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Winter festivals worth visiting in southern Colorado
Photo courtesy: Visit Durango Facebook

By Joshua Pilkington

Though the pageantry of the holiday season has passed, winter in Colorado is just beginning and several winter festivals promise to keep Coloradoans and visitors to the state entertained during the year’s colder months.

Snowdown (Durango) January 31-February 4

One of Colorado’s longest running winter festivals is the quirky Snowdown in Durango. In an effort to lift spirits in the mountain town from a post-holiday hangover, founder John Murrah managed to get $2,000 in seed money from the Durango Herald and create a festival that would show off Durango’s beautiful downtown and the creativity of its residents. That was 1979, now going into its 40th year, the festival has only grown along with its host city.

Held traditionally on the last weekend of January, the renowned “original cabin fever reliever” will go with the theme of Black Tie Affair for its 40th anniversary. On January 31 through February 4, residents and visitors will be able to watch or take part in a myriad of activities ranging from off-the-cuff events like a donut-eating contest and belt sander drag races, to more traditional festivities such as scavenger hunts and beer trivia.

The highlights of the festival start on Friday at dusk with the Light Parade through downtown Durango and the fireworks show that begins Saturday at 6 pm. The festival also offers a great way for both in-state and out-of-state visitors to take in one of Colorado’s largest mountain towns and, perhaps, one of the state’s best-kept secrets.

For more information on Snowdown visit

Rio Frio Ice Fest (Alamosa) January 26-28

Located three-hours east of Durango, is another Colorado gem of outdoor recreation and chilly, winter temperatures: Alamosa. The hub of the San Luis Valley annually boasts a festival that brings out the best in winter. The Rio Frio Fire and Ice festival is a weekend-long festival that this year runs from January 26-28.

The festival features moonlight cross-country skiing on Friday night at 6 pm and a bevy of events on Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” said Juan Macias, who joined in the fun at the Rio Frio Ice Fest in 2015 and 2016. “They do a great job of keeping people entertained and there is a lot to do.”

This year’s festival will feature traditional events such as Saturday’s live ice sculpting, polar plunge and faux snowman building as well as some new events like the ice carousel, which is a large spinning circle of ice set on the frozen Blanca Vista Ponds. The tale of the Fremont Expedition will also be re-enacted on the ice.

“I’d say my favorite part was the food and drink sampling and the bonfire,” Macias said.

The Grub n’ Pub in downtown Alamosa is one of the most popular events of the festival as revelers are able to purchase tickets to sample an appetizer and/or beverage at each of the participating restaurants.

The main event, however, is the fire and ice bonfire, which features a chimney made up of ice that contains a large bonfire.

The theme for 2018 is superheroes and with it a superhero costume contest for all ages with prizes going to the winners in each age division.

To cap off the weekend, the Rio Frio 5k makes its return to the festival. Sunday at 10:30 am runners and walkers will have the unique opportunity to run in the race featured in Runner’s World Magazine. The run follows the frozen Rio Grande, offering participants the rare opportunity to run the entire race on a frozen river while taking in the views of the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountain ranges.

For more information on the Rio Frio Ice Festival visit





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