Category Archives: Colorado

New Colorado Guidebook

Colorado’s Classic Mountain Towns by Evelyn Spence, just published by Countryman Press, is a well-written guide to seven popular mountain destinations — most of them wonderful 19th-century mining, ranching and railroad towns that are now significant ski and summer resort communities, plus Vail, opened for the 1963-64 winter and the only “new” resort featured in the book.

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.

Two Longtime Vail Lodgings Bite the Dust

If you go to Vail to ski next winter and hope to sleep on a budget, don’t expect to stay at the long-running Vail Village Inn or at the super-economical (for Vail) Roost Lodge. The VVI, just about as old as the resort itself, has been demolished to make way for the upscale Vail Plaza Club & Hotel, which offers both pricy fractional ownership units and hotel rooms. The Roost, a 72-room motel treasured by budget-watchers, is closed, to be replaced by a 102-unit Marriott Residence Inn plus 31 condos. Neither property met current standards of what guests expect, especially in a ritzy resort such as Vail, but at both properties, the prices were right.

Three Things You Can’t Do in Colorado Right Now

  • Fly into Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE), which closed on April 9 and remains so until June 7 for runway rehabilitation and other improvements. The good news is that the airport expects more than a 20 percent increase in flights over last summer.
  • Ride the free gondola (right) between Telluride and Mountain Village. It was put into service in November 1996 and therefore just celebrated its 10th winter of operating both as a ski lift and as wonderful local transportation. It closed on April 8 when the ski season ended and reopens on May 24 for the summer season. It is handicap-accessible, and some cabins have been designated for dogs as well as their humans.
  • Drive Trail Ridge Road all the way through Rocky Mountain National Park between Estes Park and Grand Lake. Road workers always try to get this road, the nation’s highest continuous paved route, open for Memorial Day, but heavy late-season storms are making it less likely.

Fancy Denver Hotel Welcomes Families

Other than the guest room of friends or family, an attractive and well-located hotel can be the difference between a vacation dream and vacation drudgery. Denver’s JW Marriott Denver, a very upscale Cherry Creek North hotel, is offering a well-priced weekend package for families this summer. Note that I didn’t write budget-priced, because this is a deal that represents value rather than straight-out economy. Still, I think that as kids who grow up eating real food in real restauants rather than manufactured commestibles in fast-food places learn to appreciate food, kids who now and again have a taste of luxury learn to appreciate fine travel.

The Kids in the City Package includes luxury accommodations, complimentary valet parking, four tickets to the Denver Zoo, JW coloring book, milk and cookies at evening turndown and complimentary in-room movie. Each family will also receive a Passport to Savings at Cherry Creek’s most popular kid-related businesses such as the Wizard’s Chest, Cute as a Button, Kazoo & Co. and many others. The hotel is at 150 Clayton Lane. For reservations, 303-316-2700 and mention rate code 21FFUP. The package is offered weekends through September 3, 2007.

Monthly Art Walk in Crested Butte

To me, visiting art galleries is like going to a museum with incredibly varied collections mostly by contemporary working artists. Unlike a museum, however, you go outside between “rooms” — and of course, you can touch many of the works and buy any of them. How fortunate that the North American SnowSports Journalists Association ‘s annual meeting at Crested Butte coincided with town’s Art Walk Evening. It is held on the last Thursday of every month except for April, May, October and November. Sponsored by Artists of the West Elks, it provides visitors an opportunity to stroll through picturesque downtown Crested Butte, meet gallery owners and artists, sip some wine and nibble on the appetizers that individual galleries put out.

The Paragon Gallery, a local coop, features the works of 14 member artists and two local guest artists. The varied media include polished stone jewelry by Jeff Klein, traditional Scandinavian rosemaling by Jane Berglund and ceramics, earthenware, raku and other pottery by Steve Belz. Paragon also sells endearing original notecards by local schoolchildren. Proceeds from sales buy art supplies for area schools — not just little things like paper, watercolors, clay and chalk, but major equipment like a kiln and a photography darkroom.

The Rijks Family Gallery shows more than a dozen artists’ work, including Dawn Cohen’s powerful watercolors both of the mountains and of the harbor of Savanah, GA, where she once lived; scenic and action photographs by Nathan Bilow, functional and decorative pottery by Macy Dorf, and the ornate, spiritual and multicultural-inspired pottery by Donna Rozman.

The Lucille Lucas Gallery and Old Print Center specializes in graphic arts. The owner’s father was the first American publisher of Salvador Dali’s lithographs, and she carries some examples of the Spanish painter’s work. Local photographers Xavier Fane and Sandra Cortner’s were on hand for the March Art Walk Evening. Fane’s photograph of the start of the annual Alley Loop Cross-Country Marahon race on snow-covered Elk Avenue should hang on every Nordic enthusiast’s wall. Cortner’s sensitive black-and-white images of Crested Butte depict both town and surroundings. The gallery also features a fine assortment of original and reproduction posters.

Area artists recently lost one of their own with the passing of photographer Gary Lee Wolf on March 17, and this evening was, in a sense, in his memory. I bought just one lovely pottery bowl, a colleague from Washington, DC, picked up a poster for her beach house, and a Denver friend ordered a vintage ski poster reproduction in a size suitable for her space.

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.