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Mile High Adventures

Denver and nearby ski resorts appeal to both outdoor buffs
and urban explorers

The best part about a trip to Denver, Colo., in what everyone calls ski season – loosely defined as Thanksgiving to Easter – is that even if Denver temperatures are in the 40s or 50s, as frequently happens between November and March, vacationers can visit winter as often as they like. A world of snow-covered mountains offering every imaginable kind of cold-weather fun is a mere two-hour drive from downtown.

building

The City and County Building is brightly lit for the holidays and adds to the annual Parade of Lights. The lights remain on through December. Fotolia.com/arinahabich photo

Denver

Meanwhile, there are numerous attractions in the city for those who prefer the usually milder Denver weather.

GETTING THERE

Interstate 70, which stretches 2,151 miles from Baltimore to its junction with Interstate 15 in western Utah, passes through Denver; I-70 is the main route west into the High Country. It's a drive worth taking if for no other reason than to experience the 1.7-mile Eisenhower Tunnel, the highest point along I-70 at 11,158 feet above sea level. There's also a breathtaking stretch through Glenwood Canyon, completed in 1992, making it the final piece of America's original Interstate Highway System.

For those who eschew driving to Denver, consider Amtrak. Traveling by train means arriving at one of the nation's newest and most modern transportation hubs–the recently renovated Union Station in Lower Downtown (called LoDo). Within Union Station are shops, several restaurants, and The Crawford Hotel (AAA Four Diamonds), named for historical preservationist Dana Crawford, originator of the nearby Larimer Square shopping district.

In the 1880s, Larimer Street was the bustling center of Denver City, which was named for James Denver, the territorial governor of Kansas. The city block of Larimer Square housed Denver's first bank, bookstore, photographer, and dry goods store, and was the site of Denver's first post office.

Of course, major airlines serve Denver International Airport, which opened in 1995. It is the largest airport in the United States, covering 53 square miles; claims the longest public-use runway in the nation, Runway 16R/34L at 16,000 feet; and is America's fifth-busiest airport (and the world's 15th) with more than 53 million passengers per year. A 519-room Westin hotel opens at the airport in November.

Commuter rail service to the LoDo transportation hub at Union Station is scheduled to begin early in 2016.

WHAT TO DO

A few days in Denver can be filled with as many interesting activities as a visitor chooses.

The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa (AAA Four Diamonds) is a landmark worth seeing. Built in 1892 of distinctive sandstone and red granite, the Brown Palace is one of the first atrium-style hotels built.

The guest list includes “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, who stayed there right after the Titanic disaster; The Beatles; and six U.S. presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

The hotel's Ship Tavern, opened in 1934 upon the end of Prohibition and reminiscent of early American waterfront taverns in the Clipper Ship era, features a remarkable collection of antique replicas of famous ships. Afternoon tea in the Brown Palace lobby is a soothing, elegant experience.

One of Denver's most popular tourist attractions is a short walk from the Brown Palace. Established by an Act of Congress in 1862, the Denver Mint opened as an assay office a year later, and minted its first coins on Feb. 1, 1906. Assay offices test the purity of precious metals. A century later, the Denver Mint can output as many as 50 million coins a day. Free 45-minute guided tours are conducted Monday–Thursday. Reservations are required and can be made online (www.usmint.gov/mint_tours/?action=startReservation).

Denver is a major league sports city, with the Broncos, Nuggets, and Avalanche playing pro football, basketball, and hockey, respectively, through the winter months. Check out the outdoor hockey game between the Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings that's set for Feb. 27 at Coors Field.

Live theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts is world-class, as are the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and the Denver Art Museum.

HOLIDAY FUN

The annual Parade of Lights will celebrate the holiday season Friday and Saturday, Dec. 4 and 5. Dozens of floats, marching bands, and performers will traverse a two-mile parade route that includes most of 16th Street Mall. There's no admission, so the crowds for this Denver tradition are large. Lights on the City and County Building, across from the state Capitol, add to the spirit. The lights remain on display from Nov. 27 through December.

FUN in the snow

West of Denver, downhill and cross-country skiing are only part of the winter fun easily accessible from the Mile High City. World-class snowmobiling, dog-sled trips, old-fashioned sleigh rides, snowshoeing, ice-skating, and tubing are among many outdoor activities.

Loveland Basin/Loveland Valley, the nearest downhill complex, is 53 miles west of Denver near Georgetown. Arapahoe Basin in Keystone has been the first ski area to open in North America for 19 straight years.

Grand County, the western gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, has all the winter outdoor activities. Explore restaurants, wineries, and craft breweries in the towns of Granby, Grand Lake, Hot Sulphur Springs, Kremmling, and Winter Park/Fraser.

The quaint ski town of Breckenridge and the Copper Mountain ski area, one of the U.S. Ski Team's training venues, are both west of Denver; drive slightly further west to the world-famous Vail Ski Resort.

An hour south of Denver is the renowned AAA Five Diamond Broadmoor Resort and Hotel in Colorado Springs. The United States Air Force Academy that's just north of Colorado Springs features interesting tours. The Pikes Peak Cog Railway in nearby Manitou Springs follows a breathtaking route to the top of Pikes Peak. The train operates year-round, weather permitting in the winter months.

With so many vacation choices, it's easy to create your own winter wonderland in and around Denver.

Denny Dressman is a contributor from Greenwood Village, Colo.

November/December 2015 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact Visit Denver at (800) 233-6837

Contact these ski resorts for more information:

Loveland Ski Area,
(800) 736-3SKI (736-3754)

Arapahoe Basin,
(888) 272-7246

Grand County,
(970) 531-7020

Breckenridge Ski Resort,
(800) 789-SNOW (789-7669)

Copper Mountain,
(866) 841-2481

Vail Resorts,
(888) 500-5155


To visit Colorado, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.


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