Category Archives: Colorado

Mountain Huts Provide a Change of Seasons

In Colorado, it is possible travel to another climate zone without going very far. One of the numerous wonderful things about living here is the great variation of temperatures and weather on any given day. Day/night temperature differences at any elevation typically are 35 +/- degrees — so that hot summer days mean cool summer nights, and cold winter nights mean significantly warmer winter days. At this time of year, elevation can mean the difference between spring and winter, and in summer, it can mean the difference between scorching and temperate

During the great Summer 2006 heatwave, I made a couple of trips to the Tenth Mountain Division backcountry huts that sit at 11,000 feet or higher — in some cases nearly 6,000 feet higher than Boulder. Last summer, a friend and I escaped to Jay’s Cabin at the Shrine Mountain Inns, just off Vail Pass, for some cool air and beautiful wildflowers, and then she, another friend, my husband and I hiked to Francie’s Cabin, south of Breckenridge. (The summer and winter versions of the “front yard” of Jay’s are shown above.)

On Friday, with crocuses, daffodils and forsythia blooming in our yard, my husband and I and another couple skied up to Shrine Mountain Inn. Under gray skies that carried the promise of new snow, we skied past Jay’s (above right) and Chuck’s and settled in at Walter’s Cabin. In summer, it is possible to drive practically to the doorstep, unload food and gear, and go for a day hike. In winter, it’s a 2.7-mile ski or snowshoe in to the huts. When we got there, one of our friends, whose birthday we were celebrating, decided to ski some more. Her husband took a nap. My husband stretched out and relaxed with some his favorite music playing in his headphones. I’m not good at doing nothing, so I pulled out a jigsaw puzzle.

As the Friday afternoon light faded, the view of Copper Mountain’s ski runs disappeared in the clouds and snow started falling — intermittently flurrying and coming down hard. It was lovely to be indoors. The three huts comprising the Shrine Mountain Inns are more comfortable than others in the Tenth Mountain system. With flush toilets, hot and cold running water, excellent woodstoves, and electricity, they provide the backcountry’s equivalent of five-star luxury. The Shrine Pass area is shared by motorized and non-motorized recreationists, and by late afternoon, the occasional distant noise of the machines was no more, and the only sounds we heard were the crackling fire in the woodstove and our own conversation.

Late yesterday morning, we skied out in a heavy snowfall, little visibility and very wet snow underfoot. The snow kept clumping up on my skis (and all but one of my companions’ as well), and I couldn’t get any glide. In annoyance, I finally took off my skis, strapped them onto my pack and walked out most of the way on a path that was fortunately firm from a winter’s worth of ski and snowshoe traffic. Trudging up on Friday and down on Saturday reminded me of the Bill Cosby’s line about his his father telling him about how tough kids used have it: “My father said he walked five miles to school. Uphill both ways.”

I was relieved to get my pack off my back, but despite being weary and damp, I was astonishingly recharged just by one single night in a beautiful place where it is still winter. I’m not ready to give up winter totally, but the memories of the wonderful wildflowers at and near the Shrine Mountain Inn inspired me to spend six hours gardening. I redid two flower beds and planted wildflower seeds. There will still be plenty of snow at the Shrine Mountain Inn in a couple of weeks when I expect these new plants to come up in my garden.

Snow Here, But "Snowhere" Else

Three snowstorms in three weeks, and another forecast for Thursday, and Colorado’s Front Range is experiencing the makings of an epic winter. It was a lousy drive home to Boulder from the National Western Stock Show & Rodeo in Denver on Sunday evening, and I had to cancel a trip to Beaver Creek on Monday, because blowing and drifting snow and ground blizzards caused the Department of Transportation and State Police to close major highways and secondary routes all over the Front Range.

The storms also imperiled livestock and have hit ranchers on the Eastern Plains particuarly hard, so I don’t mean to minimize some people’s inconvenience and trivilize others’ real misfortunes. However, for skiers, a winter like this is nature’s greatest gift. Ski resorts up and down the Rockies have benefited from strong strong storms, and even if transportation to and from the high country was dicey at times, there have been more pluses than minuses so far.

While the Rockies are wallowing in snow, the Northeast is hurting and hurting badly. New England ski areas are limping along at best, and Europe is not any better off. The Alps are still in terrible shape. When I returned from Europe in early December, I wrote about the lack of snow, unseasonable warmth and sad prospects for the winter. These appear on my December 9, 2006, post. There has, alas, been no significant improvement. Whever there is a snow-poor year somewhere, resorts elsewhere might benefit in the short them, but in the long range, they suffer too.

