By R. Scott Rappold
Lets face it. Skiing and snowboarding can hurt.
Whether youre ripping the corduroy on the groomers, tearing up the bumps or plunging down a double-diamond, youre working the heck out of your calves, thighs and midsection. The smiles may hide the pain at the time, but a few hours later, when delayed onset soreness sets in, a hot soak could be just what the doctor ordered.
Fortunately, the same geologic and seismic forces that gave us the majestic Rocky Mountains left behind faults and joints below that allow geothermally heated water to rise to the surface. Many were considered healing waters by Native Americans long before Colorado became a state, and people today continue to find peace, relaxation and pain relief soaking under the sun or stars, immersed in the soothing waters of Mother Nature.
Check out these five classic Colorado hot springs within easy driving distance of ski areas. No, its not exactly as convenient as a slope side Jacuzzi, but skip the aprs ski cocktails and make the drive. Youll be glad you did, and so will your legs.
Here are the hot springs of Colorado Ski Country:
Monarch Mountain/Valley View Hot Springs
Southern Colorados Monarch Mountain, a family-friendly ski area perched on the Continental Divide, has no base village or condos, so most visitors either stay 20 miles away in Salida or head back to the Front Range. But take a slight detour south into the San Luis Valley and youll find one of Colorados most beloved hot springs.
This rustic resort is clothing optional, and in warmer weather youre likely to see people walking around au natural. Winters chill makes most people cover up, at least between the pools, and soakers are free to wear bathing suits. With more than a dozen pools scattered over a hillside, some requiring a 15-minute hike, this resort offers the quintessential natural hot springs feel, without the effort of having to schlep miles into the wilderness. The views of the San Luis Valley and the San Juan Mountains from the upper pools is unparalleled.
To get there: From Monarch head east to the junction of U.S. 285. Drive south over Poncha Pass and turn left where the highway meets Colorado Highway 17. Go left onto County Road GG for 7 miles to reach the resort.
Rates: $13/person for a day soak, $26 for the night plus lodging fees.
Lodging: A variety of options, from hotel-style rooms to rustic cabins to a community hostel. Only members may make reservations in advance, so you may need to pay a $35 annual fee to join, especially for weekends.
Contact: (719) 256-4314
Other info: For those heading north or arent comfortable with nude bathers, Mount Princeton and Cottonwood hot springs near Buena Vista offer pleasant alternatives, though in this writers opinion they lack the beauty and opportunity for privacy of Valley View.
Wolf Creek/Pagosa Hot Springs
This ski area in the San Juan Mountains is known for getting the most snow in Colorado, an average of 430 inches each winter. Its small enough to be family-friendly, but also has enough gnarly terrain much of it requiring at least some hiking to attract expert skiers from across the country. In the same superlative spirit, The Mother Spring that feeds Pagosas 23 pools is in The Guinness Book of World Records as the deepest hot spring aquifer, 1,002 feet.
That water is apportioned out to pools of various shapes, sizes and temperatures. You can sit along the San Juan River, relax under a waterfall or swim in the pool. As Colorados most-visited springs, it can be crowded in the summer, but youll likely find serenity and solitude on a winters night, while you replay the days powder runs and let your legs turn to jelly.
Take a visit and youll understand why the first white visitor to write about the springs said, There can scarcely be a more beautiful place on the face of the earth.
To get there: From Wolf Creek, head west on U.S. Highway 160 to Pagosa Springs. Turn left on Hot Springs Boulevard.
Rates: $26/adult for basic admittance
Lodging: Rooms available at the resort and in surrounding motels.
Other info: Bathing suits required. For a more intimate locals experience try Overlook Hot Springs.
Steamboat Ski Resort/Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Northwest Colorados Steamboat Ski Resort is legendary for its snow, so light and fluffy its where the term champagne powder was coined. The ski area often gets huge dumps when others to the south are dry, and it offers some of the finest tree-skiing anywhere around. But unlike many cookie-cutter ski towns, Steamboat was a Western town long before skiing, and the cowboy spirit lives on today.
It goes without saying such a place deserves a world class hot springs, and they have it with Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Nestled in the snow-draped forest outside of town, the rustic resort is lovingly manicured, with pools large enough for swimming and small enough for an intimate soak. If youre lucky, maybe some of that champagne powder will be falling around you.
To get there: Take County Road 36 north from Steamboat Springs. The last two miles are unpaved and a four-wheel-drive vehicle or tire chains are required on this stretch in winter.
Lodging: Several rustic cabins are available for rental, though be sure to make reservations well in advance.
Contact: (970) 879-0342
Other info: The springs are adult-only and clothing-optional after dark. Shuttles are available from town for those who dont have a proper vehicle.
Winter Park & Ski Granby Ranch/Hot Sulphur Springs
After a day of hitting the groomers at Winter Park, shredding the famed steeps and moguls of Mary Jane, or cruising the family-friendly slopesof Ski Granby Ranch, dont settle for a motel hot tub. Denverites and tourists have been coming to Hot Sulphur Springs for more than 140 years. Set among a lovely forest valley and on the banks of the Colorado River, the 21 pools and baths are fed by 200,000 gallons of mineral-rich water a day. Pool temperatures range from 95 degrees to a near-scorching 112 degrees.
So many people ski Winter Park then fight the Interstate 70 traffic to get home. Hot Sulphur Springs makes a worthy detour.
To get there: From the ski area follow U.S. Highway 40 north, through Granby, to the town of Hot Sulphur Springs. On the west side of town turn right at the sign for the hot springs.
Lodging: There are 17 motel-style rooms on-site.
Contact: (97) 725-3306
Sunlight Mountain/Glenwood Hot Springs
Compared to the big mountains of Aspen and Snowmass, Sunlight Mountain is small and relatively tame. Tickets are half of what youll pay on the big mountains. Parking is free. And all trails converge on the lodge. That makes it a perfect ski trip for families with kids, who will be delighted to wrap up a day on the slopes at the worlds largest hot springs pool especially once they see the waterslide.
To get there: From Sunlight, drive 10 miles north on Four Mile Road to Midland Avenue. Continue north and turn right on 27th Street to Colorado Highway 82 (Grand Avenue) and follow it into town. Turn right on River Street for the hot springs.
Lodging: There are 107 rooms available in the lodge, and ample lodging elsewhere in Glenwood Springs
Contact: (800) 537-7946
Other info: Check their website for the ski stay swim package, which includes lodging, pool access and a lift ticket for Sunlight, a unique deal in ski country.