The Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce and Ouray Tourism Office were awarded a $10,000 grant from the Colorado Tourism Office to market winter tourism in Ouray County, including the culinary offerings of local restaurants like Eatery 66. (Photo courtesy of Latitude Studio)

Beautiful, snow-covered mountain peaks, alpenglow and the crisp air, peaceful moments in the hot springs, and feeling the snowflakes gently floating down. Winter scenes like these are common in Ridgway from January to March, but they are only experienced by a fraction of its annual visitors.

The Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce aims to change that trend with the help of a $10,000 grant from the Colorado Tourism Office. The Small Marketing Match Grant from the state will fund aOuray County off-peak season marketing campaign, implemented in collaboration with the Ouray Tourism Office.

“Winter (post-holidays) is one of the slowest times of year for our businesses community and often a challenging time to keep the doors open and retain employees. Encouraging stronger visitation over the winter months helps businesses rely on more consistent volume, which in turn allows for better planning and employee retention year round,” explained Tim Patterson of RIGS Fly Shop & Guide Service, who is also the chamber’s board president. “Visitors and residents in Ridgway benefit from the proximity, access and affordability of our region’s pre-existing winter activities, coupled with our town’s incredibly scenic location. Ridgway is already viewed as a great place to get away from the typical tourist town feel and have a more authentic experience, even and especially over the winter months.”

The beautiful views of snow and mountains in Ridgway create a perfect winter vacation setting, he added. Enjoying the snowy landscapes can be combined with having a delicious meal or sipping a hot coffee from a cozy nook in one of the unique local restaurants, as well as relaxing while soaking in Orvis Hot Springs or nearby hot springs in Ouray.

Nordic and backcountry skiing and ice climbing are well-known winter recreational activities in the area, but visitors can also participate in indoor bouldering and a range of wellness activities like yoga, Pilates and massages in January, February and March. Many local art galleries, music and theater venues, local eateries, and pubs are also open year-round. Plus, winter events include skijoring, a sport where a horseback rider pulls a skier or snowboarder along a course. In 2020, San Juan Skijoring is Jan. 11-12 at the Ouray County Fairgrounds.

A wide selection of snowshoe, ski and fat bike destinations are available at the edge of Ridgway and Ouray, as well as within an hour’s drive up Red Mountain Pass, Dallas Divide and several Ouray County roads. Ouray has its own ski and snowboard slope with a free towrope, Lee’s Ski Hill, plus sledding at Vinegar Hill and ice skating at Rotary Park.

Ridgway is home to both the San Juan Huts office, which manages a network of mountain and desert huts available through the winter, and the nonprofit San Juan LEADS Serves, which guides trips for youth, veterans and family members with various athletic abilities. The nonprofit is one of a few local organizations that also specialize in adaptive sports programs for outdoor athletes with limited sight, hearing and mobility.

The chamber, partnering with the Town of Ridgway and four other towns, were awarded a state grant this month to fund a marketing campaign for the Colorado Creative Corridor. This is the third year of grant funding awarded to the corridor initiative, which promotes a travel route through five state-certified creative districts, including Ridgway.

“We are excited to be directly involved in $35,000 of grant funding for 2020. The Colorado Creative Corridor and off-peak season marketing grants are important for promoting a more sustainable model of year-round visitation and consistent economic opportunities for our local businesses, ” said Hilary Lewkowitz, the chamber’s marketing director.