In his guest column in the Denver Post, Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety reported, “One thing that has been common this season is that conditions for nearly every race — other than Beaver Creek and Levi, Finland — have been very inconsistent and unfair. There has been very little snow, and temperatures have been unseasonably warm. During the slalom here [Adelboden, Switzerland] on Sunday, it rained. On Monday, the temperature was about 45 degrees and the mountains slowly turned from snow to mud.”

I’m not gloating, but I am grateful to be a skier and snowshoer living in a region where there is lots of snow — at least, right now. I’m not taking anything for granted, snow-wise. It might not be like this next year (2005-06 were devastating in New Mexico and the winter before was uncharacterisitically snow-poor in the Pacific Northwest), so my winter soulmates and I better enjoy ski conditions while they are this good. And we fully expect even more Easterners, Europeans and Brits than unusual to come share our snowy slopes.

Colorado’s Top 10 Hotels

I always take magazines’ “best” lists with a grain of salt. Sometimes the lists are compiled from readers’ ballots, favoring big hotels or resorts in popular destinations that more people will have visited over smaller places or those in less glamorous destinations. Sometimes the lists suspiciously favor long-time advertisers. But I read them anyway — and I’ve never quibbled with what’s been included, rather by what I feel also merited such recognition. The new issue of Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List of 700 of the world’s top hotels includes 10 in Colorado. Acknowledging that the magazine’s readers and/or editors only seem familiar with Aspen, the Vail Valley and Colorado Springs, I give you their 2007 selections plus my descriptions:

  • The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs: This sprawling, resort keeps getting better. Every year brings news of new or renovated restaurants, a rebuilt golf course, a spa expansion, totally renovated guest rooms. The Broadmoor features 700 rooms, some of the best dining in the state, world-class golf, excellent tennis and drop-dead views of Pikes Peak in one direction and treetops by day twinkling city lights by night in the other direction.
  • Hotel Jerome, Aspen: This historic (1889) jewel of a hotel is the grande dame of Aspen hotels, restored and expanded lovingly into a Victorian-style showplace. But hold your hat, because the owners of The Broadmoor have purchased the Jerome, plan to close it sometime after the ski season and make it over completely. Observing Knowing what they have done at The Broadmoor, it’s bound to be a dazzling but historically respectful renovation.
  • Little Nell Hotel, Aspen: This gorgeous, tasteful hotel right at the base of the Aspen Mountain gondola set the bar high for luxurious, contemporary hotel development in one of America’s leading ski towns. Its rooms are tasteful, its staff caring and competent and its location at the edge of downtown Aspen exceptional. The concept will eventually be taken down the road when the planned Little Nell at Snowmass is built.
  • Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, Edwards: Magnificently located on a mesa with commanding mountain views, this boutique lodge offers a combination of seclusion and easy access to all of the Vail Valley’s abundant appeals and is the centerpiece of a development of super-luxe private homes. The resort features four golf courses and a wonderful on-site spa.
  • JW Marriott Denver, Denver: When I think about it, I am amazed that until this classy, 196-room hotel opened in June 2004, the vibrant Cherry Creek North area offered no lodging. Shops? Yes. Restaurants? Plenty. But this was the first hotel. When I’m in the area, even if I have no particular reason to walk through the door, I usually wander in just to gawk at the beautiful art glass in the lobby and other public areas.
  • Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort & Spa, Beaver Creek: When this luxuriously rustic hotel opened, it was the first real luxury property at still-developing Beaver Creek Village. Stylish and self-contained, it never lost its edge. The Hyatt was among the first to bring beautiful understated decor, well-trained staff, exceptional on-site facilities and top services to the mountains. Its standards have since become the norm for high-end ski hotels in the United States.
  • Pines Lodge, Beaver Creek: Good things come in (relatively) little packages. Set on a hill above Beaver Creek Village, is an attractive, understated ski-in, ski-out lodge with only 60 rooms, yet it combines abundant mountain charm with upscale services, amenities and decor and even European-style flair.
  • Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch, Beaver Creek: Taking its inspiration from grand National Park lodges, this spectacular ski-in, ski-out resort hotel offers 237 exquisitely appointed rooms, plus abundant atmosphere, enviable tranquility for those who wish it, a beyond-gorgeous spa and the exceptional hotel services for which Ritz-Carlton is known worldwide. There’s a chairlift right outside the door, and all the other attractions of Beaver Creek and the entire Vail Valley nearby.
  • Sonnenalp Resort, Vail: This is a perfect rendition of a classic Alpine ski resort brought to the Rockies. Run by the Faessler family that has operated the original Sonnenalp in the Bavarian Alps since 1919, this extraordinary 115-suite, 12room resort hotel occupies several buildings in the heart of Vail Village. Rooms and public spaces are all appointed in impeccable and authentic Alpine style. The lifts are a short walk away, and the Sonnenalp also operates its own nearby golf course.
  • St. Regis Resort, Aspen: With 179 spacious and graciously appointed guest rooms, a dazzling spa and all the top services expected at a St. Regis property, this is a shining jewel in the diadem of Aspen lodging. Self-contained and located at the base of Aspen Mountain, very near the lifts, it is also just a short walk from all of downtown Aspen’s attractions.

