, and other activities to empower people with disabilities.
Warm up in Glenwood Springs
With impossibly pretty scenery all year round, Glenwood Springs is a popular Colorado destination – but visit in winter to make the most of its famous hot springs. It’s the perfect spot to warm up after a chilly day exploring outdoors.
There are multiple options for accessing the pools. The Glenwood Hot Springs Pool has a fixed pool lift, and the Iron Mountain Hot Springs pool has a sloped ramp entry.
If you’re looking for something to do when you’re not getting wet, the city’s Sunlight Mountain Resort offers adaptive skiing and snowboarding lessons. Off the slopes, ride the Glenwood Gondola up the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
Worried about getting there? There’s no need: accessible train services run from Denver International Airport and Denver’s Union Station.
Speaking of trains, the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway is legendary. In winter, it runs between Durango and Cascade Station in the San Juan Mountains. There is a wheelchair accessible car for those who need it. The scenery is spectacular, as the train travels through the Cascade Gorge along the Animas River.
If you can’t get enough of Colorado wintersports, the Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resorts has half- and full-day private lessons for people of all abilities. Instructors and volunteers work with participants to work out the best way to make the most of their day on the slopes.
If you’d like to slow down for the day, check out the accessible Animas River Trail.
A gold medal experience at Colorado Springs
Allow at least a couple of days to explore the many attractions of Colorado Springs.
At the top of the list is ‘America’s Mountain’ – Pike’s Peak – which soars to 4302m and is the second-most visited mountain in the world. The Summit Visitor Center, which opened in 2021, is accessible, as is the Broadmoor Manitou Cog Railway (which runs from Manitou Springs to the top). It’s the highest cog railway in the world.
The US Olympic and Paralympic Museum is just as impressive as any mountain, and it’s certainly one of the most accessible and inclusive museums in the world. Many Para-athletes were involved in the planning process, to ensure all of the necessary components are in place to create a special experience for all.
More adventures in Colorado
- Visit Estes Park – a driving tour up Trail Ridge Road is an incredible opportunity to get up above the tree line for travellers with disabilities. In winter, the road is closed higher up, but the views over the Rocky Mountains National Park are still well worth it. The trail around Sprague Lake, which is stunning in the winter, is wheelchair accessible, and there is an accessible wilderness campground nearby for hardy types.
- Take a tour with Colorado Jeep Tours, from Cañon City to see the Royal Gorge, Red Canyon, as well as the historic gold mining districts. All of their tours are ASL interpreted for people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing.
- Steamboat Sleigh Ride – Ragnar’s Sleigh Ride Dinner is a magical experience up on the mountain. Guests do need to be ambulatory to get in and out of the sleigh and to enter the cabin.
Plan your trip to Colorado
The Exploryst website is a very useful tool. It’s a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) travel planning site for people with disabilities, with all the information you’ll need to plan and book your trip.
Of course, you can also find more information and inspiration at Colorado.com
This feature was published in partnership with Colorado Tourism. It appeared first in Travel Without Limits magazine – you can subscribe here.