Within each chapter, she follows a scene-setting introduction with fairly extensive descriptions of each selected hotel and inn (and also the occasional guest ranch), but relatively little on condominium properties. It is impossible to cover every property, and she picked her focus. Her descriptions of other vacation components are briefer. It does make sense to devote more space to lodging, a major commitment in terms of time and expense, than places to eat, a lesser commitment involving just one meal at a time. In addition to full-scale restaurants, she covers bakeries, delis, grocery stores, seasonal farmers’ markets and even cooking classes. I like that a lot, because people visiting a resort do get hungry and appreciate being pointed in the right direction, especially on their first visits.
Recreationally, skiing is the focus — not surprising, since Spence is a former editor at Skiing magazine — and she does a polished job of summarizing the mountains’ characteristics particularly for skiers but far less so for snowboarders. (Is that because snowboarders don’t read?) Still, I’m not sure, for instance, how Breckenridge can be described without its long commitment to single-plankers and five parks/pipes, or Telluride without its enormous 11-acre Air Garden. In fact, the glossary of “some useful skiing terms” doesn’t include such words as “halfpipe,” “quarterpipe” or “terrain park.”
She touches on such other winter recreation options as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, dogsledding, guided backcountry skiing, ice skating, sleigh rides and snowcat skiing. Summer and fall recreation includes mountain and road biking, fishing, golf, hiking and backpacking, horseback riding, hot air ballooning, hunting (the rare, non-specialized guidebook to even mention this activity), mountaineering and rock climbing, paragliding, rafting and scenic drives. Spence also covers children’s activities, nightlife, seasonal events, museums and cultural offerings, and shopping. A useful “Nuts and Bolts” section includes transportation, emergency services, local media, libraries, ranger stations and tourist information resources.
Most of the flaws here are small ones that are endemic to any guidebook. Things change, often between an author’s careful research and the time the book comes off press. For instance, Jimmy Clark, owner of Crested Butte’s Buffalo Grille died in June 2006, and the restaurant is now called Harry’s Fine Dining. And don’t expect to bunk at Aspen’s Sardy House unless you are friends or business associates of the very rich new owners, who bought the place in 2006 for $16.5 million and are using it as a “private retreat.” But so it goes.
I have two other issues with this otherwise-fine guidebook. They are conceptual — and this might well be the publisher’s choice. While it is called Colorado’s Classic Mountain Towns, it would more accurately be called Colorado’s Classic Ski Towns. A book that purports to be “a complete guide” to classic mountain towns (as it says on the cover) should not ignore Leadville or even Salida, both gateways to some of Colorado’s loftiest peaks; Westcliffe in the heart of the achingly beautiful Wet Mountain Valley; Ouray, the pearl of the magnificent San Juan Range, and Silverton, the destination of the country’s premiere mountain railroad?
Secondly, while it is heavily ski-oriented, it isn’t a complete ski guide either because doesn’t include such “non-classic” resorts as Beaver Creek (except as part of the Vail chapter), Copper Mountain, Keystone and Snowmass (peripherally included in the Aspen chapter). With those caveats, it’s a very good basic guidebook to seven of the most popular ski towns in the state — and well worth the $18.95 investment for anyone planning a vacation to Colorado’s oldies and very goodies.