Some commonalities can be assumed for all of these properties: twice-daily housekeeping, excellent on-site dining, at least one congenial bar/lounge and often entertainment; concierge, doorman and valet services; fitness center and/or spa and/or swimming pool(s); child-care arrangements, and other services and facilities. After all, they would not have made the top-10 list without such features. You will find that these hotels have won numerous stars from Mobil and Diamonds from AAA, often every single year.

Caffeine-Loading on the Road

ToGoCoffeeCupMy husband and I spent four days skiing and snowshoeing in and around Snowmass, but because we wanted to slot our return drive after crews had scraped the remains of a blizzard off the highways but before day-skier traffic picked up, we left before 6:00 a.m. That put us in Glenwood Springs before 7:00, which meant that our customary cafe wasn’t open yet.

Instead, we stopped at the Kum & Go gas station and convenience store. Against my better judgment, I stuck a styrofoam cup under the “espresso” machine and pushed the button for “French vanilla.” Out came a stream of something coffee-ish, followed by stream of something dairy-ish. The taste was so artificial and chemical that I took three sips and poured the rest out. An hour and change later, we stopped again, this timeat the marvelous Columbine Bakery in Avon for excellent espresso drinks and first-rate pastries. The whole experience reminded me of why I have zeroed in on quality coffee stops in much of Colorado whenever I need a caffeine fix. This list is not comprehensive, but just includes some of my favorites for coffee to go. Some are mainly cafes, while others have fresh baked goods and even deli offerings to fuel travelers with fare that is fab rather than foul:

  • Avon: Columbine Bakery, 51 East Beaver Creek Boulevard (near I-70 Exit 167, across from City Market); 970-949-1400.
  • Buena Vista: Bongo Billy’s Buena Vista Cafe, 713 South U.S. Hwy 24; 719-395-2634.
  • Colorado Springs: The Coffee Exchange, 526 South Tejon Street (downtown); 719-227-8639.
  • Dillon: Blue Moon Bakery, 253 Summit Place Shopping Center (just off I-70 Exit 205); 970-513-0669.
  • Durango: Steaming Bean Coffee Company, 915 Main Avenue; 970-385-9516.
  • Frisco: Butterhorn Bakery, 408 Main Street (between I-70 Exits 201 and 203); 970-668-3997.
  • Glenwood Springs: Summit Canyon Mountaineering & Coffee House, 732 Grand Avenue (main street); 970-945-6994.
  • Golden: Noa-Noa Espresso & News, 109 Rubey Drive (just off Route 93, north of the interesection with U.S. 6); 303-277-0303.
  • Idaho Springs: Exit 240 Ski & Bike Rental (and espresso bar), 1319 Miner Street (just of I-70); 877-567-2220 and 303-567-2220.
  • Leadville: Cloud City Coffee House 711 Harrison Avenue (main street); 719-486-1317.
  • Montrose: Coffee Trader, 845 East Main Street; 970-249-6295.
  • Pagosa Springs: Victoria’s Parlor, 274 Pagosa Street (main street); 970-264-0204.
  • Salida: Bongo Billy’s Salida Cafe, 300 West Sackett Avenue; 719-539-4261.
  • Silverton: Avalanche Coffee House & Bakery, 1067 Empire Street (off US 550 in downtown Silverton, between the Durango & Silverton Railroad Depot and Greene Street, the main street); 970-387-5282.

Time Travel in Colorado

It was Friday afternoon, two days after the big storm, before I finally got around to digging out my car sufficiently to go to the supermarket, and I probably wouldn’t have done it yet if we weren’t having guests on Christmas Eve — and there was cooking and baking to be done. The nearby King Soopers market resembled my image of Moscow markets in the Soviet era. Customers plodded across snowpiles, slush puddles and ice sheets to the front door, where a dispirited Salvation Army bell ringer was hoping someone would drop something into the kettle now and then.

Immediately inside was a sign apologizing for the small inventory, because delivery trucks hadn’t been able to resupply the store. The produce bins were almost empty, with onions, potatoes, avocados and winter squash the only items displayed in any sort of quantity. Everything else was gone or almost so. Ditto with the meat and seafood sections, the bread shelves, the dairy section (the store was almost out of eggs) and the toilet paper shelves. I bought what I needed for baking and have to go back today hoping that the trucks made it with the winter vegetables I plan to roast for tomorrow’s dinner.

In this prosperous city in our well-off land, we are unaccustomed to doing without anything we want. We don’t go hungry, unless we are dieting and are hungry by choice. But seeing “my” King Soopers picked over reminded me that so many people in our community, our country and around the world simply don’t have enough to eat. On the way out of the market, I dropped some money in the Salvation Army kettle, and today, I’m sending off another check to Heifer International, Oxfam or some other global hunger relief organization, and to Community Food Share, the Denver Rescue Mission or Friends of Man closer to home.

A Very Quiet Town

It started snowing in Boulder sometime between 6:00 and 7:00 this morning. Gorgeous snow: flakes as soft as powdered sugar that fell straight down, without blowing or drifting, throughout a temperate day and into this rather mild evening. By 3:30 this afternoon, when I was heading for the post office (five days before Christmas, of course), more than a foot of snow was on the ground, and the town had virtually shut down. Little traffic moved on the streets. Evidence of snowplowing was confined to a few arterials. Most stores and restaurants on the Pearl Street Mall were closed.
Perhaps reflecting Boulder’s priorities, those that remained open on or near the Mall included Lolita’s grocery, Nick-n-Willy’s bake-your-own pizza, the West End Tavern, the Boulder Bookstore, the metaphysical bookstore, the Hagen-Dasz ice cream shop, Belvedere Chocolates, Outdoor Divas (women’s sporting goods and clothing), Powell’s candy, the Lazy Dog (sports bar), the Boulder Arts and Crafts Coop, the Trident Cafe, the Trattoria on Pearl and the falafel place. By the time I wandered back a bit after 4:30, many of these businesses had also closed.

En route to the post office, I did stop at Nick-n-Willy’s to order a pizza that I would pick up on the way home. It seemed a perfect night to fill the house with the aroma of baking pizza without actually having to make the dough and find enough ingredients in the larder to assemble a good one. By the time I reached the post office, it too had closed. I used the credit card-driven apparatus that weighs packages and prints postage, a time-consuming process because it is necessary to answer the same series of electronic questions for each parcel. Still, I welcomed the technology at that point, because I preferred to walk home without the burden of packages — and no matter how long it took for them to reach their destination, at least my conscience was clear.

The Mall was lovely. Holiday lights were capped by a mantle of snow. Store windows were festively decorated. A few people strolled quietly and unhurriedly. There was no cell-phone chatter, only one Mall musician and only one panhandler. Even though a small motorized plow attached to a vehicle that resembled an ATV was cruising back and forth, its driver trying valiantly to keep up, there was more soft snow than hard brick underfoot. The Mall bore a sense of late-night tranquility, though in truth, it’s not usually quiet late at night with the bars emptying and all.

By the time I walked back, the 7 Eurobar had unlocked its door, and Rhumba was open for business too. There were even a few patrons under the awning on the patio, being served from the bar through the overhead door. As I was approaching Nick-n-Willy’s I heard a strange swish-click-swish-click-swish-click and turned see a couple cross-country skiing down the middle of Pearl Street, their pole tips punching through the choppy snow and tapping onto the alphalt. (I took the photo above the following afternoon, when the snow had tapered off, and a few pedestrians, and two cross-country skiers, were wandering past the still-shuttered downtown businesses.)

Nick-n-Willy’s was warm and steamy when I picked up my pizza and walked home. Because I live in Boulder, this experience wasn’t “travel.” Still, though I wanted to share it on this blog because if I had walked through some other beautiful, quiet downtown, this would be an afternoon to file in my bank of treasured memories of that place at a special and magical time.